In the north part of town is a shop, The Meadow, smaller than some bedrooms. When I visited, it was a wet, spring day, and I opened the door to a divine fragrance. The store's humid air carried the scent of the shelves of single-origin chocolate bars on one side, the two walls of salt from around the world, a display of bitters and digestifs open to be sampled, and the flowers for sale in the center of the store: lilies, freesia, roses, and more. Wow, I thought, I want this in a perfume.
Have you ever considered your ideal perfume? Imagine this: you're seated in an airplane next to an engaging stranger you discover is one of your favorite perfumers. He or she offers to create for you any perfume you want. What would you choose?
For me, that's a difficult question. I would love an old school chypre led by an unpredictable fresh note — maybe lovage — with a wine-like heart that smells like a floral Riesling tastes. And a touch of leather. Maybe that combination would be a disaster.
I do love a crisp, green chypre. But why would I have one of those made when there are so many terrific green chypres out there? Givenchy III, Estée Lauder Private Collection, Yves Saint Laurent Y come to mind right away.
Of course, a big oriental would be wonderful, too. I'd love a fragrance that invokes the feeling of lounging by the fireplace after an autumn dinner with friends. The dog is on the couch (naughty pup), the smell of dessert lingers, little glasses of brandy dot the coffee table, and one of my friends is talking about his trip to Turkey. The thing is, the market is lousy with delicious orientals, from Guerlain Shalimar to Chopard Casmir to Mauboussin by Mauboussin.
And when dreaming of the perfect perfume, let's not forget the beauty of an aldehydic floral with saliva-inducing pulchritude. Then again, Guerlain Vega has that ground covered.
Maybe we can't predict the perfume we love best. Maybe the unexpected aspects of the fragrance are part of its allure. When I opened The Meadow's door, I smelled something new, and it enthralled me. The same is true for many of my favorite perfumes — for instance, Ormonde Jayne Woman, Christian Dior Miss Dior, and Parfums DelRae Mythique. I couldn't have asked any perfumer to create something like them for me, because I had no conception of them, and I certainly didn't anticipate liking them so much. But once I'd smelled them I knew I always had to have a bottle.
So, to the perfumer in the next airline seat, I'd have to say, "Surprise me."