I've experienced autumn in several places. When I was growing up in the ‘tropics’ (Virginia), the arrival of autumn was marvelous — no more steamy heat or mosquitoes. One of the first signs of autumn was the arrival of glass jugs of amber-colored fresh apple cider, for sale at orchard stands along almost every road. I tried to find an apple scent for this post (and for my perfume “collection”) in honor of apples and cool weather, but I was unsuccessful. Any suggestions? (Donna Karan DKNY scents need not apply.)
My early college life in New York City proved the Big Apple was not much different from Virginia in summertime, except for the added smells of simmering garbage on the streets. But autumn in New York was great; all the food cart aromas, even the exhaust fumes, smelled nicer mixing with the cool, marine air surrounding Manhattan, and the autumn leaves in Central Park added a dry, “woodland,” hay-like scent to the crisp air.
When I lived in L.A., autumn was pretty much like any other season (warm and sunny), except for days when the ferocious Santa Ana winds made autumn feel like I was standing in front of an open oven door…and the oven temperature was at 450° Fahrenheit. I've never in my life been more lethargic than during hot weather in Southern California, nor have I reached for cooling Eaux de Cologne more, applying them morning, noon and night.
Now I live in the Pacific Northwest. In Seattle, autumn is beautiful and long — think Indian summer for weeks and weeks; I usually have flowers (marigolds, roses, cock’s comb) blooming in the garden as late as Day of the Dead, Nov. 2. But autumn here is also worrying, because everyone knows that, shortly, we are in for what seems like an endless stretch of wet, dreary, chilly weather — with darkness creeping in as early as 3:30 p.m.!
Guerlain Mitsouko reminds me of the best fall day back in Virginia, with its warm, ripe fruit (peach, not apple I’m afraid), moss and vetiver aromas — when I wear it, I think of the glowing hour before sunset. (Guerlain, why not give us a flanker called Mitsouko Pomme de l'Automne?; a fragrant apple could easily substitute for the iconic peach.)
Like the Old Testament, The Complete Shakespeare, or Hollywood Babylon, George Sand’s Story of My Life can be opened at almost any page and will reveal something interesting, funny, illuminating. I was thrilled I adored a perfume named after one of my idols: Jardins d’Écrivains George is a “studious” perfume that conjures an autumn day too chilly for reading in the garden, but perfect for tea in a sunny library, with an open window allowing garden smells to come inside.
Etat Libre d’Orange The Afternoon of a Faun was one of my favorite perfume experiences of this year — a "shimmering", rose-tinged immortelle fragrance; its aroma reminds me of the scents of a blooming rosebush and crisp autumn leaves — an aromatic combo that happens often in my Seattle garden in September and early October.
Since my "autumnal" nostrils and spirit need some positive stimulation, I often wear sharp, floral or fruity perfumes to keep spring in my heart till that season returns (or until I fly down to Ojai or L.A. for a visit...whichever comes first). On cold, drizzly days when I need a jolt of "warmth" (and a reminder of Southern California), I reach for one of Guerlain’s Les Eaux; Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat combines citron flowers and fruit and is a perfect “carry-along” perfume. Keep a bottle in your bag for instant refreshment; its scent won’t upset even those poor souls who hate perfume.
Some days I like to wallow in autumn, its smoldering piles of leaves, and smoke rising from chimneys full of charred wood. Since my chimney needs a good cleaning before I use it again, I’ll spray some Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline in the air or on myself to replicate a sooty, smoky hearth full of burning wood.
One of the most boring books I read last year was Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris (it seemed every sentence and episode was repeated over and over and over again, and the author’s search for ambergris led…nowhere). The book did lead me to La Via del Profumo’s ambergris fragrance (Ambra Grigia) — a scented glimpse of the ocean in autumn, with scents of turbulent salt water, seaweed-strewn beaches, damp logs and “foghorn-in-the-distance” muskiness.
Every time I wear Eau d’Hermès (almost always in cold weather) someone exclaims how great I smell. That’s reassuring (and makes me happy), in a world that so often greets “vintage” scents with the chestnut: “That’s an old lady/gent scent.” Eau d’Hermès smells sophisticated and urban and “exciting,” reminding me of my first days in New York City when I was fresh out of high school and ready for the Big Time.
One of the first things I did in New York was buy an exorbitantly expensive pair of Ralph Lauren cowboy boots(!) in canary yellow and bright green leather. I still have them, and they’re more “Queer Bozeman” than Cuir Ottoman (by Parfum d'Empire), another favorite fall perfume. Smelling an overdose of leather makes me think of the Ralph Lauren shop with its boots, bags, belts, saddles and chaps; Cuir Ottoman provides a heavenly mixture of leather, and leather-like notes, combined with a soft, powdery floral accord.
Booze and sweets have been a big part of my life everywhere I’ve lived. Frapin 1697 is a nice “liquor” perfume, full of “warming” liquid gourmand notes (rum, wine). It’s a perfect fragrance for autumn.
The scents of baking are more pleasant in cool weather (and in a cool house and kitchen). I love elaborate desserts, but I also crave the simplest of sweets — a yellow cake with many inches of vanilla bean frosting on top is heaven to me. In mid-development, Pacifica Indian Coconut Nectar perfume smells just like such a cake (with some fresh grated coconut sprinkled on top). I enjoy wearing Indian Coconut Nectar when a slice of cake is not available in my house and I’m too lazy to cook or head to the bakery. I also use the Indian Coconut Nectar body wash and body butter, both are heavily scented.
Please add your own autumn perfume staples in the comments section, and enjoy autumn; it’s almost here (in the northern hemisphere, anyway!)
Note: top image of autumn leaves by the author. Lower sperm whale image via Wikimedia Commons.