Perfume as a Fantasy : Let’s Dream

Despite a persistent belief that perfumers aim to imitate nature, fragrance is about a fantasy. So looking for the exact smell of a rose in a bottle is like reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment to relive a vacation in Saint-Petersburg, even if said sojourn involved all things dark and sordid. Like literature, music, and sculpture, perfumery is a meditation on reality, rather than its photographic reflection. The best of compositions give us a glimpse into someone else’s world and their olfactory idea of a rose—or a cup of black tea, their lover’s skin, or a melancholy evening in Paris.

We read scent message differently

Each one of us might interpret the aromatic message in different ways. For instance, when I smell Balmain’s Vent Vert, I feel the same exhilaration as I do on the first days of March when the air smells intensely green and fresh. My friend, on the other hand, finds it disconcerting and aggressive, a storm of sharp, raspy notes that leaves her lightheaded. Considering that Vent Vert’s creator, Germaine Cellier, minced neither words nor accords, perhaps my friend’s impression is closer to the original intention of the perfumer.

The same applies to other arts, and no two people looking at Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon experience identical sensations. More important is whether a fragrance evokes a response. It can be an intense adventure as with État Libre d’Orange Jasmin et Cigarette, a perfume that smells of tobacco and smoky flowers, or a tender reverie as with Annick Goutal Quel Amour!, a vignette of rose petals and pink champagne.

What if it’s too simple

Today when many fragrances are designed to be likable rather than memorable, the perfumer’s original idea can be obscured. It doesn’t mean that fragrances are devoid of a message, but it becomes simplified—“I’m cute and sweet,” “I’m on the prowl,” “I believe that real men wear only aftershave.” In some cases, it works better than in others. The gardenia embellished Marc Jacobs for Her doesn’t talk much, but it laughs easily.

Nevertheless, simplicity and charm need not be trite or superficial. One of the legendary perfumes of the 20th century is a study of one flower, Dior’s Diorissimo EDT. When Edmond Roudnitska created it in 1956, he wanted to demonstrate that perfumers not only can capture nature—the aroma of lily of the valley—but also convey textures, colors and emotions. Diorissimo smells like a branch of tiny white blossoms, but it also evokes the dark tang of wet soil, the teasing warmth of May sunshine and the elation of spring.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Subscribe

28 Comments

  • Anne: Loved it! Today I’m dreaming in Naomi Goodsir’s Cuir Velours. February 5, 2021 at 9:09am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a nice perfume to daydream in. February 6, 2021 at 6:23am Reply

  • Marsha Smith: Lovely article Victoria! February 5, 2021 at 9:56am Reply

  • Julie: So beautiful. My fav is diorissimo. I am born in May and pull it out in spring every year. The quelle que Fleureus? Or quelle amour of Annick gout so I may try.

    When I was in high school we wore Tatiana by Dvf. That was her daughters name and it smelled of gardenia. Also cristalle bu Chanel and ombré rose by Jean Charles Brosseau. Where is that now? Wish I could find.
    Bless you. You’re amazing. February 5, 2021 at 10:47am Reply

    • JillS: Julie, you can find Ombre Rose. I got mine on Zulily. February 5, 2021 at 3:52pm Reply

      • Julie: Wow that is cool. Let me try that website. For the I’m the rose. So nice. The bottle was very pretty back in The day too. February 5, 2021 at 5:19pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s still available, but it’s true that it’s distribution is limited. February 6, 2021 at 6:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Julie! Quel Amour by Goutal is definitely a charming, uplifting perfume. February 6, 2021 at 6:23am Reply

  • Maria: I ENJOYED this article—-springtime and loveliness. I think today winter is slightly more than half over, and the snow of a few days ago is melting, and more on the way.

    Unfortunately, I sing in choirs (not in person now!) and some singers do not tolerate scent well, so I have gotten used to not wearing fragrance. But i like to remember. Maria February 5, 2021 at 8:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, I am in the mood for spring. 🙂 February 6, 2021 at 6:24am Reply

    • Carla: Oh my goodness, Diorissimo, I just can’t wait for spring!
      This is a very good post February 8, 2021 at 10:32am Reply

    • Carla: I sing too and I always hate not putting on a scent when I have rehearsal but it’s important. This awful pandemic is terrible for the performing arts. February 8, 2021 at 10:33am Reply

