The Monday Mail ~ help Catherine find a new perfume

Boites aux lettres

This week we're helping Catherine, who wants to find a grownup, seductive evening fragrance that counteracts her youthful, girl-next-door appearance. When she first wrote to me, her perfume experience was minimal, and largely consisted of a "mortifyingly long stalemate" with Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, which according to Catherine didn't even smell good on her skin.  While she has been on the waiting list, though, she has tried a truly impressive number of fragrances (see below). Here is what we know about Catherine:

She's single, in her early 30s, and is finishing her dissertation in grad school.

She says she has a sort of apple-cheeked, girl-next-door appearance that makes people think she is younger and sweeter than she actually is, sometimes to their disappointment.

She has just lopped five inches off her girly hair in a related effort to look a little more grown up.

Her clothing tends towards the classic and romantic — her favorite garment  is a blush-pink suede trench coat from a small French designer — but she gets bored if there isn't some kind of unusual design element or a little bit of edge (lately she is coveting Rag + Bone).

Catherine wants a fragrance with some complexity, but she is not necessarily looking for something overly challenging. She also wants something with some warmth, but she tends to be drawn towards lighter, easier to wear fragrances. She's hoping to find a happy medium. 

Catherine doesn't want anything overly sweet.

Here is what she has tried:

Chanel No. 5: does not appeal. 

Guerlain Shalimar: it was worn by her inexplicably malevolent grandmother and smells like  family holidays in hell.

Lacoste Inspiration: she likes the dry down, but the first hour is too young, candied and sweet. 

Guilty by Gucci: she liked it, but wants something more refined, and with a little more kick. 

Narciso Rodriguez for Her: she thinks it is the sort of thing she is looking for, but she doesn't love it.

Burberry Brit Summer for Women 2012: she liked it, but would be happy with something deeper. 

Tocca Bianca: same, appealing but not enough depth.

Acqua di Parma Magnolia Nobile: likable but tame.

Juliette Has a Gun Romantina: like but not love.

Escada Especially: too much pear.

Creed Love in White: too light.

Stella by Stella McCartney: like except for the sharp citrus.

Jo Malone Dark Amber and Ginger Lily: nice but maybe a shade too sweet. 

Jo Malone Wild Bluebell: way too tame.

Versace Versense: not super sophisticated but easy and likable.

Diptyque Philosykos: she likes it, but it's more interesting than romantic.

Diptyque L'Ombre dans L'Eau & Do Son: beautiful but not necessarily attractive.

Tom Ford Violet Blonde: more impressive than attractive.

Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb, Tom Ford Black Orchid, Ineke Sweet William, Lancome La Vie Est Belle,  Guerlain Angelique Noire: all too sweet.

Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire 2012: a black cherry and licorice hellscape.

Thierry Mugler Angel: it made her gag. Way too foody.

Caron Nuit de Noel, Jean Patou Joy, Robert Piguet Fracas, Nina Ricci L'Air du Temps: beautiful, but more old-school than she can manage.

L’Eau d’Issey Florale: detergent with a bitter dry down.

Serge Lutens Santal Blanc: too foody.

Chloe Love, Chloe: likable but a little young, and she got tired of it. 

Prada Infusion d'Iris & Balenciaga Paris: beautiful but not her thing.

Michael Kors (original or Suede): liked both, but even the Suede was too heady.

Dior Hypnotic Poison: she got a kick out of it — sugar and spice and more naughty than nice. But it's not what she wants right now.

What say you?

Note: top image is Boites aux lettres [cropped] by besopha at flickr; some rights reserved.

Shop for perfume

FragranceNetParfums Raffy

149 Comments

Leave a comment, or read more about commenting at Now Smell This.

  1. kristinacologne says:

    Wow, that’s an impressive list! The happy medium for me these days is Bottega Veneta. It’s violet and soft suede leather combo makes it versatile but complex and sexy but not overpowering. Plus, my boyfriend loves it (contrary to MANY other scents I happily wear). As you rather liked some of the classics: Try Parfum de Nicolais “Odalisque” if you can get your hand on it. It’s a scent in the tradition of the long lost green chypres but it’s very easy to wear.

    • C.H. says:

      Thanks so much, Kristina! Yes I blame grad school for cultivating my instinct that if I want new perfume, I probably need to survey All The Perfumes first. I actually kind of overwhelmed myself a bit, so I really appreciate the recs. Thanks!

  2. Dilana says:

    You seem to lean towards white flowers, but are unsure that they are sophisticated enough for the image you want to present. (Ultimately, it will take more than a fragrance to impress people with your sophistication and serious adult personality).
    Guerlains often tend to use the same “Guerlain” accord, and you might find all of them remind you of your grandmother.
    You also seem to dislike anything fruity, but seem to lean a little towards spicy.

    For sophisticated, white flower and modern, you might try CDG White, which is an edgy Lily of the Valley. You might also want to consider the Apothia line.

    • C.H. says:

      So true about perfume not being the only element that determines the impression one makes–one of my best friends actually wears a couple of the perfumes I’ve deemed too sweet, but just as a consequence of her physical appearance (dark hair/dark eyes) and decidedly edgier style, the perfumes play as a nice complement rather than making her seem overly innocent (as they do me, I think.) I think basically I just don’t want anything that compounds that aspect.

      Thanks for the recs, I will check them out!

