mardi 14 février 2012

Top Ten Perfumes, Winter 2012: The Compliment Magnets

The most romantic perfume-related scene I’ve ever lived didn’t really happen to me. The ghost of a stranger’s lost love was clinging to my skin... As I was walking the boulevard Saint-Germain, an elderly gentleman went by, slowed down, turned around and murmured: “Habanita!” There was a whole novel in the way he spoke that word.
Habanita was this man’s past. It was my future, since it remained my signature scent for over five years. I’ve sometimes wondered whether some man, smelling it today, would remember me with a pang and a smile. Think about it when you’re wearing something new: perfume is also a future memory.

If compliments are a tribute to the pleasure you’ve given, this scene from the past might just be the loveliest compliment I’ve ever received on a perfume. Remembering it made me think of other fragrances I’ve worn that have attracted compliments from strangers, and of the reasons why those particular notes elicit such a positive reaction, which in turn gave me the idea for  the theme of this winter Top 10, falling as it does on Saint-Valentine’s day…

What turns a fragrance into a compliment magnet? I’ve whittled it down to two very simple criteria. One, the scent has to be diffusive, obviously, for it to be noticed. Two, it shouldn’t stray too far from the cultural codes (in my case: feminine). I’ve found that often, the more offbeat stuff tends to not even register as perfume whereas florals and orientals, the most overtly feminine genres, always elicit a reaction. So here’s my selection, based on my own collection.

Attrape-coeur by Mathilde Laurent for Guerlain, aka Guet-Apens, aka Vol de Nuit Évasion and sadly discontinued in all its guises. The familiar Guerlinade melody on a smooth-as-caramel tribute to De Laire’s famed Ambre 83, a labdanum and vanilla base – vanilla being a smell that raises a blissful smile in humans from infancy since it echoes the aroma of maternal milk. This is the scent that prompted a young Tunisian bellboy to run after me saying “Madame, madame, what’s your perfume, it smells so good!” After hearing the name, he answered “Well Attrape-coeur has caught another heart.”

Boucheron by Jean-Pierre Béthouart and Francis Deléamont for Boucheron. A sparkling, big-boned floriental from an era when perfumes weren’t afraid of making a statement. Scores additional points for triggering a pleasurable pang of recognition.

Une Fleur de Cassie by Dominique Ropion for FrédéricMalle. Though a bit of an oddball with its leathery-animalic notes running under its sweet almondy cloud, like all of Ropion’s opus this is a sillage monster, and one that prompted a gentleman who’d held open a door for me to turn back and catch up so he could ask what I was wearing.

Carnal Flower, ditto.  Tuberoses are entrance-making flowers that’ll tattoo your presence all over a room and your Valentine’s body, whether it is Dominique Ropion’s naturalistic rendition, the baroque Tubéreuse Criminelle, the boho Vamp à NY or the uncanny Nuit de Tubéreuse. Latest compliment to date from both sales assistants in a flower shop, where the bottled tuberose took on and tackled ever other blossom.

Songes by Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal forAnnick Goutal. The dark-eyed, sharp-suited gentleman I had a business appointment with came into the room and said: “Wait, don’t tell me, let me guess… Jasmine… vanilla…and tiaré, right?” Spot on. The man spent an hour in tropical bliss.

Gardénia Pétales by Nathalie Feisthauer for VanCleef and Arpels “Collection extraordinaire”. Another white and tropical floral bouquet, a tad less exuberant than Songes but just as much of a sillage monster. Matched with cleavage, caused a fellow wedding dinner guest to ask if anyone ever looked me in the eye.

Kiss Me Tender by Patricia de Nicolaï for Parfumsde Nicolaï. No list of compliment magnets would be complete without a nuzzle-my-neck gourmand note. Kiss Me Tender’s sugar-coated almond and white flower accord is delectable enough to prompt either a lick or a bite.

Putain des Palaces by Nathalie Feisthauer for État Libre d’Orange. With its retro lipstick violet-rose accord smeared on a funky animalic base, the “Five-star hotel call girl” flaunts another olfactory emblem of utter femininity. Bonus points for being diffusive enough to prompt the question “What’s that perfume you’re wearing?”, just for the fun of answering.

But when I’m asked about my latest compliment magnet, I just smile and say it’s not out yet…  This is a very special perfume to me. So special it’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a signature scent since I wore Habanita. So special, in fact, that it warrants its own post. 

Meanwhile, I’d love to know what your top compliment grabbers have been…

For more Top Tens of Winter, see:

Picture: "Killing Five Stones with One Bird" by Norman Parkinson

34 commentaires:

  1. I'm very excited to read about this mystery scent! This is a great list, especially because I rarely get compliments on my perfume. I must not be wearing enough florals. :)

    1. If your man is pushing you away and acting distant

      Or if the guy you’re after isn’t giving you the time of day...

      Then it’s time to pull out all the stops.

