A few weeks ago, Robin posted a link to a Cosmopolitan article titled “I’m Sorry, But the #PerfumeTok influencers Are All Wrong.” Naturally, I couldn’t resist clicking. I agree with the author’s statement that “individual preferences and emotional ties,” rather than an effort to create an easily defined, neatly packaged “vibe,” should shape our individual perfume choices. And even if you have a favorite fragrance genre, you should feel free to play and experiment. Surprise yourself!
As you may already know if you’re a regular here, I basically major in old-fashioned florals (heavy on the rose, iris and violet) and minor in seashore-inspired scents. The first sub-genre fits my overall “aesthetic” (as #PerfumeTok would say) of clothing, reading and décor, I suppose; the second one doesn’t, but I still gravitate towards new salt-and-sand releases without fail. I’m nothing if not consistent. However, I recently realized that I’d been regularly wearing three scents that would be classified as “clean” rather than retro-floral or beach-y. How did that happen, I wondered? Basically, I came across these three perfumes under atypical circumstances, when my guard was down.
First example: one hot-and-humid Saturday during the never-ending summer of 2023, I was visiting the never-shady neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn and noticing how many fragrance boutiques have popped up there lately. I went into a Diptyque shop, mostly just to escape the sun, and ended up purchasing Diptyque L’Eau Papier. L’Eau Papier (developed by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin) is inspired by “that moment, suspended in time, when ink, paper and the hand become one.” Despite this very appealing concept, I don’t think I would have even tried L’Eau Papier if I hadn’t been suffering from mild heat exhaustion at the time. Its listed notes — especially its white musk and “blonde woods accord”— aren’t those that usually attract me.
Yet, in that moment, something about L’Eau Papier felt so crisp yet comfortable to me, like a glass of iced sparkling water or freshly laundered bed sheets. And, despite having initially tried it when I wasn’t quite myself, I can still say that I like it and I’ve been wearing it regularly. I really enjoy L’Eau Papier’s opening notes of toasted sesame and milky rice steam, as well as the subtle mimosa floral note in its heart. Even though the dry down’s white musk is a little too sharp and prominent for my (usual) liking, it stays fairly close to the skin and is mild enough that I can carry on without feeling like I’m wearing something that really doesn’t fit me.
On another summer afternoon, while browsing in Manhattan’s Jones Road boutique, I picked up a tester bottle of Shower fragrance to sniff while I was waiting for assistance with a makeup purchase. I’d already been a fan of Jones Road Beauty’s makeup for a while — this brand is Bobbi Brown’s latest enterprise, with a focus on minimalist, inclusive cosmetics. Then, when a sample-size roll-on arrived a few months later with an online order I’d placed, I was able to try it again. I wouldn’t have headed over to Jones Road just to try Shower, but since I was already in the shop and already one of their cosmetics customers, the combination of the available tester and the gift-with-purchase succeeded in getting my attention.
Shower’s listed notes are neroli, orange blossom and sea spray, and Jones Road promises that it gives “the fresh feeling of having just stepped out of the shower.” (No surprise there.) To me, it’s more specifically like a shower after a day at the beach, with cool water, a big bar of soap, and lingering traces of suntan lotion, followed by a drying-off with freshly washed white towels. Some online commenters have noted Shower’s similarity to the now-discontinued Bobbi Brown Bath. I never got around to trying that one, but it does sound similar! Bobbi Brown herself has mentioned on social media that she reapplies Shower several times throughout the day, and it’s light enough that you can certainly do that. I wore it over the past weekend while I was pushing through the side effects of a vaccine, and it was an easy, welcome complement to Netflix and a cup of chamomile tea.
Lastly, I’ll give you the short version of my visit to a Perfumer H boutique in London last March. I’d been perusing the Perfumer H website for months, after my friend Annie tipped me off to it, but that trip was my first opportunity to try any of the fragrances. (They’re not widely available in the U.S.) In a stroke of bad luck, I lost most of my sense of smell the morning of that visit, due to some extreme nasal congestion. Working from the lists of notes, however, I made a “blind” purchase: a bottle of Perfumer H Powder. This one seemed like a safe bet, since its description (bergamot, mandarin and orange blossom; raspberry, rose and violet leaf; tonka bean, vanilla, ambrette seed and musk) sounds somewhat similar to my beloved Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose.
Surprise! When I arrived home and, breathing clearly again, sprayed on some Powder, it wasn’t quite what I expected. It’s definitely not a retro face-powder-and-lipstick scent like Lipstick Rose (or an upscale baby-powder scent like Lorenzo Villoresi Teint de Neige). Instead, my initial reaction was a flashback to another smell: the Johnson’s baby shampoo my mother used on my hair when I was a small child. Does anyone else remember that bright yellow shampoo in its clear plastic bottle? I actually bought a bottle of it at the drugstore last week, for research; however, I think its fragrance has been altered over the (many) years since I last used it, and I’m left with a memory and its unexpected connection to Perfumer H Powder.
I realize that “nostalgic baby shampoo” doesn’t seem like the best pitch for an expensive niche perfume. However, this airy blend of neroli, violet, and white musk, as linear and subtle as it may be on my skin, keeps pulling me back. Even though Powder isn’t what I imagined it to be, it (luckily!) still feels very “me.” I’ve been wearing it on evenings when I’m home and just want to feel calm and cozy before bedtime. A serendipitous find, and perhaps close enough to my usual tastes to be a “clean” perfume that I can love.
How about you? Have you recently tried a fragrance outside your usual zone, by accident or design, and found yourself enjoying it more than you thought you would?
Diptyque L’Eau Papier is available in 50 ($125) and 100 ml ($175) Eau de Toilette. Jones Road Beauty Shower is available in 30 ml ($45); its concentration isn’t listed, but it wears like an Eau de Toilette. Perfumer H Powder is available in 50 (£150) and 100 (£210) ml Eau de Parfum.