Friday, March 19, 2010

Top Comforting Scents

Sometimes, things get a little hectic, life is a bit stressful, weather is acting up on you when you least expect it and you're finding yourself reaching for some comfort. Where do you seek solace? Today I am participating in a blog-o-rama with thirteen fine bloggers under the united theme of Comforting Scents for Uncomfortable Times organized by fellow blogger & perfumer Ayala Moriel. Come aboard and indulge in the selection!

Library smells
Odd beginning, but I wanted to get this off my chest: There is something deeply comforting about an old English-style library; velvet-upholstered Chesterfield couches, mahogany desks, green-hued lamps, the trails of blond tobacco pipes smoked by those who inhabit it and rows and rows of leather-bound books. A little armagnac in a tumbler wouldn't hurt either! I intend to recreate this ambience in a special room in my house when I'm older. People might say I have the tastes of a dried-up old man going hunting, but I don't care. In the meantime, I'm recreating that atmosphere with Etro Gomma, the magestic sweep of Doblis, the elegant Diorling and the home candle for the otherwordly Messe de Minuit. For me, they feel like home.

Orange Blossoms & the Sea-Spray
The smell of spring coming, rushing in might be an apter term. Even when the first hot rays are shining, it's the promise budding orange blossoms bring on the bigaradiers that flank the streets of where I live that signal their happy song, ushering in Easter and the return of Bacchus. And it is the salty, iodine scent of the sea brought by the gentle breeze of the evening, rolling along the coastal avenue under the palm-trees that speaks of the joys but also of the yearnings of the Big Blue.

Chanel Bois des Îles
It's not hard to see the appeal of fine cashmere: Its luxurious, pliable, warm but never stuffy yarns, enrobe the body like a beloved's hug. There are several fragrances which claim to be "a cashmere scent" (short for I-want-to-cuddle) but this classic by Ernest Beaux remains unsurpassed, especially in extrait de parfum where its artistry shines like a bright star in the galaxy. Its creamy sandalwood, the doughy iris that provides the plush, some ylang-ylang, hazy opoponax and the labdanum smidge in the drydown account for the most huggable scent you can think of. Simply sublime!

Ava Luxe No.23
This is like cheating as it is along the lines of the afore-mentioned Bois des Iles, at least in general concept. But it bears its own mention because the creamy sandalwood base along something like cheery citrus on the top just makes me feel safe and peaceful. The acacia and hawthorn notes are like sugar-spun biscotti, the musk is warm, powdery, inviting. I guess that's comfort...

Frédéric Malle L'Eau d'Hiver
There is a hint of spiciness hidden, a little heliotrope and hawthorn, some sweetness and the feel of a choir of angels singing atop a lightly salmon-coloured pillowy cloud and I'm transported. I always loved this one, composed by Jean Claude Ellena in 2003 and only this winter did I invest in my own bottle. From now on, the ethereal song can be repeated at will.

Baby scent
Those little creatures burb and poop and pee and perform all possibly imagined inelegant functions, but there is something about their own personal smell, their innermost buttery, milky, a little musky essence that one cannot possibly fully appreciate it until they have a little one of their own and it cuddles up to bed with them. It's yummylicious and utterly addictive!

Hearty, humble food
There is something to be said about the comforting aspects of reverting to the womb through indulging in the familiar scents and tastes of childhood. But what is most surprising is that even though possessing an inquisitive palate early on, it is those humbler carbohydrate-rich tastes which bring on that sense of psychological satiation like you're at peace with the world. I often long for a hearty plate of lentil soup, its garlicy vapours engulfing me on a dreary winter's day, or some on-the-spot composed zabaglione I recall gulping down as a treat after classes when little. Its aroma between a dessert and a vitamin-full supplement has something compelling about it. And of course organic strawberries eaten with fingers, scooping fresh cream along the way: What's more decadent, more delicious, more like a final declaration of spring-coming? I may be a fan of Slow Food, but there's nothing wrong with a couple of easy dishes sometimes. And, oh, cooking by itself is comforting (and sensual) by its very nature.

This traditional Turkish drink has always been something of a remedy-all at my house. Probably because it does aid a rough throat, which is all I ever suffered from (and it was quite often, I can tell you that!). The poppy-seed dust folded into warm milk has something of the ritual of arcane shaman practices that catches the imagination. And the crushed cinnamon on top adds to its attractiveness: It was only later I learned cinnamon is sometimes tied to Aphrodite. Figures...

So which are your comforting smells? Share them with us!

