Tuesday, December 27, 2011
OTHER PEOPLE’S COOKING
I’m a good cook. I have no false modesty, so I admit it. I can eat a dish at a restaurant, analyze it, and re-create it at home. I love to throw dinner parties and pull out all the stops on the food and wine. I’m not so thrilled by the day-to-day feeding routine, and always welcome a chance to eat someone else’s cooking whether it’s at a fancy restaurant, a taco truck, or at the home of friends or relatives. For me, there’s a strange psychological effect at work that makes other people’s cooking always taste delicious even if I know on an intellectual level that I could have done it better myself.
Perfume is the same way. I seldom wear my own perfumes, probably because of the truth of the adage, “familiarity breeds contempt”. After pipetting dozens of sample vials of a fragrance I get tired of smelling it. I know exactly what’s in it and the exact concentration of each ingredient, I worry about whether I need to reorder materials, and whether one or more of those components is going to suddenly become unavailable. There’s no mystery or mystique to the fragrance, no room for fantasy. That only happens while I’m formulating a new perfume or the rare times when I catch a whiff of one of my own perfumes that has inadvertently caught a ride on my clothes and for a second I don’t recognize it as mine.
Given that I get so much pleasure from smelling other people’s perfumes, I was inspired by Diana’s (Feminine Things) recent series on perfumes that inspired lasting love versus those that were brief flings. It made me think about which perfumes I seek out for more than a one-test stand. There aren’t many of them, given my promiscuous sniffing behavior, but there are a few that have made it to decant or small bottle status. This is not a “best of” list, even though it’s that time of year, but simply some perfumes that perform specific functions extremely well. Here are the first five that seem to have inspired a lasting relationship, part one of a two-part series.
Madini Ambre. This perfume oil is my ultimate go-to comfort scent, the one I wear when I want to feel lulled to sleep, or when I just want to kick back and relax. It’s not a conventional amber scent. It’s profoundly woody, like being rocked in an aromatic hardwood cradle with a little honeyed labdanum dabbed on it. It’s unique. I’ve used it for years and still love it. It’s the only perfume for which I have a backup bottle.
Montale White Aoud. This is a relatively new love. I became infatuated with it when I wore it last summer on a trip to northern BC in Canada, and have come to love it. Ever since the road trip with White Aoud, I’ve worn it from time to time when I want a special perfume treat. If Madini Ambre is comfy pajamas, Montale White Aoud is a sequined evening dress. It contains all of the traditional Arabian perfume components, wood, oud, roses and saffron. There’s a lot of vanilla to warm it up, and some spices to spice it up. The rose note is one of the very best that I’ve smelled anywhere. This combination is as near to perfect as it gets, assertive but at the same time comfortable and soft. It’s my special-occasion go-to perfume.
Keiko Mecheri Cuir Cordoba. For the past couple of years this been one of my workhorse perfumes, one that I can reach for in the morning without thinking when I have to go out in public for the day. It’s beautiful but not aggressively so. It starts out with violet, leather, and incense, and dries down to a smooth, subtly sexy combo of violet, leather and sandalwood that lasts and lasts. Applied with restraint, it stays close enough so that I can enjoy it myself without imposing it on others.
Sonoma Scent Studio Ambre Noir. This is another new love, a meditative, intellectual, spiritual perfume that is like standing in a dense forest of huge evergreen trees. It starts out with a full blast of labdanum, sandalwood, fir sap, cedar wood, and a little incense. As it dries down, I can smell oud and vetiver, as well as more cedar, and the labdanum resin that is always there. It’s as if Laurie Erickson had captured the bare-bones spirit of an Arabian perfume, removed all the lavish decorations, and distilled it down to its dry, ethereal, woody soul. I wear this when I’m alone, in a contemplative mood.
The Different Company Sel de Vetiver. This is another workhorse perfume that I wear especially when I’m working in the theatre, if I feel like wearing any perfume at all. A great many of my acting colleagues claim to be “allergic” to perfume (although others slather themselves with essential oils or continually spray themselves with strong scents), so out of consideration for the perfume-haters I try to go easy on the fragrance. Sel de Vetiver starts out like grapefruit with salt sprinkled on top of it but soon turns into a veil of gray, bitter vetiver accented by a hint of dry, peppery spice and something floral, focused mainly on iris. Once the bitterness goes away, it’s a gorgeous, perfect combination of subtle notes that provide a good bit of sillage but would be hard to localize or find offensive. A beautiful workhorse indeed.
[Montale, Keiko Mecheri, Sonoma Scent Studio and TDC photos from commercial websites]