In the past several weeks something odd has been happening. I revisited several fragrances I’d banished to the back of my drawer as purchase mistakes and realized I might have been too hasty in my judgment.
If you’ve read some of my reviews, you know I take my time with my perfumes. Before I make up my mind, I wear each fragrance several times and analyze each experience with the dedication of a Buddhist monk.
This is why, I couldn’t dismiss my change of heart simply as a result of lack of patience. What perplexed me was how I could have missed the beauty of these perfumes the first time they came my way.
As I turned this situation in my head I slowly came to realize that with time my perception of what of what smells good changes.
"Then came a warm August day."
The more I thought about my attitude towards my banished perfumes, the more it became clear that a simple change in taste is not the only explanation. The environment and surroundings in which we form our first impressions matters tremendously.
Sampling a citrus scent in the dead of winter will make me experience it one way; doing so in the summer - another. Wearing a new fragrance on a date gone bad will probably make me dislike the fragrance too just by association.
My mental state and preoccupation at the time also mattered. During a time of flux of activity, I gravitate towards austere perfumes that communicate “I mean business”. Thus, testing a meditative fragrance at such time would make me dismiss it as too soft.
Even though I hate to admit it, I am also influenced by the opinion of others. If I am sampling a scent hyped up in the fragrance community, I tend to see it more positively and give it the benefit of the doubt even if I don’t like it. In such times I question my own judgment and dig deeper to find redeeming qualities even when none are present.
These are the reasons why I change my mind about some fragrances. If they seem vague, it is because they are. To put things straight in my head, I tried to recall when I first formed my opinions of some of the fragrances on my “banished” list. I tried to remember the time, season and what was going on in my life at the time. Below are some of my recollections as I tried to put them into perspective.
Annick Goutal 1001 Ouds
I first smelled 1001 Ouds by fluke. I got a sample of it with the purchase of another fragrance.
When I first tried it I didn’t pay much attention. It didn’t strike me as the harsh fecal heavy oud scents I was hankering for at the time.
It was late November when a sales rep brought 1001 Ouds to my attention again. I recall she described it as a unique and elegant oud scent - something quiet and yet worth smelling. It was one among four or five other fragrances I had smelled within that same half hour and 1001 Ouds stood out as the most unique.
"The second reason was because I was bored."
A quick caveat: the criteria for “unique” in mainstream perfumery is so low, that almost anything that doesn’t smell like too like water qualifies for the epithet.
1001 Ouds seemed like a good enough fragrance but I bought a bottle for two unrelated reasons.
The first one was that I felt obliged to purchase something after I had made the sales rep rack her brain responding to my outlandish requests (no, she didn’t have a perfume that smelled like feces and a baby goat and she didn’t get why anyone would want to smell like that).
The second reason was because I was bored. Notwithstanding my extensive collection at home, at times I feel like I need yet another bottle.
I bought 1001 Ouds and with great remorse I vowed to wear it without a fail every day at least until Christmas.
1001 Ouds was a bottle of suffering for me. At times I found it too weak, so I oversprayed. Then, it was too strong and I felt I smelled like an old Parisian lady.
I appreciated its dry nostalgia but I got bored with it within hours. I wondered who needs a skin scent that smells like sparkling dust when one can wear a glorious ouds or ambers in the cold November.
I broke my vow of uninterrupted wear two days later. I relegated 1001 Ouds to the deep end of my closet.
Then came a warm August day.
It was boredom once again that made me rediscover 1001 Ouds. I had had it with the typical summer fare of ephemeral citruses and aquatics. I wanted something interesting. 1001 Ouds wasn’t my first choice to break things up but it seemed to be the right one. I sniffed it from the bottle and remembered that quiet dusty character - the kind that reminds me of Peter Pan and his Pixie Dust.
I put three solid sprays on my neck and chest and went about my day. I noticed a new avant-garde feel about 1001 Ouds. I felt like a guy who wears the monochrome COS collection and prides himself on his square jaw and angular clothes. I felt kind of cool, kind of like a rebel.
More than anything, however, I discovered how versatile 1001 Ouds was. It was quiet enough to wear to a business meeting and interesting enough to keep my nose happy throughout most of the day. I suspect the warmer weather brings out in it features that escaped me that cold November when I first wore it.
Now, 1001 Ouds is in my regular circulation. I still take it in moderate doses but I have worn it two days in a row, which is an impressive loyalty on my side.
Carner Barcelona Tardes
Inexplicably, I feel about Tardes the way one feels about a long lost lover. Even at first sniff I felt the familiarity of a smell I had known all my life. Just like when I first smelled it in 2011, my recent encounter with Tardes filled me up with the peace and calmness of a human touch.
"At the risk of sounding vulgar, my reaction from Tardes was like the shock one experiences at the sight of a girl epitomizing pure perfection."
I first read about Tardes in an article by a fellow blogger Chemist in the Bottle. His musings of how Tardes reconstructed the atmosphere of a siesta on a late afternoon in the Spanish countryside perked up my senses and I quickly ordered samples of Carner’s whole collection.
Unsurprisingly, Tardes was the gem in the lineup. The first sniff threw my senses into a shock. I couldn’t believe what I had on my hands. At the risk of sounding vulgar, my reaction from Tardes was like the shock one experiences at the sight of a girl epitomizing pure perfection.
