Five Things I Learned From Perfume

Feminite du Bois

My next post covers a whole line and goes on approximately forevvveeerrrr so here’s some amuse-bouche, inspired by the “five things” lists on the internet, and also rearranging my fragrance wardrobe for the change to cooler weather.  As one does.  Here are five fragrances that made an impression, have stuck with me, and why.

Guerlain Mitsouko –  Mitsouko was in a Chandler Burr article about weird perfumes, so of course I had to smell it.  I went to Saks (I have a post or three on here about that experience) and I smelled it, and I emerged, blinking, into the daylight a changed person.  For the record, I don’t think Mitsouko is weird; I think she’s unique, and stunningly beautiful, and a bit of a diva.  What I learned: “vintage” perfumes had cojones presence, and you should try “weird” stuff.

Shiseido Feminite du Bois –  lesson two: perfume doesn’t have to smell “feminine” or “masculine.”  There are certain accords or notes associated with men’s v. women’s fragrances, although once you branch out from mainstream perfumery you’re less likely to find those signifiers.  I know! – there was a time in my life when I thought all fragrance smelled like one or the other.  Hilarious.  FdB smells like the forest spirits took pity on us and our dull lives and gifted us with a fragrance that, in its quiet way, can move a person to tears.  It was also the inspiration for this post; I put some on this morning in honor of cooler weather, and cried all over again.

Tauer Lonestar Memories — a lot of fragrance does have some kind gender signifier built in, nothing wrong with that, and folks recognize them even if they can’t name them precisely.  Lesson three: feel free to shop across the aisle and ignore those boundaries.  An uber-femme floral on a man, or a “masculine” scent on a woman?  Unexpected and dead sexy.  This Tauer’s a bit of a cheat – it doesn’t smell like aftershave – but I think it can reasonably be described as “masculine” with all that smokey, leathery, cowboy machismo.  Andy Tauer himself would tell you a girly girl could wear the hell out of it, and I have.

That moment.

Annick Goutal Mandragore is on this list as lesson four: there is a house for you.  There may in fact be several houses for you, but chances are good there’s at least one house, by which I mean: you try something from a line, and then you try another something from that line, and eventually you come to the conclusion that whatever sorcery those people are doing, it works for you.  You may not adore every. single. thing they do, but you’ll love most of them, and your blind buys from the house are likely to be successes.

Vintage Ralph Lauren — Obviously, people have been buying (and gifting) fragrance unsniffed for eons – that bottle sent by parcel post from New York or Paris in the 1950s, etc.  But the confluence of online retail and perfume blogs changed the model of: go to Macy’s or the five and dime, sniff the things, buy some Chanel No. 5 or White Shoulders, bam that’s your “signature” scent for decades. Even regular people might now have a “wardrobe” of a few bottles.  But perfume nuts are the quings of the unsniffed full bottle, aka a “blind buy” – you read about a fragrance online, maybe on a blog (maybe even this one) and you think, I must have it, and not because you don’t already own ten or fifty other fragrances.  I honestly don’t remember my first full-bottle blind buy – early on, they were mostly blind buys if they weren’t in local department stores – but to this day there’s something thrilling about that purchase and the reveal.  I’m going to nominate vintage Lauren for this one; I wanted to feel the feels and I couldn’t remember what it smelled like.  I didn’t know whether I’d even like it, yet off to eBay I went. Verdict: huge success.  Lesson: taking a risk on a blind buy can yield some the greatest pleasures of perfume life.

Anyone read this far?  What are some of your favorites, and what did they teach you?



  • rosarita says:

    Chanel is definitely my house but there are a couple of indies that I love: Imaginary Authors, En Voyage perfumes and Zoologist. Those houses are creative enough that there’s no blind buying esp since they all have good sample programs. I honestly felt like I needed a hazmat suit to pack up my sample of Zoologist T-Rex to send to somebody else. I think I’m more interested in some perfumers rather than houses….Bertrand Duchaufour, Shelley Waddington, Mark Buxton, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz to name a few.

  • Patty says:

    My House is Hermes as far as I think I wind up loving everything there, and it fits, but I have a lot of close seconds.

    Biggest lesson – don’t be faithful or proud or stubborn. Try everything, even things you are sure you hate. And if you do hate them, wait a couple of years and try them again. Hate has a way of turning into love or at least respect. SL Miele de Bois (sp, not going to go look it up) used to be serious hate, now I think it is a huge pussycat and lovely.

  • Musette says:

    are you kidding me? I read the ENTIRE thing – and loved every nanosecond of it. Neil Morris clued me into the ‘femmes on men’ idea, having me spray El O with Fracas. Holy snakes & cabbage! I watched women’s eyes glaze over a bit as they attempted to figure out why they were edging closer to this fat old man….
    Mits is transportive, imo. Even people who Do Not Like it are drawn to her. Vintage Mits is out of this world.


  • Eldarwen22 says:

    It’s a tie between Chanel and Tauer Perfumes to be my “house”. I haven’t worn FdB in quite some time and I am going to have to pull out the bottle to wear. One lesson that I learned if you fall in love with a perfume, I mean, really love it, get the biggest bottle you can afford as soon as you can. You don’t know when they will mess with it or just up and change the concentration (I am looking at you Chanel with the Les Exclusifs line, especially Coromandel).

