The Love Letter: Coming to My Senses + Olfactif

Jean Honore Fragonard The Love Letter, early 1770's


I am delighted to announce that February’s sample collection from the niche perfume subscription service Olfactif will feature perfumes from Coming to My Senses and some notes and surprises from me throughout the month. If you want to get to the good stuff you can skip everything below and just go here. This is the story of how it happened:


I first discovered Olfactif on Twitter, when one of my non-perfumista friends–or so I thought–tweeted about receiving her monthly box of samples. Wait, I said, your what? Yes, she said, it’s a subscription service for niche perfume. Every month a new box arrives with three samples. There are stories and perfumer interviews on the blog, and a discount if you buy a full bottle.


What? I said, again. How did I not know this? So off I went to the website where among many amusing, helpful things I read this, in the FAQ’s:

     There are only three rules when trying a perfume. Uncap the vial, smell the               wand, then:

     1. If you like it, put it on.

     2. If you’re not sure, put it on.

     3. If you hate it, definitely put it on.


Yes! I said, aloud, to an empty room. Yes!


The site goes on to explain that perfume is very different on skin than it is on paper or in the vial, so you should always try it on and give it time to expand before you judge it. Which is true. But it is also true that when you are first starting to explore perfume you should definitely put on the one you think you hate. Hate is a strong emotion. It indicates you’re already involved with the scent in some way. And–perhaps not just with perfume–it’s remarkable how quickly hate can flip over and become love. Some of my favorite perfumes are scents that first made me draw back in disgust and then, perversely, come back for a second sniff. Any perfume person can tell you the same thing.


I immediately wrote a fan letter to Tara Swords1 the brave and witty person handing out this advice. Hello! I said. This is terrific! I’ve written a book that makes some similar points. Maybe we could do something together?


It took some gumption for me to write that letter. I was nervous about it. So I was surprised and very happy when Tara wrote back to say, essentially, why yes, I’ve read that book and have been meaning to contact you. That’s pretty much how this collaboration has gone from beginning to end. A true back and forth connection.


It was Tara who suggested we collaborate on the February collection. She’d been looking for a non-traditional way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and thought Coming to My Senses would do the trick. This made me very happy, not only because I think Valentine’s Day should be about more than a very narrow definition of romance, but because I’ve always thought of Coming to My Senses as a love letter. This little project allows me to send you all another one.


1 Can we pause a moment to note what a great name Tara has?  She’s practically a Tarot card.


Image: Jean Honore Fragonard, The Love Letter, early 1770′s



Hello Again



I have some news for you, and I should have even more after the next couple of days go by, but let’s catch up a bit first, shall we? It feels wrong to just blurt things out over here. I mean, I”m not against blurting, generally, but it’s more of a Twitter thing, which is a place where I tell my bits of news in between quotes from Walt Whitman, descriptions of the perfume I’m wearing, reports on the tiny flame tattooed between the breasts of the hostess who is seating me (completely true, and she was wearing an outfit where you couldn’t miss it), and running commentary on the French Rom Com I watched last night about two neurotic chocolate makers who are scared of everything and occasionally burst into song. (Better than it sounds, mostly because Isabelle Carré is luminous and utterly watchable, emotions flickering across her face one after the other…)


So, what have you been up to?

Continue Reading

Sweetgrass and the Scent of Rain



When people talk to me about the scents they love, the ones they wish they could carry with them like talismans to ward off the evils of the world, they always talk about rain: Fat drops of summer rain falling on a hot city sidewalk. Thin, gray autumn rain stirring up the scent of fallen leaves. Foggy winter rains, smelling of salt and pine. Spring rains, smelling of cold mud, and then, a few weeks later, smelling of all the new wet green everywhere. Forest rain. Jungle rain. Rain on tomato vines at four in the afternoon…


I can imagine all of these rains and more as I write about them, but my own rain scent, the one that I daydream about without realizing it, is the scent of summer rain on tall blonde grass–and then the scent of the wet grass after the rain, when the sun comes out. I’ve never had any hope of finding that scent in a bottle.  And then a couple of weeks ago I did just that.
Continue Reading

Book Scents: Wind in the Willows


I never loved The Wind in the Willows as a child. My version was abridged in the same way that many children’s copies are–it left out two chapters about Rat and Mole* and put the emphasis squarely on Toad, who baffled and frightened me. This year I picked it up again and I can’t seem to put it down. I still don’t understand Toad’s appeal, but I love Rat and Mole and their friendship with all my heart, and I have a definite crush on Badger, whose varsity sweater (as imagined above by Robert Ingpen) I’d like to borrow and never give back.


