“Perfume is a language whose speech is worth learning and unpacking as one would a poem, book, or film. Scent is a path to getting closer to our senses, to instinct, and to our bodies and the earth at a time when those attachments are threatened.”
Periodically I crave to wear natural perfumes. It’s like changing the radio station to a different genre of music—not necessarily better or worse than synthetics or mixed media perfumes, but a different character altogether. (There’s a lot of hyperbole out there that would have you believe that “natural” is a superior moral position over “synthetic”; in perfumery, however, the truth is much more complicated.) It’s like choosing a watercolor painting instead of a photograph—it’s simply a different experience.
Acquainting myself with narcissus. I wore Bruno Fazzolari’s Au Delà Narcisse today (a new favorite!), and later on I spent some time with the absolute and browsed Nez’s “naturals notebook.” Such a complex scent—earthy and spicy at the same time, a little bit like iris, but richer and more honeyed.
To wear perfume is to destroy it. When you have a bottle of beautiful perfume—especially a perfume that has since been discontinued or reformulated, as my Borneo 1834 has—it’s tempting to want to stash it away, to save it rather than wear it.
Even if it were possible to perfectly preserve a fragrance (perfumes evaporate, age, and change)—would you want to? What is it they say about a real flower being more beautiful for the fact that it will die? For me, slowly using up a beloved perfume—especially if I don’t think I’ll be able to find another bottle once it’s gone—is a kind of memento mori, a little vanitas painting I take with me throughout the day, coaxing me more firmly into the present moment.
I often think about this quote from Annie Dillard and apply it outside my writing life:
One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Anything you do not smell freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your perfume cabinet and find that it has evaporated and the top notes have turned.
If you are ever in Portland, Oregon, you must visit Fumerie. ❤️
When I visited this weekend, I asked the incredible shop owner Tracy to help me discover some new “unusual gourmands”—I love Korrigan and Upper Ten for Her by Lubin, and Ummagumma by Bruno Fazzolari, but wanted to expand on the theme. We went in a delicious fruity direction with Mandrake and Wolfsbane by Parfums Quartana, Or du Sérail by Naomi Goodsir, Sådanne by Slumberhouse, and Dambrosia by Profumum Roma.
If you had bottles in your medicine cabinet that you could sniff to help you forget something, what would they smell like? Take a minute to describe it for yourself.
This is Catherine Haley Epstein’s On Forgetting, which I had the great pleasure to smell last night at Fumerie! It was interesting to talk with the artist about scent outside the bounds of perfume-wearing: from scented spaces to scent as creative practice to conceptual olfactory art, like this piece. I loved the smoky choya nakh in Forgetting 20 Years Ago and the unexpected sweetness of the clove in Forgetting 10 Years Ago. A poetic and generative way to think about the process of forgetting—especially since scent is so often touted as a way to evoke long-forgotten memories.
Primary image and cabinet image courtesy of the artist.