When autumn arrives in my part of the country, it’s often accompanied by fog and rain. The vibrantly colored red, purple, orange and yellow leaves on maples, gingkoes, liquidambars, smoke bushes, and all trees and shrubs that have a colorful “faint” into dormancy, are even more glorious with a gloss of moisture. The chilly Northwest damp also accentuates aromas; the ground smells pungent, leaves lose their juicy, “green” summer scents and begin to smell like antique paper or old books. As wood smoke begins to swirl from chimneys, providing its own gray mist to the heavy air, I feel as if the entire city is burning incense to mourn the lost summer and to pay homage to the coming winter.
Fall is a time of excitement and stillness; cool winds and refreshing rains energize me, while the sight of dead leaves slowly dropping to the ground, and the silence in the garden (most birds have headed south) put me into a contemplative state of mind. The perfumes I wear in autumn reflect these shifting moods of the season.
There are few fragrance houses whose entire offerings I would happily wear — Eau d’Italie is one such fragrance house. Bois d’Ombrie smells of wood, cognac, leather, incense, myrrh, tobacco and beeswax; wearing it is like stepping into a wood-paneled room of the Renaissance era, a room that’s absorbed centuries of delicious aromas.
I often burn Papier d’Arménie to freshen rooms in my home. Now, I can walk about freshening spaces I move through. Annick Ménardo has created liquid Papier d’Arménie with her Bois d’Arménie perfume. Bois d’Arménie is part of the Art et la Matière line of scents by Guerlain and though it contains pink pepper, rose, iris, coriander, patchouli and musk, what I smell are the signature powdery fragrance notes of Papier d’Arménie — benzoin, incense, amber and vanilla.
For me, a ‘sturdy’ (and simple) sandalwood perfume is a necessity for fall and winter and Santalum by Profumum fits the bill. It has a rich, slightly sweet, and long-lasting sandalwood fragrance, with added, but not distracting, notes of myrrh and cinnamon.
A Dream: While touring some vetiver fields on a damp day, I am spotted by a spy from the Society for the Promotion of Ozone and Marine Notes in Male Perfumery/Mainstream Division. Seeing his chance to silence me forever, he waits till I wander into a deep, stony ditch and then topples 100 bales of dried vetiver roots onto me. I realize, to survive and write more negative reviews of mediocre men’s perfumes, I must use my hands and teeth to pull apart and gnaw thru the bales of tough vetiver roots that envelop me. As I emerge through the last bale of vetiver, I smell of cool moist earth and stones, “exertion” and…vibrant vetiver. In other words, I smell like Vetiver by Etro. Though Etro’s Vetiver also contains artemisia, clary sage, cypress, cedar and tobacco — vetiver root is the star of the cologne. If I were forced to downsize my perfume collection and could only keep one vetiver fragrance, I’d keep Etro Vetiver. Roll your eyes, gasp, thrust a hand to your mouth in shock, even laugh at me, but I’d choose Etro’s Vetiver over Hermès’ Vetiver Tonka, Frederic Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier’s Route du Vetiver and Guerlain’s Vetiver.
I don’t possess a classic “comfort scent” in my perfume arsenal. My comfort scent would not involve food (vanilla, rice pudding, apples, cinnamon); if I could create a comfort scent, it would smell of freshly shampooed English Bulldog or Pug. Since that is not about to happen, I will note one scent I find comforting and that I encounter this time of year: the scent of my wool sweaters. As I unpack my sweaters (the ones I forgot to dry clean before storing), I smell the ghostly remains of last fall’s (and winter’s) perfumes: sandalwood, cedarwood, patchouly and vetiver. Parfum d’Habit by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier smells like my ‘scented’ wool sweaters — and I love it.
I won’t wear a simple wool sweater with my next fall fragrance selection: a tuxedo or finely tailored suit would be more apt. When I spray on Jacques Guerlain’s 1904 creation Mouchoir de Monsieur, with its bergamot and verbena, its rose and jasmine, its vanilla, fern and iris, my posture improves, my pronunciation and enunciation improve, I feel smooth, shiny, impeccable; I feel I could issue edicts and be obeyed. I’ll be giving gallery talks at the Seattle Art Museum this winter for a show called “Roman Art from the Louvre” — guess what scent I’ll be wearing as I talk, and walk, my way through the sculptures of gods and goddesses, the Caesars?
Since I like cows and feel bad about buying products made from their skins, I take really good care of my leather goods, especially my leather bags. I buy a bag and use it till it falls apart, so I rarely get to smell “new” leather. When my leather bag or backpack needs a leather “fix,” I moisten a cotton ball with some Serge Lutens Cuir de Mauresque, stuff the cotton ball into a tiny glass pill bottle (uncapped), toss it into my bag and the scent of perfumed leather wafts from my old bag every time I open it. I wear Cuir de Mauresque on my body too; how can I resist its heady mix of myrrh, burnt styrax, incense, aloeswood, cedar, civet, cloves, cumin, cinnamon, orange blossom, nutmeg, mandarin peel, and jasmine? Such perfume luxury, and luxuriousness, seems most appropriate in autumn as heavy (‘important’) jewelry, velvet, cashmere and, alas, furs start appearing everywhere.
To commemorate my first visit to Paris, I wore a scent I had not tried before — Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet (created in 1872). Many years later, I still love Paris and Hammam Bouquet’s sophisticated scent, made with rose, iris, jasmine, cedar, lavender, amber and sandalwood. My only gripe: the perfume extract version of Hammam Bouquet was discontinued. Note: if you ever call Hammam Bouquet a “grandfatherly” scent in my presence, first, I will slap your face (not really, but I’ll WANT to), and then I’ll position you on my Perfume IQ list under: “Semi-ignorant; tastes/descriptive vocabulary: limited; refers to complex, classic scents as ‘old lady’ or ‘old man’ fragrances.”
On London’s Jermyn Street, not far from one of Penhaligon’s London shops, you can buy Frankincense & Myrrh by Czech & Speake — a marvelous, under-appreciated, under-worn, and virtually unknown (in the U.S.) unisex fragrance. Yes, there’s frankincense and myrrh in the perfume, but also the enchanting aromas of chamomile and fine sandalwood. Frankincense & Myrrh smells like “church,” especially if the church was built in the 13th century and has been permeated with the scent of burning incense for hundreds of years.
As fall arrives, I can’t forget my summer garden and the scented flowers it provided, so I buy real flowers in winter and “wear” flowers in my perfumes. Kismet by Yosh reminds me of a protected, walled garden in a high desert — the type of desert that’s warm and nurturing in day, and chilly at night. Kismet’s cool narcissus, chamomile, boronia and osmanthus act as foils for its ‘hotter’ cedar, frankincense and turmeric aromas — this mix of coolness and warmth mimics the changeable days, and moods, of fall.