One Thousand Scents

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Nose Knows

The vial said this...







...but my brain smelled this.
















I have a pretty big collection of scents in current rotation, but I also have, for some unexplained psychic reason, a big collection of things I haven't even opened yet. A lot of them are samples, probably eighty or ninety, but some of them are miniatures (a couple dozen, I guess) or even full-sized bottles (another dozen, dozen and a half) that I ordered or bought, usually on sale, that are tucked away. Honest: I'm not some compulsive shopper like the unfortunate protagonist of Ruth Rendell's unsettling short story "Clothes". It's just that every now and then I just have to have something new, and I like having a batch of things I can choose from. (Some of the samples are duplicates: I think I have six vials of the stunning Givenchy pour Homme, which I'm obviously never going to have to buy a full bottle of.)

I also have a big collection of scents in my head. I hardly ever forget a fragrance once I've spent time with it, really gotten to know it, and what's more, I can usually call up a scent--as if I'm actually smelling it--just by thinking about it.

So you need to know both of these things to understand how this morning I was just in that kind of mood, so I pulled out a sample I received in a swap a year or two ago, Bond No. 9's Nuits de Noho. After applying a splash of it, I took a deep breath and was shocked to realize that I already knew it intimately. I had smelled it before--had, in fact, spent a fair bit of time with it--and just had to figure out how. It resembled Todd Oldham, but not a lot. After five minutes of sniffing it and racking my brains--it's not Scherrer's Nuits Indiennes, it's not any of the Dalis--I realized that Nuits de Noho, at least in the top notes, was an exact copy of Lalique's 1995 fruity-floral scent Nilang (which I described to someone once as a brighter, fresher, more floral version of Todd Oldham).

As NdN begins its descent into the middle notes, about half an hour in, the differences between it and Nilang become more and more obvious, but the fact remains that, as far as I know, the two are simply identical in the top notes; cheerfully fruit-laden, bright with aldehydes and yet suffused with a caramelly warmth.

How can this be? I can think of four possibilities:
1) Some swapper put some Nilang in the NdN vial.
2) My memory isn't as good as I think it is.
3) Some perfumer deliberately imitated the top of Nilang.
4) Some perfumer accidentally imitated the top of Nilang.

I'm betting on #4. There is, after all, a finite though large number of combinations for a scent once you've settled on a category (don't most citrus colognes have a great deal in common?), and it's entirely possible that, like George Harrison's accidentally rewriting "He's So Fine", some perfumer composed a gorgeous top note based on some half-remembered, eight-year-old combination of notes.

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