What I love best about the book, more than any one character or adventure, is the peculiar yearning sweetness of its tone. It’s a story that’s about longing and restlessness and fear as much as it is about friendship and gentleness. There’s a constant tension in the stories between risk and retreat, adventure and comfort. Toad is on the far end of the risk spectrum, happy-go-lucky, greedy for new experience, chaos personified. Mole is a homebody, worried and nervous, but just as often full of surprise and delight to find himself capable of traveling in a wider world. (And now you know which sort of animal I am most of the time.)


The passage I noticed for the first time today, and want to share with you here, is a moment when Mole is reminded–sharply, poignantly–of the home he leaves behind at the beginning of the book. He and Rat and have been on the road for some time. It’s pitch dark and they are Continue Reading

Smelling is Believing: My Secret Connection at Google


Well, hello there!  I didn’t mean to be gone for so long.  I was having a little trouble with an upcoming post and then I went on a two week social media fast (I needed to stop interrupting myself every five minutes and get some writing done). The blog was supposed to be exempt, but once I was off the internet, I didn’t want to get back on. I enjoy the community here too much to go away forever, but it was good to remember what it was like to be an email-only person, and to hold the possibility in reserve.


Then, just when I needed reminding about the wonders of the internet, my husband sent me a link to Google’s April 1 “release” of “Google Nose” (in Beta, natch).  Those of you who follow the news items over on Now Smell This know that we’ve been hearing rumors about smell enabled smartphones and USB drives for several years now–usually emanating from gadget-obsessed Japan, where a smell app called “Chat Perf” (short for “Perfume” I assume) was released last October–and there are already electronic noses at work sniffing out disease. So it’s a perfect April Fool’s joke–close enough to the truth to be believable but with plenty of room for comedy.


I was enjoying the photo of the woman blissfully sniffing her phone (love the blue nail polish and pearls, too), and then, as I scrolled down the page, giggling over the “People Also Sniffed” section and admiring the perfect description of Wet Dog (“Agressive and foxy with notes of musk and wet towel”) when I noticed something.



It’s probably just a coincidence. I mean, it has to be right? There couldn’t possibly be a secret perfumista living under deep cover inside the Google hive mind, quietly plotting and planning for the perfect moment when it’s possible to unleash her/his perfume evangelism on the world in the clever form of an April Fool’s joke…someone who likes to read?


Smelling is believing, everybody. Smelling is believing.

A Rose in Winter: Yosh Han’s Sottile


In the fall I crave the scent of roses. I want them dark and full blown, like the true red roses in the heart of Teo Cabanel’s Oha, or roughed up by oud and patchouli like the wonderful/unbearable Black Oud by Montale. When fall turns into winter, I like them jeweled, with a touch of frosty pink pepper, like Ormonde Jayne’s regal Ta’if, or swimming in mulled wine and figs like Parfums DelRae’s delicious, jammy Bois de Paradis, or solemn and rich like Caron’s Parfum Sacre, where the wine and spice comes along with plenty of incense.


