I am the restless type. Every eighteen months, I get thoroughly fed up with our living quarters — the creaky floors, the electric stove and lack of water pressure, that bathroom window that won't open — and decide we should move. My husband puts much less stock in clean slates, being a skeptic with a good memory. He resents the higher rent and costs associated with changing residences, but he always acquiesces with the faint hope that I will keep the new apartment cleaner. (Ha!) And so, a couple of springs, falls and high summers over the last decade, we've spent our days packing clothes, dishes, Playmobil figures, perfume and one metric ton of books into boxes. Even after ruthless purges1 and some inevitable breakage, it seems we end up with more stuff in the new place than we had in the old. Since our last move two weeks ago, I've been wandering through the chaos aimlessly, moving papers and knick-knacks from one pile to another.
One of the few pleasures of re-locating is finding things of interest you never knew you lost. Around here, things of interest fall into three categories: 1) perfume samples; 2) books; and 3) jars of gourmet condiments and jams we will never use. Push back the couch and a dusty vial of Bois 1920 Sushi Imperiale rolls out. Dismantle the bookcase and both a sample of Divine L'Homme de Coeur and a copy of Robertson Davies' The Rebel Angels emerge. There is an atomizer of Histoire des Parfums Noir Patchouli in the desk drawer with the income tax documents. Ah, old friends! With more than two new fragrances released each day now, it sometimes seems as if I first encountered these scents in the ancient past, rather than only a few years ago. With forgotten favorites in hand, it's easy to start feeling pretty testy about the rate of release in the perfume industry. But wearing the finds is the best cure for my scent cynicism: they still smell wonderful and they remind me of all the treasures in my collection. Without spending another penny, I could probably spend years surprising and enjoying myself with the samples I already have.
If you've been interested in fragrance for a while, you don't need to go to the expense and trouble of moving to remind yourself to re-try perfumes you're already encountered. I find reading lists and polls on the blogs is a great way to cue your memory. I was delighted to see Parfum d'Empire's Eau de Gloire on Denyse's Top Ten of Spring 2011 at Grain de Musc. This rough-hewn, flinty take on a lavender cologne, with its strange heart of immortelle-sweetened incense ash, launched in 2003 and was one of the first niche samples I ever bought. (I got it from Ina of the much-missed Aromascope.) It's like the older, rawer brother of Dior Eau Noire. I've owned a few decants of it over the years and have rarely seen it mentioned online.
This suggests another way to walk back along the path of your obsession, of course, which is to consult your records on purchases and swaps from early on. I've kept all my swap communications as well as the receipts and confirmation emails of the eBay days, but it's easy and instructive to just look at your account at decanting sites or sample retailers like Luckyscent. Checking now, I am tickled to find my first order from The Perfumed Court included a decant of Eau de Gloire (surprise!), that sample of L'Homme de Coeur I found under the bookcase, three scents by Stephanie de Saint-Aignan, Barbara Bui Le Parfum and a cologne by the Institut Très Bien (a house now sadly in limbo). That's a week of fun right there and, much to my husband's dismay, I'll probably spend some of the hours that should be dedicated to organizing and unpacking the condo tomorrow digging for the lost samples from that package of four summers ago. In the meantime, please find below my list of recommended niche scents you might have forgotten about, and do add your own suggestions for reclamation.
Hors Là Monde Shiloh: Some scents are consigned to obscurity by their deliberately limited availability (Kenzo UFO, Indult Tihota) or their price (Shalini, the Solange Azagury-Partridge perfumes). A few brands suffer from their own difficult or silly scent names and nightmarish release rate — Biehl Parfumkunstwerke and Hildi Soliani spring to mind. Shiloh, on the other hand, looks set to fade as a one-hit-wonder. Hors Là Monde has launched two flankers by Fabrice Olivieri, but neither of them have capitalized on the momentum of the well-publicized original scent by perfumer Michel Roudnitska. Shiloh is a beautifully typical M. Roudnitska creation, a big, luminous, sneezy rose in hot pink, oddly appetizing with its tingle of white pepper and garnish of candied lemon.
Romeo d'Ameor Les Impératrices Japonaises / The Great Empresses of Japan: Wait, what was that about bad names and multiple releases again? Then there's the over-egged P.R. and the additional hurdle of the fact that these seven scents are all sweet, insistent floral orientals, a category not beloved by perfumistas. This is a peony-incense, which sounds terrible. There's something really compelling about it, though, a drowsy feather-duvet calm. It reminds me of another underappreciated scent inspired by Royal Japan, Santa Maria Novella's Citta di Kyoto, and like that scent, would be disastrously smothering if worn on the wrong day. The balance of floral sweetness and solemn resin also recalls the fascinating and seldom-mentioned Etat Libre d'Orange Encens et Bubblegum.
Andrée Putman Préparation Parfumée: Released in 2001 and created by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti, this is the prototype driftwood fragrance. Not my favorite genre, I'll admit, but Préparation Parfumée deserves kudos for its nicely streamlined rendition of a natural-smelling aquatic. The pepper notes are pleasantly dry and the cilantro heart is fresh and surprisingly durable — cilantro haters beware!
Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile: Whether you favor the sparkling, slightly soapy Eau de Toilette or the more vivid, solar chypre structure of the Eau de Parfum, this is a beautiful perfume. It isn't an orris-centered fragrance — the Eau de Toilette is an anise-kissed orange blossom and the Eau de Parfum, while adding a darker mossy base, is still more about petals than undergrowth — and I wonder if it is going to be one of those fragrances where the name and ad copy do the scent a disservice by attracting primarily soliflore (or solinote) purists.
Crazylibellule and the Poppies Musc et Patchouli: When was the last time you wore your Encens Mystic, Dans tes Bras or Chère Louise solid? While they're a great cheap thrill, the scented oil does seem to evaporate out of the Crazylibellules relatively quickly, which is not ideal for your average perfume freak. By the time you get around to wearing your favorite, you might find it is an odorless twist-up stick of wax in cute packaging. While I love the aforementioned three fragrances, and others besides, Musc et Patchouli from the Shanghaijava collection is the only one I'm likely to replace. A soft, milky floral musk, it is a comforting and beautiful skin scent worn on its own, in addition to being a perfect layering fragrance.
1. Things we appear to have thrown out or left behind in previous moves include: a brand new pair of shoes, my husband's toolbox and tools, the left side of our bed frame, a playpen, a set of Le Creuset cookware and my engagement and wedding rings.