Running on ‘fumes

You may recall I said I would share about my latest obsession and here I am.

This past two weeks has been frenzied as usual. Lots of family obligations, late nights, up early, house cleaning to get ready for some guests next week and trying to work a little so I can pay for it all! We barely get a wink of sleep these days.

My love of old perfumes has been lifelong. My grandfather was a cosmetic chemist and also a professional ‘nose’, or perfumer who worked for Givaudan. So, as long as I can remember, he had slender white paper blotters cantilevered on shelves and tables all over my grandparents’ place back East, with alpha-numerics on them standing for the blends he was testing, their date and purpose.  I still have bottles labeled with things like “365A”, a particular favorite that he made for my grandmother.  I can’t even unscrew the bottle, but I don’t want to, as it will inevitably evaporate once I do. It is probably over 50 years old!

My mother always loved Tweed.  When she wore it, mostly for work, dressed up in a suit and white blouse with pearls and heels, every single day throughout my childhood, I thought it was merely her scent. Once I was old enough, she let me wear it too and I discovered it smelled wonderful on me as well.  So, if I were to say, which were my first experiences with perfume, it would have to be “365A” and Tweed. I have a bottle of Tweed right now on my dresser, awaiting the perfume bar Geoffrey is making for me. It is halfway done. Very exciting.

What is a perfume bar, you might rightly ask? Usually it is a mirrored shelf and backsplash with slots for bottles that allow the perfumes to be displayed beautifully,  looking like fine wines as they sparkle in a marching array.  Some can be aerosolized by adding a pump assembly, but only the diluted versions with varying proportions of oil to alcohol.  Naturally the best is straight perfume, which still is only about 75% oil. They last the longest, have a full bloom of bottom, middle and top notes, and are to be treated carefully as they are usually pretty costly. They are never in pump bottles, usually only have glass stoppers and are tightly protected inside a thick and frosted bottle to prevent deterioration by air and light, as well as cross contamination from other perfumes. Strictly speaking, to do the job properly, each bottle should be domed. The bar makes that possible, elegantly.

At some point, my mother switched over to Joy by Jean Patou.  For one thing, she loves roses and Joy has a strong combination of rose and jasmine from very precious oils made from flowers grown in France, the best place from which to get floral oils.  I have a bottle of Joy perfume that I have kept for years, as it is hard to afford today. I also have a wonderful 1.7 ounce bottle of Joy Eau de Parfum. I use it sparingly because it is strong and very rosey/jasminey.  While I love it, and it reminds me of my mother, I don’t always want to smell straight floral.  I am more of a vanilla/sugar kind of person.  But, Joy is probably the most elegant, feminine, iconic woman’s perfume in the world still today, so, since I have a family connection to it, it is a must for my fragrance wardrobe.  I wear it when I go to lunches in Beverly Hills or to afternoon teas. When I go back to England, I always take Joy. It seems to fit the Downton Abbey branch of my mother’s family, who are all very proper and elegant.

My very feminine and old-fashioned grandmother liked two perfumes: Chantilly by Houbigant (now owned by Dana) and White Shoulders by Evyan, so I have both. In fact, up until a few years ago, I wore nothing but Chantilly for about ten years. The scent resembles the box: cameo pink with white lace. Very frilly, fancy, girlie, just like Grandma and even me.

Somewhere along the line, my MIL introduced me to her three favorite perfumes: Charles Blair/France; Bal à Versailles by Jean Désprez; and L’Air du Temps by Nina Ricci.  I don’t like the latter, as it reminds me of soap, but I love the first two.  As luck would have it, they are discontinued.  I have a huge bottle of Bal à Versailles, luckily, half full and one of Charles Blair, about one third full. The Charles Blair is impossible to get now, so I rarely open mine. I am content just to smell it right through the bottle. I may not even decant it into the new bar, as that risks allowing too much to evaporate.  I am considering that issue. (Decisions, decisions, lol).

