Elisa feels the lure of spring.
Part of the pleasure of browsing a makeup counter – and why I’ll always buy more makeup than I need – is the impression that I’m handling color in its pure form. Not just lipsticks but pigment: art and possibility. It’s the same flavor of childlike glee I feel when looking at a wall of paint swatches or the bulk bins in a candy store. As a kid I even organized my books in “rainbow order” on the shelves.
Around March the mannequins in window displays all seem to be wearing pastels. I never buy these clothes; like bows and Peter Pan collars, pastels just don’t suit me. But I can participate in the traditional color scheme of the season with perfumes that smell like springtime shades instead.
Here are ten soft, pastel-hued perfumes (in spectral order, no less) I recommend.
Diptyque Eau Rose
I love weird roses, dark roses, spicy roses, mossy roses…I’ll take them all. But sometimes, especially in spring, a perfectly pretty, pastel-pink rose with little adornment fits the bill. Enter Eau Rose, which is dewy and fresh with a citrus lift.
When I sprayed Donna on a strip, I was expecting just another fruitchouli. What a surprise: It smells strikingly like iris and strawberry, a completely novel combination to my nose. A good, dry iris balances the sweetness of the rose and berries, and while it lasts, it feels as pink, pillow-soft and delicate as a goose-down powder puff.
Coudray Jacinthe et Rose
This underrated gem – a romantic, soft-focus spring floral with a prominent rose note – smells like the creamy color of white peaches and feels like taking a clawfoot-tub bubble bath by candlelight in a wallpapered room.
Hanae Mori Haute Couture
It doesn’t always work this way, but the color of Haute Couture – pale golden yellow, like white wine, in a frosted glass bottle – exactly matches the scent. If it were a wine, you’d call it grassy and floral (jasmine) with citrus and plenty of stone fruit. To me it feels both fancy and casual, like drinking champagne out of a plastic cup.
I never knew the joy of fresh linden blossoms until I moved to Denver; the park that I run in is full of linden trees, and in late spring or early summer, depending on the weather, they all come into bloom and smell amazing. L’Amandiere smells baby yellow through and through, and quite realistically like spring flowers (linden, hyacinth, violet, mimosa). The almond note adds an unripe tang rather than the intense sweetness of amaretto.
I once got into a debate in grade school over which crayon was more yellow: green-yellow or yellow-green. My classmate argued that if “yellow” comes first, yellow-green must be more yellow. I argued that the hyphen was acting like an “ish,” making it “yellowish green,” and therefore more green than “greenish yellow.” Later fact-checking proved me right, but in any case: Chamade, an all-time spring classic, starts off cooler and more yellow-green (with galbanum, blackcurrant, and hyacinth) and ends up warmer and more green-yellow (with white floral notes and balsamic vanilla).
Smell Bent Florist’s Fridge
Hyacinths are usually bluish violet – but they smell pale green (go figure). Florist’s Fridge is a hyacinth soliflore that opens up as cool, green, and fresh as the name promises, and morphs into a doughy vanillic drydown. (If you haven’t tried anything from Smell Bent yet, do! At $7, the 4 ml travel sprays are an absolute steal.)
Guerlain Apres l’Ondée
I’ve only recently begun to appreciate this Guerlain classic from 1906. (Full disclosure: The first time I smelled it, it reminded me of envelope adhesive.) I include Apres l’Ondée here because it’s one of the few perfumes I can think of that smells pale blue, which is perhaps why so many find it melancholy. Its anisic violet and iris smell incredibly delicate, like skin so pale it looks translucent.
La Parfumerie Moderne Desarment
I love the smell (and sight) of fresh lilacs, but it’s very hard to capture in perfume; somehow it usually comes off cheap. Not so with Desarmant. The lilac accord is strikingly realistic – airy and fresh, with a linden-like honey note. My favorite part is the unexpected undertone of something earthy and animalic.
Mona di Orio Musc
This one doesn’t fit neatly into my ROYGBIV lineup because the visual I get when I smell it is a handful of Jordan almonds – pink, white, and green. The green is due to a pleasantly sharp and grassy top note, the pink is a touch of rose, and the white is a delicious, powdery, almond-marshmallow (heliotrope, orange blossom, tonka bean) musk base that goes on forever. If I put on Musc in the morning and shower at night, the hot water makes it bloom anew.
Image 1: Kateryna Bilokur, Flowers (detail), 1944-47, photography by Bois de Jasmin. Image 2 by Elisa.