When it comes to smell, I’m incredibly picky. Incredibly. Sensitivity in the olfactory region can make one seem like a snob, but really all you’re trying to do is avoid inhaling anything that makes you want to rip your nose off from all the sinus irritation and sneezing.
I inherited my hypersensitive nose from my mother, who has never worn perfume and sneezes at the slightest molecule blown in on the wind. She can smell a jasmine bush in the neighbour’s garden from 50 metres away from inside her house.
Half the time I don’t want to believe her sensitivity and put it all down to hypochondria, but her nose knows. I think…!
Anyway, I thought I’d start a mini series and talk week by week a few of my favourite perfumes and the scent houses/brands they come from.
My nose is attracted to single notes and linear smells, smells that you might come across in an environment.
I wouldn’t mind smelling as if I had just walked out from a wooden boat workshop, or as if I were an embroidered shawl from the Regency era, taken out of its tissue wrapping after being woven in India and transported by boat to an Elizabeth Bennett, covered in whole spices and wood shavings to keep the moths at bay.
I like spicy, gingery smells because I believe it makes me seem exotic, even though I probably end up smelling like I had curry for lunch and forgot to bring mints for afterwards. I like the nearly savoury smell of the stalk of a tomato; the unripe bud of a rose – emergingly sweet but still green and juicy; upholstered leather, which over the years has absorbed all sorts of pheromones and oils.
Most of what is commercially available pack synthetic notes into a solution – true smells can be made up for thousands of individual chemical compounds. A bottled perfume may only be able to capture less than a hundred of those compounds, and rely on assaulting your nose to the point that you can’t register any particular note distinctly.
Ironically, my love for so called ‘simple’ scents is actually more complex to recreate because you have less to disguise the finished product in.
Like my tendency to limit my clothes options to natural fibre only, this exclusivity means I don’t buy any old bottle off the shelf and end up smelling like a gaggle of 21 year old yuppies doused in Chanel No. 5 and hoping to exude Holly Golightly (although apparently Truman Capote originally penned her wearing 4711, a men’s cologne).