    • Musette says:

      I’m definitely House Chanel (except Coco, which doesn’t work on me) and House Amouage (Beloved, Gold & Lyric are in my Pantheon) . Perfumistas are always surprised that I am not House Guerlain (except for Mitsouko) but in truth Guerlain, beautiful as the scents are, isn’t really mah jam.


    • March says:

      SO true! I have waffled on things and then poof! they’re gone or reformulated.

  • Neva says:

    What a great article, March! I tried to think of something special I learned from perfume but I can’t come up with a particular scent. In general perfume has taught me that scents are connected with memories. Each and single one of my perfumes is dedicated to a special period or person in my life. That’s why I often come back for more. The newer ones will become special memories for sure in the near future.

  • Cinnamon says:

    Oh, I love your posts. My house is Guerlain. I discovered Vol de Nuit first, but when I did Mitsouko, that was it. Even if I don’t love something I know it at least works on my chemistry. Blind buys … the best one (and I stupidly gave it away for reasons I now can’t recall) was Malle Le Parfum de Therese. Who does that? Gives something like that away? I now have a travel size. Gender bending is a thing. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t try something because it was marketed ‘for men’. How silly. Only thing I would add from my perspective is be open minded. Even if the notes list sounds meh or the ad copy is so bad it makes your teeth hurt it may well sing on you. So, have a go. If you hate it, all you have to do is wash it off.

    • Musette says:

      My first gender-bend was Habit Rouge extrait – I loved/love it (which runs counter to what I just said to Eldarwen22 above about House Guerlain 😉


  • Teresa says:

    The first perfume that opened my eyes was Balmain Vent Vert. Nothing at all like my mother’s Estee Lauder heaviness. I’ve been a fan of green scents ever since.

  • Lisa Jay says:

    So on point & so much true advice. I was a “dark amber essential oil” wearing teenager and I hated most perfume for women (oh how I regret having this mind set in the early 80’s). When I turned 18 i decided to head over to the perfume aisle of Bergdorf’s and there I discovered Sables by Annick Goutal. The sales lady was smart enough to not spoil the moment by informing me that the fragrance was created for Mrs. Goutal’s husband.- I fell in love – it was my signature for years until I graduated university & wanted to become “an elegant professional”. Back to Bergdorf’s for Annick Goutal’s Huere Exquise and I wore that until 1998. I don’t even own either of those fragrances anymore & last I was in Paris Heure Exquise was a shadow of its former velvety self. Looking at my small collection of 50 or so bottles it appears the house I resonate with now is the perfumes coming out of Naomi Goodsir.

  • Portia says:

    Yes, I read this far March.
    They taught me stuff but I seem to have forgotten it.
    Portia xx

  • KimB says:

    My first perfume experience was at age 6 when I drenched myself in my grandmother’s Chanel No 5. To this day I remain a Chanel woman – it’s my house for sure. But I have branched out. I learnt to try perfumes in different weather. L’Heure Bleue may smell like rubber – until you wear it in hot humid weather and it blooooms.
    I learnt to try vintage – the same grandmother regifted me a small bottle of Shalimar Parfum which she had for years but hated. Wowsah! No comparison to today’s version.
    And through Perfume Posse I learnt that my weird (you have HOW many bottles?) is just normal when you find the right people. So thanks to the Posse!

    • March says:

      I think Anita’s superpower fragrance is No. 5. Definitely trying it in different weather is a great idea. I too live in a place w hot, humid summers and some of my favorites are best then. And yeah, I’m pretty discreet about my collection, but I also say to people, it’s not any weirder than any of the OTHER stuff people collect — whether it’s wine, vintage scarves, or salt & pepper shakers.

      • Musette says:

        Yes. Yes. It. Is. I would’ve drenched myself in your grandmother’s No5, as well – except there’s a 1 in 10 chance that I am old enough to be your grandmother! lol! xoxox

  • Tara C says:

    I had always worn perfume, but my first bottle bought with my own money from a real job was Dior Poison. Boy did I feel grown up wearing that! Then Byzance, Ysatis, Sublime, Cabotine, Angel, Trésor and Feminité du Bois.

    My first vintage fragrance sniff was L’Heure Bleue, which to me smelled like Playtex rubber gloves, not a perfume and certainly not something I wanted to smell like.

    Dzongkha also didn’t register as a perfume when I first smelled it. Discovering incense as a perfume note was a revelation. Same thing with leather. All this happened in the early 2000’s when I discovered niche perfumes on the internet. Who knew there was stuff other than in department stores? Mind blown.

    My houses turned out to be Serge Lutens, Guérlain (modern, not vintage) and L’Artisan Parfumeur. Several failed blind buys taught me which ones were NOT my house (MFK, Caron). It’s been a great ride.

    • March says:

      Lawl we have similar perfume tastes and houses (like Harry Potter!). Man, L’Artisan. I smelled them in Paris where they’re in the department store. Mind blown is right. It was completely unfamiliar and absolutely, magnetically lovely.

      • Musette says:

        March, do you remember the L’Artisan boutique in the Bergdorf… no.. sorry, Bloomingdale’s building (in Chicago). It was my very first introduction to rooty iris. I miss them. xoxoxo