Years ago, while perusing Larousse Gastronomique, I saw a beautiful photo of a cherry clafoutis. The clafoutis had been baked in an emerald-green provençale dish and had been placed on a black-and-cream-colored toile de Jouy cloth that covered a shady spot beneath an ancient olive tree; an antique tin bucket, full of sparkling ice and a bottle of wine, had been set on the ground next to the clafoutis. It all looked so delightful! I had to eat clafoutis! So I made clafoutis (several times) and each time I wondered: how can fresh eggs, butter, milk, sugar and sweet cherries turn into THIS mess, this eggy, soggy pile that becomes inedible just minutes out of the oven? Being tempted to buy a perfume you have not smelled is a lot like finding a new recipe: you read the ingredients, look at a gorgeous illustration, and think “I love everything in this! It sounds and looks delicious!” Acting on a hunch that everything will work out fine, you prepare the recipe (or, as the case may be, buy the perfume). Sometimes you relish the result. Sometimes you become nauseous.
I’ve had decades to learn my perfume lessons. I know I shouldn’t buy a fragrance without sampling it beforehand; I know I shouldn’t commit money and perfume-shelf space to a fragrance before wearing that fragrance all day. But every so often, too often, while searching the internet or thumbing through a magazine, I read an enticing perfume review by a writer whose tastes I share, or I learn one of my favorite perfumers has a new cologne on the market, or I succumb to exotic advertising images — and I order a fragrance without the benefit of smelling it first.
Such “bought-unsniffed” purchases are extremely risky and if you buy something you hate at first sniff, you are not only disappointed but you’ve wasted money — which can add depression and guilt to the disappointment. And what to do with a newly bought but immediately forsaken bottle of perfume? Toss it? Swap it? Sell it? Give it away? Use it to scent the car or garage?
In the past four weeks, I’ve bought three fragrances before sampling them. My first unsniffed purchase of the month was Annick Goutal’s Duel (2003). Reasons for purchase: I love many Annick Goutal scents; I had read several positive online reviews of the fragrance from perfume bloggers I trust; Duel’s ingredients were promising: iris root, leather, Paraguay seeds, maté leaves, absinth and musk; I liked the perfume’s name with its aura of danger.
When I tried Duel for the first time, its scent smelled lighter, more sprightly, than I had imagined it would. There was certainly no whiff of tension, no frisson, in Duel’s formula. On me, Duel smells of black tea with hints of lemon and tangerine. There is only the slightest touch of leather in Duel, and as the scent develops I smell an “iced” iris accord — imagine ‘iris-scented frost’ on your skin. The musk at the end of Duel’s development is civilized and smooth. Duel is light, but if sprayed with wild abandon (8-10 sprays) its scent will last all day.
Satisfaction level: HIGH. Cost: discount price — $40 for 100 ml.
Emboldened by my success with Duel, I hit the “Place Order” button once more and a bottle of Christian Dior’s Jules (1980) was on its way to Seattle. Reasons for purchase: Jules is a rarity (I have never seen a bottle in any store; I have never known a person who wears it); the day I ordered Jules, I was in a foul mood, and bored, and I ‘needed’ to buy something to raise my spirits, so why not perfume?
Jules contains galbanum, black pepper, Russian leather, sandalwood and cedar wood. During the first minute after application, Jules reminds me of a more masculine, raw-edged and forceful Vol de Nuit. Jules’ opening is powerful, yet refreshing. I wake up at 4:30 a.m. each day and Jules’ slightly ‘floral’ galbanum-and-pepper opening provides a pleasant “kick.” Jules’ Russian leather, sandalwood and cedar have a slight sweetness but also some bite — there’s a great balance between smoothness and roughness in the blend. As Jules develops on my skin I smell an interesting, lusty musk-cola accord. Jules works its ingredients to perfection, making fragrances with 10 times its ingredients seem tame and lame in comparison. Jules is a rich, dark and long-lasting cologne.
Satisfaction level: HIGH. Cost: $80 for 100 ml.
Heady with my Duel and Jules successes, I bought one more fragrance without sampling it — Acqua della Macchia Mediterranea from Borsari di Parma’s Viaggio in Italia series of scents. Reasons for purchase: I love traveling in Italy! I love the Mediterranean! I remembered a glowing description of Acqua della Macchia Mediterranea in the comments section of a post on this website.
I can find no list of ingredients for Acqua della Macchia Mediterranea but I get hints of sage, fig (leaf), cypress, lavender, and citrus. On my skin this scent conjures up a world of illness and decay: the sour breath of someone who’s had the flu for a week; the smell of cough syrup and clinics; the aromas of overripe fruit in musty cellars; the spooky scents of spiders and cobwebs in crumbling barns, the sneeze-inducing scent of dusty, disintegrating bunches of dried, brittle herbs. (No doubt some of you are getting goose bumps. Fine! Go ahead and buy, unsniffed, a bottle of Acqua della Macchia Mediterranea. See if I care.)
Satisfaction level: LOW. Cost: discount price — $14 for 3.5 oz.
Please share your latest (or most famous) unsniffed-purchase tales. I would love to hear success stories, but we can agree, can’t we, that the failures provide, after the initial sadness, the most laughter?