For most of us, certain perfume notes may not sit well on our skin. For instance, berry notes can sour on me. I have had the painful experience of standing at Aedes in New York, waiting for a spritz of Parfums DelRae Bois de Paradis to settle on my skin (“My favorite!” the salesman said), and then having the salesman lift his nose from my arm with a firm, “No”. Similarly, on me Molinard Nirmala might as well be bug spray.
But beyond the chemical aspects of perfume are its aesthetic properties, and some of these don’t sit well on some people, either. This is where I have White Flower Failure. Tuberose, gardenia, and lilies smell just fine on me, and I adore them when I smell them on others. But when I wear a tuberose-based perfume, what I see in the mirror doesn’t match up with what I smell. I smell delicious, creamy flowers, and depending on the perfume, maybe purity or maybe a sexy, ladylike aroma, or maybe something else. What I see in the mirror is a slightly messy redhead wearing a rumpled vintage cashmere sweater, with no makeup but for red lipstick — that is, what didn’t wear off with her morning coffee. What I experience is dissonance.
This is true whether the white flowers are Coty Sand & Sable, Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, Robert Piguet Fracas, or — and this really breaks my heart — Serge Lutens Tuberose Criminelle. They all smell wonderful, but they clash somehow with my fundamental nature. A few white flower-heavy fragrances work better: the warm vanilla and sandalwood in Annick Goutal Songes give it the slightly retro feel that works on me, and the incense in Chanel No. 22 makes it a great scent for situations requiring delicacy or anything happening in a church.
I know some of you may be ready to scroll down to the comments section to write, “Wear what you want! If you like it, isn’t that good enough?” And I agree. Wear what perfume or clothing or eye makeup that you want. You only have to please yourself. One of my neighbors, a senior citizen woman with a passion for hot rods and a part-time job delivering auto parts, walks in a cloud of Victoria’s Secret Amber Rose, and it is perfection. But I don’t want to wear something — no matter how beautiful it is — that doesn’t blend with my esprit. For me it would be too much like drinking an Orange Crush with linguine carbonara, or watching Goldie Hawn play Camille. Aesthetic conflict.
Although white flowers don’t work well for me now (see, I’m leaving open room to change), I take comfort in knowing that incense, leather, chypre, and vintage scents are often terrific. I can carry the mustiness of the old Carons and the drama of the big Guerlains, and I’m right at home with the funkiness of many of the Serge Lutens scents. In the meantime, I’ll put a few drops of Tuberose Criminelle on a handkerchief in my bag to sniff now and then. On my wrist will be her more rustic sister, Iris Silver Mist.
Image: Bella Donna by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1939, via Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.