Fall: 91 posts

Some fragrances that feel autumnal to me

5 Modern Perfumes with a note of surprise

A good fragrance smells familiar, a great fragrance smells surprising. The whole quest of modern perfumery can be summed by this sentence. We’re instantly attracted to the scents that remind us of something — a pleasant memory or another pleasant perfume, which is why well-liked, best-selling fragrances are often reminiscent of other perfumes on the market. A composition that rises above a merely easy-to-like, however, has an unexpected element. This surprising touch makes the scent linger in the memory and intrigue us. Finding the right combination of familiar and surprising is part of perfumer’s aim.

The five fragrances below represent different genres and styles, but the one element they have in common is surprise. I’ve selected examples that surprise rather than jolt to show subtle accents at play. These perfumes reinterpret classic themes, challenge conventions, and most importantly, smell wonderful.

Galop d’Hermès

At the top of my list is Galop d’Hermès, a fragrance that appears at first as a pastel toned, chic rose but has a dark, smoldering heart. To wear Galop is to be enveloped in soft layers of leather, woods and musk. The new Hermès in-house perfumer Christine Nagel also added an accord of incense inflected rose and juicy quince, an additional surprise.

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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.

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Myrrh and Almonds : The Secret of Serge Lutens La Myrrhe

As a complement to my article about Autumnal Fragrances, I recorded a video about the fragrance that scented my fall this year, Serge Lutens La Myrrhe. Early into the spring lockdown, I decided to devote more attention to studying, wearing and enjoying my old favorites, rather than seeking out anything else. Partly, it was a matter of necessity–I transferred my studio to my home and I didn’t want to bring all of the fragrance samples from the office. Partly, it was influenced by my desire to pare things down to the essentials. It was a much needed antidote to the persistent commercial message of buying things.

So I would sometimes spend days analyzing a fragrance, finding its nuances and decoding the stories hidden within its accords. It reminded me of the time I was a perfumery student and would spend weeks studying a single fragrance. I can tell you that I didn’t miss anything. On the contrary, I’ve learned a great deal about fragrance over these past few months.

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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.

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A Promise of Spring in Every Autumn

Autumn. Sonbahar in Turkish. Son means last. Bahar means spring. Bahar, a Persian loanword بهار, means also blossom, blossoming. And so, sonbahar, autumn, is literally the last blossoming. Turkish, one of the most elegantly structured languages I know, has its opposite counterpart— ilkbahar, which means spring. İlk means “first.” İlkbahar and sonbahar, spring and autumn. The first blossoms and the last. 

So in every autumnal leaf lies a promise of another spring. 

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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