One Thousand Scents

Friday, June 08, 2007


Life is change, and perfume is life distilled into a bottle, and so perfume is change.


I've been wearing fragrances seriously for about twenty-five years now, and there's no doubt that my tastes have changed, sometimes drastically. I know a lot more about perfumery and I know what to look for, and I have so many more choices that I can indulge a great many whims.

But sometimes my fickle taste surprises even me. When I first smelled the Epices de la Passion trio from L'Artisan Parfumeur, I was instantly smitten--obsessed, almost--with Piment Brûlant, with its lush chocolate and red pepper notes. Since the scent was available only as part of a set, I knew I had to own this set one day, and now I do, but I discovered that Piment Brûlant is probably the least fascinating of the three scents. My taste had changed, and I decided soon after receiving the set in the mail that Poivre Piquant was my true love--smart, severe, minimalist.

And now I find that my taste has changed yet again. In the last few weeks, though I've been wearing lots of samples and rediscovering old favourites, I'm drawn again and again to Safran Troublant, which I had mildly derided as "rather ordinary". And yet now I can't get enough of it. I feel as if I want to smell like this and nothing but this, day after day. I have to tear myself away from its piercing charms, its strange rose-hued allure.

What happened? I don't know. I have no idea.


Sometimes a scent can be changed by its environment in a way that nobody could have predicted. Scents go bad all the time, of course. Perhaps they were slightly contaminated before the bottle was sealed, and over time this contamination grew to destroy the fragile scent. (I had a bottle of Givenchy's Hot Couture, a bewitching potion of raspberries, pepper, and vetiver, that went bad literally in the space of a few weeks, darkening and becoming rank.) Pour bottles are particularly prone to this; bacteria, dust and skin cells get into the bottle every time it's used, and over time they overwhelm the bottle's contents.

But a strange thing happened recently that I wish I could duplicate. I have an old leather knapsack that I've used for about ten years: it goes everywhere with me and needs replacement--in fact, I have bought a new one, but it's just not the same, and I cling to the old one as if it were a security blanket. A couple of months ago I was getting something out of the knapsack when I caught a whiff of something unexpected and alluring: rich, earthy, clearly a composed fragrance and yet one I'd never smelled before. I checked the inside of the sack: no vials of scent, nothing that could account for the potent scent. This went on for a few days until finally I opened a small zippered compartment at the outside top of the bag, and discovered that a miniature of Givenchy's Very Irresistible for Men was now only half full: the top had come partway off and a couple of millilitres of the scent had decanted themselves into the leather, where the new, altered scent had spread down into the main compartment. (Let this be a lesson to people who toss miniatures into luggage.)

What I was smelling every time I opened the bag was old leather saturated with sesame and mocha and wood notes, and it was unbelievably appealing. If Givenchy could have bottled it, they would have made even more money. The scent has faded now, but it's still there, like a wistful memory.


Fragrances themselves change over time, too--not changed by the hand of time, but re-formulated by the companies that produce them. Sometimes an ingredient becomes unavailable, or is outlawed. Sometimes a scent is reinvented to better reflect the times; this has happened with, among many others, Balmain's Vent Vert, which was relaunched about 15 years ago with its signature sharp greenness toned down.

Such changes displease pretty well everyone who remembers the scent as it was. Luca Turin calls the reformulated Cabochard "piss" compared to the original, but I quite like it. Then again, I've never smelled the original; maybe I'd hate the new one as well if I had.


  • Dear Pyramus,

    I've always enjoy reading your blog & find myself yearning & anxiously anticipating your next review. Whatever you do, DO NOT stop writing about perfume! As for your "knapsack Problem-Solved," I intend on replicating your serendipitous experiment inside my 10+ year old car with leather interior to see if it'll lend credence to your theory(perhaps as a parfum d'ambiance Extraordinaire$$$. Personally I didn't believe Very Irresistable For Men deserved such a scathing review from Luca Turin and co. After all, a similar fragrance, namely TM Pure Coffee, garnered universal praises.

    PS. Old-worn leather does possess a rather tantalizing smell on its own, I must admit:) Does any perfume remind you of aged premium leather?



    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:16 PM  

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