As for the Bal, you can get it if you are careful to identify the genuine, vintage product, but you will pay a queen’s ransom for it. I am so glad I have the original perfume itself. It conjours just what it stands for: a sumptuous evening dance at a chateau, everyone draped in rich brocades, dripping in jewels, sipping Cristal. I also paid way too much and got myself two bottles of the Eau de Parfum.  Every time I put it on, I feel dressed.  It is so beautiful, evolving slowly and seductively. From start to finish, it is my favorite fragrance. Very me.  At one point, when Deanna was a kid and we were at the beach house for an afternoon she knocked over Emily’s bottle of Bal, kept on a small table in her dressing room and more than half of it spilled out onto a very expensive Persian rug. OMG, one of the worst moments of my life. That rug was never the same, Emily lost something like $500 worth of perfume in an instant (I cannot calculate the cost of damage to a rug like that), and we both, De and I, felt terrible. To give my MIL credit, she didn’t bat an eye.  In fact, she took me shopping to Neiman Marcus shortly thereafter and we picked up another bottle: one for her, a replacement, and one for me! That’s the one I still have. For all her minor human imperfections, Geoff’s mother took disasters in stride and was generous beyond reason. She still is, in her lucid moments.

And then there are the Guerlain girls: Jicky, Shalimar and Mitsouko.  I own and love all three. My grandfather introduced me to Shalimar many years ago and I liked it instantly but it was too strong and mature for me at the time.  Now I wear it and totally own its smoky vanilla scent easily. It just wears off to be sweet and sugary with a hint of sophistication on me now. I use it mostly when I am at home.

Jicky is something I discovered when my grandparents became friends with a beautiful woman who lived in their neighborhood who walked her dog at the same time he and my grandmother walked theirs when they had a pied-à-terre on Sutton Place in Manhattan (for those of you who know the city, you can picture that neighborhood and the kind of people you might meet when dashing out with the pups).

Monique was glamorous in the style of a Sophie Marceau: stunning, dark, mysterious, blessed with flawless porcelain skin, always perfectly clad in Paris black.  I was just a teenager and totally bowled over by her. She missed her home in France, spending long hours alone while her husband flew all over the world, leaving her to fill time decorating their luxury townhouse. She once wore an ivory enameled butterfly gold necklace that I admired and the next thing I knew, an elegant box from a store on the Place Vendôme was waiting for me at Grandpa’s with its twin in my shade of turquoise. I almost fainted.  Monique wore Jicky.  If you know Shalimar, Jicky, its Victorian/Edwardian predecessor is drier, lighter, more elusive, delicate and complex and not as long lasting. I have an ounce bottle that has just a bit in it and a big atomizer flask with the Eau de Parfum. I still love it but wear it for short nights out, when I will be at intimate dinners, not with big crowds. Jicky is lost around mobs. It is akin to a dark Belgian chocolate truffle. Like Monique, it is meant for soirées with one’s inner circle.  Few people know it and that makes it my signature scent, to this day.

Mitsouko, need I say more? When you hear the very name, you know you have stepped out of our world and into the Orient. I first heard about it when I read Susan Sontag, who always gave it to her paramours.  The very mention of it sent my imagination off into Opium-filled salons with murmuring Geishas. That is exactly how it smells too: violent, rich, dark, cloying and alluring.  I have to squirt the tiniest bit on a pulse-point or it overwhelms me, the room and everyone I am near. Geoffrey has trained me to put it on in my walk-in closet and only after he has left the house. He swears when he walks back in hours later, he can still tell I was in a Mitsouko frame of mind that morning, LOL! Personally I love it. I am a Guerlain fool. But I know that Mitsouko is to wear out and with throngs, only. I have Chamade on my list too, because nothing can be too exotic for me, especially when it comes from the House of Guerlain.

I have other simpler loves.  Two by Tokyo Milk: Cherry Bomb and Kabuki. The former is a bit more sophisticated, the latter pure caramel. I wear them gardening or grocery shopping.

Finally, my two faves by Dolce & Gabbana: The One and Desire. One in a clear bottle, the other in black — my uniform. Both are very light, sweet with a hint of citrus. I consider them my California shopping-at the mall-with-the-girls scents. I keep two bottles of each on hand at all times because they can be applied liberally and they last all day without being overwhelming. Deanna found them and she and Geoffrey have similar tastes so he loves them on me.

The One Dolce&Gabbana for women

The bottom line though and what the meaning of all this is for me is that, like Grandpa, I have a very sensitive nose.  I cannot bear bad odors of any kind and like a fox, can suss them out immediately when other people don’t even notice them. I could tell some really funny (now, anyway) stories about places I had to leave because I couldn’t bear the atmosphere. When I have a clean, orderly, elegant space around me (my place, natch) I make sure there are beautiful fragrances in the air to motivate me and make life smell good. I want wisps of chypre, sandalwood and bergamot wafting around me. That’s what French perfumes do for me and so I lean toward them and their fine, natural ingredients.

Likewise, dryer sheets, car fresheners, soaps, shampoos, commercial candles, deodorants and pot pourris, detergents with their cheap synthetic fumes can all literally make me sick.  They are toxic too and environmentally disastrous.  My surroundings matter and the more I beautify them with carefully chosen colors, fabrics, music, light and good smells, the better I function. French perfume energizes me. It was really smart of Geoffrey to recognize that I would be thrilled with a place to keep all these ‘loved ones’ together and at the ready, even if he might have to escape once they are all at my fingertips! 😀

Upcoming posts: squabbles on our local neighborhood social media site and more on our finds in nearby Ventura with more new pictures!

Images: Manufacturers’ product shots;; Wikimedia Commons; Daily Mail



31 Comments on “Running on ‘fumes”

    • Mark, first of all, thank you for putting up with this very girlie post. Every so often I have to show my soft side. 😉

      But, most importantly you hit the nail on the head: no perfume smells the same on each person. I love that aspect of it! In fact, I think everything ends up smelling very sugary on me — must be my carbs addiction, LOL!

      Thank you. And, go Saltine Warriors (I know, I know, but that was one of their old monikers and I still like it, even though it is no longer PC). I am thrilled they are in the final four.


      • If you want to be the best man you can be, Beth, you welcome the opportunity to understand this girlie stuff, too. And so I enjoyed this post. ❤

        And there are many folks up here who wear their Saltine Warrior T-shirts proudly, still. It's a tough topic because although I know the name is meant as a salute to our Native American ties here, not a slur, it's not my position to judge how to take it, being a white guy.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I absolutely understand on both issues, Mark. You are so right. My husband grew up with a very demanding sister, so he gets it, even though there were 6 boys in that family!

          Oh, yes, I get the Saltine Warrior issue too. Sadly, because Native Americans have been so badly treated, a national disgrace, that now nothing we Caucasians can do or say can possibly make up for it or get it right. Terribly sad. I thought of it as a term of real endearment, but once I did go to a reservation somewhere near Syracuse and saw another side of the issue and now it literally brings tears to my eyes. So unfair to them, then and now.

          A hug.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. The sense of smell is one of, if not the, most powerful of our senses. Fragrances trigger memories, for good or ill. I too dislike the artificial chemical fragrances that are harmful to us and the environment. I favour light citrusy fragrances (Green Tea by Yves Rocher is a staple) but in my younger sexier days, I liked Chanel No 19, Knowing by Estelle Lauder and Magie Noire by Lancome.

    The trend nowadays is ‘fragrance free’ especially in the workplace. I’m grateful because I am hypersensitive to strong smells of all kinds. Occasionally, I use natural extracts for their enlivening qualities – pink grapefruit, lemon, eucalyptus.

    You are fortunate, Beth, to be able to indulge your fragranceaholism so nicely 

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, we are more and more going fragrance-free here too. The big one was getting rid of smoking in all public places. Any form of tobacco makes me ill. Such a foolish habit and toxic to everyone. Glad to see the last of the whole industry and all the people supporting it.

      I have a neighbor whose dryer vent is in our yard and the odor of those dryer sheets fills the garden and overwhelms it. I sometimes worry that it interferes with pollinators finding our flowers. The whole practice of putting cheap synthetic chemicals into our products is so antiquated and crude, you wonder why more people don’t boycott it.

      Our way is to buy green organics whenever possible. At least when there is an odour added to those, it is something natural like citrus, mint or pine.

      Thank you for reading and commenting Vera! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Once again demonstrating that we were separated at birth… I love this post. I glory in wonderful scents- and the memories that they can trigger. I have a small display of my rotating favourites on my dresser- but a perfume bar.. what a lovely idea!

    I lean, lately at least, toward the Italians- Acqua di Parma and Bvlgari- and crave the spicier scents over anything floral (which can, unfortunately, make me sneeze, depending on the notes), although anything with patchouli sends me running the other way as fast (and as far) as possible.

    And I heartily agree that the synthetics are to be avoided wherever possible. They can trigger allergies and headaches in a matter of minutes- while pure, good scents bring me nothing but joy.

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Beth! xo

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, you too? Truly, we are uncannily alike Cole. And I love that women can have sharp minds, informed intellect and be ultra feminine at the same time. We go girl! 😀

      My mother loves Violetta di Parma — I wonder if the two, your Acqua and her Violetta are in the same line, while being different scents? I have a bottle of it around somewhere. I am trying to gather them all up from all over the house for the new installation.

      Apparently G. saw one in the spa of a hotel he is renovating and thought he could recreate it on a much smaller scale, for me. I actually think his ulterior motive is to get me to isolate the stuff, LOL!

      Yup, I get headaches and sometimes even a rash from cheap “perfumes”. I wish there were another term for them. They shouldn’t be dignified.

      Likewise, synthetic flavorings. Ugh.

      Thank you Cole! xx

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Delightful article. I broke down and order a new bottle of Opium by Ives St Laurent last night. It has been my signature sent since racing it as a gift at 19. Everyone loves it. It is really my favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, all I really know about perfume is my mom used to wear Chanel No. 5.

    I used to like the earthier, musky scents, but had to swear off all perfumes when I started having migraines in my 30’s. Any scents now can kick one off. Unfortunately, I can’t even walk into a candle store without a reaction. Bummer. But I was living vicariously through this post. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, Chanel No. 5. I have to put that on my list. I have never had nor worn it, but maybe in the future. It is one of the best, if not THE best.

      You must like things with a civet base. I assume they are still using it in Europe, though I cannot be sure.

      Deanna gets migraines too, but she loves perfumes. Even natural ones trigger this in you Susan? I know migraines are horrible. I get the aura from time to time as my mother has migraines. They run in our family.

      Candle stores have cheap synthetics, so I never go in them. Even going into Michael’s and Jo Ann’s I steer clear of the areas where they have so-called pot pourris and candles: total garbage.


      • Natural ones, not so much. And I never got the migraines with auras – the classic migraines. I got the two other kind – common and cluster. They were debilitating.
        Don’t have them as much anymore, but a strong whiff of cigarette smoke or heavy perfume or cologne can definitely trigger a mild one nowadays, as does shifting barometric pressure. :-/

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: NaPoWriMo – Day 1 – “True Colours” by David Ellis | toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

  6. I really reveled in this scented post, Beth. It was exquistitely presented with style and grace. My Mom wore a variety of scent’s but Muguet des Bois, lily of the valley and Chantilly were her two bottles which remain her favorites. Somewhere along my road in life, I received from her, Chanel No. 5. It was one I didn’t respect nor honor enough, giving to a girlfriend, one who admired some of my small examples of finer things.
    I am really not very discriminating and enjoy Pleasures and a line of men’s citrusy colognes that David Beckham promotes. I think lighter scent’s with sweet, vanilla or citrus attract me most, Beth. I would like to breathe in deeply each of your unopened bottles, just this would be enough fun.
    Thanks for this beautiful escape into the glamorous world of scents and perfumes. Hope you have a lovely week ahead, Beth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Robin. I now remember Muguet des Bois. I will have to put that on the list. And just mentioning lily of the valley takes me back, to. I am not sure when the last time was that I smelled Chanel No. 5 and am thinking I need to schedule a day at Nordstroms to just go around the perfume counters. Although, I get these things either on eBay or to save a bit.

      It is also amazing and a bit disturbing that so much of the scent can be smelled around the cap — just shows how much evaporates!

      We all need an escape these days, don’t we Robin? Too much contentiousness going on. I am trying to find distractions.

      I hope your week is magnificent, Robin.



  7. Loved this post and your perfume bar idea. I have a blog friend called Colleen who is allergic to synthetic scents and it’s amazing how much these laundry sheets and cleaning products containing scent stop her living a full life. Loved all the illustrations you used too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Charlotte. People with allergies to these volatile toxins are the ‘canaries in the coal mine’. They get the first reaction and it is obvious in them. But we are also being bombarded with this poison and it just takes a longer time to show up in our systems, which will suffer breakdowns, eventually. Very scary and they should be outlawed.

      I appreciate the kind words! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Great post, thank you for sharing your interests and memories. I have allergies and migraines, so scents are a hit-or-miss for me and I’ve learned to do with out them. We also have strict no-scents policy, so perfumes aren’t allowed (along with cologne, hair products, etc.).
    While reading your post, I remembered that there was a short period of my life where I had collected perfume bottles. They were so beautiful and they were on the dresser on top of my mother’s various crochets that she had made.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some people just do that, JM, they collect empty, vintage perfume bottles. Amazingly, I have an empty bottle of Tabu that I can smell even though it was from my mother’s early collection and has been empty for decades. It’s pretty though and I like having it on one of my dressers.

      Scents do indeed make some people headachy. What a shame!

      Thank you for reading and commenting. 🙂


  9. A delightfully different read for this primarily pragmatic woman with a distinctly girly side that only a few have seen since my acting days. I, too, am a Guerlain groupie. Shalimar has been my signature scent since I discovered it at 16, when I wore the lightest, least expensive version available. As the birthdays started coming fast and furious, parfum was my most suggested Christmas gift – a sure hit from my Dad (who, otherwise sent cash – and I so preferred the arrival of a small box, wrapped or un!)

    Most scents turn on me, unfortunately – quickly making me remind myself of an elevator full of heat-soured Avon. For the many years I shopped in NYC, I always kept one arm up to ward off the scent spraying zealots at the door – and one eye in the direction of the closest bathroom where I could attempt to wash off the horrid smell (or at least cover it with the scent of lavatory soap!)

    Florals are the absolute worst on me, so my mother’s signature scent, Caron’s Fleurs de Rocaille, was never an option, even though it was truly breathtaking on her. After her death I kept a small bottle nonetheless, and I open it for a whiff of memory when I am missing her most desperately. The rest of the time I keep it sealed with wax around the stopper, archived with the other ornaments for my memorial-themed Christmas tree, where I honor the memory of the human and animal loves of my life no longer around for on-planet engagement. I tie her perfume bottle to that particular tree with a lovely ribbon, front and center (but just a bit back in the branches to reduce its exposure to daylight.)

    I don’t know whether my body chemistry has changed as I have aged or if my nose has become less judgmental of the way the florals mix with my body chemistry – but that “turning” problem seems to have lessened a bit. Nonetheless, I still tend to stick with the tried and true (mostly thought of as Orientals).

    I can now bathe with my mothers favorite scented soap, however – English Lavender – but it seems that many soaps have migrated toward synthetics :(. Her favorite was a particular imported bar made by Yardley, which was always included in her Christmas stocking – a bargain delight at $1 a bar when she was still alive. (Sadly, it seems not to be the same soap today, despite the increase in price.)

    I did wear Chantilly before I discovered Shalimar, and (if her Christmas presents were any indication) my grandmother seemed to believe I needed to wear Chanel #5, so I gave that a go from time to time, mostly because their small purse atomizer was so handy. But nothing has ever come close to my love affair with Shalimar.

    I could never have populated a Perfume Bar like the one your husband is making for you, but I long kept a dedicated shelf filled with every bottle of Shalimar that has been made since I first began wearing it (including the huge display version of their iconic circular cologne bottle). Sadly, some years ago, the box containing those lovelies didn’t make it past one of my many sudden moves. I now have only the latest few incarnations of the various bottles that have held that most lovely of scents in this decade – a smallish shelf indeed.

    Fun post!

    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fleurs de Rocaille! I remember that. Haven’t sampled it though. Just know the name.

      My grandmother also loved violets — did I mention that? Violetta di Parma.

      I still love Shalimar. It is now so mild and pleasant to me. I love anything vanilla and with chypre and/or sandalwood. I guess Orientals is the best way to characterize them, as you said.

      You might like Jicky — Shalimar but a bit drier and more sophisticated.

      I do think we get nose-blind as we age. I tend to under-do it just to prevent being overwhelming, which is a turn-off. Cheap perfumes, especially.

      So we are truly sisters under the skin, Madelyn, yet one more thing we share! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • A quick google let me know that Jicky was created in 1889. (Shalimar in 1925). Next trip to the mall (vs. the drug store, lol) I’ll ask to sample it. CLASSICS both. And I am always attracted to scents with vanilla and sandalwood, even if they have other ingredients that don’t wear well on me.

        “Nose blind” – only the descendant of a Nose would think to use that term – lol. My mother and sister might have done well to go into the fragrance industry – they both had amazing senses of smell. Me? Sensitive, but not quite at their level.

        I also wanted to add that the image of you standing in your walk-in to apply perfume still makes me laugh. Your clothes must smell amazing!


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