This past week I’ve been ill. I’ve also been annoyed that the world around me is sunny, flowery — summery — in spite of my discomfort. When I’m not feeling well, I prefer looking out the windows and seeing clouds, fog, rain and bare branches on trees (I guess you could say I wallow in my misery). If I’m sick or depressed, I still “eat a little something” and wear perfume (I’m lucky enough to be alive after all) but those flavor and fragrance selections are carefully chosen. Warm, rich, nutty and chocolaty desserts go down easily during hard times (who cares about calories if you’re physically or mentally hurting?) I don’t reserve certain perfumes for sick days, but when I’m feeling low I reach for “darker” perfumes that will “support” me as I move through my day (or don’t move at all); these perfumes must have some heft, act as a “scented crutch” if you will, but should not contain jarring/strange notes or progress through multiple stages of development. Sparkly, bright Eaux de Cologne, frivolous fruity-florals, and ozonic-moronic sport fragrances get on my nerves when I’m under the weather, and they seem to disappear into thin air the moment I really need a “shoulder” to lean on.
Perfumes for Illness must provide the comfort, the familiarity, the simplicity and the satisfaction of a warm brownie, a dense, fragrant gingerbread, a cup of hot chocolate made with cream (insert the name of any food you love). I usually reach for oriental fragrances when I’m humming the blues, and for a few days this week I turned to Chanel Coromandel* for “help.”
Coromandel (2007) was created by perfumer Jacques Polge and lists notes of frankincense, benzoin, amber and “woods” — all comforting notes to me. Coromandel is no lightweight, insubstantial fragrance; it provides a long day of scented “support.” Coromandel goes on liquor-y and sweet, smelling like a spicy glaze I’d pour over my gingerbread; it then provides a tiny dose of syrupy medicine (think: cola-flavored codeine). Coromandel’s frankincense is muted and its benzoin is powdery soft. Quickly, Coromandel becomes a vanillic-woody amber fragrance: agreeable, sweet, a bit “genteel” and highly qualified for comforting.
When I’ve worn Coromandel in the past, people (women especially) have said it smells old fashioned; one perfume-loving friend called it “matronly!” Let’s examine the word “matron” in the context of “comfort.” When I hear the word “matron” I think of a robust person with a good character, someone helpful and kind, someone who’s looked at life without rose-colored glasses on and who still keeps going; a matron is not one to give in, or give up! Matrons may wear sensible shoes but they are often sensible people too. When one is ill, having a matron handy (in perfume or person form) is helpful. My grandmother was a matron; need I say more? So: call Coromandel “matronly” all you want; for me, its blend of vanillic amber and benzoin, its whisper of incense and warm woods hits the spot: the comfort spot.
I hope no one reading this will need a comfort scent anytime soon, but I know every one of you will eventually (that’s how life is). When a bad patch begins, I recommend good food (choose what makes you happy — and indulge), good books (poems, memoirs and biographies by and about those who’ve had it just as rough as you — or rougher — can help), and a good fragrance. As my spirits lift (for now), and I start eyeing Byredo Pulp and Pacifica Malibu Lemon Blossom once more, I give thanks to “Nurse” Coromandel — and all comfort scents.
Chanel Coromandel is in the "Les Exclusifs" collection, and is available in 200 ml Eau de Toilette for $200; for buying information, see the listing for Chanel under Perfume Houses.
*See definition of "coromandel."
Note: images, top to bottom, are 24K inlaid lacquer painting - Tianjin by b8b8ng at flickr, some rights reserved; Ten-Panel Coromandel Lacquer Screen by Sebastian Niedlich (Grabthar) at flickr, some rights reserved; and Joan Hickson (the greatest Miss Marple ever) from the BBC series “Miss Marple” via Wikipedia.