Monday, April 27, 2009

What does an elephant smell like?

Sometimes I come across scents that make me wonder.

“Breath of God” is one such fragrance. Anything that gets a five-star review from Tania Sanchez gets my attention; this one did. Even without the five stars it still would have, simply because of the over-the-top-ness of the name.

I got a sample in a swap, eagerly ripped off the tape and sprayed it on the back of my hand. I thought, immediately, WTF? Gasoline and sticky candy? And then I thought, “Breath of Dog.”

It just came to me. The scent smells nothing like the breath of a dog, of course. The opening is actually a nose-tickling vetiver and something really, really sweet, and it’s so volatile that there’s a bitter residue on my lips after sniffing it.

Most of the time, when I smell scents either made for the Japanese market or by companies in Japan, they’re tooth-decaying, diabetes-inducing sweet. Far be it from me to even attempt to analyze modern Japanese culture, but this makes me wonder. I’m thinking that this scent, if it is not already targeted to that culture, really should be.

Tania Sanchez says in the winter ’08 Guide newsletter that Breath of God has the “sweet biological rot of compost below and dry air touched with woodsmoke above.” (Let’s call that one “Breath of Bog.”) Wow. If it smelled like that, I’d probably buy a bottle! “Surreal combinations,” she also says. That’s more like it.

I wonder sometimes if any of us are smelling what the others are.

Remember the legend about the eight blind men and the elephant? One grabs the trunk. “An elephant,” he pronounces, “is like a snake.” Another feels the elephant’s leg and declares, “No, an elephant is like a tree.” And so on.

More than anything, I detect in “Breath of God” a shrill note of God-knows-what.

But if you are patient, and I mean very very patient, you will be rewarded with a lovely dry-down, close to the skin, a little floral, a little musky, a little grassy, like a hundred other scents. Is it worth the wait? IMHO, no. So what do I know? I’m still a noob, it seems.

Sometimes, though, I think we get caught up in the rush toward fragrance-as-art, because, as I’ve mentioned here before, perfume as art doesn’t get a lot of respect, at least not yet. You’ll hear in, say, November that some Lutens or Malle or some niche strangeness is IT, and rush to buy or sample it and two months later see that it’s being written about as “mushroom compost mixed with Vicks Vap-O-Rub.”

So it could easily be that Sanchez is at a level of connoisseurship I haven’t approached yet, not even come near, may never. Or it could be that the elephant is very like a tree.

At any rate, is it that I don’t like “Breath of God,” or don’t understand “Breath of God” yet?

Have any of you had similar experiences? As when an esteemed critic loves something and you’re left scratching your head and wondering, hunh?

Something tells me I’m not the only one.

Tell me by Wednesday, May 6th, Midnight US EDT, and I will do a drawing, and send one of you a 1 ml (roughly) sample of “Breath of God” so you can decide for yourself.

“Breath of God” is made by “B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful.” The perfumer is Simon Constantine.

I have no idea what “Breath of God’s” notes are, other than vetiver. Do you? If so, please tell me in your comment!

An administrative detail: before my old junker laptop crashed a couple of weeks ago, I had a “blind copy” mailing list with the names of a number of other bloggers and perfume people on it. I lost it. If you’d like to be notified by e-mail when there’s a new post on “Olfactarama,” please send me a note at pborow at comcast dot net and I’ll recreate one.


Anonymous said...

First let me ask to be excused from the drawing, because I don't want a sample of this stuff-- a sniff from someone else's sample, perhaps, but not a vial for myself. (Insert pun on "vial" and "vile" here).
More importantly: when I disagree with a knowledgable source's opinion on perfume, I don't suppose either that they're right and I'm wrong, or that they're wrong and I'm right. It's often a case of differing tastes; we don't all love the same perfumes any more than we do the same foods. After that, I wonder what scents they or I might be anosmic to, that delight or disgust some noses but not others. Luca Turin finds a whole world in Beyond Paradise, which to me is so faint that it almost has no smell at all; it could be a bathroom twelve hours after someone took a tub bath with Calgon Tropical Isle bath salts (or whatever they were called-- discontinued ages ago). Pleasant, but nearly nonexistent. And many perfumistas love Magie Noire (specifying its pre-90s formulation), yet to me it's a one-note fragrance, and that note, sadly, is cat urine. I don't say that to insult anyone's taste, but to ask what is it that different noses can apprehend so differently?

