If I Could Have Only 10 Perfumes…


My collection has never been very large (at least by the standards of most perfume lovers) but I still have a lot of trouble playing the ‘pick only ten perfumes’ game- a favorite masochistic mental exercise of the fragrance community.
The game is presented in different forms- 10 perfumes for a deserted island, 10 perfumes to save from your burning house, 10 perfumes to wear exclusively for the rest of your life.

Anyone who collects has an idea why this is so difficult- and it’s really tempting to turn to logical shortcuts to make the list-making easier.  Which of my perfumes are the most expensive? The most irreplaceable? Which ones do I own in rare vintages? Which are discontinued and gone?

I went through my collection a few days ago with the goal of culling the perfumes that no longer *sparked joy* when I held them (Thanks Marie Kondo). And I came out with only a 5 mL decant of Montale’s Patchouli Leaves ready to be let go of (it’s a cruder, more brutish version of Chanel’s Coromandel, which I prefer- but both are excellent chocolate patchoulis, with the Montale feeling more resinous).  Even if I didn’t make significant inroads into diminishing my perfume collection, I reconfirmed for myself my love of and attachment to what I do have.

And that’s how I got the idea to do this post- avoiding context-based cheats and focusing only on which feel the most intrinsically *me* when I smell them.

Not in any order:

L’Air de Rien, Miller Harris: My longest love.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, L’Air de Rien was what I think of as the purchase that initiated me into perfumista-dom.  It’s not generally seen as easy to love, but it jives really beautifully with what I like- musks, booziness, a hint of sweet amber patchouli. It has a kind of dirty lived in quality that reminds me of horses and dust.  Very comfortable and very me.

Bois d’Argent, Dior: The no-brainer.
I bought a small decant of Bois d’Argent toward the beginning of college and have been seriously surprised by the speed with which I’ve been going through it.  It’s one of the easiest perfumes in my collection to spray on when I want something that won’t put demands on my focus. It’s a very accommodating kind of fragrance.  Predominantly a mix of incense, honey, and iris, it straddles the line between cool and warm, familiar and reserved.

Le Temps d’Une Fete, Parfums de Nicolai: The last minute discovery.
Le Temps d’Une Fete is the only truly GREEN perfume that I love, and that’s been true since the first time I tried it.  I sampled my sample, fell in love immediately, and then the next day the news came out that it would be one of a few PdN discontinuations. Despite being pressed for money I snapped up one of Nicolai’s small bottles and have never regretted it. What makes this the perfect green perfume, in my eyes, is that it has none of the cold sharpness I usually associate with green scents.  It’s all sun-warmed flora and melting balm.

Diorissimo, Dior: The vintage only.
I had a similar experience falling in love with Diorissimo.  I received a dabber sample as a gift with purchase (possibly buying Le Temps dune Fete, in fact) and thought something along the lines of “This smells like angels singing”.  When I tried it in Saks I was sorely disappointed- whatever was in the store bottle was so much less soft and vibrant- so much more screechy and brash.  I did the research on reformulations and found the vintage bottle that I now have- complete with angel choir.  Lilies of the valley are a beautiful, delicious-smelling flower, and having this bottle is like having an eternal spring at your fingertips.

L’Heure Bleue, Guerlain: The best Guerlain classic.
I love Mitsouko and Shalimar as well, but L’Heure Bleue is a tier above for me. Perfect misty and abstract confection with a name recalling my favorite time of day.

Jolie Madame, Balmain: Strangely unforgettable.
I first smelled Jolie Madame when I was in late middle school, the first time I went through an obsessive perfume-research period, prior to purchasing chance. It was too difficult for me then, with the damp cool violet and violet leaf sharpened by a tanned leather. But it kept coming back to me, and I found it weirdly compelling. And then finally this year I revisited it again, for the last time- and at last loved it.  I now have a bottle in my collection, as a gift from Mom- she also loves it.  It feels very forties to me- a violet posey in a structured purse. Lauren Bacall vibes.

Philosykos, Diptyque: My favorite fruit.
I love figs. We grow figs in the yard. And one of my favorite parts of Paris was being able to buy bursting ripe ones (and cherries!) off the street sellers, where the wasps were as attracted to them as I was. But Diptyque Philosykos predates all that.  It dates from pretty early in my perfume experience, and is the only perfume I’ve purchased as a perfumista without sampling first.  It was my first trip to Scent Bar in Los Angeles (where my Grandma lives) and after a lot of anguish I went with the EdT. Whenever I wear it I have the feeling of being transported to a shady, dewy fig grove.  Both the EdP and EdT are lovely, but the EdT is fruitier, riper, more juicy and less woody-green.

Cristina, Hilde Soliani: Searched-for.
The first time I tried Cristina was my first trip to Scent Bar when I bought Philosykos. It was and is the epitome of one of my favorite types of scents- the vanillin/ambery-y patchouli.  And above all it reminded me of the roasted nut vendors around Boston (one of my favorite real-world scents).  It took years of hunting to find a bottle again, and then going through a sample to be sure it was everything I remembered. It was.

Mitzah, Dior: The all-weather amber.
Dior calls Mitzah a rose when it’s really an amber-incense (and they call Ambre Nuit an amber when it’s really a rose).  Again I fell in love with Mitzah shortly before I heard about it’s discontinuation, and have been making a 30 mL decant last since then. It’s light and cinnamon-y honeyed patchouli incense amber is both warm enough for cooler weather and floaty enough for summer days.

DjHenne, Pierre Guillaume: My quirky gourmand.
DjHenne is a dry and abstract gourmand focused around chocolate, lavender, and powdery wheat. It feels like dusk and desert dust. There’s really nothing else like it.

Bois des Iles, Chanel: Me, but more put together.
Well, never say never, but I wouldn’t be too surprised. Bois des Iles’ luscious sandalwood, aldehyde, and rose-jasmine combination comes across as a sparkling but somehow inedible gingerbread.  It’s perfectly on point and presentable, to the extent that I wore it to many of my earliest ballroom competitions.

Oud Ispahan, Dior: The recent reunion.
Oud Ispahan was one I fell in love with when trying a sample and then fell promptly out of love with once I had the decant. And then fell back in love with, rediscovering the decant a while later. And then I ran out of the decant and lived deprived of and missing Oud Isfahan (until I finally bought another replacement decant). It’s a lovely musk-ruffled rose, pretty dirty but, like Dior’s other Collection price scents, gauzy enough to be pretty versatile. Despite our tumultuous relationship, Oud Isfahan and I are very much on the same page.

So maybe that’s twelve…

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