  3. friede says:

    Oh goody, a grad student! I love grad students — it brings out the Helpful Advisor in me. (I’m also early thirties, recent PhD who is asked what classes I’m taking at the school where I teach!)

    I notice that the one light musk on the list is called “the sort of thing she is looking for” though it isn’t right. Worth smelling SJP Lovely, if only to rule out. Similar vein of suggestion: Serge Lutens Clair de Musc. I know the notes sound foody, but L’Artisan Piment Brulant might give her a nice kick.

    I also notice that her extensive testing doesn’t have any leather, which might be a realm worth exploring in the search for Grownup Evening (starting with the nearly-non-leather Kelly Caleche and working up? Others may have better suggestions)

    I’m sensing a pull to white flowers (though not yet finding the one that is “just right”). Worth giving Estee Lauder Private Collection a whirl. I know it’s crazy for someone who found MKors too heady, but I’m still going to suggest giving Carnal Flower a whirl (in low, as in one distant spray, dosage). I don’t know of any fragrance I have that is more wearably evening grownup than that one.

    • solanace says:

      I was thinking leather too. Chanel Cuir de Russie is as sophisticated as can be, and not stuffy at all. It is expensive, but you can always buy decants. Which leads me to my further suggestion (another advisor here!!): since your list shows that you clearly like smelling, maybe you should focus on this process instead of the full bottle. Getting a lot of decants and living with them is so much fun!

      • C.H. says:

        Ha yes you are right–I def got absorbed in testing. I’d still love to have something I feel like is really reliably attractive (kind of the way I have a “go-to” dress I know I always feel really good in), but I think you are right that I may need to accept I’ve been stricken with the sniffing mania!

        Thanks for the perfumista advice as well as the individual recs!

      • Rappleyea says:

        Seconding the Cuir de Russie – that was my first thought as I read.

        • C.H. says:

          Ah, interesting to see it has several votes! Will put it at top of list. Thanks Rappleyea.

    • sayitisntso says:

      I agree on the CF. This is a recent love (been wearing it non stop for 2 weeks now) and it’s absolutely addictive.

      • C.H. says:

        Ooh, yay–addictive sounds good! Thanks Say.

    • C.H. says:

      Haha yup even though I dress up to teach, I’m regularly mistaken for an undergrad or even (this is a real horror, and it has happened more than once) for a high school student visiting the campus. I am sure in a decade or two I’ll be happy to look youthful, but at the moment it would be really useful both professionally and personally to convey a little more authority.

      Thanks so much for the recs–adding all to the list. Leather is a great idea.

      • Merlin says:

        Mistaken for a visiting high-schooler! I did have a similar experience as a tutor at university. I was waiting for everyone to arrive, for the first class, and had my bag on the desk near the front and was being quite casual when one student said something about this must be one of the teachers that is always late!

        I’m not sure who was more embarrassed!

        Anyway, to project an aura of maturity I would probably go for a chypre type. Chanel’s 31 Rue Cambon is great! Sisley’s Soir de Lune is also very nice. I do not think these will fill all your criteria but they are very sophisticated. One that is sophisticated, compex, warm, comforting and sexy is Andy Tauer’s Une Rose Chypre. Its a genre that has a slightly old-fashioned vibe, but all the ones I’v mentioned also are, or at least smell (to my nose) decidedly modern.

        • C.H. says:

          Hahaha, that’s a good one! What did the student say when you apprised him of the error?!

          Thanks so much for the recs; I can def see the argument for something of the chypre variety, great idea. Thanks Merlin.

  4. egabbert says:

    I suggest By Kilian Sweet Redemption, which has the warmth and seductiveness of Narciso Rodriguez but with a more realistic orange blossom. However, it may be a bit outside a grad student budget!

    • C.H. says:

      Thanks so much for this suggestion, and I should add–I’m not too concerned about budget, just because my years in grad school have trained me really well to save my pennies for just one or two things I really like, so it’s okay if they’re pricier. I can’t afford a big collection, but a few things I love, I can manage. (Within reason. JAR e.g. is probably not currently within reason.)

      • hollyc says:

        On the subject of Narciso Rodriguez, I have it and like it well enough, but it gets annoying to me anyway in that it is not particularly interesting and too linear. My preference for a sexy rose is Sisely’s Soir de Lune. Lordy I love it and it has many aspects to it and I think boatloads of oak moss. When I walk by a coat that I’ve worn while wearing it I never fail to think Mmmmm, which one was that and Oh yeah, Soir de Lune. . . . Lasts forever and has lovely sillage and it’s definitely a grown up scent. Bandit it also a naughty beauty as is Cuir de Russie and Vero Profumo Onda, all leather lovelies!

        • C.H. says:

          Cool, I haven’t tried any of those–will add to list! Thanks Holly.

      • egabbert says:

        You should definitely try it then. It’s incredible if you like orange blossom.

        • egabbert says:

          Oh, and along similar lines, Seville a l’Aube from L’Artisan.

  5. chrisskins says:

    Bulgari Omnia (original) or Chanel No.22. Easy to wear and interesting, but you won’t smell them everywhere.

    • C.H. says:

      Super! Thanks Chrisskins.

    • Dr Lemur says:

      I disagree on Omnia. It’s one of my absolute faves, but it’s very foody, which OP dislikes.

