Somewhere after the last stage of perfume obsession I talked about recently – resignation? ennui? – comes another stage, apparently. And the new stage is a funny one, because it seems to be: perfumes that smell beautiful.
Smelling beautiful (or attractive, or, at minimum, non-repellant) might seem to be kind of self-obvious when selecting perfume, but as perfumistas know, it isn’t. I don’t think my multi-year Journey Through The Land Of Strange, Accessed via The Rabbit-Hole, was all that unusual a choice. Smelling like a crypt, a mushroom, mimeograph ink? Bring it on. A dandelion, a mixed drink, a day at the beach – why not? Wet dirt, spunk, funk, or man-junk? I’ll try it.
But what happens after? Part of what happens is that beauty, as opposed to strangeness, feels subversive. Of course, beauty is subjective. Your Mugler Angel is my own personal hell (although you might feel the same way about my Passage d’Enfer.)
I’ve been going to church again on Sunday mornings, for complicated reasons that have … not all that much to do with religion. God hasn’t struck me down yet. I like the pageantry. I like doing outlandish flower arrangements for the altar of our staid Episcopal Church of the Dry Martini, and then seeing whether they’ve been re-arranged by the time I see them on Sunday morning. I like the hymns. I like the excuse to carry a cute purse.
But I digress. This morning was a tasteful, careful application of Bois des Iles, the new one. It does not get a ton of love – it’s not the old one, the one with the genuine, perfect sandalwood. Thing is, the current version is so gorgeous I just don’t care. I bought a 30ml decant recently and I’m thrilled with it. The raspy sandalwood part (also known as “yucky,” according to 7-year-old Buckethead, not a fan) lasts three perfect hours on me, followed by a sweet, woody drydown that lasts another eighteen hours, during which I find myself lifting my wrist to my nose over and over and over, because I can’t quite believe that I can buy a product that smells that beautiful.
This morning, my cautious, meditative application of BdI was completely overwhelmed by the woman two pews in front of me, who was wearing a heavy drenching of what I am pretty sure was J’Adore. To paraphrase Tom in his comment in a recent review, she spritzed her ample poitrine until her socks were wet. She smelled so powerfully of industrial-grade public-restroom air-freshener that nobody sat within six feet of her in any direction. J’Adore’s nice in reasonable doses; I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. Can she not smell it? Does she love it that much? Does she put all her fragrance on like that? I shrugged. I was curious, but who am I to judge?
Beauty can be angular and strange. Beauty can be novel. But for me, right now, beauty is a game I play in my head. If someone asked me, skeptically, but why do you wear perfume at all? And I wanted to make it clear instantly, to reveal the most undeniably beautiful scents I own, which scents would those be? The ones that would make my imaginary critic stop, and sniff, and say, oh. Well…. of course. I beg your pardon. Now I understand.
It’s a short list. It’s a cluster. It’s a Venn diagram. It’s also a post I keep fiddling with and never manage to write correctly. It starts with Chanel 31 Rue Cambon (whose only flaw is unavailability in a stronger concentration) and fans out from there. There’s a piece of paper connected to that unfinished post, and on it are Patricia de Nicolai’s Odalisque and Maharanih; MDCI Promesse de l’Aube and Enlevement au Serail. Guerlain Chamade gets added to the list and crossed off again. Somewhere in there is a masterful essay on jasmine and orange blossom, on indoles and chypre, on florals and vanilla, but apparently I’m incapable of writing it. Instead I wear these scents, over and over, on rainy days and (even, especially) on recent sultry days, and (even, heretically) most/all at the same time, a spray apiece on various parts of my body, if I don’t have to be worrying about killing anyone around me with the sillage.
We have our go-to scents, but my go-to scents (e.g., Mitsouko) are different. I seem to be on some beauty bender, as surprising to me as Nava’s fruit-salad fragrance jag is to her. Is it the change of seasons? A desire for comfort in uncomfortable times? I wonder.
image: Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, John Singer Sargent, National Gallery of Scotland