That Honey Perfume: A Confession

 

I had such good intentions. There were—there are!—so many things I wanted to tell you. There were the book events in Austin and New York, and a magical trip to Orcas Island. I still owe you a recipe for jasmine bellinis, not to mention recipes and a report on the scent dinner I did way back in, um, I’m sorry, were you saying something?

 

 

So. How to make it up to you? Why don’t we get straight to the answer of the number one question people have been asking me about the book (and thank you, thank you for all your notes, comments, tweets and emails, every one feels like a little miracle to me). Namely: What is the name of that honey perfume? You know, the one in Chapter Two that V. says smells like you?

Here it is folks: Botrytis.

 

 

Pretty, isn’t it? But that name. It sounds like a disease—shivery aches and pains, the occasional gob of green phlegm. And botrytis is, in fact, an infection. A mold, to be precise. Its formal name is Botrytis Cinerea and to gardeners, especially devoted rose growers, it sounds like death and disfigurement, beauty blasted on the vine.

 

Roses with botrytis from Pardon My Garden.

Semillon grapes with “noble rot.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But for wine people—ah, for wine people botrytis is “the noble rot” and it brings to mind warm spice, raw honey, ripe apricots and the golden sunlight of October. Only grapes infected with botrytis undergo the mysterious sugar-concentrating flavor transformation that makes it possible to create the renowned sweet wine, Sauternes.

 

Working with botrytis is not an easy or predictable process. Sometime no mold appears. Sometimes there’s too much. The grapes must be watched carefully and picked by hand, in some cases grape by grape, as they reach shriveled perfection. The amount of Sauternes produced each year is small, and the price for a truly excellent bottle can be astonishingly high. So I imagine that for wine growers botrytis also sounds like work and risk and the tantalizing promise of rich rewards.

 

Botrytis, the perfume, is produced by Ginestet, a venerable French wine company. I like to think the name came about as a result of their charming single-minded chauvinism. Mais non, their thinking must have gone, Botrytis! C’est le pourriture noble! Tout le monde le sait!  Or maybe not. Maybe they were so sure they never questioned themselves.*

 

I’m sure you can see now, why it was tricky for me to include the name of the perfume in that first scene of discovery.** But I have to confess that’s not the whole story.

 

Something else held me back. At first I thought it was fear that others would judge my taste. Then I wondered if it was just a simple, if selfish, desire to hold on to at least one special perfume for myself. Maybe it was a little of both. But I finally realized the biggest reason was something harder to explain.

 

I wanted to write about Botrytis as it smelled to me the first time I discovered it. I wanted to write about the perfume that overwhelmed me with its beauty and made my knees buckle. The one that made me want to dress up. The one that made me walk into the room in a way that made V. look at me and then look at me again.

 

And that Botrytis was not quite the Botrytis that was in my perfume closet when I began writing. By then, I had smelled a lot more perfume. And there was a point, after I had worn it again and again, when Botrytis began to smell—those of you who have read the book will appreciate the irony here—too sweet. A little simple. I gave a fair amount of it away. I tucked it a little farther back in the closet. It was still there when I began to write the book.

 

So I left it unnamed and wrote about my memories. Named, Botrytis was a thing that belonged to the world. Unnamed, it was just mine.

 

But then a curious thing happened. Writing about it, remembering how I loved it, reading that passage aloud and sharing the perfume with people at events, I began to fall in love with Botrytis again. I could still smell its flaws, but I could smell the rich, golden wonder that I’d found in the first place, too. Sweet wine, raw honey and October sunlight. I can’t wait until it’s finally cool enough in Austin for me to wear it again.

 

Botrytis is still in production and as far as I can tell has not been reformulated. It is available at Beautyhabit and Luckyscent where, in spite of its strange name and some negative comments in the reviews (do try a sample first, honey can be a tricky note for many people) I was told it is a bestseller especially beloved by brides.

 

P.S. Come on back tomorrow (later today if you’re reading this Thursday) and I’ll have some Botrytis to give away. And on Friday we can all have a drink together. I finally worked out the measurements for those jasmine bellinis.

 

*Or maybe they asked it in better French. Mine is wobbly at best.

**One of my advance readers pointed out that I could have included an explanation later in the book. She had strong feelings on the matter, and even scolded me a little, because she thought that by leaving the perfume unnamed I failed to stand up for my own tastes and undermined my message. I said she was no doubt right, but the book had already gone to press. And then I promised her I would write this post.

 

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27 Comments

  • Olga (Warum) says:

    Yay, I guessed it! :)
    Well, a better more formal comment to follow. But so far — a yell out for my joy :)

    • Alyssa says:

      I feel like I should have prizes to hand out! A free serving of honeycomb for all good guessers. *proffers sticky plate*

      • Olga (Warum) says:

        Check your comments, Alyssa, I brought one over — a wild flowers honeycomb for you. And I know that it is probably not a huge deal to have guessed it, you have certainly left enought cues, but I was still exhilarated — well, because your writing gave a new life to this perfume!

  • Olga (Warum) says:

    Alyssa,
    thank you for a beautiful post that touches on a familiar nerve (at least, to me). In a novel I read the heroine said, “there are some things I love, there are some things I hate, and sometimes these things swap places.” Yep, aha. It does happen! And sometimes there is a bottle in my perfume closet (it’s actually not a closet, but I can just point the reader to the discussion of a closet in your book) that blinks at you as if it says, “You thought this was not about you, huh. Think again.”