      • C.H. says:

        Ah, a dissenting voice! It’s true that foody isn’t my thing… but now my curiosity is piqued! I’ll have to try and see.

  6. Lys says:

    Try narciso rodriguez for her intense (shiny pale pink bottle, beware they all kind of look the same) – orange blossom and musk, less girly than the original EDP or EDT. Newer Guerlains won’t necessarily remind you of your grandma, especially those without amber. I’d say try Chypre Fatale b/c it’s like a sophisticated narciso rodriguez, but it may be too sweet. It’s also harder to find. Try a decant.

    For modernized white florals, Diptyque Do Son is a lighter take on Fracas, not too much to handle and the new EDP is superlative (the EDT is more transparent). Also there will be a “Petite Fracas” this winter which is a modernized Fracas with some gourmand notes, I trust the Piguet team to make it worth testing when it comes out. Another Fracas Lite, readily available, is Madonna Truth or Dare, it’s a little retro but the amber/musk base is the same as in Light Blue.

    • C.H. says:

      Ah, awesome–thanks so much Lys. Great ideas, I would not have thought of any of these. Looking forward to trying all!

  7. sugarvenom says:

    Le Labo Rose 31. A pretty but dark rose.

    • C.H. says:

      Oh cool–I wondered about this rose, very glad to have an endorsement. Thanks Sugar!

  8. Cybele says:

    I suggest you Frederic Malle Musc Ravangeur ( the oil version is especially nice) and Chanel Bois de Iles- both are cozy, seductive and sophisticated and never too much. Also second Sweet Redemption.

    • C.H. says:

      Awesome, those sound great. Thanks Cybele.

    • elise says:

      2nd Bois de Iles!

      • C.H. says:

        Two checks for Bois des iles!

    • friede says:

      Second on the Musc Ravageur — it *might* be too sweet, but worth a shot!

      • C.H. says:

        Cool, thanks Friede!

  9. sayitisntso says:

    Try Sarah Jessica Parker’s “Lovely”. It doesn’t cost a fortune and is close to Narciso Rodriguez’s ‘for her’. The base far prettier, more floral (IMHO) and doesn’t radiate like nuclear waste.

    • C.H. says:

      Hahahaha that’s hilarious, and also sounds ideal. Thanks Say.

    • Agreed! ha!

      (although I also agree with the commenter who said that maybe you should try the NR Intense version… Intense Nuclear Radiation, yes, but somehow it works on me better than the original)

      • C.H. says:

        Oh interesting! Ok cool, will do. Thanks Gville.

  10. AnnieA says:

    How about trying Etat Libre d’Orange? French, niche, yet not too expensive. Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection is a furious rose, Rien is lady-ceo-next-door/chic dictator, Jasmine et Cigarette is as advertised, and lots more. Luckyscent has the sampler set for the cost of one bottle of perfume, or there are cheaper, tinier samples too.

    • C.H. says:

      Oh cool–thanks, yes, I don’t really know anything about this line so I really appreciate these details. Will check it out! Thanks Annie.

    • austenfan says:

      I second Etat Libre d’Orange. The fragrances are a lot more wearable than their names might suggest. I adore Rien, Rossy and Fils de Dieu du Riz et des Agrumes.

      • C.H. says:

        Yeah, so good to know, as their names do intimidate me a little! I’ll know I should not be dissuaded. Thanks Austen!

  11. helenviolette says:

    My rec is also bottega veneta!

    • C.H. says:

      Awesome! (I am getting so excited to start trying these!) Thanks Helen.

  12. d3m0lici0n says:

    Frederic Malle – Carnal Flower
    MFK – Absolue pour le Soir.

    You will smell great, grown up and sophisticated.

    • C.H. says:

      Perfect. Thanks D3M.

  13. Lys says:

    Forgot to add, I love that your grandmother wore Shalimar. Mine wore Tabu.

    • C.H. says:

      …so do you love Tabu or hate it?? ;)

      • Lys says:

        I hadn’t really considered how I feel about it since I don’t run across people wearing Tabu! She also smelled of leather coats, cigarettes and her home of home cooking (meat stews!), so also I don’t think just of Tabu when I think of my grandmother’s scent.

        I like smelling scents that fondly remind me of people, but not necessarily wearing them myself. I would find it hard to wear Tabu, so I guess I do think of it as too old-fashioned for me.

        • C.H. says:

          That is such an evocative combination! It’s true, Tabu alone would not be enough to recreate that, I’d guess, even if one did encounter it much in the wild.

          (Mmm meat stew!)

  14. Rappleyea says:

    Grown up and womanly? Vintage Femme (and still pretty reasonable on eBay).

    A different and interesting white flower – Les Nez Manoumalia.

    A spicy musk – SSS Sienna Musk.

    A couple of Guerlains that don’t use the “Guerlinade” and won’t remind you of your grandmother – Samsara (vintage in clear bottle, easily found on the auction site), Jardin de Bagatelle or Mahora – both Guerlain’s take on white flowers.

    Good luck!

    • C.H. says:

      Oh interesting–these are great, appreciate the off-the-beaten path ideas. Thanks Rappleyea!

  15. elise says:

    Serge Lutens Bas de Soie! Just bought a bottle of this and I think it is edgy and sophisticated…and a little bit naughty :)

    • C.H. says:

      Very intriguing! Thanks Elise.

