How I Fell Into Perfumes

I’m a very new face in perfumes. Barely three years on my belt and not a whole lot of technical knowledge about the art. I don’t even like calling myself a perfumista or accepting the label because I still feel like just an admirer of fragrances, sort of like how I can’t and won’t ever call myself an art critic and am much more content as an admirer of art. I’m still on a discovery journey, and wanted to know how you all came to love, admire, hoard, or blog about fragrances.

Guerlain Collection

I wish they had this image in desktop wallpaper size.

I started out probably in a very similar situation as most people. My mother liked fragrances, had a collection of her favorites that, to this day, whenever I smell I still equate to her at different points in her life. It was her collection that inspired me to start my own, seek out my own favorites. My first perfume was a Nina Ricci. Not one of the classics, of course. It was that apple thing, Nina that came out in 2006. I loved the stuff. I still love it even though it smells absurd on me these days.

One day, I caught a whiff of Chanel No.5 after having been away from it for a few years. My mother wore No.5 since before I was even born. She had been taking a break for over a decade so when the scent jogged some memory in my mind, I had to find out what it was. Having no knowledge of perfumes at the time, still wearing my Nina and being perfectly content with it, I had no idea where to look or what I was smelling.

When I described it to my mother one day, she wondered idly if it was No.5. The next day I smelled it at a department store, saw how many beautiful perfumes there were. Glass bottles, gorgeous displays. I wanted a vanity table covered in perfume bottles. I started collecting samples, all the samples I could get from department stores. Then I jumped online, started talking to others who liked perfumes. Found some friends whose addictions to fragrances netted them massive collections of exotic decants.

The hoarding obsession for me actually started with Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs. I had ordered six samples out of curiosity, having been drawn to their line thanks to a friend. My first six samples didn’t turn out the way I liked. I read the descriptions of the samples I got, decided to go for the ones that my friend recommended and found them too strong for me. One of the bunch was impressive though. It was The Unicorn from BPAL (now discontinued). It was soft, flower, utterly feminine and brilliant to me. I got a full bottle of it that came with more samples. I tried those, liked more of them got more bottles, got more samples and it ballooned from there.

While I was feeding my BPAL addiction, I was also testing out fragrances in department stores. Finding many of them delightfully sugary and sweet. I was young, smelling like a berry explosion seemed acceptable, but I couldn’t commit to any of them because I was still reeling in the BPAL collection that I was amassing.

When I finally found something I liked, it was Guerlain’s Champs-Elysees. If I remember right, it was followed my Guerlain’s Samsara, then Shalimar. A bottle of Opium from YSL (not much appreciated at the time by me), Chanel’s Allure, Coco Mademoiselle. Then I jumped to the big boys by falling in love with Spiritueuse Double Vanille. From there, I got more serious and had started blogging a few months before.

I started taking note of what scents I preferred. Writing down the stuff that I like and the stuff that I don’t to the point where I have amassed a list of flimsy maybe “yes” and possibly “no”. I found out shortly afterward, that notes that I like or don’t like didn’t necessarily lead me to winners and favorites. I still find that whether or not a fragrance contains or copiously uses a note that I love or loathe seldom correlates with how much I like the juice. It really is in how it’s mixed, the proportions, the combinations, the quality of the ingredients itself.

The result is my position right now. I find that I like very general things. Scents that are classical, heady and historical. I like light scenes, clean things that aren’t aquatic. Authentic and spicy vanillas usually melt my heart. Good honey-based fragrances make my nose happy. Incense and spices and ambers keep me coming back. I’m turned off by heavy uses of cedar and aquatics–maybe I’m crazy, but I think a fragrance can smell clean without resorting to a bunch of aquatic notes. I don’t particularly like the sharp twang of generic woods that a lot of mass market men’s fragrances sport. Nor do I adore the sugary sweet fruity florals that I once used to love.

I think perfumes is an ongoing journey that will never end. Even if the juices get more basic, more mass marketed, more sugary and sweet there’s still a huge amount of history in fragrances that used to be. And there’s still plenty of wonderful choices in the lesser known stuff. Niche and especially independent perfumery is more and more exciting place every single day.

So how did your fragrance journey start? 🙂

Amusements of a Vintage Perfume Addict

One of the best things about being a vintage perfume fan is finding a tiny, hand-labeled vial of vintage fragrance with a date on it that goes back a few decades. Then squealing excitedly about it, unstopping the vial and lightly coating my skin. The best part is obviously enjoying that wonderous, heady, classic smell that all vintages tend to have. That beautiful thing that makes me imagine what the history behind the scent must have been like. That smell that I think everyone–whether they’re perfumistas, fans of perfume, or just people who are just curious about perfumes in general–need to smell. Whether or not they like it is besides the point. There’s just something completely awesome about smelling history.

Coty Ad

Did I forget to mention that I love vintage perfume ads too? Just beautiful stuff.

Whenever I get to wrangle someone into sitting and smelling stuff with me, I’ll pull out all the stops from the recent stuff that I know they’ll probably like and work them up to some of my most precious collections of old stuff. Hidden away from light and air and major temperature shifts, this old stuff is what I consider to be the real treats. Much to my amusement (and bemusement), most people wrinkle their noses at the vintages.

“Smells like my grandmother.” Seems like the most common response I get. And we already know how perfumistas feel about this particular sentiment. Some other common reactions:

“It smells–old.”

“Wow. That’s weird!”

“Whew, too strong.”

“Hmm, gives me a headache.”

Once in a while, one of my non-perfume crazy friends will be delighted because they think it’s awesome to be smelling something classic. But the most joy I got from sharing my vintages was when I converted one of my friends over to my addiction. Her initial reaction to it was that it was strange, too strong and that it probably wasn’t for her. She kept on the perfume thing, amassing bottle after bottle of mass market, then got more adventurous with niche fragrances. When her and I met up again for a perfume sniffing get-together, she sampled the same vintages I gave her the first time and discovered that not only did she grow an appreciation for the stuff, but that most of it was downright enchanting.

I started out in much the same way. Finding vintages a little strange, too heady, too strong or bitter. After a couple of years, I couldn’t get enough of the stuff and needed more.

Maybe it was because I started out like most young women, liking the Burberry offerings and finding perfumes that smelled like food to be a delightful novelty. So I went and got a bunch of fruity, floral things and wore them. It may have also helped that I blogged about my experiences and maybe it was because I had easy access to some more complex fragrances from the get go thanks to my mother. Whatever it was, I discovered that fruity florals and most teeny gourmands were…well, kind of boring. Maybe it was because I kept smelling those same fruity florals and gourmands everywhere. Or maybe it was because after smelling like a vanilla cake for a few months, I started to be turned off by sweet, sugary things and wanted something else with a little more kick. After all, it’s not all that fun to smell like everybody else–or have your dog look at you accusingly because he thinks you ate a cake that he would have liked to stare at and whine about first.

These days, I look in antique stores on the faint hope of finding an intact bottle with beautifully preserved juice inside of it. I don’t go antiquing often, my husband being of the mindset that he’d really rather get new things than old things (weird), but when I do go, I often see stuff of the non-perfume variety. Just as well, I suppose. I mean, the bills still need to be paid. I also find it incredibly hard to walk away from a vintage fragrance. I need to smell it. I need to know what it was like. I think it’s because those vintages were better built. But then, I’m biased, and mass market fatigued. Mostly, I’m tired of the berry candy openings, and the faux rose middles, with finishing splashes of plastic vanilla. At this point, I’d much rather be accused of smelling “old” and while knowing that fine fragrance is an artwork, than being told that I smell nice because of Cupcake Explosion No.45 by Faceless Celebrity. Heavens know, Justin/Selena/Katy/Gaga/et al. don’t need any more of my money.

So maybe vintage isn’t for everybody. But it’s got a way of winning over people who’ve been mired in the scent scene long enough to get fatigued from all the modern fruity florals, the floppy, same-y flowers, and the boring vanilla sandalwood dry down.

Now, the next best thing about being a vintage perfume fan is watching your friends who enjoy the latest and greatest in mass market fragrances look on it horror as you slap some decades-old juice on your skin. One of my friends actually cringes when she sees me do this, like the old perfume might turn me into some sort of swamp thing. Her loss.

Lucien Lelong Indiscret

Indescret is one of those rare finds that a lovely friend supplied me with on one of her many sojourns into antiques markets, estate sales, flea markets, and all other manner of excellent places I wish I lived close enough to her to enjoy too. I’ll always be grateful when she finds a fragrance treasure and sends me even the smallest samples though!



In Bottle: Heady and bitter, highly floral and possessing of that classic perfume scent that’s always hard to describe and can only be smelled and experienced to understand.

