One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beauty and Brains: Serge Lutens A La Nuit

Oh, the crap you inadvertently see when you're on an elliptical machine at the gym in front of a bank of televisions.

Yesterday, the crap was The Marilyn Denis Show, which I take it is the Canadian version of whatever crap American housewives boredly half-watch at 10:00 on a weekday morning. (Tomorrow's episode features thoroughly debunked and shameless communicator-with-the-dead John Edward, which tells you everything you need to know.) On yesterday's show was some expert who was presenting a segment called "Busting Beauty Myths", myths on which the audience was invited to vote by means of little paddles with "True" on one side and "False" on the other. And the first proposition was that you should never, ever, EVER spray scent on your wrists and the rub them together, because you will bruise the scent. Everyone knows that!

Except that it isn't true. How can anyone even think that's a possibility? It's a liquid. You can't bruise it: it's already been processed and compounded and bottled and shipped and toted hither and yon and finally applied to your personage, so it's been banged around in uncountable ways before it arrives on your skin. You can't bruise it. If you really get some friction going with one wrist against the other, you'll heat it up and drive off the top notes more quickly, but you're not going to alter the scent in any olfactorily noticeable way: you won't somehow rearrange the notes or cause the scent to morph into something else. You spray on some Jovan Wild Musk or Byredo Pulp and it's going to smell like that whether your smush it around on your skin or not.

The expert goes on to say that you must spray the scent on and then leave it for eight minutes. Eight? Not six, not nine? Where did she come up with a number like that? And what are you supposed to do for those eight minutes, sit there rigid and unmoving for fear of damaging your freshly applied perfume? It's not nail polish. It's on your skin, and it's going to slowly evaporate, and nobody will ever be able to tell what you did in the eight minutes after you applied it, unless maybe you subsequently cleaned the toilet and didn't wash your hands.

I don't know where people come up with these stupid ideas, but it's high time this one was laid to rest. Do what you want with your scent. Spritz it, dab it, splash it: leave it there or rub it in, put clothing over it or don't. None of these things matter. Promise.


Spring is here, really here (at least in my part of the world), and so it is time to think about boxing up the dark, sultry fall and winter scents for a spell and digging out the fresher, brighter things that herald the new season.

It is a pleasure for many of us to divide scents up into categories, and we don't all use the same ones, of course, but in addition to such groupings as men's/women's/unisex, spring/summer/fall/winter, and floral/oriental/chypre/fougere/whatever, I am fond of, for lack of better terms, intellectual versus emotional, or brains versus beauty. The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course, but often you can immediately say of a scent, This one is just flat-out gorgeous, or This one isn't the most beautiful thing I own, but it makes me think.

Some scents just seem brainier than others: they're the ones that aren't immediately accessible or beautiful, the ones that put your cerebral cortex into overdrive before engaging your amygdala.* Many classic chypres for me fit into the intellectual category, because thanks to the general strangeness of oakmoss, a lot of the time you can't be absolutely sure that they're even attractive. A couple of days ago I wore Serge Lutens' Santal Blanc and was struck yet again by its almost mathematically rigorous quality, the naked, bitter stringency of its sandalwood: it's like wearing algorithms on your skin. A lot of Lutens' scents have an intellectual cast to them, because there's almost always at least one element that seems strange or unexpected or out of place, and this may be why his line resonates so strongly with me: I tend to analyze and possibly overthink everything, so his oeuvre fits right in. Some of his scents, of course, consist mostly of strangeness, such as Miel de Bois, which is a linear, relentlessly analytic working through of the life cycle of honey; naturally, I love it.

A La Nuit aims for the "beauty" side of the divide and is jasmine, basically: a huge, lush bower of jasmine petals. There is greenery in the top, and not only that but, because there has to be an injection of Lutensian strangeness or intellectuality, what seems to me the peculiar, inimitable scent of a green banana. The massively floral top also seems to have an overtone of lilac to it, which is like adding corn syrup to sugar because the sugar wasn't sweet enough by itself: I might be imagining the lilac because I'm suffocating in jasmine, but if it's there--the official notes don't mention it--it's a nice touch. The base is mostly benzoin, and not much of that.

Other than that, though, jasmine unto death. I don't like it at all, because I can't handle that much jasmine, but if you like jasmine, or if you want to know what it smells like, then A La Nuit is just the ticket.

*The cerebral cortex is the seat of higher brain functions such as thought and language: the amygdala is responsible for emotional reactions.That was probably clear from the context, but hey, if you didn't know for sure, now you do.

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  • I must get some. I just reently discovered that I like jasmine soliflores, by trying Nasomotto Nuda, Montale Jasmine Full and By Killian Surrender. I think i liked the By Kilian the best but I haven't settled on a purchase yet.

    Thank you for addressing the "How to wear perfume" myths. I can't stand it when someone tells me how I have to do it, or that rubbing will hurt it. Nonsense. Luca Turin siad about the same thing in his book. Silly myths made up to add mystique to the product.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 11:24 AM  

  • You made me giggle with the bruised scent and sitting still for 8 minutes (not 6, not 9.) Where do these ideas come from?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:11 PM  

  • I don't know who came up with the idea of bruising, but martini aficionados have the same obsession: some, like James Bond, want it shaken, but others believe that you must stir a martini because to do otherwise will bruise the cocktail.

    The fact is that you can do anything you like with a scent and it will remain the same scent. It may have slightly different properties if you spray it into the air before walking through the mist or rub it vigorously onto your skin, both of which will tend to make the volatile top notes vanish more quickly. It may last longer if you spray it onto a particularly oily area of your person, because the oil in your skin will help keep the scent molecules from diffusing so quickly. (A supplementary dab of lotion in the same scent can be a boon for dry-skinned people.) But otherwise, the scent is what it is, and you won't damage it, or refrain from doing so, by pouring, spraying, rubbing, or dabbing.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 2:25 PM  

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