  16. hajusuuri says:

    I suggest Ineke Hothouse Flowers – crisp green smooth gardenia.

    Also, L’AP Seville a l’Aube – orange blossom, incense, lavender – you could probably wear this year-round (I have not owned it long enough to know).

    • C.H. says:

      Those both sound lovely–on the list they go! Thanks Hajusuuri.

  17. alyssa says:

    Seconding the Ineke Hothouse flowers, Bottega Veneta and the Malle Carnal Flower (out of your budget a bit, but since you’ll probably only dab you can buy someone’s 10 ml travel spray and it will last you a year). When you’re at the Malle counter, try L’Eau d’Hiver and En Passant, too.

    Mimosa Pour Moi, from L’Artisan, may be a bit light or just the thing.

    Do you have access to the Exclusifs Chanel line? I think you’d like Beige, which is truly pretty and polished (and perfect with a rose pink trenchcoat) even if it is not a favorite in the perfumista crowd. While you’re there, try 28 La Pausa.

    Since you seem to be enjoying your sampling, I would consider investing in a sampler from Ormonde Jayne. Pretty much her whole line is easy to wear but grown up with a touch of something different.

    • alyssa says:

      Coming back to add a dark horse to the mix: L’Artisan’s Nuit de Tubereuse, which is not really a tuberose at all but a strange, addictive beast, kind of a floral incense. Starts with a big overdose of pink pepper, then a weird moment of two of green mango (or, as Robin put it, juicy fruit gum), then the long drydown of tuberose laced with resins, the pepper still present. It was one of those perfumes I kept trying and trying because I didn’t know what to think of it. Now have a bottle and wear it year round.

      • C.H. says:

        Ah, so much helpful advice! Much appreciated on all fronts–most especially thinking of my beloved trench coat!

    • Oooh. Ormonde Jayne! That’s a good rec. Especially since you seem to enjoy ‘the hunt’, I’d 2nd getting the discovery set.

      • C.H. says:

        This is so good to know–I’m lucky that I’m in a major metro area so I can try a lot of things locally, but after that, there’s just so much one could order online, it’s hard to know where to start. Very much appreciate the advice!

  18. farouche says:

    I picture Fendi Theorema and Serge Lutens Daim Blond with your blush pink suede trench. They are both great fall comfort scents, interesting but neither too heavy nor too light.

    • C.H. says:

      Fragrance that match that coat are totally the way to my heart; can’t way to try. Thanks Farouche!

  19. Veronika says:

    Oh my God, this is my story.
    I’m a blue-eyed blonde with angel-like appearance, that mistakenly leads lots of people to believe that I’m sweat, although I’m really not:)

    I also started with Light Blue – and then I I had Narcisso Rodrigues for her, J’adore, Armani Mania, Infusion d’Iris…. I was looking for a signature scent that would be grown-up, sexy, but artful and elegant at the same time.

    To this day I haven’t found anything better that Vol de Nuit – it has the elegance of Chanel N5, audacity of Chanel N19, sexyness of Shalimar and melancholic vibe of l’heure blue – all in one bottle of parfum.
    Also it’s rare and hard to find – so you won’t smell like anyone around you. + it has the most interesting story (flying at night, Saint-Exupery, the first transatlantic flight…, courage and bravery of a professional pilot who was also one of the most seductive lovers of his time:) And the bottle is perfection – easily the most elegant one amoung them all. Sorry, I just love it! And it suits me perfectly – a quiet girl, who looks like an angel but is a daring devil in disguise.

    • Wow. I totally have to try this now, Veronika. What a sales pitch!

      • Rappleyea says:

        I wore vintage Vol de Nuit extrait yesterday – she doesn’t exaggerate.

        • Man! I’ve just got to try this!

          The vintage edt doesn’t compare, eh? I find that I actually like a lot of the vintage Chanels in edt over parfum. Am I crazy?

          • Veronika says:

            I’ve never tried vintage eau de toilette, but the modern one is a mockery – suits only to spray gloves and insides of a bag – has no staying power and the dry-down – the most captivating and haunting part of the experience – does not exist at all!

          • C.H. says:

            Ah, good to know. Vintage extrait, duly noted.

          • Rappleyea says:

            I too prefer the edt in say, Cuir de Russie, but in Vol de Nuit it’s a whole ‘nother story! I love the edt, and have worn it since high school, but when I tried the extrait, it was a religious experience. The edt is greener, sharper while the extrait is an incredibly rich, warm scent.

            Email me at rappleyea11 at yahoo dot com.

          • Rappleyea says:

            In case it’s too confusing, that was @ gvillecreative.

        • Veronika says:

          I found that not being to its fullest during colder weather is its only downside…. But I warm myself with sunny aldehydes of chanel n5 parfum in cold winter. After all Beaux was from wintery Russia – he knew what he was doing:)

      • Veronika says:

        I can go on and on about Vol de Nuit’s superiority over every other smell on earth:) It truly is wonderful. Always stays close to the skin, whispers “apprivoise-moi… aime-moi” in a husky sensuous voice and feels like a lovers sweet embrase:)

    • C.H. says:

      Hahaha that is wild–yep, we’re in exactly the same situation. (I.e. once in grad school a professor accidentally called me the name of the angel-child character from the text we were reading. Did not endear me to my classmates, nor make me feel especially good about what he might be writing in my recommendations–don’t think too many grant committees are looking for “cherubic”.) Would be very nice to wear something that conveys a little more maturity; Vol de nuit sounds like it could be just the thing!

