Autumnal Perfumes in the Spirit of the Season

One of the most interesting principles in Japanese garden design is the idea of borrowed scenery, shakkei. Using existing landscape elements—distant mountains, ponds, and neighboring structures, a creator would plan the garden in such a way as to incorporate the surroundings into her composition and create her personal vision of nature. Perfumery is generally more about artifice and fantasy, but as summer fades, I too become inspired to borrow autumnal scenery for my fragrant accompaniment. My perfume choices become led by the scents of fall.

Even in the deodorized urban environment, autumn is a fragrant season. The moment that leaves start to fall, the air is filled with a mellow sweetness reminiscent of walnut shelves and faded leather. On my walks, I take a roundabout way through a park, kicking the golden leaves and glossy chestnuts with the tip of my boots. On my scarf I carry Serge Lutens La Myrrhe, a perfume that smells of dark licorice, myrrh and dried roses. Or I might select the delicate Chypre Rouge, also from Serge Lutens, a dark potion of amber, moss and honey.

The Belgian autumn is an etude in gold and grey, and as the rains descend, an earthy, damp scent becomes an ever-present leitmotif. An old favorite for such days is Etro’s Messe et Minuit. It evokes damp stones, wet paper, mossy bark, a strange but beguiling combination. Messe et Minuit is a perfume to wear for oneself, for walks in the autumnal drizzle or for evenings by the fireplace.

Tender and wistful, Dusita’s Issara is another perfect companion for the grey days of fall. Dusita’s creator, Pissara Umavijani, wanted to pay homage to her father, a renowned Thai poet Montri Umavijani. Issara is her olfactory poem, a juxtaposition of lavender and vetiver, leather bindings and roasted hazelnuts, antique woods and musky mosses. Perhaps I’m reading some of my own visions into it, but a good perfume should inspire reveries and fantasies, and Issara certainly does that.

I’m also currently testing Moonlight in Chiangmai, a new release from Dusita. Its bittesweet composition of jasmine, myrrh and vetiver is lit up by the freshness of yuzu, and it feels appropriate for the golden days of fall.

Another element of my autumn is the green scent of chrysanthemums. The flower beds around city are planted with different varieties of this fall blossom, and its spicy, dense aroma lingers in the air. I too borrow it, and when I wear the chrysanthemum inflected Chanel Bel Respiro, the fragrance of real chrysanthemums seems even more vivid. Another perfume with a similar effect is Serge Lutens De Profundis, a composition that oscillates from incense ashes to bitter flowers. It’s a fragrance with a melancholy, pensive character that occasionally can be too brooding. But in the autumn it feels exactly right for it’s the season that inspired the Japanese poet Buson to write:

Utter solitude – fine! –
still another pleasure
of autumn twilight.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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30 Comments

  • Fazal: La Myrrhe is the Lutens I want to smell most among those I have not smelled yet. Yesterday, I read a comment by someone that La Myrrhe is like Chanel 5 Intense. Given how much I have read about the strong presence of aldehydes in it, I am tempted to believe the comment has a kernel of truth in it. November 23, 2020 at 7:56am Reply

    • Nina Z: I love La Myrrhe, but wouldn’t say it’s anything like Chanel N 5. Yes, there are aldehydes in it but it has a warm, rich base, so it becomes a fascinating combination of warm and cool, heavy and sparkling. All that makes it unique and especially beautiful to me. It’s definitely worth sniffing! November 23, 2020 at 12:37pm Reply

    • John: I’m glad you brought up aldehydes! I like a lot of perfumes that include them (examples: Caron #rd Man, Habit Rouge, Aramis), but they always seem to key me up, as if I were trying too hard to correct my posture. Today I’m wearing Caron Pour un Homme and, even though lavender makes me thin of spring, its naturalism is really contributing to a mellowness I think of as autumnal. November 23, 2020 at 1:13pm Reply

      • Gabriela: I love that one, always steal it from my husband! November 23, 2020 at 4:59pm Reply

        • John: An excellent strategy! November 27, 2020 at 2:14am Reply

    • OnWingsofSaffron: Yes!!! Me too! And it is nowhere to be found. How utterly frustrating. November 25, 2020 at 11:15am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for this lovely post.

