I’ve been a ‘stinky’ blogger lately. I’m not quite sure where January went, but one of the high points of the month was that this recipe was named a runner-up in the 5th Annual St. Germain Can Can Classic! Ironically, I won a fancy St. Germain cruiser bicycle (it’s on the way) and a bottle of the delicious elderflower liqueur from France. I guess I’ll have to teach myself how to ride a bike again after all (see previous post about my failed bicycle attempts in Mexico).
So while we are on the subject of French liqueur, I’ve realized I neglected to cover many of France trip highlights, including one I like to refer to as my ‘Passport to Fragrance.’ I’ve decided that we’re going to do something about that right now. In junior high, I listened to alternative bands like The Dead Milkmen and used to get a kick out of an obnoxious track called, “My Many Smells,” and the line: “Won’t you come and smell me? Won’t you share my stench?” I don’t think I envisioned my perfume affinity at the ripe age of 12 or 13. But after twenty years and more flacons than I can recall, I think this song had a rather profound effect on me - even if their idea of stench was more like a college fraternity house or what my hair smells like after several days of hitting the dry shampoo. So without further ado, I’m going to share my stench with you.
I went to Paris with a very clear agenda: go to the Les Salons Dus Palais Royal Shiseido and buy what is known as a bell jar (and no, not the Sylvia Plath variety – see the pic above). The apothecary-styled bell jar is generally filled with some exclusive Serge Lutens scent that we poor bastards in the states can’t enjoy unless Monsieur Lutens decides to release it as a limited edition 50 ml spray export. Since my trip to France, they’ve decided to allow exclusive bell jar purchases to ship to the U.S. Go figure! At any rate, the store looks exactly like it appears on the website, which is great considering I didn’t take a picture. The doors were open and the sales associates were looking at me like I was some crazy American tourist so I put my camera away (busted!) and got down to business: retail therapy. I had been pathetically coveting a bell jar for over five years. I hadn’t had the chance to sniff Sarassins, which has seen described as an “inky jasmine.” I also sampled Fourreau Noir, a lavender-tonka concoction that on the right person (i.e. the sales associate) would smell great but ultimately that wasn’t the one for me. I liked Sarassins immediately. I’d describe it as a true jasmine with fruity top notes and a lovely base of musk and leather. The fruity notes remind me of apricots or Osmanthus tea. The leather note is more suede-like, and similar to the suede note in Daim Blonde. The jasmine is tempered by the fruit, musk and leather which keeps it from going overboard (as in A La Nuit). It smells gorgeous in the cold January air in New York. I think frigid weather really does wonders for tropical white florals. It’s like having a spray vacation.
So after purchasing Sarassins, I had the sales associate dab some Un Lys on me (my all-time favorite) and I proceeded to exit the store. I meandered back to the hotel with my purchase and while strolling and successfully avoiding the Jimmy Choo windows (my wallet just couldn’t take that beating), I soon realized that I would have to return to Palais Royal before departing Paris. While the sales associate did me proper in selling me the Sarassins, I just had to have my beloved bell jar of Un Lys. I’m hard pressed to find a better fragrance on my person. It’s a gorgeous white lily underpinned with greens, vanilla, and musk. It’s simple. Elegant. Classy. Hey, that’s how I roll. I’ve worn this one from early spring until the tail end of summer. It’s a stunner. Some adjustments had to be made within the travel spending budget to accommodate the extra perfume purchases, but not before I embraced my inner museum nerd. I sweated and got elbowed by many an Asian tourist while documenting the Mona Lisa. Can I just say that the Louvre was the most unpleasant museum experience I’ve ever had? No, not the Louvre itself - there are a lot of fine works there. It was just way too crowded for anyone’s actual enjoyment. I much preferred the Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie, l’Espace Dalí, and Musée Matisse.
Upon exiting the Louvre, I spotted the L’Artisan boutique directly across the street. I needed to spray something on myself after feeling as crammed as a sardine in a can. Plus, I couldn’t risk opening my new bell jars and having them spill all over in transit. Samples of the L’Artisan line could be enjoyed outside without even entering the store, but I was definitely going in. It took all of five hot seconds to know that their summer release of Séville à l’Aube was coming home with Lady Sensory. No one does an orange blossom like L’Artisan. They managed to unseat the highly regarded Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger as my top pick for orange blossom in a matter of minutes. If you haven’t heard the story behind the fragrance, please visit this blog written by the woman whose story inspired it and this blog for a lovely review. The top notes will hit you with a dose of greens (petitgrain) and then the orange blossom develops and lingers throughout the drydown which is all honeyed lavender and benzoin on me. This was the fragrance I wore for the remainder of the trip as I moved toward the south of France. I also wore it upon my return and throughout the fall months. While one might not recommend this for summer due to the drydown, I don’t really find it heavy or cloying. In fact, I find it very clean (not in that boring laundry-musk way) and I get tons of compliments on it. I wore it yesterday because it hit 60 degrees here and even got some compliments standing in line for some soup at the deli. The lavender seems to temper the honey and incense notes and the orange blossom keeps the whole thing from tipping into that ambery-oriental/gourmand zone. I really, truly love this and will always associate it with my brief summer stint on the Mediterranean. I’ve already used half of my bottle and never want to be without it and yet (of course), it’s in limited production.
While on my visit, I also hit the Fragonard perfume museum (I warned you that I’m a museum nerd) which is kind of near the Opera House in Paris. I wanted to go to the Fragonard in Eze, but the driver prioritized a Monte Carlo run for all the gamblers on the bus. While some scents were nice at Fragonard, I didn’t find anything that really spoke to me and said, “Take me home!” But hey, I managed to land three gorgeous bottles of perfume that are unusual enough where I know I won’t smell them on anyone I know. I also snagged some amazing high-quality bar soaps from the market in Nice, a lifetime of memories, and some quality pics. So, no complaints here!
Now, some of you might be reading this thinking, “Whoa, crazy lady. You flew across the ocean for perfume?” Well the answer is both yes and no. I travel because I enjoy experiencing the culture, food, and art in a new place, but olfactory memories are very powerful and if you can capture the essence of that place and time, or a feeling in a bottle (as in Séville à l’Aube) well, why wouldn’t you buy it? And France has a long history of perfumery. It seemed that perfume would be the perfect souvenir. And now, some thoughts to ponder when selecting your own personal stench:
1) Don’t buy something because it smells good on someone else without trying it on your own skin. It will smell different on you because of your chemistry. Research and try before you buy. Plenty of websites offer reviews of perfume and samples for purchase or swapping (from niche to mainstream).Please reference my breakup with Thierry Mugler’s Angel for more elaboration on that.
2) You don’t HAVE to have a signature scent. It’s wonderful if you do, but sometimes a seven-year itch is a good thing (again, refer to the Angel breakup). I went from wearing the same scent every day (a very heavy gourmand) to having a nice collection composed of what I would describe as three distinct fragrance seasons. Experiment! Like food, you’ll be surprised how much your taste can change when exposed to new things. For every new celebrity fruity-floral, there are several far more interesting fragrances to counteract it. If I hadn’t strayed I would never have smelled all the amazing stuff going on out there in the fragrance industry.
3) Most importantly, wear what YOU like. I wear fragrance for myself. If I get a compliment, well, that’s just a bonus because I’m already in the mindset that I smell great. And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Whether it’s a $10 drugstore spray or a fancy flacon nearing $200 - when it works, it just works. Now run along and put your best stench forward…and enjoy a few pics from the parade of museums and perfumeries.