One Thousand Scents

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Real Thing: Demeter Licorice

Most commercial scents smell like whatever the perfumer or the company want them to smell like. Realism--whatever that means in that context--isn't particularly relevant, though nowadays, with the domination of sweet gourmand scents, it's a plus if something "smells just like chocolate" or whatever. Still, most scents don't have to smell real: Chanel No. 5 smells like itself and not like a particular flower or bouquet, and likewise with most other scents you could name.

Demeter, though, is in a class by itself. Nearly all of its scents are named after, and based on, a single recognizable thing--a plant, a food or drink, a place, an object. If they don't smell real, if they aren't accurate, then they've failed. Not all of Demeter's attempts at realism are successful, but when they are, they're amazingly, almost unnervingly lifelike.

Last month I got a whole slew of Demeter scents--22, to be exact. I've been trying a lot of them, and there are some real winners and some that I'm at best indifferent to, which is what you'd expect when you order a whole bunch of scents unsniffed. A few of them are real standouts, scents that give me enormous pleasure, and one of them is Licorice.

It doesn't smell quite like licorice root, though it has a rooty-earthy sense to it. It doesn't, thank goodness, smell like that cheap plasticky "licorice" candy such as Twizzlers. What it smells exactly like, instead, is the candy cigars and pipes we used to get when we were kids--and which, amazingly, are still available--see?

The candy has a soft but not malleable texture that resists the teeth the way cookie dough does. It has a rich, intoxicating smell of sweetened licorice root that's perfectly captured by the Demeter scent, which has a brief anisette smell before the alcohol burns away, after which it's pure licorice cigar, a scent that lasts an hour or so before fading away to reveal an unexpected glaze of sugared vanilla. It's the smell of childhood happiness, and to find it so accurately reproduced in a bottle is one of the unexpected delights of life.

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