      • Veronika says:

        Well, I’m getting my second masters degree and people around me still think that i’m a 1st year bachelor student… They won’t sell me vodka without my passport! that’s insane:)

        • C.H. says:

          It is insane! The worst was when my sister was still an undergrad at the same university; we were at a bar together one night and she introduced me to one of her friends, who immediately said, “Oh, are you thinking of coming here for college?” I probably won’t do college a second time… but I might be your instructor next semester…

          Youthful would be one thing, but being literally confused for an adolescent… I don’t think anyone wants that!

          Making careful notes re: modern extrait. Thank you!

      • Veronika says:

        current extrait (parfum) is very good, try the modern one first before hunting the vintage

        • Veronika says:

          no… seriously…don’t let them scare you with their “vintage” talk
          I wear modern one
          Carla Bruni-Sarkozy wears modern one
          lot’s of snobbi-ish perfume bloggers agree that the modern one is great

          it just has to be parfum, since eau de toilette is much thinner and doesn’t capture the whole magical story

          • Lys says:

            Just saw your comment on modern v. vintage. Good to know.

          • Rappleyea says:

            Veronika, I agree that the modern extrait is a perfectly good scent in its own right, it just smells nothing like the original. Side by side you literally wouldn’t know they were supposed to be the same perfume.

          • Lys says:

            Rappelyea what’s the difference (I do love my modern Bandit)?

    • Lys says:

      Yikes! For some reason when I first approached the Guerlains I conflated Vol de Nuit with Sous le Vent for no reason other than the visual symmetry of the names. Dumb right? So even tho I’m a guerlie girl I’ve never tried Vol de Nuit. Now I have to.

      I feel like there was a conversation about vintage vs. modern extrait sometime earlier this fall on NST. Guess it’s vintage for EDT and parfum then?

      • Lucy says:

        Don’t feel bad. I get Vol de Nuit and Sous le Vent up all the time. I love SLV too, but can’t wait to try VDN because everyone here raves about it.

        • Lucy says:

          *mixed* up. I don’t know how an entire word disappeared. Darn iPad.

  20. Lucy says:

    Another vote for Bottega Veneta. It is an incredibly pleasant, light leather. I just can’t get enough of it, especially now when the temperature is dropping. It is light enough to wear through most of the summer too. IMHO it is the best mainstream release in a long time.
    Other recent faves:
    Prada Candy – Caramel candy opening (think imported candy for adults) and iris dry down. I’ve been wondering for awhile if they poured Prada amber and Infusion d’Iris together to see what happened and labeled it Candy. That little “something different” might make it work for you.
    Jo Malone Blackberry and Bay – Tart, bright grapefruit and blackberry with a little light floral and earthy, but not dirty bay. Far better than the Bluebell. I also really love JM French Lime Blossom. It’s a very pretty light floral, but it’s not too girly.
    Dyptique Olene – another beautiful floral, with a little more oomph to it than the JMs. I’ve only had the pleasure of sampling it once, but it is my favorite of the line.
    The Guerlain Aqua Allegoria line- these are Guerlain light. To my knowledge none of them have the Guerlinade in them. They are easy to wear and may be an easy transition from Light Blue.

    Chanel Exclusifs – try several if you can. Beige is a very wearable and polite scent and Jersey is a light lavender. It is easy to appreciate the whole line. I think most of them are now available in smaller bottles for a little over $100, since most of us don’t know what to do with a 6 oz. vat of one fragrance.

    Also, should you decide not to stray too far, Thierry Mugler Cologne is very similar to light blue. It opens brighter and sharper, then dries down almost identically (to my nose anyway.) There’s not much warmth to it, but it’s a better constructed fragrance. (again, IMHO). It’s in the men’s section at Macy’s if you decide to try it.

    I wish I could go back in time and share my Granny with you. Every time I smell Cinnabar I have the most wonderful memories of her. I can’t imagine having such a bad connotation with an icon like Shalimar.

    Good Luck!

    • C.H. says:

      Lucy thank you so much for these recs and such a sweet message–it’s so kind that you’d share your Granny! I’m really touched. The good news is that I’m much closer to my other grandmother; she’s not exactly a warm-and-fuzzy grandmotherly type either, but she’s a pretty fun character so it balances out the more tyrannical tendencies on the other side. And she wears 24, Faubourg so at least positive associations with that!

      • Lucy says:

        Oh, I’m so happy to hear that! Grandmother’s really can be the best. And 24 Faubourg is a good one. I have a mini of it around here somewhere…sounds perfect for tomorrow.

    • Dilana says:

      If you are a Bottega Venata fan, I would suggest also trying Lutens Daim Blond. When BV came out, my first reaction was “a lighter copy of Daim Blond.”
      Which is not to say BV is not as good as Daim Blond, since sometimes subtlety is preferable to powerhouse. (Plus BV is cheaper). However, I’d try them both.

      • C.H. says:

        Oh cool. Duly noted, thanks Dilana.

      • Lucy says:

        Yes, Daim Blonde is excellent too. The Bottega Veneta, Daim Blonde, and Chanel Beige will all work with that blush suede coat theme, but with subtle differences.