Applied: Indiscret is very strong upon application. It fills my nose, floods into my sinus cavity and clears things out as it hits my brain screaming of a bitter green and sharp orange. It settles down after about an hour but don’t think Indiscret gets any more mellow, it’s a powerhouse, keeps going and evolving and growing stronger the longer you wear it. The woodsiness comes up a bit more, along with some faded floral notes, the most I get is a very rounded jasmine that adds a very nice touch to smooth out the scent. The whole thing smells classic and I wish I had the eloquence to describe that classic, vintage fragrance smell adequately because it’s a beautiful thing and all budding perfumistas or fragrance fan needs to smell and experience it at least once. Indiscret, or at least the version I have, seems to have taken on a musty lower note as it ages hours later. It has a bit of spiciness with that woodsy scent but at the same time, there’s something a bit funky about the dry down that puts me off a little, but doesn’t turn me away. Judging from the other reviewer reactions, I have a feeling my particular juice may have gone off a little, which is a shame since people seem to describe the final stage of Indiscret as a smooth, creamy woodsy spicy affair.

Extra: Indiscret was released in the mid-1930s to Lucien Lelong, a very fancy brand back in the day. Indiscret was discontinued at some point, but is still somewhat available via eBay and select vintage fragrance sellers.

Design: The bottles I see have lovely, classic sweeping feminine curves and a beautiful looking flacon. If I could get my hands on it, I totally would. There are other designs as well, ranging from simpler rectangular flacons to mini sizes to more modernized bottles with shiny metallic-looking caps.

Fragrance Family: Floral Woodsy

Notes: Mandarin, bergamot, jasmine, tuberose, orange flower, rose, ylang ylang, geranium, iris, galbanum, woods.

Like most fragrances my friend picks up from antique stores, I can’t fully classify the year of the bottle and can only guess. My only recommendation for this one is to look for it, the more vintage and pure the better the experience. It’s a beautiful, full-bodied, very long-lasting vintage beauty!

Reviewed in This Post: Indiscret, ~1940, Eau de Parfum.

Katy Perry Killer Queen

So work is starting to pick up and I might have a little bit of cash to drop on some niche and vintage goodies. And I say this with all the love I can muster for dime a dozen, easily accessible department store celebuscents that tide me over when I don’t have a decant of a rare fume on hand. Unfortunately for me, most celebuscents have lost their luster since I’ve smelled so many of them and most have the unfortunate habit of being really, really, really generic.

Killer Queen

Killer Queen

In Bottle: Sugar and berries. Almost smells like a collection of liquified jelly berries. You know, these things: Haribo Gummy Candies. Don’t get me wrong, I love those gummy berries. I just expected more out of a fragrance that’s going to call itself Killer Queen.

Applied: Smells like sweet berries, rolled in vast amounts of sugar. Killer Queen is so sweet, I’m going to assume the killer part of it is from a sugar overdose. From what I’m smelling, there’s very little else other than the berry smell. I don’t get any jasmine, I can’t smell any patchouli or anything more sophisticated than really sweet berries. The midstage does get a little flowery. But it’s that sugary-sweet frangipani flower. The dry down is barely any different from the midstage. The sugar is still very prominent, the entire fragrance is quite one-dimensional and I mean, I guess I shouldn’t expect much from a celebuscent at this rate. But I will say I was pretty disappointed that they chose to name it something pretty awesome and then did something really lame with it.

Extra: Killer Queen was the title of a song by Queen, written by Freddie Mercury and released in 1974. The fragrance, Killer Queen by Katy Perry was released earlier in 2013. I’m going to have to throw it out there that someone else ought to take the name and make a more appropriate fragrance with it. I imagine something more powerful and unique. Maybe a number with leather, roses, a touch of sleazy civet, frankincense, tonka and amber. What about you?

Design: The bottle design isn’t that bad, though I’m noticing more bottles going for the “can’t stand it upright” design approach. Not sure how I feel about that particular choice yet, but the bottle itself is pretty attractive, if somewhat lacking in creativity.

Fragrance Family: Fruity Gourmand

Notes: Fruits, plum, bergamot, celosia, frangipani, jasmine, praline, cashmere, patchouli.

I will admit that I picked up Killer Queen and decided to give it a shot at the store because of its name. This, and I somehow managed to miss the large and very prominent poster of Katy Perry with the blasted thing on her scepter posted right above the bottle display. I’m not very observant apparently.

Reviewed in This Post: Killer Queen, 2013, Eau de Parfum.