    I have a vintage wardrobe made of walnut that I bought from a second-hand store almost 25 years ago. It has a mirror in the middle, a large and deep drawer at the bottom (great for storing handbags), and long, mirror-image swirling lines (of Art Nouveau style) down each side at the front. It is fairly similar to this one.

    https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/fd4AAOSwlndZNL5F/s-l300.jpg

    Due to its decorative nature and the large amount of built-in wardrobe space that I have in my bedroom, it lives in my dining room! The mirror adds the illusion of extra space to the small room. It is currently full of vintage dresses, and I should open the single door (which has the mirror on it) and take a good sniff of the wood inside!

    I’d love to try SL La Myrrhe, and perhaps also Moonlight in Chiangmai.

    My most autumnal scent would probably be Delires d’Automne (1997) from the Folies de Saisons collection by Yves Rocher. According to Fragrantica, it has notes of vanilla, cinnamon and ginger along with musky and woody aromas. I can certainly smell those first three notes. November 23, 2020 at 8:06am Reply

    • Aurora: Hi Tourmaline: I have Folies de Saisons Délires d’Automne too! I love the candied ginger in it, to me it is resinous in th drydown. It’s one of these gems from Yves Rocher’s back catalogue.
      Your wardrobe looks beautiful. November 23, 2020 at 12:30pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Aurora,

        I bought the Yves Rocher perfumes for all four seasons, but I especially love the one for winter, Fantaisies d’Hiver, which has notes of violet, vanilla and woods, as well as aquatic notes. I bought a back-up bottle of it, so I should let myself wear it more often!

        Yves Rocher has indeed made some great fragrances. My second favourite is their beautiful lilac scent, Pur Désir de Lilas, of which I have three or four spare bottles.

        Others that I have, in no particular order, are Rose Ispahan (plus a spare), Mûre Sauvage (plus several spares), Cantate (which seems to be their interpretation of Angel), Magnolia, Eau Fraiche Cedrat, and small bottles of Pomme, Petit Beurre, Vanille Bourbon, Chocolat and Caramel. I did have Ming Shu, but I used it up.

        I’m glad you like my wardrobe! I was lucky to find it. November 24, 2020 at 2:07am Reply

    • Peter: Aloha Tourmaline. I’m still beguiled by Victoria’s tropical beach description of Kilian Moonlight in Heaven. The Thai counterpart must be Dusita Moonlight in Chiangmai. November 23, 2020 at 9:07pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Aloha Pekolo,

        Moonlight in Heaven did sound rather wonderful – just the sort of thing you would like. I’m sure you’re right; Moonlight in Chiangmai must be its non-identical twin! November 24, 2020 at 2:12am Reply

  • Marsi: I’ve always loved Yves Saint Laurent Yvresse in the fall — though I loved its original name Champagne. November 23, 2020 at 10:32am Reply

    • Kathy: Perfect November 23, 2020 at 1:20pm Reply

  • Carla: La Myrrhe and De Produndis are so beautiful! I am sadly out of samples of both. Just the memories… November 23, 2020 at 11:21am Reply

  • Alison: Ambery, patchouli scents are my favourite for autumn. I love chestnuts, eating them with a little salt, roasted or just peeled and eaten raw. I have a walnut wardrobe too, from elderly friends when they had to go into nursing home. November 23, 2020 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Aurora: Your list sounds beautiful to keep you company on your walks. I haven’t had the oortunity to smell the two Lutens but will put them on my list. Are they among your favorite Lutens, or just ideal for fall? November 23, 2020 at 12:39pm Reply

  • Tati: Fall seems especially intense this year with social distancing. Today I am putting final touches on a project that’s taken me three years to complete. A joyful, introspective time, and a cloudy day. Like This, by Etat Libre d’Orange hits the exact right mood. November 23, 2020 at 1:29pm Reply

    • Neva: Yes to Like This! It’s my go-to perfume when the temperatures get low, the days are wrapped in fog and there are more leaves on the ground than on the trees. It’s cozy and warm and the spicy sharpness of the ginger gives it a special kick. November 25, 2020 at 3:40am Reply

  • Sandra: Thanks for the article V. With social distancing in effect I am spraying my perfume with a heavy hand. Bystanders be aware..ha!

