These past few days I’ve been waking up to cold, foggy mornings, and the idea of getting dressed and going outside seemed unpleasant. Just on Monday, I was tempted to break off my engagements and stay at home, wrapped in a warm sweater. As I made up my face and sipped coffee in a hurry, I imagined how good it would feel to make a cup of tea and jump back into bed with a favorite book. The best I could do before I braved the cool air was to spray on something redolent of summer.
And summer has been on my mind a lot, an Italian summer in particular. After a couple of work related trips to Italy, where the fall hasn’t even started, I came back to Belgium in love and yearning for the sun. Italy was the first place I visited abroad, and as I lived with an Italian host family as a student, it was my first immersion into another culture. My warm and generous host mom taught me to cook, to wear red and to tie my hair into a neat bun. But as work and family obligations piled up, my trips to Italy became fewer and fewer, until 10 years lapsed since my last visit. Returning Italy reignited our love affair. Even Italian, which I thought to be long displaced by French, has resurfaced in my head. So these days I save money for my next visit, read Cesare Pavese, bake biscotti and track half way across town to my favorite Italian deli to buy some prosciutto, dry cured ham. But the best way for me to get a dose of the Italian sun is through perfumes.
As I drew up my list, I realized that the fragrances I selected were not just reminiscent of an Italian summer, they were perfect for cold and rainy days. If you’re longing for some sunshine or just want to something beautiful and uplifting, I hope that you will enjoy my choices.
The Mediterranean streets are laid out with plenty of twists and turns, hiding gardens and little enclosed courtyards. When I think of getting lost in Florence, I immediately envision the perfume of late summer roses wafting from one of those enclosed spaces. Roses, dust, warm stones… L’Artisan Voleur de Roses and Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit are my favorite dark rose selections for fall. They have a sultry warmth, but the earthy, winey notes give them a surprising twist. Another irresistible rose is Eau d’Italie Paestum Rose, a blend of rose and wood that smells less of petals than of incense.
Anise flavored liqueur, biscotti perfumed with anise and lemon zest, salami studded with fennel seeds–my Italian fantasy isn’t complete without this sweet and spicy note. In perfume, anise notes give a gentle spicy accent to floral notes and a cool bite to masculine colognes. I enjoy them folded into the violet mousse of Caron Aimez Moi, sprinkled over the dark woods in Serge Lutens Douce Amère and wrapped around the mossy tobacco in Parfum d’Empire Eau de Gloire. Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Laurier Reglisse is one of my favorite uplifting colognes, an ideal, sun drenched scent for a cold, rainy morning.
In perfumery, violet and iris often appear in tandem, and when I think of a dark violet that would be an elegant autumnal scent, the violet-iris duo is what I have in mind. The delicate, prim violets like Penhaligon’s Violetta are appealing too, but the luminous Serge Lutens Bois de Violette is my favorite fragrance that always makes me feel beautiful. I also love the understated elegance of Tom Ford Violet Blonde and Bottega Veneta. The new fragrance from Ann Gérard, Cuir de Nacre, smells like a worn leather purse.
Vanilla and Orange
Vanilla and orange or vanilla and lemon are classical flavors for many Italian sweets, from biscotti to panettone, a beautiful pairing based on an exciting contrast. I love the idea of surprise, but my favorite perfumes this fall aren’t found at a pasticceria. I crave By Kilian Sweet Redemption for its vanilla sugar dusted orange blossom wrapped in incense. Estée Lauder Amber Ylang Ylang is a warm and comforting scent that smells of hot flowers and spices, while Hermès Ambre Narguilé is perfect on days when something warm but understated is required. It stays close to the skin, veiling you in caramel and leather. The hints of orange and vanilla give it an inviting sweetness.
Whenever I walk past any church, if I have a moment, I peak inside. I love the serenity of the dark space, the soft glow of candles, the shimmering scent of incense. Burnt incense is smoky, heavy, and rich, but traces of it perfuming the wood and stone of the churches suggests a sparkling, ethereal quality. There are few fragrances that truly manage to capture this effect, but I never fail to breathe a happy sigh when I smell Armani Prive Bois d’Encens (the only fragrance from the collection that’s worth the ridiculous price), Serge Lutens L’Eau Froide or Annick Goutal Myrrhe Ardente. Atelier Cologne Bois Blonds is another radiant incense that feels both uplifting and tender.
What do American and Italian women have in common when it comes to perfume? Their love for white florals. “You would never smell tuberose on an average French woman,” commented my friend Francis who has worked for over two decades as a fragrance marketing specialist. “It’s a different story n the US or Italy.” Walking down the street in Florence or Rome, I certainly smell lots of white florals–Robert Piguet Fracas, Juicy Couture, Thierry Mugler Alien. Well, I can do my white floral wearing pledge of allegiance for both the US and Italy.
While I have many big white florals in my wardrobe, my staples this fall are the graceful Arquiste Flor y Canto, sultry Serge Lutens Une Voix Noire and the elegant Chanel Beige. Another one of my recent white floral infatuations is Andy Tauer Loretta, a heady blend of tuberose warmed up by dark woods. While Loretta feels tender and vulnerable at first, it has an intriguing, mysterious side.
I’ve lived by the sea long enough to miss its briny scent here in Brussels. What would be my Italian summer without the smell of salt, seaweed and hot rocks? Recently I’ve surprised myself by falling for Comptoir Sud Pacifique Aqua Motu, which smells like a beach, salty skin and warm sand included. Vero Kern Mito is not at all a classically marine fragrance; its champagne like opening of citrus and jasmine is wrapped into the salty darkness of the moss and patchouli. It reminds me of walks along the seashore as the dusk falls. Christian Dior Dune is a salty kiss and a warm embrace.
Frédéric Malle Lys Méditerranée is what you may smell as you sit at an outside cafe sipping limoncello–salty lilies, crushed green leaves, the soft breeze coming in from sea and tangling your hair. Suddenly, your worries melt away, you forget that tomorrow you need to fly back home, you order another limoncello and feel as if this evening is perfection itself. Even if I get a tiny bit of this fantasy out of my favorite perfumes, they’ve already served their purpose well.
What perfumes are you reaching for this fall to feel uplifted and sunny?
Photography by Bois de Jasmin (photos #9 and #12 by my husband)