Wearing your favorite chypre, you go into the Registry Office to renew your license and the attendant leans across the desk to confide: "I'm sorry — we need the ventilation system cleaned. I think something died in there." Or you are standing at the bus stop, bathing in the warm glow of some animalic rarity — Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan or JAR Ferme Tes Yeux, for example — when the friendly, guileless woman next to you asks if you work at the nursing home. Maybe you are quietly eating your soba noodle salad when a man seated at the next table over starts demanding of the waitress the source of that smell. He will say, "It's like some kind of… wood." He stresses this last word as if he is deeply and personally offended.
Fellow fragrance fanatics, I know you have publicly suffered for your passion. Listed here are five fascinating perfumes that I think are well-suited to the hibernation of early winter. Please share a story of fragrance-based humiliation with us or berate me for including your signature scent below.
Issey Miyake Le Feu D'Issey: Luca Turin wrote of the original (discontinued, non-light) Le Feu that "smelling it is like a frantic videoclip of objects that fly past at warp speed" (translation by Chandler Burr quoted at The Curious Wavefunction); I get lime peel, milk, urinal pucks, coated Aspirin, varnished wood, ginger hand soap, a gentle sweat and citronella candles. Like Turin, I find Le Feu D'Issey amusing, but those who are bothered by the cacophonous quality of, say, Guerlain's Jicky in parfum, will most likely find it barfy.
Visionaire WET: Forgive me for this one, because: a) it was a limited edition developed by perfumer Dominique Ropion for Visionaire Magazine's Scent issue; b) it smells like a mix of musky sweet soap powder and… erm, a gender-specific bodily fluid. For a more widely available scent that smells quite different, but induces similar squirms in some people, try the very XY Santa Maria Novella Acqua di Cuba.
Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie: Une Fleur de Cassie — also created by Ropion — has fans who speak of its sensual, grown-up beauty; to me, it combines the flat, peppery odour of damp newsprint, a urinous sharpness and floral dusting talc. It's a feral fragrance that can inspire looks of vague, but profound disturbance in passersby.
The Different Company Rose Poivrée: Chandler Burr recently stole my thunder on this one, but I'm going to praise its scornful elegance anyway. Rather like a more luminous and streamlined Alexander McQueen Kingdom, Rose Poivrée juxtaposes a berry-bright opening with the wildly intimate yet cold drydown of rose absolute and civet. Ideally, it should be worn by a beautiful woman who cuts her own hair — badly.
Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune: To you, it may smell like shiny happy grapefruits holding hands, but others may get cat pee in a gym bag.
Related reading: see Perfume Insults & A Quiz.
Note: image via Parfum de Pub.