        I don’t have the exact link, but somewhere in the customer service section on the Serge Lutens website is a place where you can request one sample. (Or at least there was last year when I got one.)

        • C.H. says:

          Oh cool–I will try to hunt that down!

  21. LaurenO says:

    Maybe SJP Lovely? It’s sort of like Narciso Rodriguez for her, but maybe more in the direction you’re looking.

    • C.H. says:

      Thanks for this Lauren; this was something I actually looked for and couldn’t find in stock to try at one of my local department stores but since so many people are recommending, I think I will have to order a sample at least!

      • Lys says:

        Try “non-prestige” stores like Ulta, Perfumania, maybe Target?

        • C.H. says:

          Ah, good idea! Target didn’t have it (or at least, didn’t have a sales associate who could find it), but I didn’t think of the others, I’ll def look there. Thank you.

        • Lucy says:

          I saw it at Kohl’s last week, with a tester available.

          • C.H. says:

            Aha! Perfect. Will hit it up. (I knew someone would have to know!) Thanks Lucy.

  22. So Catherine, I’m curious, what was the last frag that you loved? There must have been something, at some time…

    • C.H. says:

      Ahhhh this is a surprisingly hard question to answer! I really am a weird candidate because truly, until three months ago, I was basically not a wearer of perfume at all (save for periodically spritzing on some Light Blue; smelling like sour milk; washing it off), so I really don’t have any old favorites. Since then I’ve smelled a lot of things, but I’m realizing the effort has tilted more toward surveying Perfume As A Discipline than just following the trail of things I love. (Which, ha ha, joke’s on me; I’m more perplexed than ever. It is not unlike grad school in that respect!)

      But of the things I mention, I suppose the most honest answer may be the Lacoste Inspiration; it’s the thing I reach for most absent anyone else watching! Still even for my own tastes, and definitely for public consumption, I’d like the sweetness at the top to be dialed down, like, at least 40%. What I like best is the drydown; though nothing terribly sophisticated, it has an easy, slightly vanillic musk that I really like (for reference, that stage is both less sweet and less foody than Trish McEvoy No. 9 Blackberry and Vanilla Musk.) Next personal favorite may be the Burberry Brit Summer or Tocca Bianca, but it doesn’t have the same “I want to lean into that” quality. (I mean, the Burberry has “summer” in the name, so what do I expect!)

      A number of things that I didn’t mention above smell really nice to me on paper blotter, but immediately grow too rich on my skin, like Elie Saab and Coco Mademoiselle (several helpful commenters have suggested this may be an issue of patchouli?) Abyss made the delightfully transgressive suggestion that I could [lowers voice] just spray it on a scarf and not on skin! Which I enjoy for its mild rule-breaking, but in truth I really like spraying perfume on skin and would be sort of disappointed not to.

      Don’t know if any of those bring ideas to mind for you!

      • austenfan says:

        I find both Elie Saab and Coco Mlle very loud fragrances, probably on skin they become louder quicker.

        • C.H. says:

          Oh, good to know you think so too. I know they’re both very popular, but just a bit more than I do comfortably/still find enjoyable.

          • It’s funny that you should mention those, because I immediately thought of Ellie Saab, but then ruled it out because I thought you might think that it’s too big. Me, too. I like it, but she’s a boisterous gal, and she wears me out in about 5 minutes.

            The more I think about it, the more I think that Cuir de Russie is the one for you. She’s smart, she’s adult, she’s versatile. She’s the Real Thing. She’s nothing like anything you named above, and it may be my bias since I think that CdR is the cure for all desires, but she is such a beaut.

            Also– have you read Alyssa Harad’s Coming to My Senses? It sounds like that book might speak to you…

          • C.H. says:

            Gville, have not read the book but now I want to! Thanks for the rec. And I’m so looking forward to trying the Cuir de Russie…

  23. sweetgrass says:

    I second the Omnia rec above, but if you want to go edgier, there’s also Black. The rubbery/smoky note isn’t for everybody, but it would definitely be a fun contrast with a “girl next door” image.

    If you like the idea of Black but not the rubber, there is also L’Artisan Dzing!, and Tokyo Milk Dead Sexy, which to me is nearly a Dzing! smell-alike with a slight peppery note (and far cheaper at about $30).

    For more leather options, there is also Parfumerie Generale Cuir Venenum, which is orange blossom and leather, or Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Cuir Fetiche, a floral iris/leather.

    • C.H. says:

      Cool, I like these ideas! These recs are so immensely helpful; these are definitely not things I’d come up with by myself. Thanks Sweetgrass.

  24. C.H. says:

    Have some more individual replies to send, but I want to pause to say thank you guys SO much–this is already so amazing and I haven’t even started trying the recs yet! Not to be, ahem, excessively sweet but really I’m touched that you’d all share your perfume wisdom so generously with me. I’m sadly lacking in perfumistas among my local friends, and it’s incredibly fun to have suggestions from all of you who know so much! Merci mille fois.

  25. sweetgrass says:

    A couple more that that might be worth a try are L’Artisan Safran Troublant (ok I’m thinking of it because I’m wearing it today), and Diptyque Volutes.

    Safran Troublant is saffron and rose.. it’s relatively sheer, and kind of spicy-floral. Volutes is a more spicy scent with a tobacco note.