      Because 99% of the time, there is only 1 thing you can say to a standoffish guy that will grab him by the heartstrings-

      And get his blood pumping at just the thought of you.

      Insert subject line here and link it to: Your ex won’t be able to resist?

      Once you say this to him, or even send this simple phrase in a text message...

      It will flip his world upside down and you will suddenly find him chasing you-

      And even begging to be with you.

      Here’s what I’m talking about:

      Insert subject line here and link it to: Is your man hiding something? He may need your help?

      Thanks again.


  2. Perfume compliments are precious memories indeed... Living in the US, I'm afraid I make sure my usage is discreet rather than part of my presence, so I don't get a lot of compliments..

    My one distinct story comes from a few years back when I was traveling in Spain. Freshly showered and scented with Un Jardin Sur le Nil, I set out to grab an afternoon snack in middle of the July heat. The table next to mine filled up with a group of local men, who naturally had to play hosts to the lonely lady. We had significant language barrier but one of them put together "you smell so nice"... his eyes were saying a lot more however

  3. Wonderful list - very interested to hear what the mystery scent will be!

    I, too, adore Attrape Coeur and it will be my Valentine's Day perfume. :)

    Have you by any chance tried Ida Delam le 6 parfum? I've read that it smells like the lovechild of Attrape Coeur and Bois des Iles (another favorite)! I'd love to know your thoughts if you have tried it.

    Thanks and Happy Valentine's!

  4. I can't argue with Carnal Flower - or any of the perfumes on your list for that matter - but my own "magnetic" fragrance is Caron's great Parfum Sacre, in the original formula of course, not today's reformulation. Doors are magically opened by smiling gentlemen, chairs pulled out, and glances met. I am no femme fatale, but wearing Parfum Sacre is probably the closest I will ever come to being one.

  5. Natalie, most of us probably wear perfumes more for our own pleasure than to attract compliments. Still, it's lovely to get them and a beautiful floral is usually efficient for that.

  6. MilaK, oh that scene brought back so many memories of Spain for me! I'm sure it wasn't only the perfume that elicited the compliment... But it's true the Spanish are known for their love of fresher scents, and when I used to go there frequently I always saw a huge bottle of Agua de something in the bathroom for the whole family to splash on.

  7. Sue, I actually have Ida Delam's N°6, but I wouldn't really say it reminded me of either of those perfumes. I was set to review it very belatedly but apparently it's on its way out... To me it was very aldehydic + licorice.

  8. Flora, I didn't put Parfum Sacré in the list since I don't own it, but it's a masterpiece, also composed by Jean-Pierre Béthouart who did the Boucheron. In the industry it's acknowledged as a very influential perfume.

  9. I'm very happy to see white florals getting several mentions. :)
    A really great list, with some things I've yet to try (like Gardenia Petales - love that name). :)
    Can't wait to read tomorrow's post!

  10. Ines, it may not be entirely representative since I *do* tend to go for white florals more than, say, roses... I think you'd like Gardénia Pétale, it's really hard not to!

  11. Lovely list and I can quite "picture" you in all those mentioned. Bulgari Black garners me the most compliments from both men and women. However my most favourite compliment was paid quite a few years ago (ah!) when I wore the first Agent Provocateur pretty much exclusively for a year (it was before I fell down the rabbit hole). A boyfriend recounted how he had smellt AP whilst walking down Wardour Street and looking around for me saw the back of a woman tall, slim, dark haired and followed her thinking it was me. And he was disappointed when it wasn't. Wearing Liaisons Dangereuses today (well a girl can hope!) though I also considered Songes and Nuit de Tubereuses. Nicola

  12. Nicola, well, I guess Black is the weirdo that serves as a counter-example to my "theory"! I'm sure Liaisons Dangereuses is also a great compliment magnet -- I love smelling it on my friend Rebecca, who almost convinced me to buy it!

  13. I love the idea of perfume as future memory... And I am eagerly awaiting the remembering of your mystery scent in the not-too-distant future.

  14. Poor me, I so seldom get compliments for my scent, apart from the usual suspects (ie: girlfriend when I' wearing Vamp à NY). My most commented fragrance, however is Avignon: people find it weird to smell "church" in other places, get surprised and can't believe the source it's me... As you pointed out in the French section, incense has a very strong- and not always pleasant- association with church in certain countries.
    (As a side note: I tested once l'Eau Froide, in a very very froid day... I can't say much, I was intrigued by the mouthwash-swamp beginning, then I lost sight of the incense... I'm afraid the aquatic notes are a bit overwhelming on my skin. Anyway, thanks again!)

  15. My most complimented fragrance by far is Cristalle EDT and mainly by men. It is a magnet, they literally hang on my neck. I also love the EDT but it doesnT do the trick. I generally get more compliments for subtle scents. Others are PC Tuberose Gardenia, Osmanthe Yunnan and Osmanthus Different Company (in this case I believe he thought it was my natural scent). No comment ever on Vanille Galante, Ambre Narguile, Ormond Woman, Donna Karan Signiture, Fleur de Cassie (which I love) or Rush!

