Can one compare heroin addiction to perfume addiction? Recently, a quote from the book Opium: A History struck me: “heroin is…an escape to tranquility, a liberation from anxiety and stress…a way out of the drudgery of life.”* Some days I feel that way about my colognes, and a perfume habit, like a drug habit, can deplete my bank account, but at least perfume won’t kill me. (Please, no comments on the chemicals contained in perfumes…those I ignore.)
In 1874, pharmacist C.R. Alder Wright of Saint Mary’s Hospital, London, was experimenting to find a non-addictive replacement for the pain-killer supreme — morphine; Wright boiled morphine with acetic anhydride and created a new substance — diacetylmorphine. Twenty-four years later, the German chemist Heinrich Dreser of Bayer Laboratories (the “birthplace” of aspirin) in Elberfeld, Germany, used diacetylmorphine in a pain killer he named “Heroin” — from the German word heroisch (meaning “mighty, heroic”).* Bayer marketed Heroin as a remedy for tuberculosis, laryngitis, coughs and, most ironically, as a “possible cure for morphine addiction".**
Heroin was celebrated as a wonder drug — five to eight times more powerful than morphine; it was injected, or taken orally in pastille or lozenge form.* Of all opium-derived drugs, heroin is the most addictive — one can start on the road to addiction with a single dosage or “hit".* Heroin, like its narcotic relatives opium and morphine, is a drug that relieves pain and induces sleep; heroin also produces a state of euphoria and well-being.** The famous addict, comedian Lenny Bruce, described his use, and the effect, of heroin this way: “I’ll die young, but it’s like kissing God.”*
I’m lucky I didn’t live in an era or environment where opiates were readily available because I’ve always been drawn to images of the opium den, the opium pipe and other opium-smoking paraphernalia. During several post-surgery recoveries and a few other painful illnesses, I’ve been prescribed my fair share of opiates and to say I enjoyed them is an understatement. I relished them. Once, I knew I was in dangerous territory when getting healthy again upset me (my thought: “No more Oxycodone?!”)
Why all this talk of opiates? Because Nasomatto chose to name its latest perfume after a very pure form of heroin: China White. Unlike most “street heroin” which is a brown shade (“brown sugar”), China White is, well, white, a pharmaceutical-grade heroin (more dangerous and powerful than street heroin).
China White, the fragrance, was created by Nasomatto perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri and, as I wrote in my Hindu Grass review, Nasomatto never lists ingredients for its scents; Nasomatto wants you to approach all its perfumes without preconceived notions about their ingredients. I bet Gualtieri is the type who would delight in the following scenario:
Gualtieri: “What DON’T you like when it comes to perfume notes, Kevin?”
Me: “Well, I hate saffron.”
Gualtieri: “Oh Kevin, that’s too bad. Let’s try some perfumes….” (sniffing ensues)
Me: “This one, no. This one, O.K. THIS one…. Oh! This one is lovely!”
Gualtieri: “Reeeeeeally? You know it contains: SAFFRON! HA! HA! HA! HA!”
China White opens sweet and old fashioned; it has a vintage air, an “early Chanel” vibe. Right out of the bottle, China White reminds me of Bois des Îles, but with green notes wafting through the composition. China White has a syrupy (kumquat-like) citrus note, a fragrant-blossoms accord (vaguely smelling of jasmine-violet-ylang-ylang) and a damp-forest aroma. As China White dries down, I smell some smoke, a sweet-charred note (benzoin?), and a powdery finish of ‘vaporized’ wood and nougat. China White smells luxurious, plush, but it’s not “suffocating.” When it comes to its name — ‘China White’ — the perfume would have been better served, in my opinion, by a reference to opulent opium dens, rather than to a type of heroin.
China White is my favorite Nasomatto fragrance and, though it’s not Oxycodone, or even Demerol, it makes me feel good. China White has above-average lasting power, and the scent stays close to the body.
Nasomatto China White is $148 for 30 ml Parfum. For buying information, see the listing for Nasomatto under Perfume Houses.
* Opium: A History by Martin Booth, Simon & Schuster, 1996; p. 85, p. 77, p. 78, p. 91 and p. 84 respectively.
** Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon by Barbara Hodgson, GreyStone Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1999; p. 17 and pps. 15-17 respectively.