The ability of scents to transport me to another place is one of the reasons I find aromas fascinating. For example, when wearing Chanel Paris-Deauville (£97 for 125ml EDT), a bitter citrus perfume accented with jasmine, I am taken to orange orchards somewhere on the Sicilian coast. I can almost see the ruins of ancient temples and smell the earthy spice of sun-bleached herbs underfoot. Doesn’t it seem surprising that Deauville, a seaside resort in Normandy, doesn’t feature at all in my story?
For the creator of Paris-Deauville, Olivier Polge, it doesn’t either, or not exactly. Although the perfume was created in homage to the first boutique Gabrielle Chanel opened in Deauville in 1913, rendering the exact smells of Deauville wasn’t his point. As Polge explains, “I wasn’t striving to capture the Normandy countryside as it stands today, but rather the promise of a stroll through the tall grasses.”
The art of perfumery is about such illusions. When we explore scents, it’s best to forget about the brand, bottle shape and perfume name, and focus on what the aromas tell us. For one person, Etat Libre d’Orange Jasmin et Cigarette (€130 for 100ml EDP) is a smoky jazz club, while for another it’s an Indian temple filled with incense smoke and flower garlands. The only thing that matters is whether a perfume creates a vision one wants to experience again and again.
Perfumers write their own messages into their compositions, but the perfume wearer is the co-creator. We each have our own memories and predilections that will affect our experience of fragrances. To smell a perfume is to divine its story as well as to create one’s own.
Consider Parfums de Nicolaï Cap Néroli (€125 for 100ml EDT). Like Chanel Paris-Deauville, Cap Néroli was originally inspired by the French coast, the Côte d’Azur in perfumer Patricia de Nicolaï’s case. She chose to build a perfume around the bitterness of orange peel and languid softness of orange blossoms, adding mint and ylang ylang for vibrancy. She then anchored these shimmering notes on musk and oakmoss, creating a memorable contrast between the delicate start and the deep finish. From the first inhale, I was in love.
I wore Cap Néroli for several days before it dawned on me that the reason it cast such a strong spell was because it reminded me of a flowering plant in my grandmother’s garden in Ukraine. My grandmother used to call it jasmine, but it was in fact a philadelphus shrub, also known as mock orange for its fragrance reminiscent of orange blossoms. As much as I enjoy the Côte d’Azur, my grandmother’s garden is my idea of paradise. Being taken there by Cap Néroli is a special thrill.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.