My journey in perfume

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A couple of weeks ago I cleared out a lot of perfumes sitting in our bathroom cabinet. 

The cabinet is actually a tall, vintage piece, originally for a dining room. It has drawers in the bottom where we keep towels and sheets, and shelves in the top with glass doors - where pharmaceuticals, perfumes and a few boxes are kept. 

The perfumes looked pretty there, but they were taking up too much room. So I had to thin them down. 

In the end I kept just three, with a few more in a Santa Maria Novella box just behind them. Given I had more than 30 at one point, this was drastic. 

I removed so many because I feel I’ve come to a decisive juncture in my journey with perfume. After years where it has been my number-two obsession - after clothing - I’m at a point where I feel I’ve sampled every option, experienced every experience. Pretty much. 

I’ve tried every type of perfume and producer, big and small; I’ve interviewed leading creators; I’ve visited factories; I’ve had guided walks talks through the history of scent; and I’ve twice tried creating my own (without much success).

I feel I know now what the world of perfume has to offer - whether it’s a modern perfume that recreates bubblegum on a pavement, or a storied cologne from the biggest makers in Grasse. As a result, I am now confident that I know what I like - and how I want to enjoy perfume in the future. 

I know the first question is going to be, which were the three I kept?

They were ‘Charcoal’, by Perfumer H; ‘Original Vetiver’, by Creed; and ‘Cologne Indelible’ by Frederic Malle. 

Each of these has a story. I’ve interviewed Lyn Harris and love what she has done at Perfumer H. I think everyone should visit her exquisite shop and try her version of whatever scent they prefer. Lyn has something good to say about every one. 

Original Vetiver is emotional for me - something I will forever associate with a friend and a first trip to Florence many years ago. 

Frederic Malle, meanwhile, is probably the most fascinating person I ever have interviewed about perfume, and Cologne Indelible is impressive in that it manages to be both a classic cologne and something original, which is rare. 

The choice of these three was also practical though, as I think it should be.

It’s not really useful or even enjoyable to have too many perfumes. Part of the core appeal of fragrance is that it’s personal - something intimate, that (at least with men) you don’t smell until you are pretty close. 

It should be something distinctive, therefore, that people identify you with. Your wife should think of you when she smells it. 

(My wife, by the way, wears ‘Dans Tes Bras’ by Malle (below), which is an unusual, physical fragrance. ‘Fahrenheit’ from Dior, meanwhile, always reminds me of my father. He would put it on in the evening when he was going out with my mother, and I would smell it when I gave him a hug at the door.)

At the same time, there are good reasons for having more than one fragrance. 

One is weather, or season. A fresh vetiver isn’t quite the same on wet Winter’s day. You want something smokier for that. 

Another is occasion: a heavy, musky scent is often more suited to the evening. It always seems a little weird to me when you smell heavy ouds on people in a cafe in the morning. (The fact you can smell it on a man at that distance isn’t a good sign either.)

So, I picked three perfumes that cover most of these bases, and are distinct from each other. ‘Charcoal’ is dark and smoky; ‘Original Vetiver’ is fresh and green; and the Malle Cologne is everyday, classic and clean. 

My journey through perfume over the past 10 years gives me confidence in these choices. 

I’ve tried many floral and spicy scents - not just in a store, but taken away samples, tried on several occasions, dried down, absorbed and considered - and know those two families are for me. 

I also love the idea of oud, and the first heavy, exotic impression it gives. But it can seem sickly after a while. And I’m always attracted to perfumes called ‘Leather’, but they never smell like leather. They smell like soap. 

Still, I did keep a few more hidden away in the cabinet, for variation. For when I just feel like something different They were:

  • Bel Ami from Hermes (a woody chypre, very 80s)
  • Real Patchouly from Bois (the best patchouli I’ve found)
  • Hinoki from Monocle (fresh cypress, woody but unusual in being Japanese cypress)
  • Habeo from Bryceland’s (Ethan’s surprisingly nice leather option)
  • Acqua di Colonia from Santa Maria Novella (a more regular cologne, and one that reminds me of the wonderful shop)

I should say, by the way, that in general I don’t think recommendations of perfumes are that useful. 

It’s interesting to know why someone likes something - like a friend describing why they drink a particular wine. But this is a very personal area, emotional and subjective. There’s no reason at all you’re going to like the perfume as well. 

I encourage everyone to go on their own journey. Do take other peoples’ recommendations, and try them as well as everything else. Learn about the families and the history, the names of things you like and don’t like. It’s fascinating and rewarding.