The most striking feature of Tardes was that there was something very human about it. It didn’t smell like a perfume on top of my skin but more like an aura. It was a scent of natural beauty, yet the nature of that beauty is what made me put it aside.
Tardes was a beautiful fragrance but ultimately I decided it was not for me. Feeling as if I was chastising myself, I thought it was too feminine. Fragrantica supported my decision by wrongly labeling the fragrance as such too.
In 2014 I revisited Tardes and wrote a strong review in an article about Carner Barcelona. Not being in the mood for pretty things, I kept my nose busy searching for scents of pain and nostalgia.
It was not until this August that Tardes popped up again in my consciousness. I was searching for a scent to take with me on a trip to the Dominican Republic as my evening wear. I wanted something gourmand and carefree; something that would work well in warm weather without being too pretentious or heavy.
Tardes was not the obvious first choice. It was Ferragamo Uomo (more about it below), which I later dismissed as too generic. I contemplated Noir de Noir and even Civet (Zoologist) but I found those to be too formal for this trip.
Browsing through some recently ordered samples, I discovered a vial of Tardes. I had received it several weeks ago as part of a discovery set but I didn’t bother smelling it because I knew it was good. Being on the wavelength of tropical nights made me smell it again and I was sold.
As I experienced Tardes again, I realized I had been unfair to myself. At the time I had considered it too pretty of a fragrance for me to wear. I loved it but I felt it wasn’t for me. My plan was to buy it for my girlfriend and enjoy it that way.
When smelling it anew, however, I realized that I deserve Tardes and I don’t need anyone else to wear it for me. I’ll get a bottle for myself and wear it proudly and unapologetically. I don’t need anyone’s permission to do so, nor do I care about others’ judgment if I smell too girly.
Now as I write this, it becomes clear that others’ judgment was never an issue for me. What stopped me from fully embracing Tardes was my own view of what scents define me and how I see myself through perfume. I now know that I am not only a man of austere leathers but also of feminine heliotropes.
I first smelled Uomo during what I call a prolific period of my blogging life. At the time I was writing up a storm of reviews on obscure niche fragrances and Uomo was the only designer scent that came my way.
I had smelled Uomo at a department store and found it as promising but not impressive enough to be worth a bottle. Later I managed to score a sample, which I kept in my drawer for weeks on end before I actually gave it a proper wear.
I remember reading some positive review of Uomo and being steeped in niche perfumes I felt pressured not to dismiss Uomo as too generic at the risk of coming off as a niche snob. I attribute my original leniency towards the fragrance to that self-imposed guilt-trip.
My review of Uomo was flattering but somewhat restrained in heaping praises. It accurately reflected my ambivalence towards the fragrance even though I gave it a pass.
My search for a casual evening scent for my Dominican trip brought me to Uomo again seven months later. I couldn’t find my original sample, so I went to the department store for a quick sniff and possibly a score a sample. I succeeded on both accounts, which gave me a chance for retake on Uomo.
My second rendezvous with the fragrance left me scratching my head. I didn’t remember it so sweet and I swear the signature of generic mall perfume wasn’t there. Uomo wasn’t bad but without my guilt of coming off snobbish, I realized how much more mainstream it smelled.
What put me off wasn’t the scent itself so much but its character. If you take a stroll through the hallways of a mall or the isles of a department store, you will notice a smell wafting through the air. It is the combination of the various fragrances coming from different places in a diffused form. When these fragrances have similar characteristics they don’t clash but tend to form this baseline of smell, which I call the mall perfume.
The mall perfume is also how I describe any interchangeable fragrance I smell in the mall usually on a teenager, a young adult or a recently divorced 50-something reliving his youth. It’s the replaceable generic cologne that could be a Versace or YSL or Dior but it doesn’t really matter because they all smell the same.
This second foray into Uomo left me thinking that it fits nicely in this indistinguishable sea of fragrances called designer perfumes for men.
Le Labo Santal 33
For my purchase of Santal 33 I blame a friend of mine. That was his scent and it smelled so good on him that I couldn’t resist but fantasize how great it is going to smell on me too.
One cold February evening, I went to the local Saks and purchased a bottle. My plan was to hold off wearing Santal 33 until spring. I thought the fragrance was going to work best in the season of transition when nature comes alive.
To be honest, my feelings about Santal 33 haven’t changed. I still think it is a unique take on Australian sandalwood that is worthy of any collection. What thwarted my plans to make it my scent for spring 2017 was its beastly projection.
Let’s not mince words: Santal 33 signals your arrival miles ahead. I remember getting on the subway and smelling the waft of the splintery wood from a considerable distance. I followed the trace and identified the source to a monochrome-dressed Asian couple huddled on a double seat with Comme des Garcons bags in between their feet.
My experience with Asians wearing perfume is that they tend to be very cautious with the application. This is why, I concluded that the scent trail I followed was probably a result of one or two sprays.
The other reason why Santal 33 didn’t pan out for me was because I smelled it everywhere. Unrelated, I also read an article how the fragrance had put Le Labo in the mainstream and many hip city dwellers are rocking Santal 33.
Its strong projection and popularity made me self-conscious wearing it. I wore it only twice before I put away the bottle for good.