First Day of Autumn Perfume Picks

Today is the first day of fall, the beginning of my favorite perfume season. The air is getting cooler, my vibe is getting cozier, and I’m excited to revisit some old favorites and get more intimate with some new scents. After picking out these perfumes I realize they’re basically all gourmands. Any other gourmand enthusiasts out there? Anyone with favorite fall scents that are not gourmand?

Naomi Goodsir Or du Sérail is a voluptuous cornucopia of ripe red fruits dripping with honey, soaked in rum, and edged in tobacco. In other words, it’s a sexy Thanksgiving perfume. The nose behind it is Bertrand Duchaufour, who also created Olfactive Studio Woody Mood: delicious ginger and cocoa wood, with saffron spice, patchouli and sage. On my skin, a sweet campfire smoke note emerges and crackles underneath the ginger.

Chris Collins Sweet Taboo by nose Nathalie Feisthauer is cinnamon- and cardamom-spiced balsams with a slightly nutty coffee character.

Two of my favorite chocolate perfumes: Fzotic Ummagumma is chewy, leathery chocolate incense smoke. Slumberhouse Ore is smoky woods and bitter cocoa, heavy forest cabin vibes.

Nasomatto Baraonda is the classic image of a cozy (boozy 🥃) autumn evening: old books, antique wooden furniture, honeyed red fruits, and a few generous pours of whiskey, all rendered in such as way as to make them sheer.

And of course, my beloved Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 by Christopher Sheldrake (2005 formulation). Velvety, vampy cocoa patchouli. 

Perfume Note: Wildfire Smoke

When this year’s wildfires began burning a few weeks ago, I reached for Chris Rusak’s Io—dry heat and a California forest becoming incense. It quickly became #tooreal and I had to put it away for a different season. Kitty Guo articulates it in her essay “Where There’s Smoke: Perfume and California Wildfires” when she writes, “IO is sweet and sublime: soft footfalls on a bed of pine needles, a soaring forest cathedral, a night spent under the stars. But it is also seeded with threat and precarity, a sense of teetering just on the verge of disaster.” In Chris’s words, Io is a perfume “about survival…It’s about this idea how in California, we’re constantly surrounded by wildfires and death and burning, but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to live and get to tomorrow.” 

Kitty wrote her essay earlier this year, before this most recent season of wildfires. For her the scent of wildfire smoke is nostalgic, bringing to mind idyllic childhood summers. Though the smell has undercurrents of danger and devastation, finding a perfume that captures the smoky summer scent of her memories has become her white whale.

Reading Kitty’s exploration prompted me to revisit some of my favorite smoke perfumes (other than Io, of course). Bois d’Ascese by Naomi Goodsir is a deep, meditative fragrance of woodsmoke, tobacco, and peated whiskey. Burning Leaves by CB I Hate Perfume is an accurate rendering of its namesake, sweet and nostalgic. Kilauea by Olympic Orchids is a volcano erupting against the lush backdrop of a tropical paradise. Ummagumma by Fzotic is for when you think you want smoke, but really what you want is to curl up in a blanket and eat something chocolate.

Find more from Kitty Guo at kittyguo.com.

Perfume Note: Peach

peaches

I crown Olympic Orchids Red Cattleya as Queen Peach. It’s everything you crave from peaches: it’s juicy, velvety, sumptuous and a little bit syrupy. Accented with ribbons of melon, green florals, musk, and wood.

Peach priestess is Frassai Tian Di: a peach pit carved from light wood, tendrils of incense smoke rising. Somewhere I read someone say this is a tea perfume, and they’re not wrong. Calming and subdued yet structured. When I first smelled Tian Di I didn’t quite get it, but then one day after a couple months in quarantine when I felt like a blob, I sprayed some on and it gave me shape and a feeling of smoothness.

perfume sample vialsLvnea Perfume La Serpentine is another smooth scent, peachy osmanthus and leather on a chypre bed of oakmoss.

Motif Olfactif Nectar Boisé is a peach scent for cardamom lovers, sweet spiced stewed fruits with sandalwood.

Sarah Baker Jungle Jezebel is neon banana-peach candy.

Shay & Blue White Peaches is quite delicate, a peach-tinted clean scent. I would like a shower gel with this scent.

I feel similarly about Parfums MDCI Peche Cardinal: a delicate, girly fruity-floral, peachy plummy with gentle washes of coconut and blackcurrant.

Aftelier Palimpsest has layer of peach fuzz over its rich, animalic jasmine and ylang ylang.

Histoires de Parfums 1969 is not peach-forward, but a spiced peach serves to meld its patchouli-chocolate-coffee base to its floral heart.