  • Andrea: You write so beautifully about moods and perfume and stimulate my thinking too – something that ‘laughs easily’ can be the very best thing for a dour mood, but not so much for an afternoon of introspection. Thank you Victoria, I’m off to find some Mitsouko! February 6, 2021 at 4:06am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m glad that you liked it. You’re right, the mood of a fragrance you select is important, more so than notes or whether it’s diffusive or not. February 6, 2021 at 6:25am Reply

    • Carla: I don’t know that Marc Jacobs perfume but I took laughs easily to mean doesn’t have much of intelligence to add to the conversation, just giggles! February 8, 2021 at 10:35am Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria. Your photo of the pink plumeria is so beautiful!
    I haven’t smelled Annick Goutal Quel Amour!, but her Songes evokes a perfect tropical fantasy vacation. February 6, 2021 at 4:56am Reply

    • Victoria: I took it in Malaysia. The pink variety has a different scent to me, less peach-coconut and more reminiscent of lemon ice cream. February 6, 2021 at 6:26am Reply

  • Aurora: I laughed at ‘Crime and Punishment to relive a vacation in Saint-Petersburg’.

    Maybe most perfumes nowadays are a little bit too literal. February 6, 2021 at 8:25am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, that’s true, or else they are too familiar and the message doesn’t sound authentic. February 8, 2021 at 2:50am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Love those pink Temple Tree flowers (that’s what they are called in Sri Lanka). Their delicious scent is my absolute favourite flower scent: so evocative!
    Vintage Vent Vert on the one hand, and the mentioning of Jasmin and Cigarettes made me think of Grès’ Cabochard. Now that perfume really is capable of spinning a story! Not that I particularly like it, but immediately I feel as if I were in some seedy Parisian bistro in the 60’ies, inhaling (unwanted) cigarette smoke, drinking a Pastis, reading a Camus novel, everything just a tad grubby! February 6, 2021 at 9:31am Reply

    • Victoria: I also can’t say that Cabochard is my favorite perfume, but it evokes such a strong image for me, which is very similar to yours. February 8, 2021 at 2:51am Reply

  • Julie basile: Has anyone tried the chantecaille fragrances.
    They are all gorgeous. There’s a frangipani one with vanilla. So spiritual and tropical. Nothing t smells as pretty as those trees in yellow or pink but different as a reader mentions. They bloom here in Florida in April. February 8, 2021 at 7:09am Reply

  • Hilde: Indeed, perfume is a fantasy. It is as an art to create a composition of different ingredients and then to come to a masterpiece, rather than trying to imitate the exact smell of some flower. And that is why it makes it so exciting for us, perfume lovers, to explore those creations and to choose the one that we are attracted to.
    But sometimes it is also so marvelous just to smell exactly that one flower you like in a bottle. I agree, Diorissimo is such one. February 12, 2021 at 5:17am Reply

  • alana sullivan: Is marijuana used in any fragrances?

    The scent of the flowers and the scent when it burns are unique and easily transfers to anything around it.

    The dogs at the airport have no trouble finding it!

    To many, all of marijuana’s scents are heavenly. February 13, 2021 at 11:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: There was a Fresh fragrance with notes of cannabis. February 14, 2021 at 5:20am Reply

  • Annie: Forty years before I heard the name Edmond Roudnitska, I was crawling under the bushes in my backyard in Michigan, picking Lily of the Valley.

    My sample of vintage Diorissimo smelled nothing like that.

    Is it me? Is it the sample I got? February 14, 2021 at 12:23am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t know what sample you had, so I can’t comment. The original Diorissimo smelled like blooming lily of the valley, although the current version is less so. February 14, 2021 at 5:21am Reply

What do you think?

From the Archives

Latest Comments

  • Fazal in Fougere Perfumes and Fragrant Ferns: When I think about fougeres, I usually see two different styles. The old fougeres did not seem to have that strong ‘geraniumy’ (for lack of better word) vibe. I feel… June 14, 2021 at 3:13pm

  • Emily in Fougere Perfumes and Fragrant Ferns: Erawan! By Dusita. There’s something sacred about it for me. Soul-soothing. June 14, 2021 at 3:01pm

  • John in Fougere Perfumes and Fragrant Ferns: Hi Victoria, I had not thought about the notion of a cool-warm base but now I see it. I realize it aligns with sensations that some fougères have given me… June 14, 2021 at 2:12pm

  • Victoria in Fougere Perfumes and Fragrant Ferns: I forgot to add that you’re right about classical fougères not being what they once were. The culprit is usually the oakmoss in their base. Once that part needs to… June 14, 2021 at 1:42pm

Latest Tweets

Design by cre8d
© Copyright 2005-2021 Bois de Jasmin. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy