Monday, March 7, 2011

Smelling of Purple

Photo by Emerson Merrick of An Apple a Day

I am one of those sensitive folks (in a long line of sensitive folks) who hates perfume. I glare openly at abusers who have lost all sense of proportion and wield scent like a weapon. What right do they have to asault my nasal passages like that?

And yet, I confess that I wear it too.

I suppose I should amend my previous statement: I hate most perfume. I hate the majority, but I covet that tiny intoxicating minority. I love a handful of perfumes; the kind with fancy labels, made in small batches, possibly in someone's kitchen, with ingredients described as "locally sourced", "organic" and "all natural". You know the kind of thing. The kind of thing you could practically eat. 

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In the language of the perfumer, I am considered gourmand. Ok, ok. In any language I am considered gourmand. I am picky though - far pickier about what scent I wear than what food I eat. Not that I am indiscriminate about my diet, but when it comes to perfume I seem to have a very narrow range of likes. Whereas with food I am open to experimentation.

One of the unfortunate things I've discovered in my aromatic searching is that gourmand often means spun sugar. I am drawn to scents inspired by foodstuffs but I do not want to smell like confection. It's the richness I'm after, the complexities of spice - both sweet and savoury. It's the difference between eating fresh fruit and hard candy. The fullness is lost, simplified to one sticky,  false note; the living story of the fragrance (and flavour), the botanical roots, are lost and replaced with corn syrup and food dye.

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My fantasy goes something like this:

Imagine the spice aisle in a small, old fashioned grocery store. Glass jars full of fine powders: crimson, buttery yellow, every earthen shade of brown. Some jars holding the spices in their original form, fragrant and whole. Full-leaf teas lined up all along the top. Rows of vanilla extract with actual vanilla beans, clove buds, slices of ginger and zezty little strips of orange peel floating in the black depths. Small bottles of dark elixir with slender seed pods just visible in the liquid. Wooden shelving, polished smooth with age. Candles made from bee's wax strung up by their wicks. Barrels of fruit at the end of the aisle - ripe purple plums, dark cherries, plump blackberries. Maybe a few stalks of rhubarb bundled up, sitting in my basket. Imagine, also, that there is a bakery next door, and something fresh and dusted with flour is cooling out of view.

Imagine distilling all of this into a small vial and dabbing it on your skin. Imagine tendrils of scent wrapping themselves around you, invisible to all but your most intimate companions. Imagine catching subtle hints of this throughout the day. 

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It's hard to shop for your nose online, scratching and sniffing forlornly at the monitor. I keep at it because that is the best way to access all of the alchemical entrepreneurs out there, and because I am relentlessly optimistic that one day a brown paper package will arrive containing aromatic perfection.

Actually, a couple of months ago, it did. Or, close to perfection, anyway.

To me it smells purple. Not only purple, but the exact right shade of purple. Dark and fully ripe. Plum, or blackberry wine, with bunches of green herbs and whole spices stewing within. I kind of want to lick my own wrists.
I didn't fall in love instantly. In the pot (it's in solid form) it smells too fruity, too strong. On my skin however, the spice comes through, the green mingles with the purple and it turns mellow and lovely. 

I don't think it's the one (alas, is there such a thing?) (probably not for this fussbudget). It doesn't boast enough vanilla, and not quite enough spice either, but it is delightful and I enjoy smelling of purple while I keep searching. Just so long as I remember not to wield it like an olfactory dagger. Which, actually, when you love how something smells, is harder than I thought.

(This is the perfume, for those who are interested in such things too)


  1. The next time you visit we should camp out in The Body Shop and this great tea place I know.

    Also, perhaps you can make your own perfume using The Almost One as base!

  2. Ooooh, tea place! I'm in. Adrien keeps suggesting I make my own too (possibly because he sees all the samples I order and then promptly throw out or give away). Maybe one day!