Monday, March 8, 2010

So In Like

A couple of months ago, I walked past a perfume counter at a department store. I spotted a tray of Cartier testers. The one in front was “So Pretty.” “Too bad about that name,” I thought, but picked it up anyway, and sprayed. 
I nearly swooned with pleasure. I kept walking toward the parking garage, in a much better mood than I had been before. “Why,” I thought, “didn’t I know about this perfume?” And then “This must have rose in it somewhere. Yeah. There it is.”
I got home and hit the blogs. 
Sure enough, “So Pretty” is a floral mix with rose. I’ve gotten to the point where I might be able to choose a perfume by reading the “notes.” If it’s called a “rose chypre,” as this is, I’m there. I began to wonder: why?
Why does one fragrance send you to the stratosphere and another one leaves you cold? 
The obvious answer, of course, would be that good ol’ emotional memory triggered by a smell. While it is true that the olfactory receptors have a sort of all-access pass to the brain’s referees of emotion, just the recall of a specific a memory would indicate cognitive involvement too, and evidence supports that idea. By this reasoning, Something About Roses, some loaded memory, would be responsible for my near-swoon.
Except that it isn’t.
I never cared much for roses. I never grew them, nor did my mother, nor did anyone else I knew. (I have a couple of bushes now and they are a pain to maintain. Besides, modern roses hardly smell at all.) My only memory of a rose garden had to do with my “planting” of artificial rosebushes for a garden scene in a film. I dug holes all day. This is not a particularly fond recollection. No smitten lover ever brought me dozens. Etc. In other words, that’s not it. So I looked up some stuff on psychology and individual preference. I might as well have asked “Why is the sun?” 
Are we talking about perception -- am I smelling the same thing that anyone else might be smelling? Or is it cognition -- where does this scent fit into my world view? Psychoanalysis (Freudian version) -- could it be an unconscious memory involving attachment to a parent? (Jungian version) -- is it an archetype, a symbol, that has come down to me from prehistory? And so on. Every school of psychology has its answer to my question. All of them could be right, or wrong. Or some combination, like ordering from a menu in a Chinese restaurant: one from column A; two from column B; Eureka, I have Found The Answer!
At first, I had concentrated on olfaction, individual preference, and emotion in my research. But then it occured to me: it’s not really emotion I’m dealing with here. It’s pleasure. Is pleasure an emotion? 
I don’t know the answer to that one, either.
Adding to the confusion, most of us know that the “rose” in modern perfume often has little to do with an actual flower. It’s an aromachemical, synthesized in a lab somewhere. And, depending on the other essences in the perfume’s formula, that aromachemical might form an accord with one or more of them that is unique. 
So much for the emotional memory theory.
Then I thought, well, it was a Cartier display, and I like the Cartier fragrances I’ve tried, as long as you don’t count “Delices.” In fact, one of the scents that made me love perfume was the original 1981 “Must.” Could my judgment have been influenced by that? Possibly, at least insofar as it made me pick up the bottle. But I would be the last person on earth to swoon over a brand.
So, I just don’t know.  Do I have to know?
Not necessarily.
“So Pretty” came out in 1995. I bought tester bottles, of the EDP and the EDT, from an online discounter. I don’t think they’re all that different, though some say they are -- the EDT is a little greener and feels more spacious, somehow. The notes are listed on the bottles: Neroli, Iris, Rose, “Diamond Orchid,” Sandalwood and Musk. Another list I found, an older one I think, also mentions “Italian” mandarin, “Clear” jasmine, “Exotic” dewberry, “Rose Centofolia from Grasse,” “Osmanthus from China”  -- let’s drop the ad-copy folderol, shall we? -- vetiver, white peach, oakmoss and benzoin. 
In the final analysis, if you can call it that, none of this stuff really matters. In my own life, there have been just a few perfumes out of the hundreds I’ve tried that have done this to me, and this is one of them. I wear it to do laundry. I wear it to sleep. Right now, it’s my favorite mood manager. No matter what I’m doing when it wear it, it’s better than it would have been without it. For me, it has transcended analysis. 
Is there a fragrance, or more than one, that does this for you?
The perfumer for “So Pretty” was Jean Guichard, who also created “Obsession,” “Loulou” “Poison” and “Asja.”

The nebula photo is one I’ve had hanging around in my photo files for a long time. I never recorded who the photographer was, so can’t give proper credit here. 


Mals86 said...

My "instant happiness in a bottle" scents include 2 PdNs: Vanille Tonka (giddy carnation-lime-incense, wheeeee!) and Le Temps d'une Fete (pure green joy). The others are PdR Rose d'Ete, L'Arte di Gucci and Alahine. THey just make everything better.

It wouldn't be love if you could explain it.

Did not care for So Pretty, although I am a sucker for most rose chypres. I thought of it as being more a fruity chypre than a rose one - like Mitsy or Yvresse - so that's probably the sticking point for me.

BitterGrace said...

Hmm, I'm making a mental note to retry So Pretty. If you like it, there must be something good there.

I'm trying to think of a contemporary scent that waylaid me in the manner you describe, but I really can't think of one. My Sin always smells good to me, but it does evoke a lot of specific youthful memories. The closest I've come to an "out of the blue" love affair is with the original Ma Griffe. I just happened to stumble across a bottle many years ago, and I've loved it ever since. Always makes me happy.

I've had a few instant attractions with new mainstream perfumes, but invariably things go sour with the second or third encounter. Such is life...

waftbyCarol said...