  16. sorry, Cristalle EDP is the complimented one

  17. Jarvis, this idea came to me as I was writing the book... It's got an almost slogan-like quality. I should make it my tagline! Anyway, it'll be a good soundbyte for you know what...

  18. Iodine, I agree Avignon elicits very peculiar reactions. When I bought it, my friend tried to dissuade me saying "Why would a woman want to smell like a church?"

  19. Anonymous, I vividly remember finding Cristalle exquisite on a female friend, and complimenting her on it. It definitely qualifies as a compliment magnet.
    And don't we wish me smelled of Osmanthe Yunnan naturally... Mind you, the lactonic and leather facets *could* come from skin.

  20. *fanning herself and wishing she had some Gardénia Pétales on hand*

    Jokes aside, ok, D, I will revisit Gardénia Pétales. I dismissed at first, but then again, I didn't spend that much time with the collection. I loved Cologne Noire though.

  21. Oh how I love your Habanita story! I long and long to know what it meant for that gentleman. Like an idiot I would have run after him and said 'Tell me!' and completely spoiled the moment for him.

    Although few of us in this community have a signature scent, the Habanita story suggests how good it is keep a wardrobe of regulars, rather than almost literally wearing a new fragrance on each of the 365 days a year. I think we would all love to linger in the memory as some lady has lingered in that gentleman's memory.

  22. Victoria, Gardénia Pétale may not be intriguingly original but I find it's truly a pleasure to wear: it's got enough va-va-voom to rock a décolletage, but remains very ladylike. It's one of those "when in doubt" scents you can't really go wrong with.

  23. Annemarie, that's why with a certain person I've always worn, if not the same scent, at least a tuberose (or a white floral with a similar vibe). Although for the past year, I've been wearing something else for him.

    As for Habanita, I told the story today to none other than the owners of Molinard since they organized an event to re-launch it. Oddly, though I wrote extensively about my relationship to Habanita in my book, this story just came back to me recently.

  24. may I ask you what your favourite Gardenia scent is? PCTG, Voile de Fleur, Beyond Love, Gardenia Petale or other?

  25. Anonymous, I can't say Gardénia Pétale is 100% gardenia -- to me it's also a bit of a lily/tiaré. I love Tom Ford's discontinued Velvet Gardenia, with its overripe note. Beyond Love, which I own, is a lot more of a tuberose to me.

  26. I now live in an ultra-conservative part of the US (help!) - so easily-understood scents elicit the most compliments ('tis true). Pamplemousse Rose - clear winner. Carnal Flower, once it's dried down, is considered 'interesting'. I wore Fleur de Cassie and folks backed away! from me! LOL! Fresh Lemon Sugar is another one that gets compliments.

    Chicago is different - I get away with more complex scents.


    ps. cannot WAIT to sniff the fabulous mystery fragrance!!!

  27. Musette, it's fascinating how cultural codes affect our perceptions of what's pleasant or not. Clearly citruses are winners where you live now... Backing away from Une Fleur de Cassie is hilarious, given that I'm sure lots of things are more... pungent on farms!

  28. Denyse, your list is as charming as the topic: compliment magnets. When I am wearing Bois d’Iris (The Different Company) I do seem to elicit more spontaneous compliments (alas, they are few, though), mostly on the very likable, elegant warmth. It doesn’t seem to work at a larger distance, indicating a moderate sillage. Once, however, when I was experimenting with adding some ambroxan to a run-of-the-mill perfume, a young lady breezed by, turned around abruptly and immediately inquired about the beautiful fragrance. Are the compliments just events by serendipity, elicited by visual and olfactory stimuli (the right person & the right scent), or can something be traced to certain compositions or even certain magic substances, that work better than others?

  29. Joey, I remember getting the most enthusiastic responses ever to a raw mat when I presented Ambroxan to my American fashion students. My interpretation was that it smelled of "guys" to them since so many masculine fragrances feature it, but it's also prevalent in feminines so that might not be the whole answer.
    Not sure whether there are specific notes that are sure to elicit compliments no matter who is wearing them (the visual certainly plays its part). Part of it must be cultural, though certain notes might be widely shared by many cultures (white florals for instance). Part of it is certainly based on the "receptor's" own tastes...

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  31. I can really see how these perfumes would be noticed. A very good list! For me, Lumiere Noire pour Femme has gotten the most comments. Also Mitsouko EdP.

  32. A bit late to this one, but like Nicola, my most complimented perfume is Bulgari Black - by both men and women, but mostly men!
    Also, just to be the odd one out - Philosykos by Diptyque, I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't like it.
    Having said this, it's only recently I've begun to wear the big florals

  33. Rosestrang, better stock up on Bulgari Black as it's sadly been discontinued... It's a remarkable piece of work, isn't it?