Finally, vintage Guerlain Mitsouko. I confess that I have a hard time with vintage perfumes. I get that Vintage Perfume Smell front and center, and it crowds out almost everything else in my nose. After a long dry down, if I squint my eyes I can make out the peach, the spices, the oakmoss. Lizzie Ostrom, a.k.a. Odette Toilette, in her book Perfume: A Century of Scents calls Mitsouko “the oblique perfume” that “is known for being difficult, revealing its hand slowly, if ever,” so perhaps I’m not alone.

Perfume Vibe: Beach Vacation

Perfumes to help you pretend you’re on a beach vacation.


Heeley Sel Marin is the first whiff you catch of the ocean when you arrive. Salt and sand, carried to you on a breeze. Wade into the waves and smell Profumum Roma Acqua di Sale, salty seaweed and ocean brine. For a softer take, try Hilde Soliani Acquiilssssima: seaweed and jasmine green tea. Your skin will smell like Arquiste Sydney Rock Pool, traces of coconut suntan lotion mixing with the salt water, warmed by the sun. Spread out your towel on a sun chair and the air smells like Heeley Coccobello: coconut, unsweetened, with touches of vanilla, subdued beachy florals in the salty air. 🌊 🏝

In the evening, you might put on Aftelier Parfum Privé, lush, soft, and romantic with tropical florals and a setting sun. Or you might reach for Fzotic Unsettled, the creamiest sandalwood over a relaxing pineapple and black tea accord. Wear Nishane Fan Your Flames if you want to smell like piña colada, but make it fashion—a generous pour of rum, with tobacco and coconut. For dessert, Pink MahogHany Pas Encore Nommé: pineapple cream topped with malted sugar. 🍍

Finally, my favorite part of a beach vacation, which I’m evoking through generous sprays of Pierre Guillaume Poudre de Riz: The Nap. Late afternoon, post-beach and post-shower. The lights are off and the shades are drawn, but natural light suffuses dimly into the room. The sun’s warmth still radiates from your skin, but the hotel towels and bedsheets are cool, and clean, and starched white. There is no nap more restful than this one.

Perfume Note: Rose

rose

Rose. In all honesty, I prefer to eat or drink my roses rather than wear them as perfume. These are two of my favorite roses: rose black tea and ferni, an Iranian or Afghan dessert made with rice flour, milk and, often, rosewater and cardamom.

I don’t generally wear rose-forward perfumes—or many floral perfumes at all—because I don’t feel like myself in them. But I will say that Masque Milano Love Kills captured my affection recently with its lychee and petals opening that reminds me of rosewater desserts. (Love Kills was also nominated this year for an Art and Olfaction Award—congratulations, Masque Milano and perfumer Caroline Dumur!).

If you had to pick your favorite rose smell—whether it’s a perfume, something to eat or drink, or your own rose garden—what would it be?

The Smell of Revolution

Lisa Kirk Revolution perfume

After Erica So’s thought-provoking Experimental Scent Summit talk on experimental scents for protesters in Hong Kong, I revisited this perfume by Lisa Kirk: Revolution. The notes listed are “tear gas, blood, smoke, urine, burned rubber, body odor, and more…” And that’s what I wanted to smell. But I was disappointed—the perfume is perfectly palatable, even pleasant. It paints for me a nostalgic vision of a farm shed in rural East Texas, with scents of old mellowed gasoline, deteriorating rubber tires, but mostly, clean wood smoke. I thought, if this is supposed to be the smell of “revolution,” then it is a revolution that has been made into runway fashion—lifted from its context, made into a creative brief for an ambiguously “rebellious” aesthetic, and given a pretty, anonymous face.

Reading more about the project, I realized that this was entirely the point. From a write-up on madperfumista.com: “Kirk’s art practice centers on the appropriation of radical political signifiers by corporations to sell consumer products, thereby usurping the symbolic power of these signs in the support of capitalism.”

In 2010 Lisa Kirk released a commercial for the fragrance, shot like the mass-market perfume commercials we’ve all seen: moody music plays as a male and female model run in slow motion through a city, meeting for a moment of romantic tension before one of them pulls out a bottle of perfume. In this commercial, the models run through the streets in chic motorcycle boots, pull off their ski masks, and with their gloved hands reveal the perfume—a bottle styled to look like a pipe bomb. Revolution.

Perfume Note: Honey

After the honey tasting, I pulled out some honey perfumes to smell.

perfumes with honey notes

Languid and thick, Hiram Green Slowdive has that Big Honey Energy™.