Roses are the highest recorded hertz vibration , so would definitely make you feel happy...but I agree with mals - it wouldn't be love if you could explain it !
Baghari did that for me , so did Alahine when I was in Italy .
Sinfonia Fleur di Santal , vintage Arpege ,and DSH Minuit all come to mind . I'm all over the map but when a swoon happens it's really a special thing !!

Rappleyea said...

My instant happiness scent is Guerlain's Spiritueuse Double Vanille. And like your feelings about roses, I have never particularly cared for vanilla. So other than being able to give you an example of a scent, I have no other answers.

Olfacta said...

Hi M -- very true. And I agree about the "rose chypre" bit. I wouldn't have classified SP that way. But I'm unwilling to give it the dreaded "Fruity Floral" label either, since it has nothing to do with the dreck being sold under that label now. I'd call it an accessible rose floral with a little berry. Yeah, that's it. And if I could get my hands on a larger bottle of L'Arte di Gucci (just have a mini) then I would really swoon.

Olfacta said...

Hi M -- I was really surprised by this too. Feel the same about Ma Griffe in perfume -- it was my first experience of a scent that smell odd but was compelling (age 14). Keep getting outbid in it though.
Thanks for commenting!

Olfacta said...

Hi C -- Hertz vibration, hmmm....another index I don't know about? May be time for some more geekery.

Olfacta said...

Hi R -- I was going to look for the perfect vanilla. I'll put that one down as a candidate, thanks! I remember, a few years ago, when everything from shampoo to foot balm was heavily scented with very synthetic smelling "vanilla." It made me gag for a while too.

Elizabeth said...

Eau Première was my "So Pretty" equivalent. Immediate love and wanting to spray it on all day, every day. I feel so happy when I wear it! Now I need to try So Pretty, but gosh, what an insipid name.

ChickenFreak said...

I have a sort of mirror-image reverse of your rose issue - I _love_ roses in real life. I grow a bunch of them, most of them old-fashioned varieties that do have a smell. But rose perfumes generally leave me cold. (I whined about this elseblog and am receiving many, many suggestions for rose perfumes to try.)

My happiest scent by far is Bois 1920 Sushi Imperiale - winter tapdancy sparkles.

Indult Tihota - essentially vanilla right out of the bottle, in a good way - is my most comforting scent, though I just can't make myself pay the price of a bottle.

Olfacta said...

Hi E -- Well, according to PR materials I came across, it supposedly had something to do with a family member's "pet" name. Other sources say that was impossible for reasons of timelines. So who knows? I think the name put me off for a long time, which is why I didn't test it until this year.

Olfacta said...

Hi CF -- So you're a rose grower? I planted two David Austin type bushes last year. Our humid climate makes black spot a plague. So far I haven't been too impressed with their vigor OR their scent. But there's always this year...

ChickenFreak said...

Yes! Roses! Roses! Roses!

You can find a _huge_ selection of roses at Vintage gardens. David Austins are tougher than hybrid teas, but I suspect that the right old rose from Vintage Gardens will do even better for you. On the other hand, roses tend to really take hold the third year, so you may just need to wait for the Austins to hit their stride.

If the Austins do prove unsatisfactory, or you want more, I recomend the really, really tough old-fashioned ones, and just letting the ones that die in your conditions and under your chosen level of care, die, to be replaced with another one until you find one that thrives.

We don't coddle the roses. We do now have the very fabulous Gardener Artist (art is her main career, but she also works garden magic for several different customers), who ensures that our regular level of care happens reliably. But we've chosen the same low level of care that we used before we had any help.

No fungicides, no oils, no dust, no fancy fertilizer, no ever-so-careful all-season pruning. They get at least one pruning a year, and they often get one top dressing of stinky compost a year, though sometimes it's less frequent than that. I think that's the only food they get, though Gardener Artist may be giving them some snacks that I've forgotten.

Roses! Roses! Vintage Gardens. Really. Even if you never buy a rose, just looking at the pictures is fun.

ChickenFreak said...

I forgot to mention that Vintage Gardens includes a database field for scent. ("Light", "Intense", etc.) You can search on it.

Olfacta said...

Hi CF -- Hmmm. Maybe I have been babying the roses too much. We'll see how they do this (2nd) year. You don't see too many rose gardens in the humid South. After struggling with pests and fungi for several years with some hybrid teas I had, I know why.

This summer I'm going to attempt to grow tuberose. Wish me luck...

Michael Mattison said...

Chanel's Antaeus was my first scent (at age 16), and I'm pleased I had such good taste to make that selection so young. (Could just as easily been something horrific!) I wore it for 5 years straight and moved on to other scents. I still love Antaeus, and will wear it on the odd winter's day, but otherwise it's a bit too strong and somehow "dated" these days.

Other scents of mine which fit the "comes-along-only-once-in-a-blue moon" category:
* X for Men (Clive Christian)
* Jubilation XXV ((Amouage)
* Bois d'Argent (Dior)
* Duro (Nasomatto)

BTW: Love your blog; kudos.
Take care,

Olfacta said...

Hi Michael --

Very good taste at any age, especially 16, especially when one considers what else out there is being sold to that demographic!

Thanks for the compliment, and welcome!

Liisa Wennervirta said...

(1) As for roses: Mainzer Festnacht, mental note: buy a bush or two. Lilac-purple rose with very specific smell. Blue Rose by Shiseido, the same smell. AAAArgh.
(2) As for I don't care what's that made of but give me 100 litres of that one: Basala. I don't use it really often being scared that I might run out of my umpteen hoarded bottles before I die.