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.

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