Smell Memory #1: Horses

I have been a little bit out of the perfume loop lately, so I'm going to post on some smell memories to get back into the habit of posting!

I grew up in a semi-rural part of Florida, where the outskirts of the Tampa suburbs met the outskirts of West Pasco dairy farms. Lots of my neighbors owned livestock. The most precious of these, to my young feminine mind, were the horses. When I was around 7 years old, our babysitter was this teenager from the neighborhood who would ride up to our house on a beautiful, kind, brown horse, complete with a white star on its forehead. She would let my sister and me pet the horse as much as we pleased while she chatted with Andy, our hottt Finnish exchange student.

My favorite part of the horse, besides its impossibly soft nose, was its wonderful smell. I have never been able to get anyone to agree with me on this, but horses smell delicious. It's a dirty smell, but an deeply satifying one. It's akin to the way your body smells just after you work out, before the sweat has a chance to get stale, and your body just smells live and wet. Then there's the fine dust that settles on the horse's coat - the dust they kick up when they run on coastal Florida's sandy terrain. It adds a silky fizz to the moist, squishy sensuality of the skin smell. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. You might say that horses smell...envaginated. After all, isn't the horse the typical object of young feminine desire? Don't all little heteronormative girls want them? So elegant, so expensive. Those long manes and tails you could french-braid all day! The round apple-bottoms and shapely legs! The princess associations!

But horses are also scary. A tussle with one will kill you. Even ponies are not really to be trifled with. After all, when ridden by a cowboy, a horse is one of the ultimate symbols of renegade masculinity. Bucking broncos, wild horses, endless miles of sheep herding, riding off into the sunset. Even Mr. Ed was, ahem, a dude. Horses are living proof of gender double standards, not that we really need living proof, since proof is all around, all the time. But the nature of a horse changes based on the gender of the person who wants/owns it. They're girly and silly when desired by little girls (I want a pony for Christmas); elegant and beautiful when owned by young women (my babysitter's horse); and useful and strong when owned by men (his trusty steed). Taking this to its literal extreme, illustrations in medieval French romances would depict horse and rider, with the horse's (male) genitalia sized to match the masculinity of the rider (thanks, Emmanuelle)!

Anyway, back to the smell of a horse, which is likewise genderiffic. Peeking through that impeccably powdered vagina is the unmistakable scent of oranges just past their peak, still delicious, but harboring a passive-aggressive hint of decay. You've neglected us for much too long, those aging oranges seem to chide, as they apply $100 moisturizer to their drying peels, and you gaze surreptitiously at the pert clementines that still swing from the branches of the neighbor's grove.

Of course, the smell of leather - auxilliary, but sexy and caddish as always - is not to be forgotten. That smoldering saddle sidles up to you, slick as the seashore, and smoothly cops a feel, only to stick uncomfortably to the backs of your thighs if you mistake that one-night stand for endless love.

When you pet a horse, it's not just the scent of horse that gets all over you - it's also the perfumed dust that lays obediently on the surface, like talcum, waiting to turn anything it touches to silk. You pet a horse, and your hands become as fragrant and soft as the horse's nose.


The Smell of Lies

Perfume is ideology in a bottle. Synthetic aromachemicals are mixed in a lab to mimic the smell of plants that grow in sub-Saharan Africa. They are then suspended in an artifically tinted alcoholic solvent, sealed in expensive-looking bottles, photographed next to Eva Green's breasts and marketed in the glossy pages of Elle magazine between an article about plastic surgery and one about loving yourself exactly the way you are. Even as you spray it on your forearm, you know perfume is made of lies, and that its insistence that women smell of iris and ylang-ylang rather than flesh and blood is doing women no better service than your average douche commercial.

But God in heaven above knows that without perfume and the escapism it affords, I might not have survived the past month and a half. If I have to shampoo with Shalimar and shoot up with Songes, I will make it through the next couple of days. Falling asleep on scented pillows, I dream I'm already gone with the wind. And if I have to lie, cheat, still or kill, as God is my witness, when this move is over, I'll never go smelly again.


31 rue Cambon

Les Exclusifs have relaxed their death grip on my olfactory imagination, leaving me free to revel in my preference for their more reasonably priced brethren. To Bois des Iles, I prefer Omnia; to Coromandel, Black Cashmere. Though I haven't tried it yet, I expect to prefer Tabac Blond to Cuir de Russie, if only for the name. Bel Respiro is pretty, but somewhere between Omnia Crystalline, Un Jardin Sur le Nil, and White Aoud, I have pretty covered. No. 22 is just foul.

31 rue Cambon, you have my undivided attention.

