I have always been struck by one passage about love in the critic and teacher John Bayley's memoir of his forty-year marriage to the novelist Iris Murdoch, Elegy for Iris. The two are on their honeymoon and people-watching. Bayley notes:
Iris seemed to be in a reverie, too. I took her hand and it pressed mine. What was she thinking? I had no idea... I knew very well there was no way to find out. But this realization reassured me deeply... Such ignorance, such solitude! They suddenly seemed the best part of love and marriage. We were together because we were comforted and reassured by the solitariness each saw and was aware of in the other.
This is, of course, not the sort of all-consuming passion one normally yearns for as a young person, but as the years pass, it seems more and more to me that a lifelong love is indeed composed of two entirely separate, interested and mysterious people, mucking along together. I've come to suspect that most of the success of a marriage like Murdoch's and Bayley's is in the ability of each to play muse for the other. A muse is, first and foremost, somebody who is comfortable left to their own thoughts, their human, inevitable secrets. It is this comfort that we call confidence, and that we find so attractive in a lover. Confident scents are ones that please the wearer and project her pleasure. I feel most confident in quieter, glowy fragrances, perfumes of clarity that nonetheless whisper something different to me each time I wear them. Here are the three that most often lend a little sensuality, class and mystery to my day.
Le Parfum de Thérèse by Frederic Malle: From the perfume made for her, I can only conclude that Mrs. Edmond Roudnitska was a wise, elegant and serene woman. Despite the complex development, there is a weightlessness to the scent throughout that never fails to captivate me. I love in particular the melon, a note many people find objectionable. I think it is handled expertly here, its transparency blending with the jasmine to vividly conjure light seen through water.
Sublime by Jean Patou: Luca Turin has compared this scent to Minerva/Athena, "in full armor and helmet", "arrestingly handsome, rather than pretty". There is indeed a metallic note that has no time for mere "pretty", sounding a beautiful and surprising chord with more traditional oriental staples such as amber and sandalwood. There is an expansive, proud ease to the golden drydown of Sublime that makes me think of it as a warmer version of Guerlain Vetiver.
Odalisque by Parfums de Nicolaï: A delicately sweet, spare perfume that strikes an odd balance between sensuality and restraint. The listed floral notes (lily of the valley, iris, jasmine) give no hint as to what creates an almost incense-like impression in the later stages. Odalisque is "serious" in the best of senses and endlessly intriguing to me.