Naomi Goodsir Or du Sérail is a boozy, honey-drenched cornucopia of red fruits edged in tobacco and rum, sultry and autumnal, like a sexy Thanksgiving.

J Hannah Co. Hazel is a bright, ripe, juicy orange, herbaceously honeyed and darling.

Hermes Ambre Narguile is cinnamon raisin toast dipped in honey with tendrils of tobacco, reminiscent of hookah.

Aftelier Honey Blossom is a springtime meadow blooming with honeysuckle, mimosa, linden and orange blossom, a powdering of pollen floating golden in the air, lulling me into a nap in the sunlight.

Slumberhouse Sova is dark and dense, simultaneously herbaceous and animalic, with hops and hay fermenting in waxy honey.

Anna Zworykina Honey and Tar smells the way it’s named: a sticky vat of honey and tar, sweet and deceptively delicious.

Serge Lutens Miel de Bois is a dry wood infused with light honey, soft and beige.

Parfumerie Generale Intrigant Patchouli is a honeyed patchouli, ginger-spiced and smooth with sandalwood.

Xerjoff 1861 Zefiro is luxuriously cool and sweet, with cardamom, cinnamon, carnation, and fruit notes on a pillow of honey-softened resins.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two is crystallized ginger with anise and cinnamon drizzled with honey.

Nasomatto Baraonda—I love the way Lucky Scent describes this one: “Baraonda takes the heavy oil paints of the boozy-gourmand genre and uses them to make a watercolor.” A tumbler of whiskey, the smell of old books and antique wooden furniture, honeyed red fruits and resins, all composed in such a way as to make them sheer.

Warm Facets of Lavender

lavender embroidery northwise
Lavender embroidery by Jessa Spencer / Northwise.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a real sucker for lavender. Lately I’ve been reaching for DSH Perfumes Au Crépuscule de Lavande, which was recommended to me as a “candied lavender” perfume. When I first smelled it, I was simultaneously smitten and conflicted. Smitten because it’s such an easy-to-love scent. It makes me think of Cinnabon: coated in caramelized sugar and so delightful that it feels like a guilty pleasure. Conflicted for precisely the same reason: it was so easy to love that it made me suspicious. And besides, it doesn’t smell like what I expect from a lavender.

lavender perfume aftelier face elixir dsh

Even though I already knew that a good lavender could be soft, rich, and pillowy (broadly speaking: the difference between lavender absolute and lavender essential oil, the latter of which is more thin and herbal medicinal-smelling). I’ve smelled lavender complemented by vanilla-tinged tonka or spiced sandalwood, but never quite like this.

Then I put on some Aftelier Lavender Face Elixir and finally I was able to reconcile this particular quality of lavender. It feels to me like a difference in kinetic energy: lavender typically has a quality of restful stillness, but in Au Crépuscule de Lavande and Aftelier’s Lavender Face Elixir, I feel a gentle warmth as if generated by the friction of hands rubbing together, a kind of buzzing, or purring. In Au Crépuscule, this cinnamon-esque warmth is enhanced with sweet, golden resinous notes and tonka bean.

Thank you, Dawn and Mandy for showing me a new side of lavender. 

Perfume Note: Chocolate

Chocolate notes in perfume: cozy, delicious, and delightful.

When I want straight-up chocolate cake batter, I go for 4160 Tuesdays Over the Chocolate Shop, or the lighter Profumum Sorriso with accents of orange.

My most beloved perfume, Serge Lutens Borneo 1834 (I’ll only vouch for the original formulation) is a velvety, vampy cocoa patchouli. Sammarco Bond-T has a similar character but goes in a more dense, smoky leather direction.

Fzotic Ummagumma is chewy chocolate incense smoke, and his Corpse Reviver is booze-soaked, fruity, chocolate-covered civet.

Slumberhouse Ore is cocoa in a deep dark forest cabin, autumnal and moody.

DSH Perfumes Piment et Chocolat is unsweetened dark drinking cocoa with chili powder. Arquiste Anima Dulcis also features cocoa and chili, but is sueded, lighter, with vanilla folded in. Orto Parisi Boccanera is dark, nutty wood dusted with cocoa and chili.

Lubin Upper Ten for Her is a bright-eyed, fruity raspberry-rose going out for the evening, a cocoa powder compact in her purse.

Meshaz Spiced Cocoa puts cardamom front and center, but dries down to a soft cocoa powder.

And, it’s not a perfume but Bright Black Candle’s candle for Cocoasavvy resonates with cocoa and cotton.

Do you have a favorite chocolate scent?