    • C.H. says:

      Nice! Adding to the list. Volutes hasn’t made an appearance at my Blue Mercury yet but maybe I’ll have to inquire…

      • hajusuuri says:

        I was at Blue Mercury about a month ago…the SA did not have a clue about Volutes…nor the fact that there are also EDPs of several of the perfumes.

        • C.H. says:

          Yeah, I find mine sort of an odd place–for as many nice perfumes as they keep in the store, there’s no one there who seems to know anything about them. It’s okay though; that just means there’s no one who notices how often I’m there! (What can I say, it’s down the street from a great library.)

  26. ChocolatEyes613 says:

    Some perfumes Catherine should try:

    Guerlain Idylle
    Guerlain Insolence
    Bvlgari Jasmin Noir
    Estee Lauder Sensuous
    Estee Lauder Sensuous Noir
    Thierry Mugler Alien
    Chanel Coco
    Lancome Tresor

    • C.H. says:

      Interesting, thanks much Chocolate! Question for you: do you have an opinion on the vintage of the Tresor, do you think it makes a difference?

      • ChocolatEyes613 says:

        Ah, Tresor was my mother’s signature scent when it first came out. So I have very fond memories of its vintage formulation…. it was exquisite. I have smells the recent formulation, and it is still very nice.

        • C.H. says:

          Ah cool, useful to know they’re not too different! Love that it’s your mom’s fragrance.

  27. ladymurasaki says:

    They’re probably already mentioned above, but Catherine should try Carnal Flower and Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle. The first is a creamy tuberose that is not too sweet and the latter is a warm, spicy and dark rose… it exudes an air of mystery.

    • poodle says:

      You beat me to it, I was going to say Portrait of a Lady too.
      Also think that Hothouse Flower is worth a sniff.

      • C.H. says:

        Thank you both, those all sound great; right on target!

  28. austenfan says:

    Since you seem to enjoy sampling so much:
    Have you tried any Goutals? Try Songes, for a sultry jasmine and Le Jasmin for a playful one. Un Matin d’Orage is an interesting white floral as is Passion.
    Apart from Odalisque some other Nicolaïs you might want to try are:
    Le Temps d’une Fête, L’Eau Mixte, Weekend à Deauville, and perhaps Vie de Château.
    I second the recommendations for Ormonde Jayne. I am not a wholehearted lover of the entire line but they have their own strong identity and Ormonde Woman is utterly gorgeous.
    Editons de Parfums de Frédérick Malle is another wonderful line. Carnal Flower is a must, as is Portrait of a Lady, L’Eau d’Hiver, Noir Epices and Le Parfum de Thérèse. So much to explore, I hope you find something you love!

    • OOhh. Odalisque is good stuff. Really good stuff.

      • C.H. says:

        Ha, I like that reaction!

    • C.H. says:

      Ha ha, yes I think you’ve got me–much as I’m looking for something in particular right now, I think I may have also gotten hooked on the sniffing. This looks like an extremely fun list. Thanks so much Austen.

  29. Merlin says:

    Hi C.H. I put my recommendation much higher up, in reply to one of your replies. The thread is started by Frieda. Anyway, I didn’t want you to miss it, as I was thinking that you may want to try some chypres in order to project a more mature, sophisticated persona. Every once in a while I like to play at being grown up (though i’m also in my 30s…)

    • C.H. says:

      Love this idea and love that I am not alone in playing grown-up at 30. (Ok, I wasn’t alone before but I fear it might have just been me and Seth Rogen as 30-year-old not-yet-adults.)

  30. austenfan says:

    I forgot another one: Iris Nobile by Acqua di Parma. By no means a “wild thing”, but it has a lot more character than Gelsomino.

    • C.H. says:

      Cool–have smelled on paper but will have to make a point to try it on skin. Yeah Magnolia and Gelsomino were fine, really nice even, just not anything I was dying to own…

      • austenfan says:

        Do try it on skin. The far drydown is very lovely, and perfumes rarely bloom as beautifully on paper.

  31. JolieFleurs says:

    Doesn’t really suit what you’re looking for, but since you’re sampling, do yourself a favor an get a sample of vintage Poivre. (Caron) It’s my go-to spicy scent.

    The reformulation is a joke, don’t bother, but I think you’d enjoy having a drop or two of the vintage to dab on now and then for an evening out.

    • C.H. says:

      Terribly intrigued by this idea. Lots of the classic stuff still feels a bit overambitious to me for any kind of regular use… but having just a little bit to wear on occasion may be the perfect compromise. (/gateway??)

  32. Sapphire says:

    Seconding Bottega Veneta. It isn’t for me, but sounds like could work for you, Catherine. Also, original Omnia, which i really love–dry chai tea spices. You might consider Gucci by Gucci, which is similar to Narciso Rodriguez, but warmer. SJP Lovely is somewhat similar to me. Also, the NR in EDP (rather than EDT) is a little sweeter and rosier. Original Burberry may also work. Sonoma Scent Studion Champagne de Bois and Tabac Aurea may be worth looking at. Also, Diptyque Eau Duelle and the new Volutes (in EDT). Happy hunting!

    • C.H. says:

      Hey Sapphire, thanks so much for these! So: Gucci by Gucci… are there several different ones?! Men, women, 1, 2? 3?? I confess this is one I have not tackled solely because I can’t keep them straight. Info welcome!

