Perfume Insights from Raw Materials

Sometimes smelling a raw material feels like discovering a Rosetta Stone—it unlocks a perfume that until then I couldn’t quite decipher.

flouve1Recently I had this flash of recognition with flouve absolute (see description below), which was entirely new to me, but upon smelling it I suddenly understood what’s going on in Oriza L. Legrand’s Chypre Mousse. Similarly, when I smelled a gorgeous fir absolute, it felt like I could more deeply understand Slumberhouse’s Norne and its dense, sweet, “jammy” forest character. I don’t know if this material is in the perfume, but when I smelled hydrocarboresine (made from the gummy resin of labdanum) my mind instantly went to Bruno Fazzolari’s Ummagumma, and the chewy quality of its smoky leather made more sense, like I could see the through-line from incense to chocolate.

Have you had this experience with any raw materials and perfumes?

flouve2book
From Steffen Arctander’s Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. 

Gourmand Perfumes for Fall

 

Or du Sérail by Naomi Goodsir smells like sexy Thanksgiving—a cornucopia of fruits dripping with honey, soaked in rum, edged with tobacco. It’s the smell of the color gold. Warm, voluptuous, its texture balances somewhere between velvet and silk. A delicious and seductive scent for autumn.

Salt Caramel by Shay & Blue is a lighthearted gourmand: salty, creamy, caramel popcorn that is simply delectable. In my mind I was “saving this one for fall” while in reality I wore it throughout the summer too. Summons Halloween treats or a seaside carnival, whichever you’re in the mood for.

Jeux de Peau by Serge Lutens smells like comfort: warm milk, freshly baked baguettes, crusty and toasted on the outside with soft, warm, pillowy centers. Licorice notes are nestled underneath, complicating things. This is a gourmand perfume, but not in the usual sweet way. In fact, someone recently suggested to me that milk is an animalic note, and I think Jeux de Peau may be a point in their favor. Milk notes in perfumery (lactones) live on a continuum with apricots, coconut, and even osmanthus, and hints of those notes live in Jeux de Peau, softening the milk and blending its edges into the buttery woods. This is the scent of the idea of a hearth: warm, a blanket wrapped around you while homemade bread bakes in the kitchen the next room over. A cat dozes in your lap, purring.

Mushroom Smells

mushroomperfumes2

Ever since I ate that matsutake mushroom dish a few weeks ago, I’ve been curious about the smells of different types of mushrooms. So last weekend I went to the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s Annual Wild Mushroom Show and got to see, smell, touch, and taste a lot of mushrooms! My new favorite aromatic mushroom is the candy cap, which smells like maple syrup with hints of curry when dried. It’s used in all kinds of sweet desserts. I was talking to @wurstillustrations and she mentioned that as she’s become more experienced identifying mushrooms, she relies on smell more than sight.

After the show, of course I rummaged through my library (**hoarder’s stockpile) of perfumes to find some mushroomy scents. 🍄

vials

Chypre Mousse by Oriza L. Legrand is so weird and I love it. Frothy, mossy, loamy, with an odd green and aromatic sourness, no hard edges whatsoever, and a whisper of mint.

After the Flood by Apoteker Tepe also has a fresh, “forest floor after the rain” mood to it, but it focuses more on aquatic notes. This one has edges and contrast—like seeing the light and shadows of sunlight filtering through pine trees.

Cepes and Tuberose by Aftelier Perfumes departs from the “fresh” forest floor theme and goes full-on dirty sexy floral. It’s rich, earthy, and sweet with bitter orange and a hint of spice. Gorgeous.

Zoologist Perfumes for Halloween

bat2Happy Halloween! Today is the perfect day for Bat by Zoologist Perfumes. 🦇 This cavernous beauty was created by local Seattle-based perfumer Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Perfume. It’s the scent of a dank cave, humid nighttime soil, bananas and soft fruits beginning to rot. It’s a little bit leathery, a little bit earthy, a little bit sweet. This formulation was recently discontinued, which is its own kind of horror. 👻

Last weekend I dressed up as Velma Dinkley from Scooby Doo, and I also happened to choose a Zoologist fragrance for the costume. Since Velma is always snooping around haunted places, I went with Moth. It’s a dusty indoor floral that becomes more and more musty in the dry down—it often makes me think of Miss Havisham.

Perfume as Memento Mori

Serge Lutens Borneo 1834

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.

Perfume Shop Visit: Fumerie

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.