I've been much too long-winded here. Hoping to read others' ideas,

Olfacta said...

Hi Gretchen -- great comment. I was thinking about ordering a bottle of vintage Magie Noire because it's supposed to be All That. I may wait for a sample now. Thanks!

And I never did understand the Beyond Paradise thing, either.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,
I think it smells like Tequilla.. Every time I wear it my husband says I smell good. And usually he only likes Chanels, so I 'm confused. It doesn't take long on me to get to the beauty(or should I say buzz?!), so I do wear it and I also use for a room pragrance! However it doesn't last more than a few hours on me. The Superworldunknown lasts forever and is sweet like candy, but not like Pink Sugar. Would you like to try that one next?!

maitreyi1978 said...

Hello. Turin loves Cacharel's Eden. I expected to at least like it, but it's weird and unpleasant. Please include me in the drawing.

Ines said...

I wonder quite often if we smell the same things when we smell a perfume. I mean I read the reviews (and the guide) and I have to admit I get the huh?! moment sometimes wondering how is it possible that something can smell so different to me as opposed to someone else? Is it possible we all differentiate smells completely uniquely?

Solander said...

Well, I for one don't "get" Tubereuse Criminelle, but I know a lot of other people don't, either. The thing is, I expected something dark and weird with lots of gasoline, and what I got was just an overdose of mint chewing gum or toothpaste, some felt tip pens and a very thin, shrill and unpleasant spectre of a tuberose.
I'm curious about Breath of God now! I think I might have sniffed the tester in the B Store, but I don't recall it as anything special...

waftbyCarol said...

I've seriously been working on a blog post about the subjective/objective nature of smell .
True the signals go directly into our brain without any thought on our part , but the rest is association and memory .
The problem with perfumers and critics in the business for too long today , their noses function primarily in concert with their memory . They complete the chemical odor with what they remember the real thing to smell like .
If I don't know what's in a fragrance , I can't fill in the blanks with memory like they can . Hence , I don't smell at ALL what they do .
Later if I read what others say or find the list of notes , I might say oh yeah...make some connections . Does that make sense ?
Is that you Gretchen ?

chayaruchama said...

This happens VERY often !

For example, Le Labo Jasmin 17 has been dished- but I can't spray it ANYWHERE, anytime- without ecstatic sniffing and moaning -not just me, but those in my sillage wake.
It's a winner, dammit.

And lots of EL 's that get raves - they're nice enough, but not for me, personally.

Then, the vendetta against Mona Di Orio- who had the misfortune to have an rather silly publicist.
I love her work- and the woman herself, is a treasure- unaffected, soulful.

End of rant, my friend.
I'd be grateful to enter the sniffing fray !

lady jicky said...

Turin says that Angel , L'Heure Bleue and Dzing are in his best list but I cannot stand them!
Thank God we all have different tastes for the world would just run out of Angel, L'Heure and Dzing . He, he - you out there that love them cannot blame me!

ChantillyLace said...

I've been wanting to smell this line. Sounds very interesting!:) Would love to be entered in the draw. Thanks!

Scott said...

This one should have been called "The Emperor's Clothes". Tania says this one should smell like a hot mess, and then goes on to say how it doesn't, but it really does smell like an uncoordinated cacophony of notes. In terms of what I smell: smoke, incense?,burning leaves, vetiver (all very pleasant) but then mixed with something sweet, strange and unidentifiable. Not that unidentifiable is bad. Lord knows CDG has some utterly strange and weird fragrances that defy categorization, but for the most part I think they work, they are well balanced and blended and give a coherent impression. Not so BOG.