Naming Names: Chapter One Perfume Round-up


People, I’ll be honest. There are so many perfumes in this little book of mine that I’m not sure I’ll ever get them all named and written about, even with big round-ups like this one. But I’ll continue trying for awhile yet…

Many people have asked for the names of the perfumes packed into the long paragraph that begins on page 12, with  “The scent of dry summer heat shimmering above asphalt, dusty earth and the blond grass of the foothills that surround the city of my childhood.” Giving a good answer is a little tricky, since only some of these smells are straightforward descriptions of perfumes, while others are scent memories, or pieces of perfumes, or some combination of all three.

The nameable perfumes I had in mind include: Les Nez’s Let Me Play the Lion (“the scent of dry summer heat…”), which I’ve written about here and down near the end of this postAnnick Goutal’s Chevrefeuille, (“the high singing scent of lemons fading to the spring green of honeysuckle…”) which was one of the answers to the giveaway, as were Etat Libre’s Jasmin et Cigarette (“The scent of night-blooming jasmine…with a touch of ashtray) and Frederic Malle’s En Passant.


Donna Karan’s Black Cashmere (“The soft smoke blanket of incense pierced by a fretwork of spice..) really deserves a whole post of its own, since it is one of my true standbys, and gets only a single, incomplete line here. It is less a true incense scent than a woody one, dense and dark, as befits its name. The incense emerges at the tail end of the dry down after the fireworks of spice upfront and it as more ashes than smoke–I always imagine the white fur on a burning coal when I smell it. The version I’m writing about here is the original formulation, which was sold in a striking black pebble bottle, rather than the 2008 re-released formulation in the handsome, if boring, black column. It is likely that the restrictions on eugenol, which I discussed in my previous post are what have made the spices in the current Black Cashmere a little quieter, but it is still very much worth smelling.


From here on out, things get much more impressionistic. “The lush rot of overblown roses wrapped in velvet,” is a reference to Jean Desprez’s Bal a Versailles, in the Eau de Parfum version, though it is definitely an incomplete description of that grand old perfume. Likewise, the mandarines, bitter chocolate and leather in the next sentence (I keep writing “scentence”) are part of, but not the whole of, my beloved Coco from Chanel, which, like Black Cashmere, also been through several reformulations but remains worthwhile seeking out “The thick wine scent of honey” is simply a description of honey, but also a reference to Botrytis, which I’ve already written about here.  My luscious peach was a hint of Mitsouko and her granddaughter, the luscious brightness at the heart of Rochas’ modern formulation of Femme.  I would love suggestions on true, solifruit peach perfumes. (You can read Victoria Frolova’s excellent post on the use of peach notes in perfumes here. The comments are terrific, too.)


The rest of the paragraph I will leave alone since the references are really too vague to pin down, but I do recommend that you smell Santa Maria Novella’s Eva if you are looking for the scent of hay (plus a touch of new leather car seats and some lemon sunshine) and some day I’ll write a full tribute to the salty skin and oranges-via-Paris sophistication that  Hermes’ Eau de Merveilles which I firmly maintain is much naughtier than everyone makes it sound.


What else? The “boozy amber, a rare, perfect first guess” (pg 16) that I found for the documentary filmmaker is Parfum d’Empire’s Ambre Russe, known to its anti-fans on Perfume Posse as “Rasputin’s Armpit” (pg 73). (It also makes a brief appearance on pg 195, where I describe the joke in its opening–a big blast of vodka.) It’s a fierce thing, with plenty of black tea and leather along with the rich amber, and the booze never completely dies out. When I decant some for a friend–the bottle is huge and seems to replenish itself–it inevitably dribbles so I’ve learned to keep a kleenex wrapped around my hand. The next day the lingering scent from that kleenex in my trashcan turns my office into a book-lined study with leather furniture, green-shaded lamps and a fresh supply of pipe tobacco out on the desk.


Ambre Russe could very well also be one of the scents that smell of “whiskey, leather and sweat” on page 17, but the one my friend ended up with was Serge Lutens’ Fumerie Turque, a rich sweet tobacco scent redolent of all three of those things. Do try CB I Hate Perfume’s Second Cumming on that score, too. If you have other recommendations I’d like to hear them.


And the documentary maker’s original perfume?  The one that saved her in Paris?


That’s her secret to tell, not mine.

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  • Esperanza says:

    Great to read the perfumes you wrote about in Coming to my senses. I was wondering about the scent of honey and the perfume you were referring to. Do not know if you have tried it but Ramon Monegal Cuirelle reminds me of liquid honey. More like suede than leather.

    • Alyssa says:

      Hi Esperanza, thanks for dropping by. The honey scent Ginestet’s Botrytis. I gave it a post to itself as well as the mention above. It’s down near the bottom of the list in the right hand colunmn, “That Honey Perfume: A Confession.”

    • Alyssa says:

      Oh, and no, I haven’t tried Cuirelle. It sounds wonderful, I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

  • Patty says:

    Well, we call it Rasputin’s Armpit with love! I totally missed Eva, but it may be because it was mixed up with Merveilles. I kept thinking one of the other of them, but couldn’t decide. This explains why!


    • Alyssa says:

      Ha, ha! I know you do. That and The Nazgul. And I think of that love everytime I wear them. :-) Honestly, Patty, I think you’re up to black belt judo level of guessing to even come up with those two names. They were both in my mind when I was writing, but I didn’t really mean to describe them–I sort of wanted the description to be bigger than the single perfumes, if that makes any sense. (Probably not to anyone but me.)

  • Elisa says:

    Have you tried Boucheron Jaipur? It’s a big fat peachy apricot with a little bit of rose (by rose queen Sophia G)

    • Alyssa says:

      Ah! No I haven’t, but I will now. Doesn’t Grojsman’s original formulation of Tresor a big rose/peach accord in the heart?

  • Dionne says:

    Black Cashmere is one of my own top three (post-reformulation), so it’s lovely to see it mentioned here. And a sample of Botrytis arrived this week because of you so I’ll try that soon.

    I’d also be interested in hearing about solifruit peach perfumes. The first ten minutes of Neela Vermeire’s Bombay Bling is the biggest, juiciest, most realistic peach/mango note I’ve ever smelled, and I wanted it to last longer. Until I smelled it, I had no idea I “needed” a peach perfume in my wardrobe. ;)

    • Alyssa says:

      Interesting! I think I have an untried sample of Bombay Bling. Will have to test very soon.

      And now, of course, I need to know what the other two of your top three are.

      • Dionne says:

        One of them is Ormonde Woman, and the other is my “rotating” option. A cheat, I know. Some major contenders are 28 la Pausa, Cuir Ottoman, Ambre Fétiche, Heure Exquise….. I like to keep my possibities open.;)

        • Alyssa says:

          I love how varied your tastes are! Black Cashmere and Ormonde Woman are both dark, but other than that they’re varied as can be. And your list runs from amber to iris. Lovely.

  • Julie says:


    I know I’m a little late commenting, so I hope your blog gives you a notification of some sort. Just wanted to let you know that the best peach perfume I know of is Peche Cardinal by MDCI. Simply amazing! Hope you are able to try it one day :)

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you, Julie! And yes, I got notifications on all comments. When the notification system is working. Which is almost all the time.
      I definitely need to try Peche Cardinal. I forgot I hadn’t when I was in Osswald this fall, but I’ll be back.

      • Julie says:

        Yay, you received my comment! Thanks for responding – Peche Cardinal is a delight! Birgit of Olfactoria’s Travels did a lovely and thorough review on it.

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