Welcome to “Things What Smell Nice,” my grammatically incorrect yet enthusiastic review blog that focuses on…well, you probably guessed already.
I don’t know how often I’ll have time to update this blog, but perfume and tea are two of my favorite hobby interests, and I’ve spent several years obsessing over them to various degrees, trying to figure out what makes them tick and what makes some so special to me, while others leave me unimpressed or even repelled.
When it comes to perfume, like a lot of perfume bloggers, I will focus on the costly and the strange. Not because I’m a snob, but because not many people want to hear about an enthusiast’s admiration for Tommy Girl, Lady Stetson, and Cool Water. Everyone can try those themselves just by stepping into a drugstore. Where’s the vicarious thrill?
But buy those perfumes anyway, because they are awesome. Guy Robert, the master perfumer who composed Amouage Gold and Madame Rochas, famously said this: “Un parfum doit avant tout sent bon.” A perfume should first and foremost smell good.
“Good” does not mean “expensive” (though a good cheap perfume will often smell expensive), and it definitely doesn’t mean “pretty.” Some of the best perfumes in the world are odd and unsettling, initially causing you to recoil before you find yourself compelled to come back for more, sure that your first impression could not possibly have been accurate and nothing could really smell like that. Not on purpose, not by design.
Great perfumes can “deconstruct” smells that we expect to find familiar. Guerlain’s Nahéma is a perfect example. Nahéma is a rose scent, and has been called the greatest rose perfume ever made, precisely because it takes our idea of what a rose should smell like and pulls it apart to examine the pieces. Perfume critic Luca Turin called it “an explosion done in reverse” and expressed doubt that any actual rose was used in the composition at all. There are many rose perfumes, and many of them are very popular, but there is nothing that truly approaches Nahéma, and few other perfumers have the guts to try.
Having said that, I do not own a bottle or a sample of Nahéma, though I have other rose perfumes in my stash. I freely acknowledge its greatness while admitting I don’t love it. I’d like to amend Robert’s statement: a perfume should first and foremost smell good to you, whether you love it immediately or you need a little longer to appreciate it. But all the expensive juice and critical acclaim in the world don’t matter a bit if it’s not a scent you want to carry around on your own body all day. (Or, as with some of my tragic favorites, a few hours at best.)
To be honest, most of Guerlain’s perfumes fall in that line for me–even the classics. I appreciate their brilliance, and their sacred places in the history of perfume, but I’ve never felt compelled to buy Shalimar, Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue, or Vol de Nuit.
There is, however, one exception: Apres L’Ondée.
Click the link to see what the perfume is today, but don’t buy it. At least, not yet.
The recent history of Apres L’Ondée is a sad one. In its original form (as composed in 1906), the eau de parfum was truly one of the greats–iris with a heliotropin note, or was it the other way around? Nobody could say for sure, but if you take that combination and throw in a few herbs, you get a masterpiece. If you can get your hands on the EdP (which I have done), you will understand how it recalls the Belle Epoque.
Here’s what I mean. After reading a review by Turin–whom I will frequently reference, I’m sure–I took a sniff of Apres L’Ondée while listening to Debussy’s Images, composed around the same time (1905-1912). Let me say that I felt absolutely pretentious and ridiculous, and vowed to tell nobody about it, but when the first notes of the perfume and the music unfolded together, I actually got tears in my eyes. It was overwhelming. For the first time in my life, a perfume became not a smell, but an experience.
We think of perfume as a scent in a bottle, but it really exists on a continuum of pleasures. As wine is best appreciated with good food, so it goes with perfume. Spritz on Chanel’s 31 Rue Cambon and then stroke something made out of mink. You’ll see what I mean.
Unfortunately, due to EU regulations, Guerlain has discontinued the EdP of Apres L’Ondée. You can still find it online at immense cost. The eau de toilette, which I linked above, isn’t cheap either, and has to sacrifice several of the elements that made the original great. Where the EdP contains herbs and heliotropin (a sort of almond-floral smell), the EdT is more of a straightforward iris “soliflore”–which means just what it sounds like, a single flower. It’s as pretty and melancholy as flowers after the rain, just as the name promises, but something has been lost. I speak from experience, since I currently have the EdP on my left elbow and the EdT on my right.
So why did I kick off my perfume blog with a perfume that’s now all but impossible to get? To emphasize the following cliches: life is short, and change is the only constant. If you love a fragrance (I keep saying “perfume,” but of course I include cologne as well), buy it. Wear it. Enjoy it. Who knows when it will be discontinued, reformulated, or otherwise lost for good?
In terms of sheer cost, perfume is one of life’s least expensive luxuries, even when it’s expensive perfume. Unless you’re literally bathing in scents by Amouage or Clive Christian–or if you have the misfortune to fall in love with Chanel’s 28 La Pausa–you can rely on a bottle of fine perfume to last you a lot longer than, say, tickets to Hamilton or a pair of Louboutins.
The danger comes when you move past the idea of finding your “signature scent” (which is how many people first fall into the trap, like me) and start getting your hands on all the perfume you can find. This is when you must learn how to be reasonable, and this is why perfume samples, as in the above photo, are a life-saver. Everyone should try the EdP of Apres L’Ondée, and if you’re willing to cough up twelve bucks, a couple of wearings can be yours.
Some perfume samples can be easy to come by; Nordstrom is pretty good about giving out free samples of their scents, and I have had good luck in Saks as well. However, if you want the niche stuff I’ll often be talking about on this blog, you will have to go a little further afield, and pay a few dollars here and there. But not many. And like I said, it’s worth it.
I have bought perfume samples from the following sites. The Perfumed Court is the only one that’s ever given me any trouble, but when I had a problem with the delivery (see how that sample up there was actually sent in a bottle of nail polish?), they apologized at once and sent me a proper sample in a spray bottle at no cost. So I recommend all three of these sites for when you’re feeling adventurous or curious:
Lucky Scent (also sells full bottles of pretty much everything)
Expect other tips and various asides as we go. (Ever wondered what a fougère is? What do I mean when I say “indolic” or “aldehydic”?) I’m excited about my tiny new blog, and I welcome suggestions and recommendations of all kinds. I will mostly review perfumes I enjoy–or at least find well-done and fascinating, if not wearable. If you have a favorite scent you’d like me to feature, leave me a comment and I’ll see if I can get my hands on it. (This doesn’t mean I guarantee a review. If I end up hating your darling, then at least I won’t savage it in front of the world.) Anything is fair game, including scents that are supposedly “masculine” or “unisex,” since the gendering of fragrance is nonsense, and I’ll wear anything so long as–you guessed it–I like the way it smells.
My next post will be be twofold: a review of Yunnan tea, and also of the perfume Tubereuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens. In other words, it will be a love letter to smoke, menthol, and gasoline. I hope to see you then!