As it is for many people, fall is my favorite time of year. Perhaps this is because around here it is the most fragrant season: the cool, damp leaves send up a sweet, cidery rot, I could swear there is always a tinge of woodsmoke in the air, and the evergreens seem sharper and straighter as the deciduous competition flames out. Early every morning, after bumping around and out of my pitch-dark apartment, I take a deep draw of cool air and wonder if this smell is a regular olfactory hallucination, since I live in an urban neighborhood with bylaws against bonfires and no apple orchards for miles. Whether I am susceptible to seasonal scent suggestion disorder or not, I love the colors and skies of autumn, and the weather is often invigorating enough for me to look fondly upon the hooting, rowdy herds of schoolkids that suddenly appear on every sidewalk. Even if fall doesn’t make you feel this disgustingly cheerful, you can still spend your season of mists and mellow fruitfulness in gorgeous perfumes. Please comment with your own fall favorites and let me know if you’ve sampled the new Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles. I haven’t tried it yet, and am wondering whether it will be added to my current autumn Lutens rotation of Chêne, Santal Blanc and El Attarine.
Etro Shaal Nur: Rather like a more contemplative, citrus-tinged Habanita, this is an airy, incense-smoke version of Molinard’s classic vetiver-vanilla. While not being particularly strong — it’s better sprayed than dabbed — Shaal Nur has impressive projection. The vanilla lends richness, but not too much sweetness. While dry, it is quite bright for an incense fragrance and there is an odd raspy floral note I’ve always assumed is karo karounde, an ingredient found in the equally radiant and autumnal L’Artisan Timbuktu. Created by Jacques Flori, the nose behind other Etro favorites like Anice and Messe de Minuit, Shaal Nur smells both exotic and comfortable, and despite supposedly being named after an Indian princess*, it feels unisex and very, very French.
Donna Karan Fuel For Men: Perhaps I wear thoughtful, quiet, melancholy men’s fragrances in the fall to mute the flapping, over-latted energy I seem to have at this time of year. Starting with a tingle of warm ginger and spices, this elegant re-issue has a smooth restraint that I find very pleasing. There is a touch of gasoline-ish bloom to it, rather like the oud haze in YSL M7, but the base is talc-powdery and soft, as Kevin noted in his review. Like many sweeter feminine fragrances, Fuel for Men has a note that is labeled “leather”, but that my nose reads as “stationery paper”.
Parfums de Nicolaï Nicolaï Pour Homme: I last raved about this one here. A strange and perfect blend of many of my favorite notes, it is ideally worn at harvest time, when the graceful and sad beauty of the scent matches Nature’s sweet, abundant peak before the descent into winter. It inspires very purple prose in me, but I get such rare enjoyment from wearing it that I never feel my love letters do it justice.
B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful Breath of God: We’re going to ignore the name. Fall is the season when weird, phantasmagorical creatures stalk the earth, when movies about wild things and Tim Burton pumpkin-heads and Michael Jackson should be released. The time is right for Breath of God, a truly bizarre fragrance, sweet and dry in equal measure, full of decay and salt and smoke and roots and fur and grape cough syrup. Sadly, the B brand is closing after Christmas, so try this marvelous oddity while you can.
Chanel Sycomore: I used to have a gray-golden-green shirt that exactly matched my hazel eyes. Sycomore seems to sit at a similar intersection, a kind of Venn diagram of smell, with overlap between green minty freshness, the gray of smoky vetiver and something like iris, and a sandalwood as golden as walnut flesh. Like the shirt, Sycomore was a gift my husband chose for me and wearing it reminds me that he knows me better than he sometimes lets on.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzing!: One of the places I haunt is my local used bookstore. Last month, I found a copy of Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, the story of middle-aged, dutiful and smothered maiden “Aunt Lolly” who surprises her brother’s family by escaping to the countryside and trading her soul to the devil to remain a free and lonely feminist witch. At home with a black cat in my lap, I sat surrounded by piles of mouldering, yellowed books, uneasily reading about Lolly’s yearly autumn restlessness, her love of fragrant teas and tinctures, her instinctive, fixating imagination. Every so often I gave a superstitious little sniff of my wrist, where I’d sprayed a bit of Dzing! Smoky, dusty and sweet as hay, the scent just fit.
Lolita Lempicka: With its pop of lime, sweet anise and woody violet heart, Lolita Lempicka feels like a perfume Guerlain should have made. Ten years after its release, the house that Jacques built got their act together and came out with Quand Vient la Pluie, a beautiful update on Lolita Lempicka with a little less snap, a delicious dry down and a preposterous price tag. For bargain-hunters, there’s the perfectly poised anise-violet-vanilla of Caron’s Aimez Moi, which Robin recommended last fall.
CB I Hate Perfume Violet Empire: Whenever I try to think of atmospheric fragrances, I come immediately to Christopher Brosius’ thoughtful creations. Violet Empire is one of my favorite abstract scents from this line and one of my favorite violets in general. I love the delicate green touches at the beginning, the smoky hints of black looseleaf that remind me of Brosius’ lovely, simple Cedarwood Tea and the polished dry down of rosewood and leather.
Estee Lauder Alliage: In her review of Alliage in Perfumes: The Guide, Tania Sanchez notes that galbanum resin “smells chalky and bittersweet,with a poisonous, cold, shadowed character, reminiscent sometimes of dark chocolate, sometimes of old wood.” If that description does not bring a web of autumnal associations to your mind, I can say nothing about this galbanum-vetiver fragrance that will remedy the situation.
Ormonde Jayne Ormonde: I do not wear this very often, and I tried several times to leave it off the list, being completely unable to equal the descriptions Robin and others have already written. It is quite simply one of the most singular, striking and beautifully self-sufficient perfumes of all time. It doesn’t care if you don’t feel up to putting it on today… you’ll be back.
* I can find no information on Princess Shaal Nur. Whoever she was, in addition to perfume marketers, she has inspired many yacht owners.