  33. Squirrely says:

    What about the edp of Coco? Very warm and sexy. Lately I’ve been dreaming of buying Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noir pour femme (a mouthful!) rosy, sexy, uber feminine & mature.

    Which version of Joy did you try? The edp reads very, ahem, mature, but I wear the edt often and love it (though fwiw, my husband does not). What about YSL’s Paris? It’s a “big” scent, and may be a bit 80′s for you, but it’s still very wearable, sexy, inexpensive, and easy to find.

    • C.H. says:

      Interesting thought about the Joy Edt–I believe I tried the edp and actually there were things about it that almost worked for me… so maybe in edt I could do it. Thanks I will check out, and the others too!

  34. sbe13 says:

    OK, seconding Chanel Beige. Also, Diptyque Tam Dao and Annick Goutal Heure Exquise.

    • CM says:

      Thirding Chanel Beige for flowery perfume.

      • C.H. says:

        Awesome, thank you both.

  35. What about Fan di Fendi or Prada Amber? Fendi is leathery and fresh, the Prada is warm and delicious.

    • C.H. says:

      Interesting–I tried Fan di Fendi and found it a little too light, but now I am wondering if it was in the edt, I will have to circle back and see if I notice more leather in the edp. Prada Amber too. Thank you!

  36. pampampam says:

    Bottega Veneta and Musc Ravageur! Although, I will warn you that Musc Ravageur is really strong, and for in the first few minutes can smell a little masculine (like Obsession for men, maybe), in my opinion.

    As a fellow grad student (though not yet at the dissertation stage), I personally would feel comfortable rocking Bottega Veneta all day on campus (including during teaching) and still find it pretty/memorable enough for evening/dates.

    • C.H. says:

      Ah, very useful frame of reference! Will proceed accordingly–I don’t object at all to masculine, actually, but it’s helpful to have some sense of what to expect! Thanks Pam. (And bon courage for grad school!)

  37. CM says:

    I’d recommend Bottega Veneta as well. It’s easy to wear yet interesting. You might also like some of the Arquiste scents – Infanta en Flor is great Orange Blossom.

    Frederic Malle has a few you might like: L’Eea d’Hiver, Musc Ravegeur, and Iris Poudre would be suggestions to start with… Lys Mediterranie is a lovely Lily scent. It always reminds me of greenhouses.

    If you haven’t checked out Lolita Lempicka, it’s really worth trying – works best in colder weather as it can be a bit much in heat. Go easly on this one – with a light hand it’s really beautiful.

    Good Luck!

    • C.H. says:

      Ah, thanks CM! Ok with your encouragement I will try the Lolita Lempicka–what I’d previously heard sort of terrified me but maybe if I go very light! Def adding others to list too. Thank you!

  38. solocha says:

    My suggestions are going to be Chloe – classical original, Chloe Narcisse or Valentino Edp.

    • C.H. says:

      Oh cool–I’ve tried a couple of Chloes but actually neither of those nor the Valentino. Thanks!

  39. Hi Catherine! I’m also a grad student who has been mistaken for a high schooler on several occasions. When I teach or need to be a bit more authoritative, I pull out Chanel Beige, which is very pretty and honestly smells like very expensive shampoo in the best way possible or Spadaro’s Sole Nero, which is more warm and fuzzy. You might also like Tom Ford’s Santal Blush, Neroli Portofino or Jasmin Rouge. Santal Blush is a really great “grown-up” scent. If you like orange blossom, I still think Jo Malone’s Orange Blossom is one of the most straightforward, and it’s very pretty with a lot of the other perfumes in her line. Also, if you like tea, they are bringing back Earl Grey & Cucumber early next year to join the permanent line and that one is AWESOME. Those two together is one of my favorite combinations and I wear Orange Blossom with Wild Fig & Cassis for teaching a lot too. Good luck!

  40. Liza says:

    I think you might like to spend some time checking out L’Artisan Parfumeur, with specific suggestions of Nuit de Tubereuse, Seville a l’Aube, and Mechant Loup.

    Other thoughts:

    Dita von Teese (if you can find it!)
    Lancome Magie Noire (current version)
    Caron Tabac Blond (current version)

  41. Anat13 says:

    Vero Profumo’s Mito (green, magnolia, citrus) and Neela Vermeire’s Mohur (rose, oud, spices) always make me feel particularly sophisticated and elegant. I’d recommend checking the reviews on those. Ormonde Jayne Ta’if as well. For orange blossom, I’ll second Seville a l’Aube.

  42. galwaygirl001 says:

    Hi Catherine! As a working professional with a masters degree who is 4’11, I know the feeling!

    3 of the perfumes I was going to suggest to you have already been mentioned -
    cuir de russie – pure parfum is best but edt is ok too (grown up sexy)
    bois de iles edt (it has become my go to everyday fragrance!)
    coco edp (authoritative sexy)
    I will also suggest trying incense perfumes – try the comme des garcons incense series and see what you think!
    I also love an iris frankincense fragrance – terre de l’encens by cloon keen atelier.
    Also, how about chanel sycamore (vetiver) or guerlain bois de armenie (smoky sweet).

  43. moore says:

    Kilian Rose Oud.

  44. dolcesarah says:

    I second Musc Ravenger. I love Malle!! Le Labo makes Labdanum 18. It’s one of my favorites. Byredo’s OUD Immortal is so beautifully done.

Leave a reply