After learning how Brooke approaches perfume, I’m not sure why she doesn't run NASA. She is analytical and organized (excel spreadsheets track perfume notes); passionate (764 bottles and counting); and inquisitive (witness her tray method, explained later). She’s also generous and open, and she was game to be the subject of this month’s perfume cabinet article.
Brooke’s earliest scent memories center on the smell of horses, hay, and alfalfa at her mother’s farm, and on the jasmine, ocean, and night-blooming Hoya bush near her father’s house on the California coast. Perfume didn’t factor much into her scent life until she managed the handbags department at Nordstrom — located conveniently next to fragrances. The unusual shape of a Donna Karan Chaos bottle tempted her to sniff it, and the world of perfume fell open.
For many years, Brooke was a decidedly woods, incense and orientals girl. Soon, she grew to embrace chypres and florientals, and she says she “likes and respects” many florals. Perhaps reflecting this, she adores Guerlain Mitsouko and considers it absolutely indispensable, but she’s never found her groove with Chanel No. 5, despite trying all its formulations. She takes her perfume exploration seriously, first investigating fragrance genres, starting with 90 samples of green scents that she wore, took notes on, and recorded in a spreadsheet. Later, she moved on to a focus on fragrance notes, such as iris.
Of Brooke’s 764 full bottles, she says about 30% are vintage. Most of her collection she stores in two cabinets — one organized by house and one by season — in plastic crates slid into cubby holes (see top two images). Decants, oils, and gift sets are stored separately.
Despite her whopper quantity of bottles, Brooke doesn't feel overwhelmed. She says, “I always know within 20 seconds what outfit I will wear and which perfume I will spritz.” Also, “If you were to ask, I can usually locate most any bottle from memory within a minute. I cannot say that about my handbags or shoes.” That said, in the past year she’s sold or given away more than 100 bottles in an effort to hone her collection to the fragrances she truly loves or that intrigue her too much not to wear at least once every few years.
These days, Brooke buys a bottle or maybe two a month, with a focus on vintage Guerlain, Caron and Patou. However, she says, “…There have been new releases that have dazzled me and crossed over the doorstep, like Papillon's Salome, Bruno Fazzolari's Seyrig and Aftelier's Bergamoss.” She has a rule that she has to finish a decant of a new fragrance before buying it. Also, she doesn’t buy a perfume simply because it’s esteemed. She only buys fragrance that works on her, which is why, for instance, she doesn’t own Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower (or Chanel No. 5).
One way Brooke makes her collection manageable is by preparing monthly trays of perfume (see just above and below). Sometimes she assembles trays of old favorites or all perfumes from one house, and sometimes she chooses themes, such as when she was intrigued by synesthesia and prepared trays of perfumes that felt like particular colors to her. (I love the tray idea and plan on preparing my own weekly “pull” of perfumes to set on my dresser and wear for the week.)
Despite her extensive collection, Brooke still longs for a few bottles. At the top of the list is Hermès Doblis. “The leather and the rose are mixed with just enough musk and oakmoss to keep it refined but captivating,” she says.