But in the end, whittle it down to one or two that really feel like you. 

For me, the journey hasn’t stopped, but it’s different. I’m unlikely to ever change the fragrances I have. But I will never tire of the world of perfume - that unique branch of creativity, that world that is like no other, and that specific sensory stimulation.

I just know what I’ll be wearing on my wrist when I do it. 

For anyone that is interested in reading more about perfume, I’d recommend the following articles:

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Anonymous

I’m not very experienced with perfumes but I do like Pour Un Homme de Caron and Eau Des Missions.Both with the delicious smell of vanilla.

OP

I find SMN’s Peau D’Espagne smells like walking through San Lorenzo market in Florence. Probably just a mental association, yet leathery to my nose.

Peter Hall

I was always a light wearer of perfume until I met my wife and she really wanted me to wear a heavier scent. I will always remember the wet day in London as we shared a new one. (Creed Irish Tweed). Memories. There are always two involved.

Yuri

There are always two involved….beautiful!

limekiln

Great post Simon. Sadly, here in the US it’s become less-and-less acceptable for men to wear fragrances. Some companies actually have a policy against it, although WFH has its benefits there. Maybe there are too many associations with the heavy bombs from Giorgio Beverly Hills, Brut, Aramis etc. (mind you, I think Aramis is still a great scent). Fragrances are really a great part of how you move through the world, and as with clothing the choice should be primarily driven by what you yourself like.
I am also a fan of Vetiver in the summer (in my case, Guerlain), dark and smoky juices for cooler days (Incre Noire in my case) and then everyday classics (Givenchy Gentleman, original one).
Again, as with style, the fun is very much in the experimenting and converging on a solution that’s fully “you”.

Nick

As usually, nice and diverse post. Parfume is one of this subject that can generate endless discussions. I do agree that parfume is very intimate and should be associated with the certain person. People create different ‘anchors’ which can trigger a chain of memories and emotions and parfume is one of such anchors. However, I don’t agree on Oud being wearable only in the evening. Oud is my favourite parfume and I mainly use in pure form, oil and smoking actual oud either around the house or in the wardrobe. I wear it during the day in hot weather. Sydney is always warm during the day. I prefer my perfume be unapologetic. This is how it is worn in the Middle East. It might be my small rebellion act against society, like red socks with the navy suit.

Colin

Fragrance, possibly more than physical things, evokes memories. I’ve found as I’ve got older and especially after starting a family, I’ve yearned for those memories more, which surprised me a little as I never regarded myself an especially sentimental person prior to having kids! My wife bought me a Dunhill scent that I had in the 90’s and ever since then I’ve sought out some of those first fragrances I owned and found that very satisfying

Vitto

In addition to the daytime/nighttime and season categories for scent selection, do you have other, non specific ones (i.e. wearing a scent in Florence or another when meeting a certain person)? For instance: per specific time of day and weather, would you consider wearing different fragrances with smart vs. casual clothing? Something different to a meeting vs. to the park with the family? Or is this more like socks and underwear than it is like clothes?

J

Hi Simon

Have you ever looked into natural perfumes? I get a little concerned by the lack of transparency of ingredients with most fragrances. I’ve settled on Hiram Green as as a natural perfume/fragrance without problematic chemicals but would love to discover others.

Best,
J

Lucas

I’d like to disagree on that one. It might be my personal ”scent profile” (or whatever) but I find that natural (good quality) perfumes are generally better than syntetic ones. Natural perfumes are more complex in each note itself; they are less obtrusive; and they blend better with your skin. My favourite perfumer ended up being Abel Odor.

Anonymous

I second your appreciation of perfumer h an incredible place, beautiful product excellent service. I’ve taken to gifting a candle or two for female friends every year. I highly recommend them #notanad

Scott

I just bought the Creed Original Vetiver two weeks ago as a second Spring/Summer fragrance; the other being Creed Green Irish Tweed.

JDV

I walked into Aquaflor in Florence a few years ago by chance. The shop isn’t really noticeable from the outside. I was advised really friendly. They even suggested to put the two scents I liked most, on each hand, to go out in the evening and come back the next day. Funny enough I was quite disgusted by my favorite of the two after a while. Since then I stick with the winner. I guess my perfume is quite light but elegant, so it works during the day but also in the evening. Every time I’m in Florence with a friend, or a family member they want to go there to find a parfume for themselves.