    I am so happy that you kept “that honey perfume” unnamed in the book. Because it made it possible for me to — yes, eventually guess it and get a thrill from it — but also be able to identify with you. I, too, had a honey perfume. I, too, have heard sharp negative things said about it (* in The Guide, anyone?). It is still to me my golden honey goodness, my history of honey — pollen, honey, and then beeswax — when I am brave enough to wear it. The perfume name is different, and I may be worried that if I say it here even the gracious host would not be able to stifle her “Ugh” and would choke on her jasmine bellini :)))) But the experience of meeting a perfume that is sweeter than honey and better than gold and invoke something that is sweeter than honey and better than gold is pretty darn close, mine and yours. At least I have recognized mine in yours. And the experience is what it is all about. Not the name, not the brand, not the FB — but the experience, one thing that we get to keep yet cannot quite keep.

    I am glad that you are able to enjoy your honey perfume again! and thank you for a lovely post.

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you for this gorgeous comment, Olga! But you should have no shame on here. All tastes and loves are welcome. May I guess? Is it a certain famously difficult perfume by Mr. Lutens?

      • Olga (Warum) says:

        Alyssa,
        guessing is fun! It is not made by Serge Lutens. In fact the perfume in question is from the house that does not seem to carry as much credibility in perfume community as SL does.

  • Cymbaline says:

    I received a copy of your book for my birthday, yesterday and I read the whole darn thing in one sitting…Wah : ( It was wonderful! From your description of the bottle I did suspect it was Botrytis. I haven’t gotten ’round to smelling any of the Ginestet’s yet, but soon…

    • Alyssa says:

      Happy Birthday! I hope your day was full of fun and celebration. And that the book went down well in one big gulp. :-) I have to try the other Ginestet’s myself. The Le Boise is so darn cute in its wine bottle and wooden casket.

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams says:

    I am too clueless about perfume to have guessed the name, but I totally understand wanting to keep it a bit private. But it’s also fun to learn its name now. :) Love this post and am excited to see the blog start back up – now for those jasmine bellinis!

    • Alyssa says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Katie! I think the perfumista crowd has been guessing at the unnamed ‘fumes for awhile now. I actually tried to leave some clues for them. Drinks tomorrow, bright and early!

  • dabney says:

    definitely more sophisticated to leave an unknown..

    • Alyssa says:

      Maybe! But at least now people can try it if they want to. It might not be the thing I smelled for them, but they can have their own adventure.

  • breathesgelatin says:

    YAY! Here comes Alyssa’s new blog. Very exciting.

    Glad you are rediscovering Botrytis. I actually think honey perfumes bloom nicely in the Austin heat. I wore Back to Black a few times this July :)

    • Alyssa says:

      Hello there! Thanks for the welcome! I can wear some big things in the heat–white flowers, leather, incense–but I just can’t bring myself to do sweet. I believe you, though. Bet the heat brings our Back to Black’s tobacco aspect. (That’s By Killian Back to Black for the new folks, not a posthumous celeb perfume from poor Amy W.)

    • Alyssa says:

      Also, I have been told many times to try Serge Lutens Miel de Bois in the heat. So far I’m too much of a wimp.

  • Tama says:

    Yay, it is revealed! I know someone else who had it figured out but I was clueless. I remember trying Botrytis once from a puny sample and being smitten enough to put it away again in terror, but that was very early on in my perfume adventure. I need to find it in the morass of samples again.

    Great post – nice explanation of the Noble Rot!

    • Alyssa says:

      Ha! I love that “smitten enough to put it away in terror.” Oh yes. I’ll be putting up a giveaway post for some samples in an hour or two so come back if you don’t want to dig.

  • Poodle says:

    I understand wanting to keep your favorites a secret sometimes. There are certain scents that I love and although I’d love to get a compliment on them I almost hope I don’t so I don’t have to divulge the name. Glad you are able to love that fragrance again.
    I just started reading your book and it’s scary how much I can relate to what you’re saying. I’m looking forward to the long weekend and making some time to read more of it.

    • Alyssa says:

      I’m glad everyone knows now, though. :-) So glad you are enjoying the book. I’m looking forward to a little lazy reading time this long weekend, too.

  • Natalie says:

    The honey perfume has a name! Earlier I planned on checking out your blog, then searching to unravel the honey mystery, you saved me a search, thanks! Just started the book Wednesday, am loving it, you describe the perfume obsession to a T.. Looking forward to finishing the book -although when I’m in love with a book I tend to linger and mull things over rather than finishing it up quickly, I hate to finish a book I’m enjoying, so I’m lingering right now :)

    • Alyssa says:

      So glad you are enjoying it! Hopefully by the time you’re done I’ll have written up a few more of the ‘fumes. But you can always just ask if you are very curious.

  • Mals86 says:

    Yep, I guessed too. Despite never having smelled it myself, the description seemed familiar enough (and, hey, I’m friends with Ruth/Dear Daisy, who enjoys it!).

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the hints and descriptions, and am looking forward to further revelations.

  • annemariec says:

    I guessed it too, but I’m so glad all is revealed! I have worn Botrytis a couple of times on quite warm days and found it did really well. My warmer skin may have brought out a bit more sillage because generally I find Botrytis wears rather close. If I could change anything, I’d make it a bit more diffusive.

    It is densely sweet bit for me that is balanced perfectly by a pronounced tobacco note that I enjoy immensely. I think you might have mentioned autumn leaves at some point, so perhaps we are perceiving something similar, something dark/earthy/herbal that balances the sweetness. With Botrytis I mostly don’t get a pyramid structure, but a push-me-pull-you kind of tension between the honey and the tobacco. Oh, yes, and a gentle vanilla at the end, but that takes hours to emerge.

    Since discovering Botrytis I have been exploring honey in other ways. I’ve been buying different sorts of pure honey and sometimes my 10yo daughter and I have honey tastings. Fun!

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