Scents & Sensibility
She sidled up next to me, trying on a harmless but inquisitive tone. “Did you just meet with the president of the company?” she asked.
I was taken aback; I had, in fact, just met with him, in my typical style- to share my observations about what was going wrong, as I saw it. Also in my typical style, I hadn’t shared this information with anyone.
“I did…,” I hesitated, then smiled. “How did you know?”
“Your PERFUME!” she beamed, having solved the case. “I walked into my meeting with him and immediately asked if he’d met with you. I could still smell your amazing perfume in his office!”
Stealth, I was not. Perhaps signature scents don’t mix well with going incognito. But my pride at her flattery superseded any concern about my meeting’s intention being known.
I come by my obsession with fragrance honestly – it’s in my blood. The National reports: “Throughout history, Arabs have used fragrance as a form of art, a symbol of reverence, and a token of beauty. In the 13th century the Sufi Arab mystic, Ibn Arabi, wrote in his masterpiece, Pearls of Wisdom, ‘of all the worldly goods, three things are dearest to my heart: perfume, women and prayer.”
The Arab world was instrumental to the evolution of the fragrance industry as we know it. It was Arab perfumers who developed the traditions and techniques that laid the foundation for the industry today. And one must only look so far as wardrobe to understand why this is; in a region where modest dressing is de riguer (and many in the gulf region wear abayas or dishdashes), the face and the scent become the focus. In fact, Emiratis- along with their Persian Gulf neighbors in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman, are the biggest spenders per capita on luxury perfume in the world- buying as much as 3 times as much perfume as their Western counterparts. As for my own country of origin, Syria, it was the birthplace of the Damask rose (the name refers to Damascus, Syria, where the flower is said to have originated).
All of which is to say that my affinity for fragrance runs deep, and my collection is a reflection of the places I’ve been and the memories I’ve made in them, At one point, another former colleague and I almost started a boutique perfumerie business here in NYC. While we never pursued that particular passion (aedes de Venustas and MiN New York have a great collection if you share our affinity), I wanted to share a smaller selection of my favorites with you today. Herewith, my Top Five.
Acqua di parma: Blu Mediterraneo – Mirto di Panarea
My husband says of all the perfumes I wear, this is his favorite, as it reminds him of our early days. Because of this, I made the decision to wear it on our wedding day, a sweet throwback to those times.
I first bought this scent years ago at the Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and have since repurchased it a number of times.This perfume is a sea breeze, combining aromatic notes of myrtle and basil with lemon and bergamot, a hint of jasmine and rose, and a base of juniper, cedar wood and amber. It is fresh and evocative; a perfect summer scent, although I often wear it year round. This whole line is delicious- traditional, crisp, and beautiful.
Sospiro Collection: Allegro
The only word for this perfume is intoxicating. I discovered and purchased it in Dubai as it was originally released exclusively for the Middle East market by Xerjoff, and is only recently getting wider distribution. The experience of wearing this scent begins with holding its bottle, a smooth velvet that is luxurious to the touch, but it is the scent inside that I am over the moon for. The scent opens with grapefruit and a light application of pink pepper, then gives way to a soft duet of lavendar and rose. Where the quality of this perfume comes through, though, is in the 3rd layer of fragrance, comprised of sandalwood, cashmere and a tiny bit of oud, an effect that perfume reviewers call “a woody fantasia.”
This fragrance is a definite splurge but I love to wear it for a special dinner or evening. It’s absolutely gorgeous and its depth is unsurpassed. Legend status.
I also discovered this one in Dubai although Penhaligon’s is much more readily available in the US. I must have spent a full day at the Dubai Mall smelling every perfume, and came away with some definite winners. This one is also a departure for me as it is sweeter than most of my favorites, but it is so unique that I couldn’t leave it behind. Vaara is inspired by the Royal House of Marwar-Jodphur in Rajasthan, and started life as the passion of His Highness Gaj Singh II who wanted to reflect his family’s deep love and connection with Jodhpur. Later, perfumer Bertand Duchaufour’s journey to Jodhpur provided him with an abundance of inspiration for the fragrance and the end result, Vaara, was born. The perfume has head notes of quince, rosewater, carrot seed, and saffron, heart notes of moroccan rose, Bulgarian Rose, Freesia, Indian Magnolia, Peony and Iris, and base notes of honey, white musk, cedarwood, sandalwood, benzoin resin (<– note that I have no idea what this is) and tonka bean. Due to its sweetness, I think this scent is a great spring/fall choice (I generally save the heavy ouds for winter, and the crisp citruses for summer).
Jo Malone: Velvet Rose & Oud Cologne
This is the perfume that lurks in conference rooms and on shirt collars alike, so wield its power wisely. I bought this at the Jo Malone store on Bleecker street, near our old apartment. This is a gorgeous mix of dark damask rose, wrapped in smoky oud wood, then spiked with clove and decadent praline. Rich, textural and magnetic; and even my most masculine man friends have been known to spritz it on and comment on how incredibly it smells. On second thought, this might actually be a cologne, but I don’t subscribe to labels and nor should you.
Carthusia I Profumi di Capri: Mediterraneo
My mother is allergic to most perfumes and Carthusia is the only exception due to how natural it is; after she and my father returned from Capri they couldn’t stop raving about this boutique. Later, when we were in Capri on our honeymoon, we stopped by and I fell head over heels for Mediterraneo. It smelled like August in paradise, and I needed to bring back a piece of it with me so that I could always remember it. Based on an old recipe used at the Monastery of St. Giacomo, and reconfigured for Carthusia, it is bright and exuberant- an instant classic. The scent starts with tart, juicy lemons (which are in cartoonish abundance on the Amalfi coast), then journeys into crushed green tea leaves, lemon verbena, and a hint of lime peels. There are also vague hints of other fruits and florals and a distinctly, every so slightly soapy scent which is complete perfection on a summer day. Carthusia also makes intoxicating home fragrances and incense, which were placed in abundance throughout the Hotel Ceasar Augustus where we stayed. They are all divine.
And there you have it, a trip around the world, from Chicago to New York, Capri to Dubai, and throughout the seasons of the year and the illusions of time. Which fragrances spark your memory and moods?