Please visit the rest of the participating blogs on these links:
All I Am A Redhead,

A Rose Beyond the Thames
BitterGrace Notes
I Smell Therefore I Am
Katie Puckrick Smells
Notes from the Ledge
Perfume in Progress
Roxana's Illuminated Journal
Savvy Thinker
Scent Hive
The Non Blonde

Photo by Ayala Sender
The song is Southern Cross by Thanos Mikroutsikos on poetry by Nikos Kavadias, sung by George Dalaras


  1. I'd agree on Bois des Iles. To me, it doesn't smell like cashmere, and now, lemme check, there's a skein of cashmere gallivanting around. It smells a bit dusty, a bit musky, with a whiff of vinegar. Bois des Iles smells of cedar. Which is the comforting element for me.
    I love woody fragrances. They convey a feeling of loneliness and melancholy - and somewhere at the bottom of my character, I'm a gloomy loner. Or maybe it is because I love wandering in the forests to get my yearly dose of being alone.
    Just today, I got several of L'Artisan's Humeurs and D'Humeur a Rien is a cross between turpentine, Yatagan and incense. I totally love it... and it's going to be one of my comforting fragrances, too, because it's inherently melancholic.

    ps. smoking among books is a crime.

  2. Helg,

    Thank you so much for contributing to the comfort joint blogging project!
    I love what you wrote, especially about the orange blossoms and sea breeze. These two scents are probably the two single ones that never fail to put a smile on my face.

    I was going to mention Bois des Iles, but decided not to after all. It's such a sophisticated scent I would be worried about it being too easily linked to negative associations if I did. I find that simple, uncomplicated scents work better for me in those occasions.

  3. Honestly, I would give pretty much anything for the library you described. :)
    I plan on having one when I'm a bit older as well, and have a place where I can put it.

  4. Hmmmm... Libraries....
    I pretty much bought Penhaligon's Elixir because it reminded me of old libraries, polished brass and leather chairs.
    Sometimes a scent that feels like it roots me in history is just what I need to ground me.

  5. Nothing odd about beginning with a library, as far as I'm concerned; take a space that is chock full of books (at least some of them old), the sense of humans sitting, reading...beverage of choice by their side...cozy chair...maybe a fire in the hearth if the weather calls for it...oh, yes. Smell and feel are ALL comfort. :)

    I haven't made the acquaintance of Ava Luxe No.23, but Bois des Isles and L'Eau d'Hiver are part of the spine of my own collection. They are scents which, for me, you can rely on to fulfill many roles -- interesting, smell good, fortify, work with a season, etc. Interestingly, Bois des Isles was a slam dunk as an investment; other than releasing the funds, I never questioned that one. L'Eau d'Hiver was a more involved mental process...I knew I was attracted, wasn't sure if it would be a long time love...after dithering for a year, circumstances convened and I went for it. Haven't regretted it for a minute. (And yes, regrets, I've had a few--when it comes to *other* scent purchases.)

    I can still recall the smell of the top of my babies' heads, though at this point one stands taller than I. Yes, there is something milky/sweet/young animal-y about them. Mrrrmmmm.

    Oh, yes, the food...and you remind me of your evocative post with salep; still hope to experience it some day...

    Woodsmoke and the edge of the woods as they end near the lake. Those are two comfort smells I'd toss on a list. (And didn't on mine, since I went another direction...) Happy Equinox! :)

  6. Another lover of the scent of old libraries here. I almost made "musty books" one of the scents at my post. And the food, absolutely. I could blog for a year about nothing but beloved food smells.

  7. L,

    I never thought of cashmere smelling like vinegar, although I definitely see it as smelling musky. But I'm deferring to your greater yarn expertise for sure!
    As to malencholy and being alone, there's definitely something oddly comforting about that too (as attested by my musical choices). Perhaps we're both introverts? And bookish people? It's got to account for something!

    I know you're a woody person (try Bois d'Iris and Bois d'Ombrie if you haven't, interested in your thoughts) and the whole L'A coffret is lovely, do have fun with it!

    PS.Hope my little surprise brings a smile on your face too. :-)

  8. Ayala,

    thanks for organising this, it was a blast thinking about this and reading everyone's responses.

    We both benefit from the hugging arms of origin of the Mare Nostrum, don't we. The aroma of those first days of spring are an instant happy-injection.

    As to BDI, it's definitely sophisticated, true. Thankfully I haven't associated it with anything sinister thus far *knock wood*. But yes, simple things can make the heart sing too!

  9. Liisa,

    I forgot to mention that even though a non-smoker (so my books aren't too scared yet), I do enjoy the lingering tobacco aroma in old intellectuals' houses I visit. It somehow hangs on the air well. Whether the contents have suffered, I haven't really noticed.

  10. Ines,

    LOL, we're a bookish circle, aren't we? I know you love reading.