In the beginning, a big dose of pungent, citrusy bergamot (dark twin: mosquito repellent) haunted by an earthy-rooty smell, almost like the opening of Guerlain Vetiver. As the slightly headachy green opening fades, a leather accord emerges that is actually composed of . . . flowers. Where oakmoss would normally provide the bitter basenotes of a chypre, an iris-pepper accord instead lays a piquant, spicy-smooth bed for a heap of rose and jasmine petals. Rather than unfurling, they just lie there, abstract florals somehow blending with their forest-floor backdrop to create an impression of depth and stability. Like sitting on a stern-looking antique chair only to find that the pile on the velvet feels incredible against your skin. Or maybe more like inheriting that same chair, along with an apartment full of equally rare artifacts.

The whole thing seems designed to compete with 24, Faubourg, the Hermes scent that smells, simply, like an Hermes store. 31 rue Cambon wins the competition, however, for making extreme luxury seem comforting rather than alienating. 24, Faubourg smells like the inside of a shoe I'll never be able to afford; 31 rue Cambon smells like a recurring dream I have about owning all the shoes in the world. Only in the dream I can't decide which one to wear, and inevitably wind up barefoot.


Speaking of evil twins, my evil twin made me spend a lot of money at Filene's today. Among the goodies I brought home was the much-mulled-over Magical Moon, at a killer discount but still not the least frivolous purchase I've ever made.

What tipped the scales? I read some online reviews claiming the EDP is a slightly darker, woodier, less toothache-inducing scent than the EDT. After unwrapping and sampling my guilty pleasure, I concur - the opening litchi is not so shrill; the osmanthus is more suede and less apricot; and wonder of wonders, I smell patchouli and sandalwood! There's still quite a lot of fruit, vanilla, and coconut milk going on. This is one sweet-smellin' fragrance. But come on, ladies, we can't always be wearing a chypre now can we?

I can see wearing this stuff on a summer night with an extremely slutty sundress; or in the middle of winter when I am dying for want of sunlight; or for any event that I attend with a bikini stuffed in my purse, just in case.

Dark Twin Scents

It is my theory that every good smell has a secret grossness to it. You get a whiff of something, and you just want to smell it more and more intensely, but there's always a dark side of the smell that increases in proportion to the good side of the smell. When you hate something, sometimes you're really hating its dark twin; when you like something, it's because you have a tolerance for the dark twin, or even a fascination. Dark twins make ordinary smells more interesting.

I am learning to tell the flowers in Songes apart based on their various indolic dark twin smells. When I douse myself in Songes (nightly!), I get a burst of ylang-ylang first, which reeks in a banana-y way. Next comes the big, heavy-hitting jasmine, accompanied by a rubber balloon smell that I unaccountably loooooooove. (Ligustrum smells similar, but disgusting - more like the stale air exhaled from a used birthday party balloon. My parents' back yard is full of ligustrum bushes.) Last of all, before the drydown, the frangipani takes over. Its dark twin is bubblegum.

After sampling Estee Lauder's Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia a while back, I think I have identified the dark twin of tuberose. I've sniffed around some gardenia frags, and even though I'm not sure what gardenia smells like, I'm pretty sure it doesn't make me gag. So I think it's the tuberose that has a dark twin of stale, warm 7up, like someone is breathing on you after drinking stale 7up. I wanted to like PCTG, I really did; it was pretty and elegant and whatnot; but smelling it felt like swimming through a patch of suspiciously warm water in the local pool: "Oh, that's nice - hey wait a minute, gross!" (Grimaces in disgust.)


Les Exclusifs

I finally got my pick-6 Chanel sampler pack: Bois des Iles, Cuir de Russie, Bel Respiro, 31 Rue Cambon, Coromandel, and No. 22.

At first I could barely rouse myelf to take them out of the little bag. I mean, my recent set of Hermessence samples made me think that maybe I just don't like perfume that much. Ambre Narguile was okay, but as La Niebla pointed out, dried down to a smell like gas station bathroom air freshener. Osmanthe Yunnan was too peachy-pale for me, pretty but kind of meh. Vetiver Tonka made me gag (and smell again . . . and gag again . . . fascinating but ultimately gagworthy). And Diptyque's Philosykos, which was supposed to be the perfect iris-and-fig scent? Interesting, but ultimately reminded me of fancy aerosol hairspray. I have yet to find the iris/violet smell that I can really get behind. Maybe Guerlain Apres l'Ondee - for a bottle of which many bloggers would sacrifice their first-born? I'll order a sample, I sigh wearily, but it's probably going to be the same old story. My nose isn't sharp enough to detect luxury, so it's probably a waste of time hunting it down.

Or is it? On first sniff, 31 Rue Cambon took me to Another Place. An apartment in Paris fitted with marble countertops and antique writing desks rather than Ikea rugs and salvaged bookshelves; upon which rested expensive bouquets in cut-glass vases, rather than crumpled Pop-Tart wrappers and dirty underwear. I am telling you, 31 Rue Cambon turned me into a new woman, a wealthier, more awesome version of myself, kept young and beautiful by injections of pure, unadulterated luxury piped directly into my veins.

I get it! I finally get it about Chanel. Oh, Les Exclusifs, you will save me (or ruin me) yet.


