Sugar and Spice, Who Ya Calling "Nice?"

[Prequel: How I chose my first fragrance]

I’d be afraid to work with Mandy Aftel on a custom perfume lest she decide I’m precisely suited with an eau de “Piss and Vinegar.” Yet somehow when I get into the marketplace I end up with sugar and spice every time. Twice, anyway.

I figure as a maturing woman I’m allowed a wardrobe of fragrances, especially considering that my first, Versace Crystal Noir, is widely considered too intense for daytime. To find lighter choices, I mashed up one online retailer’s list of summer fragrances with OsMoz’s oriental spicies, woodies, and florals. I ended up with maybe fifteen names. Three stores carried one each, a pain because I don’t think it’s worth the extra shower if I can’t compare arms per trip. The fourth, a quality department store, expected me to ask a young Tim Gunn-type to take them out of mirrored corrals. My mall’s Perfumania, on the other hand, wasn’t intimidating, a wonder cabinet lined with hundreds of smelly jewels from low- (Britney Spears) to high-class (Chanel).

I showed the sharp Persian saleswoman my printouts and she pulled some out, one at a time as if they were diamond rings, shaking each as if it were a Snapple. I rejected two or three based on paper spurts, but offered my arms for L by Lolita Lempicka and Thierry Mugler Angel. The first hit me with a lemon and vanilla mist but faded to a pleasant light sugar with musk. Angel was a wild experience: it started like the worst cheap aftershave, set back almost immediately to a supersonic crème brulee with other notes I couldn’t identify. “Ignore the start, this will last for two or three days,” she said.

I continued to run errands as my body developed them. When Short Stack got into the car she said, “Yum! Some people smell so delicious.” She didn’t have a preference, but said the Angel included “that leaf you made me and Lola eat from the garden.” (Turned out to mean basil). After dinner, Marshall refused to vote. “Whatever you pick I’ll just associate it with you and I’m sure I’ll like it as much as I like the other one.” As with Crystal Noir, I couldn’t stop sniffing that elbow for the middle hours of the scent’s life. The Lolita arm was sweet, fading to something insipid. Certainly not me.

By morning Angel had turned to brown sugar and patchouli, though less composty than the patchoulis I recall on hippies at school. Vanilla and musk remained on my clothes. I would be jazzed to own a Mugler at last; their perfumer is the brain behind the limited edition coffret that accompanied the movie of Patrick Suskind’s “Perfume,” my favorite crossover trashy novel. So, SOLD.

Why do I keep going for things that smell like cake? I am so not sweet. Perhaps “cloying” describes me? (I do wish to be liked.) Does the metaphor have to fit, or am I being a fragrance newbie? Is it because men’s most sexual scent association is with Cinnabon, which is classified oriental spicy? (Am I a man? I sure smell like a girl now).

Keep your nose tuned: I’ll start shopping for a third after this Visa bill is paid.

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Here’s the official description of Thierry Mugler Angel:
  • top notes of fruits, dewberry, helonial, and honey
  • middle notes of chocolate, caramel, and coumarin [the active ingredient in coumadin!]
  • base notes of vanilla and patchouli.

And of Versace Crystal Noir:
  • top note, “headspace” of gardenia [not the flower, but the air scented by the flower – a magical and suspicious description]
  • middle notes of peony and orange blossom
  • base notes of amber, musk and sandalwood.

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