What’s That Smell?
Well, it’s actually Angelica, Fleabane, Estragon, Opoponax, Costus, Olibanum and Vinyl Shower Curtain. This is how Bruno Fazzolari, an acclaimed perfumer based in California, describes his scent ”Room 237”, named after the hotel room in ”The Shining” from which all evil flows. It’s an interesting scent. Fresh, clean, slightly uncanny. Imagine swabbing your kitchen floor late in the evening with a strong detergent, windows open so the smells from the garden are faintly detectable, and suddenly the lights go out and you hear a strange noise from the living room and you know you are alone in the apartment. You hold your breath to sharpen your hearing but after a while you are forced to breathe in anyway, and that inhalation is how Room 237 smells…
While my love for menswear goes all the way back to my teens, my interest in perfumes is much more recent. I used to be the kind of person who would try a few fragrances, usually by recommendation, buy one and stick with that making it a ”signature scent”. When I used up a bottle, the process would start over, often resulting in me buying the same scent all over again. The first perfume I had, Aramis “Devin”, was a gift from my mother when I turned 15. It was a popular scent in the early 80s but you rarely come across it today. I would still recognise it in an instant because it was the only perfume I used for many years, so it’s firmly lodged in my smell memory.
But since a few years back I’ve started to discover the vast and complex world of perfume. One of the main reasons that I have not paid that much attention to perfumes previously is because I have felt that many of them are very similar. From what I have read and been told it seems like many of the foremost experts in the field lament a general drop in standards from the main fashion houses. They used to be the leaders of innovation, but they have lowered standards by using cheaper and often synthetic ingredients. On top of that many of the most famous perfumes have been re-formulated, often on numerous occasions. This has led to a streamlining where scents are not designed to be distinctive anymore, but rather to please as many people as possible. This is one of the main reasons why so many perfumes smell almost identical.
I had the chance recently to smell the original formulation of one of the most iconic perfumes of all time, Dior’s ”Eau Sauvage”, originally created by the legendary perfumer Edmund Roudnitska in 1966. The original formula is very different to what Dior sells under the same name today, and the original is much more unique and interesting compared to the current more generic fragrance. It’s not that ”Eau Sauvage” is a bad scent, it’s just not that special anymore. It doesn’t help to have Johnny Depp riding a motorcycle in the desert burying some of his jewelry (a truly bewildering and annoying commercial) when the scent itself in its current formulation is mostly…meh.
What I have discovered is that the void the big fashion houses have left is being filled by a large number of smaller, independent perfumers. Here you find originality, the will to experiment and a huge diversity, from the sophisticated and exclusive to the bold and experimental and everything in between. It is certainly true that you do encounter the same side effects that you will find for example in the modern craft beer trend, where you sometimes come across beers which might be innovative and fun, but in fact taste awful. I have encountered scents with the same type of problem: yes that was indeed unique and I have never smelled anything like it before, but at the same time I would never voluntarily do it again…
But there are also many fantastic perfumes to discover. Perfumers like Frédéric Malle, Slumberhouse, Tauer, Le Labo, Juliette Has a Gun, D.S. & Durga, Diptyque, Bruno Fazzolari, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Heeley Perfumes, Olfactive Studio, The Different Company, Annick Goutal, Lorenzo Villoresi etc. These are just a handful examples and there are many, many more. Some of these brands are well established and run medium large operations, others are basically one person projects. What they have in common is that they are niche brands compared to the big fashion houses and the sport brands, and they strive to be innovative and distinctive rather than generic and safe.
A huge advantage for those who want to learn more about fragrances is that there are plenty of shops, mainly online, that sell samples. Most of the brands themselves do this, but there are also many other stores that sell decanted samples from a large range of brands. This is an excellent way of testing your way to brands and perfumes that you like without wrecking your budget completely. The only drawback is that it turns your bathroom into a 19th century pharmacy full of small glass bottles and vials.
The world of top, middle and base notes, projection and longevity, dilutions, which of the classes of perfumes you prefer, natural and synthetic ingredients, how scents react and change depending on climate and weather, and of course the almost mystical reaction a fragrance has when it comes in contact with your own skin, which is wholly unique, is still something that I have just begun to explore. For the modern consumer other factors may play into your choice as well, such as environmental concerns and the fact that some traditional ingredients in perfumes are rare and protected. It is a fascinating world and tons of things to learn.
For me it is natural to connect my explorations in the world of fragrances with my interest in menswear. Is there such a thing as a perfect match between outfit and scent? Therefore I will add perfume to the list of things I wear from now on.