Right now, I’m a little bit tired of perfume. Well, not perfume per se, but the interminable rounds of testing of niche fragrances that I seem to have gotten myself into. With niche, you feel like you need to put extra effort into ‘reading’ the intentions of the perfumer behind it. Your brain is constantly in analysis mode rather than simply enjoying it for what it is. Then there’s the worry that you’re the only one Not Getting It. I think I’m a little burned out.
A very kind Basenotes friend sent me some O’ Driu samples and the little bag of them has proven to be my own personal Waterloo – they sit there on my dresser, each morning saying, hopefully, “Today?”
No, O’ Driu, not today. I’m sorry. I have a headache. I’m exhausted. I haven’t washed my hair. It’s not you, O’ Driu, it’s me, I promise. I have the feeling that in order to do justice to you, I will have to do painstaking control tests on various parts of my body, taking meticulous notes as I go along, and I might have to unearth a medical dictionary from somewhere. Maybe even some Sci Fi references. And don’t ask me HOW I am going to pee into that tiny vial of Peety – I’ve been racking my brains for weeks now trying to figure out the logistics. So, forgive me, O’ Driu (are you Irish, O’ Driu? You sound like you might be), but I. Just. Can’t.
I think what I need to do is to take a few steps back and start to enjoy my perfume without having to think so hard about it. For me, that means going back to some of my old favorites from the department stores – perfumes from my TBN (Time before Niche). These are all perfumes that I can just put on, relax into them, and enjoy them without having to think about it too much. Maybe if I spend a week or two with my old favorites I can effectively re-set my meter and recharge those batteries. Here are the ones I feel are best suited to the task.
Aromatics Elixir by Clinique: It’s incredible that a company known for its no-frills skincare put out such a complicated and witchy brew, but I am so grateful that they did. Created by Barnard Chant in 1975, it blazed a trail of dark patchouli, bitter herbs, rose, resins, and moss through the perfume world, setting itself in direct opposition to the clean, sporty fragrances that followed soon after but also breaking ties with the slightly mannered feel of green floral chypres of the fifties and sixties. It’s almost impossible to describe accurately, but then again, I really don’t have to, do I? Everyone knows this smell. Aromatics Elixir feels like something a pagan goddess would wear as she commands the elements from her forest. It lives in the small, private space between my clavicle and my sweater, because I am careful to apply this potent juice as I would a precious extract – sprayed lightly onto my fingertips and then pressed gently onto my flesh. Out of all the perfumes I own and wear, this is the one that says ‘Mother’ to me most strongly. It makes me feel both tender and fierce.
Alien Essence Absolue by Thierry Mugler: This blows most niche vanillas out of the water, in my opinion. In fact, with this and the original Shalimar still around in stores, I often wonder what is the point with niche vanillas – nice as they might be, they can never measure up to these two giants. Anyway, to Alien Essence Absolue. It’s a thick, rich floral vanilla with a whiff of bitter myrrh and powdery orris to keep things in balance. Oddly, this seems to come out differently to me depending on how much I apply. If I apply it heavily, I get hours and hours of what smells like bitter almonds, marzipan, and papery tobacco, all folded into a thick vanilla and jasmine custard. When applied lightly or dabbed on, I get hints of heliotrope or something cool, like anise, against a warm ambery vanilla. The jasmine is so creamy and rich it almost takes on a coconut edge, briefly summoning up the feel of a tropical gardenia. I’m crazy about it either way, to be honest. It dries down to a smoky, powdery vanilla ice-cream on my skin. Putting it on feels like giving yourself a hug that lasts all day. It’s insanely comforting, warm, and sensual. As an aside, the bottle is shaped like a butt. Who doesn’t have shelf space for something shaped like a butt, I ask you sincerely.
Dior Homme Intense: In my house, the Dior Homme Intense is for me, not my husband. Are you kidding me? The cards are stacked against me enough as it is already – the man is devilishly good-looking, funny, kind, and carries our ten-month old daughter everywhere in his arms – in other words, a prime target for women with active ovaries anywhere. I’m not going to also spray him down with the sexiest male fragrance known to man. That would be like loading a gun and giving it to a toddler. No, the attractive husband may have my old Encre Noire. If that doesn’t put a dampener on the enthusiasm of the bands of marauding women around my ‘hood, then I don’t know what will.
Dior Homme Intense is a smooth iris snuggled into clouds of cacao, musk, vanilla, and dry woods – at once distinctive and familiar. It manages to be both creamy and powdery, which is why so many people talk about Dior Homme Intense having a vintage “lipstick” vibe. For all of that, I don’t think it comes off as too femme. For me, it occupies vaguely the same territory as Guerlain’s Shalimar Initial, Van Cleef & Arpels’ Private Collection Bois d’Iris, and Byredo’s 1996, which is to say, plush, sweetened irises that come close to being gourmands but pull back from the edge at the last moment. I vastly prefer this little corner of the iris category to the rooty, citrusy, grey irises that make up the bulk of the genre. I prefer my irises sanded down and a spoonful of sugar or musk added for comfort. Dior Homme Intense is the best in show, in this regard. I love it, and consider it far superior to 95% of what you can get in the women’s aisle in the department store.
La Perla Classic, by La Perla: Cheap as chips in any department store in town, La Perla Classic is an old-school rose chypre with loads of patchouli and oakmoss, and it smells wonderful. The moss and patchouli opening softens into a heart of powdery orris and rose, but the base remains this tough, slightly masculine accord built on cardamom, vetiver, sandalwood, and patchouli. The base actually feels like one of those old school 70s Italian or French aftershaves that don’t cost too much money at the drugstore and feel a bit grungy/barbershoppy, like a cologne that has been lightly sweated through under the (open) shirt of a hairy Italian male. I like that, me. This lasts forever too, and is quite potent, so either the walk-through or dabbing method I just advocated for Aromatics Elixir would work best here too. Now that we’re on the subject, this shares quite a few notes with Aromatics Elixir and has a similar feel – that grungy patch-y old school herbal chypre feel. The powder and honey in La Perla Classic provides a nice contrast to the darker mossy elements and keeps everything from diving off a cliff into swamp territory. It is at once comforting, solid, mysterious, and old school femme, but also striking and special.
What about you? What mainstream fragrances do you use when you’re off the niche clock? What are your comfort blankies? Come on, I know you have at least one…..