Monday, March 3, 2008

Fragrance Rx: il faut cultiver notre jardin!

Another very tardy perfume prescription! This time, my apologies to dear reader Le, who wrote in several weeks ago and wondered what perfume I might recommend for her.

Well, the blogging spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. I did the occasional poking around in the perfume section, but never got my report in order. Here it is at last! And I hope you find it useful, or at least interesting, Le! Write back when you can and let me know what you think.

Here are the guidelines Le gave me for a perfect signature scent:
Some things I like:
ginger, the park after it rains, wearing glasses, fountain pens

Some things I don't:
fake sugar, patchouli, people who say "smart" and mean "industrious",
floral anything (that isn't actually flowers)

A perfume I tried and didn't like:
Bath & Body works moonlight path body cream. Ok, not really a
perfume. But this was scented and seemed so promising in the store,
but then it gave me a migraine. Bad! My lesson: no shea butter,
nothing overwhelming.
First off, I decided to check out the Bath and Body works culprit: Moonlight Path Body Cream. Four of the strongest, most overwhelming florals known to fragrance lovers make appearances here: Tuberose, Lavender, Rose and Lily of the Valley.

Whew. That must be like three prize-fighters duking it out for the title of "Most likely to give your bus seat companion a) nostalgia for Grandma's powder room and b) motion sickness."

Then, there is the cloying and overindulgent basenote trio of Sandalwood, Vanilla and Musk. Reminds me of the ice cream parlor my dad used to take me to as a kid where you could order "The Kitchen Sink." The Kitchen Sink was a house specialty that threw together eight different scoops of ice cream, bananas, whipped cream, nuts, cherries, butterscotch and chocolate sauce in a stainless steel container that resembled the plumbing it was named after. If you managed to finish the whole thing, you got a t-shirt advertising your gluttony.

These kinds of sensory excesses aren't really for me, but I am definitely always wowed by them. I'm sure there are many girls who would feel positively queenly with this stuff on their skin. You and me, Le, should probably stick to the luxury of minimalism.

A little perfume background: when perfume got big towards the end of the 1800s, there were about six traditional categories for it. A scent was either organized around a single flower, a bouquet of flowers, an animal musk, leather, moss, or citrus. But nowadays, with so many perfumers mixing scent cocktails and so much chemistry involved in making new, cleaner, artificial scents, the traditional classifications aren't super-helpful. Admirable perfume site Basenotes points us to Michael Edwards' perfume wheel as a great tool to classify scents and pinpoint one's preferences.

From your email, Le, it seems like you fall squarely on the southwest wedges of the wheel. Ginger, rain, and the more cerebral pleasures of spectacles and fountain pens are all things that make sense to me as "fresh notes." No wonder the Moonlight Path Body Cream wasn't for you! That concoction would be situated on the exact opposite side of the spectrum from you.

I prescribe you one of the finest perfumes ever to hit the "fresh notes" side of the circle: Un Jardin sur Nil by Hermès.

Hermès' "Garden on the Nile" is one in a series of "Garden" scents that they have been intermittently introducing since 2003. I believe they've all been masterminded by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena who seems to have an almost eerie perfection in perfume creation. (In fact, you can read about the process he went through to create this particular perfume in his "Garden" series right here.

I dare anyone reading this to try one of the "Garden" scents - or for that matter, any other perfume by Hermès - and conclude that it is anything besides flawlessly balanced. Sure, you may personally not like what you sniff, but their scents are indisputably harmonious.
Un Jardin sur le Nil smells like green mango, lotus flower, sycamore wood, and just a little incense to tamp it all down. A lot of reviewers call this a classic summer scent, but you might find that something so restorative and quietly bright is plenty good year-round. It is subtle and settles nicely onto your skin. I don't find it the least bit sharp or sweet.

This perfume is gonna set you back some, Le, but the good news is that the perfume is old enough for you to find some good cut rates online closer to $50 than $100.

One last thing: Ellena's newest "Garden" perfume is about to drop: Un Jardin après la Mousson! It is India-inspired ("A Garden After the Monsoon" in English). Although it will certainly cost more it may really tickle your ginger-loving fancy since it purports to be a lot spicer than the two previous perfumes.

Happy gardening!

No comments: