Please welcome a contribution from Courtney Humphries, who will join us at Bois de Jasmin. Courtney is a freelance journalist and author living in Boston, and she writes about science, health, and culture for a variety of publications. I especially recommend her article for Wired, Engineering Replacements for Essential Perfume Ingredients. Courtney became enamored with perfume after wandering into a Diptyque shop several years ago and smelling Philosykos, which immediately captured her attention. As she describes, “A quick web search on it led me to perfume blogs and reviews, and my journey went from there.”
Before I became a perfume lover, I regarded fragrance much the same way most of the people I know do: as an afterthought. Perfume was a functional product to help me smell good in social situations. I usually owned just one bottle of perfume, and if I remembered I’d spritz a tiny bit on before going out to a party or on a date. Just as often, I’d forget to put it on before leaving the house, so the bottle would languish on my dresser for months or years, until I tossed it in the trash (in those days I believed perfume “went bad” after a year or two).
When you own only one bottle of fragrance, your choices are minimal—you’re either perfumed or you’re not. For me, that decision depended on whether the occasion met a certain threshold of “specialness” that justified going scented.
But when I became interested in perfume, I began to see fragrance as a source of personal pleasure. I had to make a leap from what had been my “normal” way of thinking about perfume—that everyone needs just a single fragrance—to the quite radical notion that one can collect an entire wardrobe of fragrances.
For me, the transition was gradual. I could easily justify owning two bottles of perfume: one could be a casual daytime scent and the other a dressier nighttime one. Three bottles? Well, it’s good to have something light for summer. But four bottles? I hesitated before taking that plunge, which seemed outrageously excessive, until I realized that it made perfect sense to have one perfume for each season. And then, each season had its days and nights, and…..you can see where this is going. In a few years I had amassed a large collection of fragrances, along with an increasingly detailed taxonomy for each based on the occasion, weather, or mood it suited.
You could see this as a serious shopping problem, but it was also something else: a growing sensitivity to the nuances of scents and how they speak to me, which in turn gave me a better awareness of my own moods, personalities, and whims. I was never one to play around much with my clothing wardrobe, but with perfume I found myself wanting a ladylike floral one day, and an austere vetiver another. I became aware of how a perfume fit a social occasion or set a tone.
Here are some of the more specific “occasions” I’ve paired with perfumes—or in some cases, only became aware of when I had a perfume to match them:
Girls’ night out
By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses. This exuberant concoction of rose, plum, and other luscious fruits is one of my favorite fragrances, and its delicious sillage also makes it a crowd-pleaser, especially among my female friends.
Chanel 31 Rue Cambon. A modern chypre (a blend of moss and woods) that is warm, restrained, and elegant, it’s the fragrance I always choose when I want to feel focused and competent in work situations.
Diptyque Tam Dao. The dry sandalwood and cypress opening of this fragrance never fails to relax me after a rough day.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage d’Enfer. Not growing up in a particularly religious household, Easter was never a major holiday for me. Nevertheless, every Easter I find myself reaching this blend of sheer lilies and incense as a perfect way to set the mood for the opening of spring.
Ayala Moriel Vetiver Racinettes I’m a nature lover and usually prefer the outdoors as is. But a dab of this natural perfume—earthy vetiver lightly sweetened with a root beer note— is a perfect quiet accompaniment to an outdoor adventure.
Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel. I’ll admit, my only experience sailing involved one afternoon whipsawing in a tiny boat around a tiny pond, but perfume is just as often about what we aspire to be as as who we are now. This pungent blend of smoke, herbs, and salt is the fragrance I wear when fantasizing about the romantic ocean journeys I’ll take once I’ve properly learned to sail.
So, what perfumes do you associate with specific occasions?
Photography by Bois de Jasmin