Alexander

Great article Simon.
Original Vetiver is by far my favorite spring/summer fragrance!
Have you acquainted yourself with spice & wood from the creed house? And if so, what are your thoughts? (I wore it at my wedding for nighttime, whereas I wore Original Vetiver for the daytime ceremony)

Scott

I came a similar conclusion concerning Spice &Wood. I ultimately decided on Viking by Creed which is a fantastic fragrance. It will join Heritage by Guerlain as my other Fall/Winter cologne.

Alex

I stopped wearing Creed’s Green Irish Tweed when I discovered it was Prince Charles’s fragrance of choice.

Anonymous

I’m a Blenheim Bouquet man from Penhaligon.

Rik

Perfume is one of those things that’s just completely passed me by. How and when do you wear it Simon? Is it an everyday or special occasion thing?

Gary Mitchell

I stick with a minimum because enjoy maintaining a familiar smell; even over the year I have probably never worn more than 5 different ones (I mean long term not trial) and that really comes down to 2 different very long term scents. I guess I am not much for change and so I only smell of:
Knize 10
Terre d’Hermes
or gun oil

Anonymous

Interesting topic, Simon. Have you come across Roja Parfums? If so what so you think of them?

Alexander

Same here. My obsession for fragrances stopped somehow, I gave a lot away and now enjoy the favourite ones.
BTW: I think I could not distinguish Original Vetiver from Thierry Mugler‘s Cologne after the opening. But I like both.

Chris Jones

No matter how many I try (by way of well-meaning Christmas or Birthday presents and testers in Department Stores) I ALWAYS (for about 35 years) end up coming back to the same three – Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior (makes even more sense when in the South of France), Fahrenheit by Dior (for the Winter and some Summer evenings) and Dunhill Edition. All have changed their formula since the 1980s (not for the better) but none ever disappoint.

Flynn

Hi Simon,

I tend to simply use what scents I happen to have in the cabinet – usually the one most recently gifted to me.

Now that perfumes have run their course, do they remain your ‘number two obsession’? Or, what was just after it/replaced it?

For me, fountain pens and inks were formerly at the top – but overtaken by clothing and shoes. I’m still searching for the pen with the best combination of balance in the hand and ink flow and thickness of line laid down onto paper.

Alasdair

Hi Simon, thanks for your post. I am a huge perfume fan and long time PS reader but never noticed your previous perfume posts so have really enjoyed delving into them after noticing today’s entry.

I’ve been mulling a Malle purchase for a while after appreciating one of his perfumes from a friend’s old bottle. I am however hesitant after hearing stories of changes to formulations since Estée Lauder acquired the Malle brand a few years ago.

I wondered therefore whether as part of your journey you have encountered the issue of reformulations, in particular when niche brands are bought out? Has this affected your interest in discovering new perfumes, eg because you became interested in one based on its reputation only to be disappointed when trying it?

Many thanks.

Thomas

There are many scents I like, but the three I keep returning to are: Neroli by Czech & Speake, Melograno by S. Maria Novella, and Zizanie de Fragonard in a flacon I bought from the factory in Grasse in 1993. That one puts me back on my honeymoon.

Alexander

You keep your perfumes in the bathroom? I was under the impressionen that light and temperature changes are bad for them. Is that not true?

Ben

Forgive me if this is a strange question Simon, but did you pause wearing a scent when your children were very young? The reason I ask is that I stopped wearing aftershave for the first six months after each of my children were born so that they would be more acquainted with my natural smell than an aftershave that I may change later in life.

Alexander

Dear Ben, yes I did something similar with my fragrances during the first few months. But it was more led by superstition than by anything else.

Liam

Thanks for a really informative post and a helpful insight into a subject that I’ve never really paid much attention to before. This will no doubt be a wormhole that I will gladly dive down for the next few days. Both Fahrenheit and Allure have been past go to fragrances but for the last few years I’ve turned to Blenheim Bouquet because it’s fresh and very wearable during the day. The main issue I have with BB is that it has zero staying power and 5 minutes after application my wife can’t detect it. Time to look for something new.

A

Fragrantica.com is a great resource for learning about different perfumes and ingredients. Lots of detailed articles too. Enjoy the journey!

David

My long term relationships in chronological order have been:
Brut Original (eau de toilette) from ‘69 to ‘72.
Dior Eau Sauvage (eau de toilette) from ‘72 to ‘80.
Guarlain’s Habit Rouge (EDP) from ‘80 to date.
A fragrance is to be selected with great care and with the encouragement of those that are physically close to you.
It is not an item of clothing that can be changed or discarded. It is something that has to be an intrinsic part of you.
Each fragrance will smell slightly different on each individual and equally important to what you wear, is how you wear it. A squirt behind each ear and on each wrist. Do not splash it on all over !
I would no more have a wardrobe of fragrances or a fragrance for each season or time of day than I would swap my vinyl collection for a Spotify membership.

