A few nights ago I had a few friends over for dinner and we ate duck breast rubbed with fresh mint, ground coriander seeds, and pepper, with an olive and vermouth pan sauce. One of my friends brought field greens, complete with strands of chickweed and wild violets. We drank single-vineyard Oregon pinot noir and were on top of the world. On the other hand, tonight it's raining and work was a drag. I'm home alone and craving a box of macaroni and cheese. For me, this dichotomy applies to perfume, too. Sometimes I want something that is well crafted. Other times I want something, well, Kraft-ed.
When I'm tired and crabby and yearning for comfort, I reach for the dulce de leche ice cream equivalent of perfume. I don't want a complex perfume that unfurls over time with layers of surprising beauty. No, I want something that will make me slightly nauseated if I overdo it. I want a cashmere blanket, a Duncan Hines cupcake, a Barbra Streisand People of scent. I want the "I've seen the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice so many times that I've memorized key scenes" fragrance.
One of the perfumes I reach for when nothing will do but second best is Lorenzo Villoresi Alamut. It is buttery, warm, and powdery, like a pile of French toast with a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar. Another perfect, second-best scent is Chopard Casmir, a vanilla-soaked oriental bomb. Caron Nocturnes, S-Perfume 100% Love, and Molinard Habanita are other perfumes I choose when I want to be lulled rather than intrigued. When the mood strikes, I can't get enough of them.
Many of these perfumes — well, maybe not the 100% Love — have had mixed, or even lousy, reviews, just as Pop Tarts wouldn't be reviewed well by a pastry chef. But when you're on a road trip and the radio will only get the local country western station, what tastes better than a shared package of Pop Tarts washed down with gas station coffee?
It's tempting to be clever and name beautiful scents that masquerade as cheesy. Thierry Mugler Angel, for instance, pretends to be trashy but is, in fact, art. (Jeff Koons might be the fine art equivalent to Angel.) Love's Baby Soft, however, is pure, stultifying, comfort. Cost or niche status don't have much to do with it, either. For instance, to me Serge Lutens Clair de Musc is a divine second-best scent.
Let's raise a fragrant wrist to the second-best perfume. Sometimes Mitsouko needs too much from us — in fact, at times like this the whole chypre category can sit on the shelf for another day. Sometimes only the second best is tops.