My eyes are bad, my ears are bad, my fingertips are busted and my taste buds- oversolicited. My nose, however, works with the unbearable precision of finding- in a restaurant, let’s say- the one women around me who’s having her period. It can remember things better than my brain, it can judge pheromones better than match.com can compute compatibility, it can save me from food poisoning and it can guide me to all the real things in my life- real sterling silver, real leather, real EDP, real love.
I live by my smell. Over the years I gave in to its not-so-royal bearings, abandoning my tastes and displeasures to the mercy of my too-small-for-my-head, never-stuffy, third-world nuzzle (I don’t mean no disrespect to nature or my parents’ genes, but the monster that adorns my face does not deserve the human, delicate, normal title of “nose”. No, sir-ee. The thing that announces me who farted, what it is they ate a few hours ago and how much they’re sweating with shame because of it is not a nose. The animal that makes me wet my underwear at the simple whiff of a [I’ll keep this one to myself] is not a nose. The machine that, infallibly, makes me weep with nostalgia every time I smell old powder boxes is not a nose.
What I have is called, scientifically, a proboscis. An organ that, once activated by a few random molecules of [..take a pick], takes over my face, my consciousness and my whole being and makes me into a slave of air and what the air can carry. (Speaking of which, if you ever find me wandering aimlessly, empty-eyed and looking like I haven’t washed or eaten in days, please take pity in me and direct me to my home as I’m probably under some new olfactory spell and out of my self… just sayin’). Good or bad is not a discussion here, as I remember being equally fascinated by fermenting menure, and water lilies (which, by the way, do have a smell). As soon as esters or some other odor molecules start brewing, my nose is there and the rest of me has to follow.
With this type of undiscriminating snout, all I can do is cross my fingers and hope most of the stuff coming my way is not unpleasant. And most isn’t -maybe because in America people shower and brush their teeth more, or maybe because the sewage system is usually in working conditions, or maybe because I’ve sniffed soooooo many things that I rarely get surprised anymore.
No surprise, then, that I am the biggest fragrance whore you’ve ever met- and, while I’ll still go for more, here are three of my latest- and most remarkable- lovers:
1. The sheet in a black and white nude photograph
White afternoon, a bit moist- like all fall afternoons in Paris-, a bit chilly but still languorous, like the naked back of the summer lying on a day bed. The model is up, you can see her slender legs in the background, blurry, beautiful and shiny- she’s almost naked, soft, comfortable, wrapped in sheets and talking to the photographer. He has a funny hat and two sad eyes, she has a gap in her front teeth and curly, short hair. They like each other, even though she has many lovers and he- none but his black room. The wind is blowing soundlessly through the white curtains, the studio smells a bit like coffee, a bit like cold and the stage is still set. No fish nets, they ended up using a sheet and the straight light coming through the blinds… The street is roaming many stories below, you can hear the cafe bell going off with every customer and the day is sharp and lazy like a demoiselle with too many admirers.
What We Do in Paris is Secret from A Lab on Fire, 2012 (perfumer: Dominique Ropion)- a deep, discrete, addictive, thoroughly feminine, unique scent. This perfume is sophisticated.
What they say it smells like: bergamot/ Turkish rose/ Tonka bean
What I smell: honey, lychee, clover, heliotrope and vanilla, sandalwood, amber, a bit of rose and some flower I can’t name (a sweeter bergamot… if it exists).
Sillage: on my skin, less than 2 hours- which is disappointing. However, the dry-down is strong and loyal to what the perfume smells like when you put it on- which is not something I’m used to.
Overall: extremely well constructed, unique and sophisticated formula… a tour de force.
2. The sheet the baker hangs on his door
The vacation you see in glossy magazine is, fortunately, not real. The polished, tan, perfectly poised women and men drinking cordials in their steril white pants, suspended in a motionless dusk air, do not exist- and neither does the clean, sharp sound you imagine their teeth to make when they’re hitting the edge of their glass.
What is real is the dust, the color changing under your eyes with every hour that passes, the constant humming of the local market, the cloying smells of the butchers and the spice merchants and the leather workers, the hunger, the jet lag. What is real is the knot in your stomach and the conscious feeling that now-and-here is a fortuitous, mortal, indescribable and unrepeatable moment so painfully precious that you are already nostalgic for the time in the future when you’ll be missing it. And so you breathe it in, you look around, you zoom in on details and worry you won’t remember how every cobble street seems to be birthing cats, how every woman here has eyes inside her eyes and how the baker, before leaving his shop for the afternoon prayer, put a sheet in the door so that the bees don’t make it, once again, to his freshly-made Turkish delight.
Traversee du Bosphore | L’Artisan Parfumeur, 2010 (perfumer: Bertrand Duchaufour)- a gourmand-but-fresh Oriental fragrance that is sweet without being cloying, clean without being watery and fruity without being legere. This perfume is collective/ alive.
What they say it smells like: iris/ leather/ turkish delight
What I smell: leather, champagne, iris, saffron, tulip, vanilla, musk, figs and a bit of hyacinth.
Sillage: very good, 6-8 hours with a soft, organic, powdery dry-down.
3. The sheet for making silent love by the sea side
I remember a time when I was very young, very pretty, very free and and very thin- so thin, that when I lied down my hip bones poked through my skin on each side of my Venus bump, looking like big, clumsy butterfly wings spread on my inside and immobilized by my flesh before ever taking flight.
One unnamed summer I went to the seaside with my boyfriend- back then, nothing but a big boy- and we took a room with a local. A white room, freshly painted, with a big old bed covered with big old white sheets embroidered by hand by small, long gone old women. A silent, clean, airy white room with a window covered in fat geraniums and not much else but ripe youth and silent love.
I remember going for a swim, then sitting on the old white sheets and not talking much, then going for a swim, then sitting in the sun, then being kissed THERE and not talking much, then being melted and ravenous and closing my eyes and becoming oh-so-aware of the insides of my head, the outsides of my body, and the bitter taste of the old bed by the Black Sea.
Alba | Profvmvm Roma, 2004- an organic, bodily, nutty, sexy and serene fragrance that doesn’t need much talking. This perfume is raw.
What they say it smells like: anise, musk, amber, vanilla, hazelnut.
What it really smells like: musk, ambergris, oakwood, hazelnuts, grass, aniseed, rock salt.
Sillage: very good, 4-6 hours with a pungent, present, woody dry- down.
Overall: a fantastic, albeit underrated creation of PR, singular and remarkable. For me, a definite stay.
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