    So far this autumn I am sampling Le Lion by Chanel, wearing lots of Shalimar, over the weekend it was Coco. November 23, 2020 at 1:38pm Reply

    • Monika: Ooh! I didn’t know Le Lion was available anywhere outside the middle east yet (are you perhaps in the ME?) I’ve been looking forward to trying it; what is it like? November 23, 2020 at 2:23pm Reply

      • Sandra: What is it like…hmm…well if you like Shalimar and Coromandel I think you would be a huge fan of this. November 23, 2020 at 2:57pm Reply

        • Monika: Oh gorgeous, thank you! I adore Coromandel, so this might be a good one for me 🙂 November 23, 2020 at 3:34pm Reply

          • Tati: Just ordered a sample off ebay. I’ve read comparisons to both Coromandel, which I LOVE, and Theorema by Fendi so I can’t wait! November 23, 2020 at 11:08pm Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: Apparently, so I was told by Chanel in Germany (I asked by e-mail), Le Lion is due to hit the European market in December. I am really very curious about this Chanel exclusif! November 25, 2020 at 11:19am Reply

  • Nina Zolotow: I just love La Myrrhe! It’s combination of richness and sparkle, warmth and coolness, darkness and light, is unlike any other fragrance. I think it’s brilliant. For me, the sparkling quality it has makes it festive, and I like it for the Christmas season and New Years. November 23, 2020 at 5:08pm Reply

  • annemarie: It’s early summer where I live but we still get the odd cool wet day, and for that I wear Ungaro’s Desnuda, a new discovery of mine. It’s a gentle spicy oriental dominated by sandalwood and peach (although I don’t get much peach). Blankety and warm but with little whisps of freshness. Cardamaom is very obvious in the opening. Lovely. I’ll put it away over summer put it will be perfect for autumn, I’m sure. November 23, 2020 at 5:50pm Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria, for that perfect Buson haiku. You and Nina have described such a tantalizing elixir. I am already bewitched by La Myrrhe! November 23, 2020 at 8:39pm Reply

  • Neva: Myrrh seems to be the right ingredient for the cooler season. I’ve bought myself 3 different candles with myrrh, all of them blind buys.
    Speaking of Serge Lutens, there were a few years when I didn’t follow the new releases and this year I came across a sale and decided to try the ones that passed me by. I was overwhelmed with the spicy fruity hot Bapteme du Feu. Absolutely gorgeous and appropriate for the autumn mood. November 25, 2020 at 4:01am Reply

  • John: Thank you for this post… I’m a teacher and sometimes feel like if I don’t go looking for it autumn passes by before I can do much more than make a couple of mental postcards out of a picture window.

    Has anyone here tried the new Caron Masculine (‘Aimez-Moi Comme Je Suis’)? It sounds a little more mainstream than we might expect from this house’s storied past, but not so much as a common designer release… Perhaps along the lines of the Wasser-era Guerlains, as someone pointed out?

    Anyway, it sounds appealingly autumnal: ginger & grapefruit in the opening, a dialogue of hazelnut and a slightly smoky vetiver and a ‘woody-amber’ base (there’s the mainstream) of tonka & tobacco. I’m very curious to try it but, as it is very challenging to get a decant where I live, I’d probably settle for now for Victoria writing a review… November 27, 2020 at 2:22am Reply

  • Carla: For the cooler days I love to wear Potpourri by Santa Maria Novella, it takes me back to a place in time that the Autumnal season evokes for me. December 9, 2020 at 4:38pm Reply

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