The Great Outdoors: Sables and Burning Leaves
People who know me well know that I love the smell of the dry summer hills on the central coast of California, where I live. I know that sounds like a weird thing for everyone to know about me, but I cannot be restrained from standing around sniffing the air and exclaiming about how good it smells around here in summer. More than good: the dry, golden, rolling hills, forever evocative of the tawny flanks of a reclining lioness, are the landscape of my childhood and of my dreams. The mingled smells of hay and sweet herbs, of broken wild anise stalks and eucalyptus pods, of dust and the smoke of burning red oak – this is the scent of home.
I moved away from home when I was newly married. Almost 20 years later, I have come back to the land of my childhood, to be closer to family and the things that matter most to me.
I am gratified to find that even the landscape comforts me, here: my beloved, the Pacific Ocean, with her blue sky laced with the apricot and lemon yellow clouds of my heavenscape, broken by the graceful , slender dark forms of palms; the dry foothill pastures dotted with horses and girt with white picket fences; the familiar plants of my childhood—red oak, eucalyptus trees, bay laurel trees, sage, sweet Cecily, anise, mustard flowers, deer’s tongue, ferns, strawberries, broccoli, citrus trees, California poppies. Endless vineyard grape fields, a new feature since I left, but a fitting and lovely carpet for the hills. Barking sea lions on the pier, and pelicans, dipping and wheeling like modern-day pterodactyls, in the sky. Wild quail, red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures, perky scrub jays and lots of bats at twilight. It is a place of vivid colors and endearing, embarrassing rusticity.
All the local millionaires, who are probably wealthier than their peers in the big cities, seem to think that this is the beating pulse of urban life, but they wear cowboy hats, earth on their boots, and engine grease on their fingers. The area has no anonymity: its charming and vicious small-town climate of gossip, judgment, and networks of friendship and power are pure country life.
Annick Goutal Sables smells like home. To me, it smells like deer’s tongue plants, a ghost of maple syrup, overheating car electrical system, dusty roads, dry hay in the fields, the sprig of anise my mother has plucked and allowed to release its fragrance on the hot dashboard of the car, oak sawdust, a whisper of woodsmoke, and a hint of lemons. Short of a barbecued Tri-Tip and a bowl of strawberries, it has almost everything to recall the central coast to my mind. No one aroma stands out for more than a moment, and after the initially volatile and dazzlingly pretty lemony licorice dies down, the scent does not so much develop as shift.
It is a pleasantly dusty and dry scent despite the licorice and maple sweetness of anise and immortelle and the barest hint of vanilla. Black pepper, a whisper of cinnamon, and sandalwood give it an aura that makes me think of old saddle leather without a trace of animality – leather so old and worn that it smells more of dust than anything. I have seen people refer to it as too masculine for women to wear, but don’t believe them. Don’t get me wrong; I am sure it’s great on a guy. But on me, it is pure outdoorsy Earth Goddess – a freckled, slightly sunburned thirty-something with windblown hair still damp from a swim in the reservoir, with her feet up on the picnic table and her eyes shaded against the hot sun. Like the hills and seascape, it is part of me.
Inspired by its smoky dry plant aroma, I have been layering Sables with CB I Hate Perfume’s Burning Leaves. The effect is shocking and beautiful. The smoldering maple and oak leaf of Burning Leaves dampens the sweetness and licorice/lemon top notes of Sables and simultaneously enriches its woody quality. Whereas I expected the combination to be rustic and yet more outdoorsy, it is startlingly elegant. Yes, it smells like I’ve been at a campfire… and am on my way to a charity dinner. If I close my eyes, it is like being at a low, banked fire after the dinner and marshmallows are gone, chatting lazily with my family. At the same time, it is a seamlessly sinful blend of woods and herbs, and the vanilla in Sables loses its shyness and throws some va-va-voom into the campground.
Sables lasts forever on my skin, which is very welcome, considering the comfort with which I wear it; it makes a terrific work fragrance, as it seems to offend nobody and it pleases my soul. When layered with Burning Leaves, it seems to elevate and prolong the life of the latter on my skin, but it becomes something else again—probably not a work scent.
I find both scents totally captivating separately, but together they work well to mitigate both the altogether too wholesome (if romantic) Sables, and the altogether too literal (if lovely) Burning Leaves. If Sables recalls a banked campfire after a busy day of outdoor activities with your family, Burning Leaves infuses some of the other, more dangerous sense of the outdoors into the picture: nude beaches and hippie hitchhikers, mountain lions and coyotes, dangerous caves and lonely box canyons, wildfires and riptides, diffident nymphs with darkly beckoning glances.
I recommend this combination so highly that I cannot resist writing about it, even though I am behind the fragrance-blogger pack (which is what I get for procrastinating on writing about this duo). Layering scents, particularly with Burning Leaves, is getting a lot of worthy buzz right now. I would be rude if I did not remind you to see March’s wonderful post on Vanilla and Smoke on Perfume Posse (November 28) and Robin’s great post on scent layering on Now Smell This (December 6). Give it a shot and tell me what you think.
Tell me, folks -- what else do you like to layer? Do you layer what you love together, as I do, or do you layer to correct inadequacies in fragrances you don’t quite love?
Image source, toucanwines.com.