    I already have the place and it's spacious and screaming for the treatment (the shelves are there ladden with books, the fireplace also, the rug...) I just need to make some important adjustements so it's really Rolling-Stones-British (if you've ever seen Keith Richards' desk you know what I'm talking about) rather than Med-rustique: I keep the latter for my patio and kitchen where it positively shines as a deco style!

    I wish you swift success in your architectural-cum-decorative plans!

  11. Sarah,

    *off to go hunt Penhaligon's Elixir, how have I missed this!*

    Thanks for the rec and I definitely agree that a little history (he!) adds to the polished feel of belonging.

  12. S,

    See my comment above to Ines, about how I'm going about with the library theme. Not from scratch but getting there. Hopefully some day it will be complete.

    "Woodsmoke and the edge of the woods as they end near the lake": positively dreamy!! Woodsmoke is my go-to smell for autumn. Especially olive-tree-logfire, it's so characteristically "home".

    How very interesting to read on your buying BdI and L'EDH perspectives: I can see how they function for a number of occasions, that's an element that always bears on a full bottle buying decision (OK, that and the price being feasible at the moment obviously).

    And how proud you must be to have grown up children!
    As to salep, by all means, do drop me a line in the mail with a shipping address (so I don't have to wade through hudreds of mails) and I will mail you a box of salep powder and a recipe to prepare some of your own!

  13. M,

    hello there!

    Bookish type number 16 welcome aboard. We're many here and we share likes. I knew you'd chime in.

    Ah, if only the day had 36 hours, I might have kept a food blog. It's just so pleasurable. It's hard to make time for writing on one, though, while upkeeping some standard of quality (as you well know yourself, oh eloquent one!).

  14. Ah, the aroma of old books, I too love that one...and the visuals of them. So many good comfort scents mentioned here in your post!

  15. Helg,
    I'm strongly prejudiced against smokers. My late grandma smoke hundred a day, hand-rolled cigarettes, and nobody ever dared to ask what are they made of, although the theories included tar and dried camel dung. And the fumes ate away veneer on her furniture, dissolved curtains, got ingrained into every piece of plastic... not that she had many interesting books but when she died, I took Quiet flows the Don which we happened not to have at home and two more and left them for several years on the stairs in the most drafty place in our house so that the stink would go away.
    The smell doesn't hang in the air, that brownish goo covers every surface and that's what stinks. More stories about cleaning at grandma's will be found on my blog someday, it's fun in a weird way.

    As for vinegar... not really. It was a handdyed hank of yarn and vinegar is used to set the dyes so that they wouldn't wash out. And the faint smell stays for quite a long time, it either needs lots of washing or lots of airing which is not worth the hassle, yarn gets knitted up into a garment that gets its share of fresh air and laundering.

    And gifts, yes, I love getting stuff.

  16. An evocative post, Elena, and now I'm very curious to try a slurp of Salep. Thanks for your wonderful and erudite blog!

  17. we do agree on some you're right! library smells and any old book/ bookshop I completely agree about- and L'eau d'hiver- like a little reassuring hand on your arm

  18. R,

    books are friends :-)

  19. What a beautifully evocative post. I keep a list of favorite smells as they either happen or I remember them. I think you and I have already had the discussion about the smell of linden trees (and catalpas and locusts).

    And count me in as a lover of library smells. You'd love the library at Keeneland (the racetrack/sales facility).

  20. I forgot to say that Mitsouko parfum is a comfort perfume for me as the sweet resinous base always reminds me of the smell of the feather pillows that my great aunt used to make for me.

  21. L,

    ewwwww...your description is utterly repelling! I'm thankful I didn't take up smoking anytime in earnest. (One thing I agree 100% is that it smells atrocious on clothes: stale, dusty, perverted)
    She must have been quite a character!

    PS: you'll see! ;-)

  22. Katie,

    thanks a lot for commenting. Salep is quite soothing and tasty. It's even more dreamy if you drink it off a bronze cup walking the streets of Istanbul, but oh well, the home-made recipe is good too.
    (I believe Middle-Eastern markets should have it, in powder form. Local poeple use it in winter time to soothe a sore throat, apart from the taste, so it's a standby)

  23. K,

    ah, a lovely description of L'Eau d'Hiver: "a reassuring hand on your shoulder". Priceless!
    Thanks for that.

  24. D,

    yup, how can I forget the linden tree? That was a precious little memory there. So nice of you to remember!

    Oh, please do say more on the Keeneland library! (you got me curious now) I do love horses too!

  25. D,

    Hadn't ever thought of Mitsouko quite that way! Now there's a thought....

  26. My grandma? A character? She was rather an anti-character. In retrospect, it is quite a fun, including stories of How we found a pattern on the carpet but... erm.
    I'm waiting.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine