By Allison Dizzine
Appreciating a great perfume is surprisingly similar to appreciating a great book. Actually, fragrances and stories are structurally similar, with a beginning, middle, and end. Another similarity is that the great ones really strike us on an emotional level. They prompt us to analyze, interpret, share, and discuss. So on that note, here are some special fragrances that will bring an olfactive dimension to your book club.
Strange Invisible – Fair Verona
Inspiration: Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
It’s a Shakespearean tragedy and a love story to end all love stories. Romeo & Juliet begins with a famously worded prologue that tells us this tale is set in “Fair Verona, where we lay our scene”. In this play, young couple Romeo and Juliet fall intensely in love but learn that their feuding families will make it impossible for them to be together. Verona suddenly doesn’t seem so fair, so they arrange to escape their hometown to marry in exile. In a misunderstanding, each believes the other to be dead, leading both to commit suicide. The play makes use of beautiful metaphors and is full of light and dark imagery. In a frequently quoted passage, Romeo compares Juliet to the sun.
Strange Invisible really makes this light/dark imagery come alive with its Fair Verona Eau de Parfum. Alexandra Balahoutis, a self-taught botanical perfumer, was inspired by the innocence of Juliet’s character. Notes of Italian citrus make this scent truly sparkle, while jasmine recalls Juliet’s soft, sweet nature. Fair Verona, like all fragrances in Strange Invisible’s line, is made from completely organic, natural essences.
Fair Verona is available at http://www.siperfumes.com.
Paddywax – Edgar Allen Poe
Inspiration: The Author
Edgar Allen Poe wrote in a variety of genres but was best known for his Gothic works. His short stories, like “The Tell-Tale Heart“, feature tortured narrators driven to insanity. Poetic works like “The Raven” develop elements of the supernatural. He is adept at creating dark moods and building suspense, frequently setting scenes in dark, foggy nights.
Edgar Allen Poe is also the name of one of the five fragrances in Paddywax’s author-inspired Library Collection. I especially loved this one though, as its use of cardamom and absinthe seem to really capture the dark morbidity for which Poe is so famous. The Poe scent, like each in the Library line, is available in a glass container, diffuser, or travel tin. But for me, it’s the glass candle that really evokes the macabre qualities in Poe’s tales – perfect for creating a moody atmosphere. It is somehow equally quirky and serious, and lends a really interesting dimension to home fragrance.
Edgar Allen Poe is available at http://www.paddywax.com.
Tocca – Colette
Inspiration: The Author
Colette, more formally known as Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, is one of the most fascinating feminists in modern history. As an author, her most famous work is arguably the novella Gigi. It is the story of a young girl who rejects the high society for which she is being groomed. It’s not surprising that Colette created a character like Gigi, as she is equally famous for her own rejection of Paris society. She was openly bisexual and created stories with fiercely independent female protagonists – themes previously taboo in 1920s Paris. She went on to achieve recognition in the arts and letters, a field that was otherwise exclusively for men. In 1953 she became the first woman to win the prestigious Legion of Honor award. (For extra credit, listen to “The Summer I Read Colette” on Rosanne Cash’s album 10 Song Demo)
The Colette Eau de Toilette by Tocca is equally spicy and sweet – the perfect embodiment of its namesake. Top notes include lemon and pink peppercorns and seem to evoke that spirit of adventure. Middle notes of jasmine and violet conjure the feminine side while base notes of incense, musk, and amber lend yet another facet to this fragrance. This may be a conventionally beautiful bottle, but it holds a very complex fragrance. Proceed with an open mind, and Colette may enable you to discover a new side of your personality.
Colette is available at http://www.tocca.com
The Pink Room – Parfum No.1
Inspiration: Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust is one of those writers that seems equal parts author and philosopher. In A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time), he explored themes like memory, space and time. Although its seven volumes make this novel one of the lengthiest works in western literature, it is most known for the madeleine passages in the first and last volumes. In it, Proust describes dipping his madeleine in a cup of tea – a familiar gesture that reminds him of Sunday mornings spent with his aunt. The combination of smells, tastes, and textures of the little cakes and tea completely enveloped him to such a point that he felt as though he had successfully transcended time and traveled back to his childhood.
The Pink Room, a niche fragrance house created and owned by Sarah Barton King, is known for its highly creative concepts in perfumery. Parfum No. 1 is inspired by an imagined scenario of Marcel Proust taking his afternoon tea in the garden with his aunt. At this time of day, the sun’s intensity has started to wane, heightening the roses’ scent. This comes through in floral middle notes that include Victorian rose, lily of the valley, violet, and jasmine. Top notes of citrus balance out the sweetness of this fragrance, but my favorite element is vanilla in the base – Barton King put it in for the madeleines that would undoubtedly be part of Proust’s afternoon tea.
Parfum No. 1 is available at MiN NY 117 Crosby St, and http://www.minnewyork.com