Sunday, August 14, 2011

Scents for a Sultry Summer

The weather has been acting crazy all over the planet for some years now and the temperatures soar and plummet at the drop of a hat. To analyze global warming and the heat wave patterns would be beyond the scope of an online magazine devoted to the sense of smell, yet its effects have a significant impact on our choosing our personal fragrance when the weather is no more conductive to perfume-wearing than it is to sporting a mink coat and lighting up the fireplace. So what’s to wear when the going gets tough?

There are two schools of thought on this: The first one suggests choosing only the crispest, lightest fragrances, usually based around citrus and fruity notes, which should (supposedly) create a feeling of upbeat euphoria and cleanness amidst the dog days of summer. The other one has a much more laiser faire, nonchalant attitude about it: If you’re anathematizing change, why embrace it in what is such a personal aspect as your own scent? Acolytes of this school of thought carry on with their preferred signature scent/scents regardless of the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales. For all the rest who don’t fall into either group, here are some recommendations for surviving the sultriness of mid-summer.

Scents of crispy audaciousness

Eau de Gentiane Blanche by Hermès: Currently Eaux seem to be everywhere from Dior s Escale a Pondichéry, Miss Dior Chérie L’Eau and J'adore L Eau Cologne Florale to Cristalle Eau Verte and the instigator of it all Eau de Cologne by Chanel. Still Hermès and Jean Claude Ellena, much like Sinatra (or Sid Vicious, take your pick!) "did it their (own) way" and the magnificently androgynous and distinctive result is taking another direction: a mineral effect of dry white dust and rock as far as the eye can see at dawn before the sun rises.

Musk Nomade by Annick Goutal: There is a delicate insolence in the vegetable-like musk of this fragrance. Much like No. 18 by Chanel Les Exclusifs, it possesses that quality of appearing prismatic: different from different angles and multi-billowed when in fact it is deceptively simple. Isabelle Doyen worked her magic into producing something that is etched precariously between machine-washed clean and human.

Cristalle by Chanel: Why go for a typical citrus when you can go one better and opt for a zingy chypre? This enduring classic by Henri Robert has something to recommend it; most people seem to like its cutting through the heat like a saber and it’s got enough pedigree and unisex character in the Eau de Toilette to suit both sexes.

• Eau d'Hermès by Hermès: Not only an eau (classic summer fit), but with citrus and lightly sweaty leather accouterments, this quirky little thing is unknown enough to garner an inquiring sniff around and has the pedigree of perfumer Edmond Roudnitska composing it sometime in the early 1950s. Considering everyone looked as if they were extras in a movie back then, elegance is guaranteed. For men and women.

Scents of deceptive orientalism

Shalimar Light or Eau de Shalimar by Guerlain: Someone someplace had to invent it; a lemon cupcakes accord over what is essentially the bronziest fragrance in all perfumery, right out of the 1001 Nights. Foregoing the heavy elements, yet still retaining the lovely citrusvanilla-opoponax accord of the original, this modern odalisque can fit into summer wearing like those harem sandals you were planning to wear with your linens trousers. Another version you can try is Shalimar Parfum Initial; light enough to withstand the heat.

Organza Fleur d’Oranger 2008 Harvest by Givenchy: The popular Organza scent is getting an injection of precious essences that conspire into having you adorn yourself with a big hibiscus behind the ear. Sensual, lush but not heavy, this is an interpretation of a floriental on jasmine, honeysuckle and orange blossom that will have you hankering for more warm days ahead!

Fille en Aiguilles by Serge Lutens: Caramelized pine needles peek through the Bakelite-beads curtains at some warm place in the eternal south. The newest luminous oriental woody of perfumer Christopher Sheldrake is suited to both men and women and should prove that Lutens creations can be worn in the warmer months as well.

Scents of floral quirkiness 

Lys Mediterannée by Frederic Malle: Salty seaspraying air lands on big, fat lilies just out of the tiny rural church and you are transported to the Riviera. Perhaps the freshest interpretation of lily on the market without losing character. The effect is akin to strolling along the Saint-Tropez haunts that Brigitte Bardot made famous.

Tubéreuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens: Inhaling on a Kool-mentholated cigarette seems like the cooling sensation that greets you upon smelling this most unique take on tuberose. After the emanations settle, you’re left with the most polished, silky and quiet tuberose on the market, a smell that is truly panseasonal and could be worn by both sexes.

Manoumalia by Les Nez: A small wonder by Caledonia perfumer Sandrine Videault, this offering of the independent Swiss brand Les Nez, Pafums d’Auteurs has all the gusto of an olfactory voyage to the South Pacific. Forget touristy Elvis Hawaiian shirts and go native in a composition redolent of earthy grassiness of vetiver under the effluvium of ylang-ylang and tiare that will have everyone in your wake demanding what your fragrance is.

So when faced with the dilemma what can withstand the heat next time, just remember that besides your sarong and sandals you have more options than you thought possible!

post based on a previous article of mine appearing on Sniffapalooza Magazine

photos/stills from film Noz wi wodzie (Knife in the Water) by Roman Polanski (1962) with Leon Niemczyk and Zygmunt Malanowicz, Plein Soleil (1960) with Alain Delon as Thomas Ripley, Evil under the Sun (1982) based on Agatha Christie's novel with Peter Ustinov as Poirot, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, Jane Birkin etc.


  1. Stephan09:15

    Hi Elena,
    I am the following type: To cope with the hot temperatures of summer, or even to fight the humidity laden, tropical heat that devours you the instant you step out of an air-conditioned confinement, there no better type of fragrance than the ones embodied by the lovely Manoumalia. It goes perfectly with the heat of the summer days, not to mention the nights. It just grabs your hand and lets you be part of the show.

  2. I always like Sel de Vetiver for those crazy-hot days.

  3. What a great selection of summer scents to choose from! I like all the descriptive explanations. It really gives a good sense of what to expect. I look forward to checking out some of these perfumes! :)

  4. I second the Sel de Vetiver vote! Just summery enough without drifting into suntan lotion territory as some of the summery skin scents do.

  5. Great suggestIons. I too love the "deceptive orientals" in the summer. Another one that comes to mind is TDC Jasmin de Nuit. And among florals, Penhaligon's Amaranthine and The Anthology Collection Gardenia. Rather than fighting the heat, I like to wear scents that bloom in it. Not winter fragrances, but scents that seem to do something special when temperatures are hot.

  6. Stephan,

    good to know! I'm glad to see I'm not alone in my love for it. :-)

  7. Blogbaebe,

    excellent suggestion, I had forgotten about it somehow. I love it very much indeed.

  8. Jacqui,

    thanks, good luck!

  9. q_l,

    another vote of confidence. I'm itching to get my decant out!

  10. Melissa,

    I tend to agree with your thinking re: florals. Some do bloom in the heat indeed, it's only natural after all, flowers loving the sun and everything...
    I haven't tried the Gardenia, but now I'm noting down to try it. Thanks! Another one which is great in the heat is Fleurs d'Oranger by Lutens; it becomes rich and nuanced, but it curiously doesn't become cloyingly syrupy.

  11. Thanks for this lovely article!

  12. Gia,

    you're most welcome :-) Thanks for commenting.

  13. I really enjoyed reading this. Where I live San Francisco is is usually very cool in the summer so I never know what to wear. This was a great help indeed.


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