Kenzo Amour and Amour Indian Holi

Neither of these smells like love, least of all French love. The original Kenzo Amour, however, does a very capable job of emulating rice pudding. So the name makes sense if you love rice pudding. (And I'm not confirming or denying that I do.)

Kenzo Amour Indian Holi, the limited edition warm-weather flanker, smacks of Orientalism only insofar as the rice pudding is now the final course at an Indian restaurant. As such, it is laced with that lovely elliptical cardamom note that makes Indian rice pudding somehow both more civilized and less edible than the British vanilla-cinnamon goop. (Mmmm. . . goop.) I am assuming it is cardamom that gives Indian rice pudding an almost floral scent to me, like orange blossom water, a powdery and somewhat decorative taste. I suspect that Amour Indian Holi has a trace of the actual orange blossom or some other light petals, but they fade quickly away, leaving a brighter take on the original Amour that smells disturbingly like . . . Barbie perfume.

And I do mean a perfume for a Barbie doll, not a Barbie-brand perfume for humans. Maybe I'm making this up, but I can't shake the feeling that I actually owned a scent in a tiny plastic perfume bottle that you were supposed to "share" with your Barbie pal. (Oh, the humanity.) My reptile brain is telling me that the Barbie scent smelled very similar to Indian Holi, with its slightly plasticky base.

Despite this unappetizing image, both fragrances are really very nice, maybe perfect for winter when I want to be smelling something highly caloric all the time. Also, I love how the bottles look like they're trying to communicate with their home planet. They could be modernist sculptures in the Barbie Dreamhouse, fashioned by a Barbie Brancusi . . . .

Fendi Theorema

In this uncertain spring weather, even the thick-blooming cherry trees seem in danger of catching a chill. Winter shuffled off its mortal coil in April but makes a regular reappearance in ghost makeup after sunset. Worse still are days when it rages at high noon, howling and rattling its chains. On these days of wind and cold rain it's important to have a readily available source of comfort.

Fendi Theorema is like an abandoned wooden shack you stumble into by mistake that miraculously keeps you warm and dry in the midst of the deluge. There's something a little magical about its initial burst of orange and cinnamon, a sparkle of sunlight where there shouldn't be any; and then, spicy woods, like smooth, sanded floorboards unexpectedly comforting to the touch. Vanilla and amber are like a scratchy but clean blanket you find in the corner. The cabin is bare; there's no furniture, no fire, and you won't find anything to eat in the long-empty cupboards. But sometimes the knowledge that you won't be disturbed is worth roughing it a little. Now that you know where it is, you'll be able to find it in a storm.


They Have Arrived

Stella McCartney, unfrivolous clothing designer, in hammer capri pants for summer. Love, love, love.


Sour Times

White Aoud, which I've been wearing faithfully for weeks - one might call it my spring comfort fragrance - has turned on me.

Let me first say that until today White Aoud has been nothing but pure joy to me, and grown-up joy at that. It was a tastefully sexy, moderately windblown sundress swishing around my knees. It was a blooming rose without the melodrama, an evening gown with ample pockets, a garden laced with the smell of fresh dirt and wet bark and decomposing wheelbarrows. It was Grace Kelley in picnic plaid. It was Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing. It was a powder-blue convertible. I could go on.

Today I dabbed it on, inhaled its wonderful camphorous opening, was soothed by its calming powdered rose, looked forward to its vanilla-woods drydown.

Guess what? That's what I got - on my left wrist. On my right wrist, I'm getting . . . sour milk.

I always heard about perfumes that turned on people, spoiled right on the skin. But I never thought it could happen to me, and I never thought it would be White Aoud, my beloved well-mannered White Aoud, that stabbed me in the back. Why? Why?

And why, for god's sake, only one wrist?!!


Guerlain, Mitsouko

When I read Luca Turin's pants-creaming review of this scent, I expected... well, I don't know what I expected. But I should have expected what it was: a big 80s oriental, a genre both Turin and Sanchez seem to favor.

I'm being unfair. Mitsouko is a complicated scent that unfolds in 3 acts, like a play. In the first act, it's impossible to tell what the characters are really like - everyone is so polished, shiny and white, like sticky rice, but there are hints of something else peeking through, a heavy, sexed underbelly to the their boiled-clean facades.
When the curtain opens on act two, we've got high melodrama of Shalimar proportions, an amber-myrhh-frankincense-vanilla free for all with a hint of candied fruit, sweet and spicy and strong. Everyone's having sex with everyone else; there's incest, deception, flattery, and shame, maybe a drug addiction thrown in for good measure.
Everyone settles down by Act 3 to a sweet spicy drydown that nonetheless weighs on you like eternal regret. Periodically, the memory of those events waft up with renewed force, and you have to relive them again, again, again.

Jeebus. I need to figure out a way to learn about orientals, but it sure as hell won't be through Mitsouko, though I do love the initial sticky rice smell, which is a really pleasant and creative surprise.