Perfumes for Grandes Dames


I’ve been wanting to do a post on my so-conceived ‘parfums des grandes dames’ for a little while now and then I saw this review of Une Fleur de Cassie on Now Smell This and I figured it was time.  Time to create a moment.  The urge may have originally been born out of this post on Perfume Posse, which is frankly from more than a month ago, but it needed time to marinate.

So thinking about fragrances for adult women.  And obviously take this with a grain of salt, given that I’m only recently legally able to drink.    I don’t much think about my preferred fragrances in terms of ages or ‘maturity levels’ so much as feelings and smells that appeal to me. But if I were consciously thinking about it, and what makes a perfume ‘womanly’, well, there are definitely things to be said.

The vast majority of mainstream fragrance releases these days seem to be fruity florals or tooth-achingly sweet gourmands, and those are both genres that I can enjoy, but this obsession with the innocent and saccharine is a bit worrisome.  Perfumes shouldn’t need to be clean or barely there.  And women shouldn’t need to be quiet or youthful to be ‘tolerated’.

In the simplest terms, there is a lot more to the archetypal ‘woman’ than the part of her that is a ‘girl’.  Being a woman is about ambition, power, sex, beauty, motherhood, exploration, and so many more things.
And in that way that people have, that idea also has a scent, in my mind. Or a type of scent with a lot of variation. Because there are many types of women.

The common denominator: All are full, luscious, and complicated.  All of them are somewhat ‘tricky’. They’re dignified even to the point of being standoffish. They’re proud. Just like you should be! 🙂

Une Fleur de Cassie, Frederic Malle:
Obviously, because this was one of the fragrances that triggered this post (Thanks Angela at NST!).  It’s the fragrance that I’m wearing today.  A spicy-musky-powdery floral.  But the powder, rather than being the scent of vanillic sugar or cosmetics, is the potent powder of pollen.  The pollen of acacia and mimosa , mixed with the dry pepper spiciness of carnation. And the dirty sweaty spiciness of cumin.  It’s strange and warm and luscious and provocative.

Le Parfum de Therese, Frederic Malle:
If UFdC is raunchy, Le Parfum de Therese is reserved and cool as a cucumber, without actually containing any cucumber whatsoever.  It was designed by the great Edmond Roudnitska for his wife, Therese, and is all about a mossy jasmine-melon combination.  It’s radiant and firm, the adult alternative to so many fruity florals on the market, given its background by the almost-bitter moss and the indolic funk of the jasmine.  Because even women you might compare to a summer’s day have hidden depths.

Mitsouko, Guerlain:
I’m always here for Mitsouko, the dusky peach of autumn.  It’s plush, pillowy, even languorous.  A soft trail of glowing gold and russet spices and an impending, bursting ripeness that you can feel even without the scent of any real ‘juice’.  As if the skin of the peach were bruised but not broken.  Like LPdT, an underlying mossiness keeps it somehow tamped down and ages it like a fine wine. Mistook is self-assured, secure, substantive, and experienced.

L’Heure Bleue, Guerlain:
Is it true that they originally envisioned Mitsouko for brunettes and L’Heure Bleue for blondes? If so, it’s utter nonsense because I require both for a happy life.  Remember (says the 21 year old), grown women do not allow the energy hey choose to bring to their lives be defined by appearance-based expectations.
Anyway, l’Heure Bleue. It’s perhaps the most abstract sweet treat you’ve ever smelled. Or perhaps the most abstract flower? It’s all about a delicate sweetness and nostalgia, the scents of warmed almond and heliotrope, pallid iris, soft anise and clove spices over a vaguely floral blanket.  It feels to me nurturing and romantic at once, with the smallest sad smile.

Beloved Woman, Amouage:
I’m a great fan of Beloved Woman because it is so completely grandiose.  Immortelle (a maple syrup-honey type note) is always dangerous to play with, but its thickness fits in so perfectly here, with a sweet and spicy rose and growling civet.  It’s indulgent. It’s demanding. It’s like a gilt canopy bed with piles of blankets of every imaginable heavy fabric: damask, velvet, satin, and everything all together.  It’s not exactly bad taste, but it’s so much good taste that it almost could be. At the very least, it is quite maximalist.

Jubilation Woman, Amouage:
I ran out of Jubilation a while ago (cries) so I’m going to have to go off of memory here.  It smelled of so many ripe stone fruits, their sweetness dampened by smoky incense and warm resins. But mostly it’s about the fruit and spice combo. Somehow it avoids smelling edible- either savory or sweet- and stays in enveloping, well-mannered, and hospitable. It’s not acquisitive like Beloved is, but it smells like heritage, knowledge, and an eye for appreciation of quality. It’s like an old tapestry.

Nuit Noire, Mona di Orio:
Nuit Noire is a fun one because it develops very noticeably from beginning to end. What I find most compelling about it is its enduring sense of the feral.  There is a distinct furriness and animalism just barely covered by the orange blossom and spices. It is, perhaps, the most potently and explicitly sexy of all of the fragrances listed here. I’m reading the reviews on Fragrantica and seeing a few saying that it is definitely not meant to be worn by women. Well, that’s the kind of glass ceiling I like to break.
(Stop repressing female sexuality and let me smell like an orange blossom on heat if I fucking want to).

So in the end, can I draw any conclusions as to the notes that to me smell like real live grown up women?
Kind of.  I see a lot of body smells- whether from spices, animalics, or floral indols. Many instances of spices, lots of fruit.  Most of these fragrances also have a warm feel, which I think goes with the imagined embodiment of a real person. And also florals, but florals in a fragrance isn’t particularly groundbreaking.

I had fun! Hope you did as well. Also, what did I miss?

Honorable Mentions: Amoureuse by Parfums DelRae, Femme by Rochas, Rubj by Vero Profumo, Tropic of Capricorn by Olympic Orchids, Epic Woman by Amouage, Nahema by Guerlain, Shalimar by Guerlain.

(Something that just occurred to me: It isn’t my intention to define womanhood as a whole with this narrow range of perfumes. There are may ways of being a woman (or a man), most of which have nothing to do with gender.)

2 thoughts on “Perfumes for Grandes Dames”

  1. I found your blog through your comment on th NST review and I love this list! In my mind, a few other “grande dame” perfumes would be (vintage) Opium and EL’s Youth Dew. You have a lovely blog!


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