What does a grape arbor smell like? I’ll admit to having experienced only one grape arbor. My Aunt Lois’ Concord grape arbor was so large, it was a ‘character’ at her Virginia home — as interesting as her moody dogs, her army of guardian Canada geese, and her free-range chickens (one of whom would go inside my aunt’s house and sleep in a dog bed by the kitchen stove; Miss Hinny would doze contentedly even as one of her less-beloved kin baked in the oven next to her).
My aunt’s grape arbor enclosed a large rectangular plot of land and was made of shortened telephone poles, wooden beams, heavy-duty wire mesh and old lattices. Two Concord grape vines were planted next to, and were supported by, telephone poles at opposite ends of the arbor. The grape vines formed a roof and walls, and during the growing season, one would part the dense leaf-covered vines and enter a dim ‘room’ — an excellent place to hide, to spy on people who worked in the surrounding garden, or to sulk.
In spring and fall this grape arbor was pleasant: bright, cool, airy and dry, but in summer, as the temperature soared and the grapes matured, the arbor ‘room’ became stuffy and damp, full of gnats, yellow jackets, and flies. During the hot months, I’d sit outside the arbor and eat delicious ripe grapes; after eating the grapes’ green pulp, I would toss the seeds and purple skins to the chickens gathered at my feet. Some athletic chickens, not content with grape seeds and skins, would jump up and grab whole grapes from the vines. Lazier hens would sit under the arbor waiting for a grape to drop to the ground; sometimes the fallen grapes would be too ripe for even the chickens, so those grapes would rot on the moist earth beneath the arbor and scent the air with the odor of vinegar.
Perfumer Christoper Brosius of CB I Hate Perfume describes the inspiration for Under the Arbor this way:
Grape leaf is a scent that reminds me of some of the most beautiful places I have visited in California, Italy and France. But mostly it reminds me of the old grape arbor that grew in the yard of the house where I lived as a child. I so loved to sit under it on a summer day quietly reading a favorite book curling my toes in the cool moss....
Brosius and I had different arbor experiences. While my Southern arbor smelled of ripened Concord grapes, bitter grape leaves, vinegary moist soil, chicken feathers (and worse), Brosius’ Under the Arbor emanates the scents of “crushed grape leaves, weathered wood, green moss and cool earth.” I wanted Under the Arbor to satisfy my desire for a fruity and rustic ‘outdoor’ cologne.
Under the Arbor is a perfume absolute; it is strong and long lasting. Under the Arbor’s tenacious heart note smells like a grape lollipop, not fresh fruit. The sweet grape candy aroma is placed between two layers of harsh notes — a musty opening note smells like brittle, yellowed paper (imagine the scent of a 50-year-old scrapbook) and the base notes bring to mind the pungent scent of wet wormy earth…the type of earth you encounter six feet underground. Under the Arbor is more “In the Attic” on my skin. I remember opening a mildewed leather trunk that had been in my family’s attic for decades — the contents of the trunk (old clothes, books and letters, empty perfume flasks, ribbons and dried flowers) produced a sharp, yet sickly sweet aroma, an aroma that reminds me, overall, of Under the Arbor.
I asked the person who endures all my perfume testing, who I use as a guinea pig in scent “trials”, to wear Under the Arbor. I didn’t divulge Under the Arbor’s name or ingredients to the Guinea Pig, I simply applied the scent to his skin. He sniffed and exclaimed: “I love it. It smells like a mysterious tropical flower.”
With perfume, one man’s Miss Haversham’s wedding bouquet, decrepit and dusty, is another man’s Tahitian blossom by Gauguin — brought to life.
CB I Hate Perfume Under the Arbor is available in 15 ml perfume absolute ($55). 2 ml samples are also available ($11). For buying information, see the listing for CB I Hate Perfume under Perfume Houses.