And while that means most people are reaching for the winter woolens, I’m changing up my perfumes. I wear fragrance seasonally with citrus and lighter florals in spring and summer, but in chillier weather I like things that are heavy and lush. I never feel properly dressed until I’ve put on fragrance–and by that I don’t mean that I am then ready to leave the house; I mean if I forget perfume it’s like forgetting a garment. It just feels incomplete.
Part of the joy of bringing out my cold-weather scents is that they are my favorites. Because my skin runs quite hot, I can’t manage a heavy floral or vetiver in warm weather without getting dizzy from the strength of it. I need a burst of something juicy and citrussy that I can burn through cleanly. A touch of neroli or bergamot to round things off, and I’m good. I will dabble with Chanel No. 5 in hot weather, but only with caution. (No. 5 is my best fallback fragrance for spring/autumn, when the weather is deeply changeable.)
But in the autumn! Ah, the season of bonfires and rolling fogs and walks in the woods, of reading by the fire and sipping whisky, of church bells and incense–and the fragrances I wear hit all of these notes. Here are my three favorites for this time of year and a bonus I can’t do without. (Note: the three favorites are technically unisex or men’s fragrances. THAT’S how heavy I like my scents.)
*Byredo’s Baudelaire. The list of notes reads like the tour of an elegant bachelor’s house. It begins in his kitchen with edibles, caraway and pepper and juniper, the berry that flavors gin. There’s a touch of cool brightness from hyacinths our bachelor is forcing on a tabletop, but then it turns darker, turning up leather and incense, amber and patchouli and papyrus in his library. The combination is decidedly masculine, but that’s not a bad thing for a woman. Spraying on Baudelaire is like wearing his shirt around the house on a Sunday morning–borrowing something of his makes you seem more feminine…
*Profumum’s Fumidus. I’ve written about this one before, and there’s no getting around it–this is NOT for the faint of heart. It’s a bold fragrance, as in clobbering you over the head with a club and dragging you back to the cave. Right out of the bottle, the overwhelming smell is smoke, clinging like the remnants of a house fire. There’s the scent of peat bog in there, earthy and OLD, and the just-out-of-reach grassy velvet of vetiver. But over it all is the lingering smell of whisky. Wearing this is like sipping from a flask of single malt while you watch a wildfire on the moor. There’s an unexpected decadence to it. It’s Highland ponies and men wrapped in plaid; it’s the swirl of a Dior New Look skirt as it brushes against a cigar-stained ashtray. Somehow it’s Outlander and Mad Men at the same time, an impressive trick. The other day I jokingly said to someone, “I am an alpha. Bare your neck to me, and we won’t have a problem.” This is the perfume for the kind of day when you want everyone to remember that you’re the alpha. Necks will be bared.
*Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan. I’ve written about this one before too, but it bears a repeat. The title translates roughly to “gateway to hell” but it’s pure Gothic church–all cold stone and incense with a cool rush of lily, a royal funeral with a gold-embroidered red velvet pall. Yet underpinning it is musk, turning that sacredness to something quite profane. If Fumidus is an Outlander/Mad Men mashup, Passage d’Enfer is straight up Heloise and Abelard, trysting behind the altar. It’s capable of conjuring fairly obscene thoughts.
And a bonus. About a year ago I started wearing Black Jade by Lubin, and it’s been a mixed blessing. I’ve been wearing it so much that my other perfumes–and I have MANY–have been getting short shrift. I mean to pick up something else, but my hand keeps going for the curvy bottle with the pale green cap. Unlike the three above, Black Jade is intensely and unapologetically feminine. It opens with a cool green blast of galbanum and rose and jasmine, but then it turns, settling into something quite different. There’s edible spice there, cinnamon and vanilla, and the earthy punch of tonka bean and amber with deeply sensual sandalwood and amber and a whiff of incense to finish things off. I like to form little vignettes for my fragrances, images in my mind of what story I think the perfume tells. I struggled with this one. I could not reconcile the opening burst of sweet femininity with the deeper, more sensual aftershocks. I asked Alyssa Harad, author and perfume guru, for a description of galbanum and she immediately replied, “Broken shrubbery.” And then I realized exactly what the vignette was–languid sex in a formal garden. Picture Versailles in the last days before the Revolution, tumbled satin skirts edged with lace and a whiff of intrigue on the rose-scented air of the parterre, an eager pair pushing through the shrubbery to a private moment beyond the tapis vert…it’s enough to topple a throne.
And if you think I’m overstating it’s allure, I will admit it’s gotten mixed reviews. Some people do not like how much it changes–and the change is extreme on my skin–and some find no change at all, just a soft breath of feminine flowers. But my own experience with it has been fairly extraordinary. I’ve gotten more compliments on it than all my other perfumes combined, and more than once I’ve been followed by a stranger, nose tip-tilted in the air as if led by a leash…