Article by Erin
I have often thought that Murphy must have been a perfume lover; only a scent hound could have such a perverse eponymous law. In fragrance circles, the most popular variation on his theme regards lasting power. I formulate it thusly: (x/2) + y = z, where x is equal to how disappointed you are by a fragrance on a scale of 0 to 10, y is equal to the number of sprays applied and z is equal to the number of times you will need to shower with exfoliates to stop smelling. I call this Scrubbers Theorem, and I first posited it in seclusion after, in a moment of (un)happy abandon in Barneys, I sprayed up one arm with Une Fleur de Cassie and down the other with Miel de Bois. God help me, I believe Andrew Wiles suffered less with Fermat’s Last Theorem.
The contrarian nature of skin chemistry is also frequently lamented. This reminds me of the ridiculous Blood Type diet called Eat Right 4 Your Type. As far as I can see, the nutritional advice is half junk science and half common sense, but the program does have its miraculous Murphy aspect: somehow your blood type seems to determine what you like to eat and this diet tells you not to eat those things. Skin chemistry is a similar kind of bad joke.
I have always loved dark, rich, oriental scents of the Opium and original Boucheron variety – probably because my mother favored them. This jives with my inclinations in other areas: colors (autumn tones like forest green, rusty orange, chocolate brown, deep reds and burgundies), food (strong, rustic flavors, please, and heavy on the spices, fat and booze), gems (garnets, emeralds, alexandrite), music (heavy orchestration, even in pop songs, and an almost vulgar amount of brass in classical), and activities (romantic dining, dancing, night-owl reading, having a bath etc.) Most women aspire to their own hopeless beauty ideal and mine is a menacingly statuesque type, with the cheekbones, stare and bearing of an aristocrat and the shoulders of an action hero (think Sigourney Weaver, Anjelica Huston or Angela Bassett). Any method of determining “fragrance personality” I have encountered has asked for these kinds of lifestyle or aspirational preferences, and all have recommended heavy oriental perfumes.
So what actually smells good on me? I can only describe them as en plein air scents. Instead of the Moroccan market exoticism of damascones (dried fruits and some rose petals), my skin delights in astringent, acidic fruity notes, particularly grapefruit, mandarin, bergamot and pineapple. Bitter-mossy, herbaceous, zesty, watery and oily resinous scents all seem to work, and so I have luck with chypres, fougeres and hesperidia. Lavender, mint and bright tea notes are startlingly right. Clary sage is heaven. Roots – ginger, licorice, vetiver – smell great as accents if they convey an airiness. Similarly, hay and grass notes smell wonderfully breezy, sunny and open on me.
With some ingredients, I can play to my strengths. Leathers work better if they are the rugged (Lonestar Memories, Yatagan) and not refined sort and woods if they are very dry or camphorous. Ambers are tricky, with some of the “browner” ones turning flat and cosmetic on me, like foundation. As for spice notes, cloves and cinnamon often fail, alas, but I have luck with lemony cardamom and coriander. Smells others describe as creamy (rice, milk, chocolate or tonka notes) usually exhibit waxier, nuttier qualities on me, so an Omnia or Ormonde Jayne Champaca is very balmy sheer. Some things it seems I’ll never be ever to pull off – violets, frangipani – and other aromas never seem to make much of an appearance at all. Strangely, though they smell great on me initially, some smoky notes take little time to vanish in a puff of, well… no smoke. Dusky florals like gardenia and magnolia delight me in the bottle or on fabric but disappear on my skin, with the cheerful, thick-pile lactones of peaches (one of my least favorite fruits to eat) blooming instead in scents like Dolce Vita and Divine.
Overall, I smell best as the hearty outdoorsy type I most certainly am not. It is like coveting the dramatic, shadowed world of Baroque chiaroscuro paintings by Rembrandt and Caravaggio and ending up with a Monet haystack. This is made more painful, of course, by the fact that many people I know would love to smell like a meadow or plantation instead of a big, bass blast of operatic tuberose. Please, y’all, share your pain.