The light begins to bend differently around mid-August here. It’s still hot, with bugs and humidity, but I’ll be driving somewhere and will suddenly notice that the trees look different. The sun’s position has changed (okay, to be perfectly accurate, the earth’s has). There is more refraction, longer rays of light bending toward the yellow end of the color spectrum, and so the leaves reflect a warmer green.
“The Day” is what I call that first breath of autumn, an afternoon when I realize that the humidity is gone and won’t be back for awhile, when the winds stop blowing moisture up from the Gulf and start blowing cool air down from Canada. Not much is certain these days, but this is.
Not too long ago, a commenter here mentioned seeing a lot of “ennui” on the perfume blogs and forums. It is true that there haven’t been many great releases lately, and the new Bleu de Chanel has disappointed several reviewers I follow, with its apparent pandering to the men’s mass-market (can you say dihydromercanol? No? Me neither.) I wonder what similar delights are coming next. Times like this send me back to the back of my cabinet. I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one. I’m seeing lots of classics and forgotten treasures on the other perfume blogs. It’s a welcome development, I believe. There is so much out there that deserves attention, and certainly isn’t getting any from the popular press.
Exploring the glimmers deep inside my own perfume cabinet, I found three scents that seem perfect for this time of year. Two are fairly obscure and one is really obscure.
Opium Fleur de Shanghai: This one is discontinued, which is good news. I love discontinued. I know it’s going to be an older, or maybe even the original, formula; no chance that I’ll encounter another disappointing reformulation. This is a 2005 “special release,” designed for warmer weather, full of magnolia, a bit of star jasmine (which is subtle) and mandarin, which gives it a slight fruit note. The Opium base -- carnation/clove, myrrh and patchouli -- is there, but it’s a whisper. I’ve heard that Opium EDT -- the real thing, not the new one -- can be a good summer fragrance, but I can’t imagine wearing it in our July humidity. In this fragrance, though, the florals and earthy base balance each other perfectly. Not too sweet, not too heavy, comes in a big bottle, designed to spray lavishly: the perfect September fragrance. Best of all, there seems to be plenty to go around. I bought my 100 ml bottle for less than $40, on fleabay. I have not been able to find out who the perfumer was, but the house is Yves St. Laurent.
Rose d’Homme: OK, so it’s a men’s fragrance. And? Perhaps there will come a day when American guys feel secure enough in the ol’ masculinity department to wear a rose-based scent. In the meantime, I’ll continue to hijack this one. It’s one of those that thrill me when I smell it. Lots of bergamot up front, and the notes from Rosine’s website mention vetiver, a “lavender base,” tangerine, herbals and leather. I get a woody, patchouli-laced rose, and it is divine. It’s a perfect late fall scent, more November than September. Not for patchouli-averse though; I’d say that, in the drydown, patch is the dominant note. The perfumers are the Rosine team of Marie-Helene Rogeon and Francois Robert. Not discontinued, but certainly not commonplace. Not exactly a bargain, but I’ve seen 50 mls for less than $75 online. I bought my bottle from LuckyScent, last year. From Les Parfums de Rosine.
Halston Couture: This is a very obscure and challenging fragrance. Of all the perfumes I’ve ever tried, it is by far the driest, the boniest, the mossiest. Do you like galbanum, that cracked-green-leaves essence? It’s here, along with a ton of oakmoss. There’s musk, too (not much), and bergamot, and, although the notes list jasmine, I don’t smell any. I do smell the marigold and carnation, though. This is a take-no-prisoners spicy, bitter green chypre. The closest relative I know of would be Jacomo’s bitter green “Silences.” This is Silences on steroids.
I’ve started experimenting with this fragrance, using it as a base for oils that might just be a little too cloying, or florals that are too sweet, to construct a chypre with floral notes. I think it would be a great man’s scent, too -- although, for all I know it might have been one. Perfumer? Who knows? Released in 1987 or 88 (indexes vary) It comes in the Halston bottle -- the off-kilter, Elsa Peretti one -- except that the glass is frosted and the top is silver, which tarnishes, so we know it’s real. Discontinued of course -- this much oakmoss would make the entire IFRA faint -- but widely available on fleabay, usually for less than $30, which is how I got mine. Perfect for early fall, when it’s often still hot. Strong. Lasts. Not for the timid.
A few other transitional scents that seem “right” to me in fall: Eau de Rochas, with its unlikely mix of citrus and patchouli; Nuits de Hadrien (Annick Goutal) with its peppery ginger opening, and Anya’s Garden “Kewdra,” with its spice and warmth. What are yours?
I’m curious: do you layer and mix a lot? It seems that the transition seasons bring out the tinkerer in me. A little of this, a little of that; sometimes mixed, sometimes just applied on different places; do summer scents layered with winter ones equal autumn? What do you think? Let me know in a comment. I’ll pick a winner at random and announce the results in two weeks, on Tuesday, Sept. 14th, for a generous sample of each of these fragrances.