Ferdinand

Do you find there is a strong association between perfume price and quality except for the super cheap stuff? I always have the feeling that there is a lot of irrelevant mumbo jumbo about the exclusiveness or heritage of certain niche brands (or about their allegedly illustrious customers) to justify absurd prices.

I remember the famous Luca Turin recommending Tommy Girl (which sells at £20) as an excellent (ladies) perfume, which seems to confirm these doubts about the relevance of the price signal.

H

For me scent is one of the great pleasures. I restrict myself to 4-5 . I have something of a weakness for Amouage as a house and have Interlude in my final selection. Good memories and associations for me but definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.

Nico

Hi,
Experience or opinions anyone on Truefitt & Hill or Geo F Trumper? Simon? I am looking for some serious lime-based cologne to replace my lately discontinued one.
Thanks,

Nico

Thanks all the same. BTW Notify me of Followup seems not to be working anymore. They keep coming from older posts but not from recent ones. Maybe in need of some debugging.

Nico

Just double checked email and spam, not there to be found. Happened with the last three posts or so, this one included. Previous ones keep sending notifications all right. However all of them are equally listed in My subscriptions.
You are welcome

Nico

Correction, sorry. Your first reply on this post was in spam. Not any of the rest. Random, what?

Ben Frankel

Perfume – one of life’s pleasures, after decades of trial I’d nominate a few greats.
The original Monsieur de Givenchy- sadly now changed badly…
Bandit by Robert Piguet – women’s classic, works well for men and such a cool name!
Sables by Annick Goutal – inspired by sand and suntan oil – now difficult to find .
Avignon by Comme des Garcons, – inspired by cathedral incense –
Eau Sauvage by Dior but the original only.
Many classic perfumes tampered with crudely, beware!

Keith Taylor

I’m in complete agreement with you on Original Vetiver. I’ve tried plenty of fragrances from Creed but this is the one I reach for most often. I like Mugler Cologne as a slightly cheaper alternative, but there’s something about OV that just can’t be matched. It’s the kind of fragrance that can earn you a reputation as that weird guy who keeps smelling himself when he thinks nobody’s watching.

I’m also kicking myself a little bit. Just yesterday I got a nostalgic hankering for the fresh, citrus kick of CK One I enjoyed as a teen, though as I worried it wouldn’t live up to my memory Derek from Die, Workwear suggested that I try Cologne Indelible as a worthy alternative. I was put off by the price and instead went for Tom Ford’s Mandarino di Amalfi, but now I see the second recommendation for Indelible in 24 hours I wonder if I should have invested that little extra.

Keith Taylor

I know myself well enough that I know it’s inevitable I’ll pull the trigger on Indelible within a few weeks. Maybe just a small decant, but I won’t be able to let it go until I’ve tried it. My kingdom for a larger bathroom cabinet 🙂

Dan

Enjoyed this Simon, as I always do when you write about fragrance. It’s a weakness of mine and I have probably accumulated about 30 or 40 over the years. I’ve been considering trimming down the collection and this article has given me further food for thought.

Original Vetiver reminds me of New York. I was in one of the big department stores in Manhattan when I sprayed it for the first time. When I walked out of the store and in to the NYC heat, the fragrance hit me straight away and I’ve loved it ever since. The Malle cologne you mentioned is a favourite as well. Perhaps I’ll try and trim down to 2 or 3 for warm weather and the same for colder seasons, then go from there.

Will

Two of the best places to go for men’s perfume are Liberty’s and Les Senteurs in Belgravia.

To add to the mix of everyone’s recommendations here the scent that has, without doubt, brought me the most spontaneous compliments (and often outright enquiries by men and women) is Santal 33 by Le Labo – be careful though as it’s sillage is large and carries right through the day, but it really is gorgeous.

BB

Hey Simon, you seem to have a knack of making me try something I’d long given up on … remember white trousers! Now perfume. You made me have a rethink which led me to Perfumer H recently. What a joy of a place, the antithesis of perfume counters in the big malls and shops with their off putting pungent odour. I actually revelled in becoming a non-perfume wearer in the past decade. But places like Perfumer H have rekindled my interest. By the way … tried Charcoal and wasn’t smitten. Sorry!