But then, after all the feasting and color of the holidays, there comes a moment when richness and ornament feels wrong. Continue Reading

And Now I am in Idaho: A Quick Update and a Couple of Interviews


Earlier this week I was in New York finally visiting the Art of Scent exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design. On Tuesday I flew home to Austin, slept for six hours, and then got on a plane to Boise, Idaho where I am now, visiting my parents. This past Friday I was the featured speaker at a fundraiser for the amazing Learning Lab, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children and adults achieve literacy. I can’t imagine my life without reading–my mother tells me that as a toddler  I chewed on cloth books instead of playing with dolls–so I was honored to participate. It was quite an event (840 guests! Including my third grade teacher!).  I’m eager to tell you about it and to write up my thoughts on the Art of Scent exhibit and my recap of the Elements perfume trade show (oh I smelled some lovely things!), but I also want to take advantage of my time here to be with my family, so it may be a few days yet.


In the meantime, here are a couple of interviews I did for Idaho Public Television’s Dialogue, with very smart host, Marcia Franklin, the last time I was here.  The first is about half and hour and includes lots of general conversation about perfume, feminism, reading and writing. The second is a shorter “web extra” in which I attempt to share some perfume (Eau d’Italie’s Paestum Rose, Ginestet’s Botrytis, and a vintage version of Balmain’s Jolie Madame) with Marcia on the air.  After the interviews were over the whole studio staff hung out with me for awhile, sniffing and trying things on. It was great fun.


If you’ve seen these before–they aired over the holidays and were posted on Facebook and Now Smell This but never made it on to the blog–it is well worth checking out the Dialogue site for other author interviews. Ms. Franklin has spoken to quite a range of people, most of them far more interesting than me.




Image: The opening image for Paul Searle’s charming short video “Grown in Idaho,” Grand Prize Winner of the Idaho Potato Festival.



Going to Elements Showcase and Good Luck to the 2013 FiFi Indie Nominees


Tomorrow I’ll be at the Elements Showcase, a perfume trade show specializing in independent and artisan perfumes. The show runs both 1/28-1/29 and is free and open to the public–you just have to register first–so if you are curious about perfume and somewhere near New York City, I highly recommend stopping by. In addition to sniffing my way through the offerings I”m hoping to run into lots of internet friends I haven’t met in real life, and some older ones I have. I’ll be reporting what I see and smell on Twitter. If you are attending the show and would like to say hello feel free to try tweeting at me. I’m not sure of my hours, but I’d love to see some readers there.


On Monday evening, Elements will be hosting the 2013 Fifi Indie Awards. The Fifi’s are the perfume industry’s version of the Oscars, and are organized by the industry’s non-profit arm, the Fragrance Foundation. Continue Reading

Book Scents: Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion


I’ve been under the weather for the past week with one of those awful colds that are going around (please everyone, rest up, wash your hands a lot and take your Vitamin C) so I haven’t been doing a lot of writing or smelling, but I’ve been doing plenty of reading. I first read Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion  nearly ten years ago.  I was dazzled, seduced–then disaffected. I wanted my literature to have a firm grip on the world’s pain and Winterson’s beautiful surfaces and playfulness struck me as cheating, somehow.  Or maybe I just felt foolish for liking them so much…


I returned to The Passion this week because I’ve been thinking a lot about fairy tales–why and how we tell them, and what our modern versions look like. I feel differently about dazzle now, and this time around The Passion‘s gorgeous magic struck me as a poignant, necessary counterpart to the equally unbelievable extremes of war. Continue Reading

Merry and Bright: Holiday Scents, Present and Missed


I’m here in Austin for Christmas this year. So far my holiday smells of black tea, sleeping cats, jewel-bright Satsuma tangerine peels, star anise, the pine branches I gathered up at the Christmas tree stand (we don’t have a tree, but I have to have that scent in the house), the sweet-smoky burnt brown sugar of the Scotch I drank with a friend last night (it was aged in rum casks), the rich floral citrus of candied citron–first, bubbling on the stove and then, surprisingly, in the air when I cut up the candied strips into the amber triangles above–the apricot-and-soft-leather scent of my tiny osmanthus tree, staying inside until the night temperatures rise above freezing, and, unfortunately, a huge overdose of piñon smoke, because the cats, in a more active moment, managed to close the broken flue vent and then forgot to tell us.


And oh yes, perfume: Since we’ve finally had several cold days in a row, I’ve been wearing Continue Reading