We had a spate of 90-degree days recently, so I put down my bottle of Courtesan (still loving the Courtesan) and decided on a little experiment. I browsed my fragrances and randomly selected a few I would describe as totally wrong for me this time of year – either because they´re so heavy they´d kill me in the heat, or because something about them I associate very strongly with fall and/or winter (admittedly a subjective judgment.) I suppose this post should really be called “Right Scent, Wrong Time.” But it isn´t. Don´t forget I invited you to pick something “not you” or wrong-season to try out and comment on today. In no particular order, here are the results of my experiment:
Armani Prive Bois d´Encens – a supremely cold incense that I had to learn to love, and I only trot it out on the coldest of winter days, because on me it is a somber, strong fragrance, and I have to be in exactly the right frame of mind. For the first fifteen minutes in the summer heat I thought, this isn´t going to work. Then … I don´t know, it settled down. I got used to it? It was weirdly refreshing – just as strong, but something like carrying my own air-conditioning unit around with me. I would definitely do that again.
Fendi Theorema – one of the scents I wear in the dark teeth of winter when it´s sleeting and I´m depressed. It´s instant sunshine on me; how can you be unhappy with that radiant woody orange lighting everything around you like a solar system? In the summer, though, it´s just too much. Not a scrubber – I gritted my teeth and got through it – but it´s too syrupy and rich and thick and I felt like one of those bugs preserved in amber. No.
Caron Yatagan – in the winter, this is a lusty, dirty, leathery thing on me, and I can handle it. In the summer, it smells like I ran a marathon and then swam in the creek with the dog. And you know what? It worked. Okay, the people in the CVS were backing away politely, and I think I might have been attracting flies, but somehow I didn´t care. Kiss my boots and water my horses, sunburned tourists!
CB I Hate Perfume Burning Leaves (then layered with Gathering Apples) — As you might guess, this is a fall scent for me, and I wear it occasionally in the winter. I think it´s genius – an October lane in New England. In the summer? No. No, no, no. It didn´t smell bad. It was fine – not overwhelming or anything, but it was the fragrance equivalent of going insane – it was just all wrong.
Serge Lutens Fleurs d´Oranger – another fragrance I associate very strongly with fall, if for no other reason than I tend to wear it outdoors to the park in cool weather. Easily one of the biggest fragrances I wear (the sillage on me is immense, and it lasts two days on my skin) and I´ve even come to terms with the cumin. I thought it would be wretched. Instead, it morphed into something right for sultry summer. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, which only happens when something is really, really working for me. I think I was probably killing people around me with the sillage, and I wouldn´t wear it in the garden (bees) or in an elevator, but I loved it.
CB I Hate Perfume Musk Reinvention – I consider this a winter comfort scent, affirming the fact that perfume folks have a pretty varied definition of “comfort.” I continue to feel there´s something primal and soothing about it; at the same time I totally understand those of you who find it appalling. Anyway. On it went, and I was running errands, feeling very smug about how well things were going, until I remembered: I´d bought the damn thing in New York with Patty last summer during a heat wave. I believe it was 103 degrees the day I purchased it. Thus proving that Skank Has No Season.
Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Winter Delice – This is, essentially, Christmas in a bottle. This is Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening. This is resiny, cool, pine-hugging love, with some incense thrown in. I can´t get enough of this thing in December. Well, for first three minutes in the heat it was great – like a refreshing walk through the cool, shady conifers… oh. Wait. Then it was like a beat-down at the hands of an angry mob wielding fir branches and large, heavy sacks full of mulling spices and lead weights. Total scrubber. Honestly, I hope I haven´t ruined this for myself. Trying to erase the memories.
Guerlain Mitsouko EDP or extrait – I stared hard at the bottles. Both of them. Really, really hard, out in my yard, in the sun. I just didn´t open them.
Bal a Versailles extrait – my punishment for wimping on the Mitsouko (which is sort of like choosing the firing squad over the electric chair.) Bal EDP I adore completely, its genius combination of almost candied top notes and dirty bottom issuing a siren call to everyone in smelling distance. The extrait is, to be honest, a little gamey even for me – with all that civet you might as well be carrying the cat around your neck. Anyway, I poured it on and went out to run errands. Wow. Maybe my nose broke from the onslaught, but I´d say it totally worked. Somehow my skin just ate it up in the heavy heat. The skank morphed into a peppered incense with a dusty-old-rug drydown that was quite appealing, and the candied note was much more muted than usual. In fact, after a minute or two it was extremely masculine. I´d do that again in a heartbeat.
Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 – technically, I don´t associate Borneo with winter. I associate it with an eternity in hell. I got a decant eons ago, it leaked in the package, and I was so overcome with horror at the camphorous smell that I jammed it in a Zip-loc bag immediately and … can´t remember. Never could remember. My mind erased all the painful memories. Did I throw it away? Was it lurking in a drawer somewhere, waiting for Hecate to get her grubby mitts on it? Anyway, in the middle of my hot-weather experimentation I was cleaning random junk out of the cabinets in our laundry room, and I got this whiff, sort of a combo of putrefaction and mildew. I recognized the smell immediately: dead mouse. So I dug around, carefully pulling things out, looking for the carcass, but instead I came up with the Borneo! (The Big Cheese walked by the laundry room five hours later, made a face and said, what is that smell?) Anyway, for me Borneo has all the Fear-Factor appeal of chugging a quart of lumpy milk. I never make it past the opening. But maybe this time…I suffer for my art, and dressed in laundry-friendly clothing I went outside, sprayed it on in the afternoon heat and waited. And this time …
it was like sucking on mothballs while being strangled by a patchouli-soaked rag from the barn. Borneo infuriates me. Not only because I hate the fragrance itself, but somehow I feel like I’m failing the cool test — like I’m not “getting” the fragrance, like I’m too dim to really appreciate all Borneo has to offer if only I could pry my teeny mind open. Borneo defeats me every time. I took my rank, furious self to the gym for 45 minutes on the treadmill (take that, shirtless, sweaty male gym-goers!) and was easily the foulest-smelling person in the foul-smelling room, IMHO.
So … did you do any testing of your own? Elle says she just dabs on microscopic dabs of her winter scents in the summer. What do you do? Are your scents seasonal? Anybody go try White Diamonds?
PS Added to my Bangkok itinerary: this cool/weird-looking Art and Perfume exhibition in Siam Square where we´re staying, featuring pairings of artists and Givaudan perfumers creating fragrances and their flacons. How´s that for timing?
Image: bison in Yellowstone, www.maxwaugh.com