Thursday, July 15, 2010

10 Unusual Summer Fragrance Choices

Wrapped-up as we so often are in the aphorisms about what we should or shouldn't be wearing ~ according to fashion trends, occasion, the weather or merely how sleepy we have rolled out of bed (you get my point)~ we often forget that perfume primarily has to do with sheer enjoyment! Yes, fitting the surroundings is all fine & dandy and probably earns us brownie points, but what about surprising our entourage (nay, surprising ourselves!) with unexpected choices that don't become stinkbombs either in the summer heat? While discussing this issue with my pal The Non Blonde we came up with memories about summers past, when no one really was wearing citrus dependables like Eau d'Hadrien and when the beauty of Chanel's Sycomore (or Guerlain's Vetiver pour Elle alternatively) hadn't been invented yet.

Here are some of my personal choices, which I have been enjoying on really hot ~and less than that~ summer days & nights. [Links direct you to full on reviews].

  • Lightweight Ambers
I'm a child all over again: There is something nuzzling and welcome about ambers which seem to bloom when there is warmth around. No wonder they were first composed in the Middle East. For me, the non sweet, diaphanous ones which often leave a trail of frankincense remind me of the Aegean...the hot beach, the white church, the wreaths of flowers inside...

*Estee Lauder Private Collection Amber Ylang Ylang

Tropical, lush ylang ylang and slightly medicinal, non sweet amber sing a duet: the feeling of lying down on sugar-span sand, sun high above baking skin. And worries? Like a blister in the sun...they burst!

*I Profumi di Firenze Ambra del Nepal

Not Nepalese, really; I wore this on the island of Santorini, sketching the ruins at Akrotiri, diving at Palaia Kameni and seeing the sun set an agonisingly slow death at Oia. Something about the volcanic earth, all black and scorched, mixed well with this incensy amber with its cool finish. Making me fall in love with life all over again.

*Marc Jacobs Splash Winter Amber

Misnomer of the century: There's nothing wintery about this amber. Much like L'Eau d'Hiver is actually the peachy fuzz of a cloud in a springtime Monet sky, this light, powdery, easy amber is fluff and cotton coolness itself. A distant friend, who has since silenced herself, introduced me to it and I think its splash form is ~for once in perfumery~ perfectly apt: You want to bathe it in and its fleeting nature allows you to, come summer or winter. So very easy that you'd never need think about it.

  • Fangly, Cool Chypres
What is it about cerebral chypres that appeals in the heat? Is it that I do hail from the Mediterranean where they naturally flourished? Probably. I just know they make me shiver with pleasure.

*Jacomo Silences

I first discovered the emerald green scalpel of Silences one summer when I was studying Italian "without toil" in order to accomodate university needs: required reading involved a certain Italian doctor who didn't have the good grace to get his research translated in any other language. One long-winded morning in the library ended into perfume discussion with the librarian assistant who was wearing...Silences. No pun whatsoever, I swear!

*Piguet Bandit

Bandit has long been my "sexy summer scent" when I'm all sweaty. In fact I cherish being sweaty when I'm wearing it, which is as rare a reaction for me as snowing in the middle of August is for weather forecasts in southern Europe. Why, you ask? Because the heat seems to bring out the very best elements in that state of undeliberate disarray, which might be indicative of its mischievous, promiscuous proclivities in the first place; after all Germaine Cellier did undress models off the runway off their underwear for "study" while composing.

*Shiseido Zen (original)

Zen has the bitter, cool taste that you expect brainy, tech-geek types to appreciate: Calatrava architecture, smoked aubergines and Pernod. It doesn't smell of any of these things, of course, but I happened to discover the vintage edition (there are at least three versions, see this) one summer when all these were combined in a whirwind in my life. The summer Olympics had come to Athens and though nothing was zen-like, Zen gave me some grounding and sang froid.

*Guerlain Derby

My wild card and an ace in the sleeve at that. Consider this the classiest choice among them all and save the best for last. Is it fair that it's intended for men? I should think adventurous women who were never tomboys would not only "get away with it", but would highlight its luxurious character even more. Basically Guerlain took the formulaic leather structure and span it on its head, adding the cool bitterness of artemisia and a minty note which make this one the chypre equivalent of the ice-cubes I melt on my chest on summer mornings when I can't bring myself to get dressed. I particularly enjoy the bracing, strident top! Wonderful in vintage form (1985), still amazing in the current Les Parisiennes edition and that's hopeful.

  • Spicy Orientals
Not your typical "summery" category for sure. Yet sometimes they sing magically, with all the bright peak of crystal on a Fellini-esque ship of fools like our lives occasionaly become.

*Yves Saint Laurent Opium Fleur de Shangai

Opium summer editions have all been really good, which is almost a sacrilegious thought now that the real deal has been butchered irrevocably. This one is my favourite of the bunch, worn during romantic evening walks at the seashore, its orchid powderiness a welcome lightening -but not diluting- of the density of the original when it's been 38C all day.

*Krizia Teatro alla Scala

It's so easy to dismiss a spicy oriental, and a dressy one at that, on the power of its prowess. Well, fear not, the aldehydes and clove combo in this one gives the clean feeling of iron passing clean linen and the pepper spice would scare microbes on a petri-dish away. Big nights out, you're covered!

*L'Artisan Poivre Piquant

If Parfum Sacré had a little sister, permeated with eroticism, soft and pliable, this would be she. Drier, more reflective and without the emphatic rosiness, Poivre Piquant weaves in a cooling trail of incense into its peppercorns goodness to cut through the heat like tiny diamonds cut through crystal.

Don't forget to check out Gaia's atypical choices & memories at The Non Blonde.

For a more familiar, summer-friendly fragrance wardrobe for every occasion, please check last year's entry on this link.

Clips from the films The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (2005) by Sanaa Hamri, Le Mépris/Contempt (1963) by Jean-Luc Godard and E la Nave Va (And the Ship Sails On, 1973) by Federico Fellini.
Photo Swallow Dive (SPAARNESTAD PHOTO by Het Leven) via the Nationaal Archief


  1. Love love love my Derby! And I've only been wearing it in the summer heat because I just got my bottle a month ago! And to think I resisted this one for so long. Silly me. Stunning. I do prefer pulling out some of the leathers and the other heavies during the summer- I almost dislike wearing my Geranium Pour Monsieur because it's to misty gray. Let's try that Vol du Nuit next, shall we?

  2. What a lovely description of Silences, which has become a favorite summer perfume - along with Bandit! Nothing is better on a steamy summer day.

    Both get 'dirtier' in the heat, which brings out the very best notes.

  3. What an interesting concept! :)
    At the moment, I'm completely at a loss what to wear unless it screams freshness (so I wear citrusy and minty stuff these days) because we are in the middle of a heat wave here (I don't remember the last time I felt so hot and sticky all the time).

  4. loved this! I'm not big on the typical summer smells anyway so unless it's really really hot I avoid the citrus and white florals- so I've always gone a bit leftfield.

    I like two Malles- L'eau D'Hiver which you mention and En Passant. I love mint smells in the summer and find they cool just like lemon- for an inexpensive staple I go for the the green tea and menthe l'occitane- but would also think Geraniam Pour Monsier for Madame would be pretty great and Heeley menthe too.

  5. Anonymous10:46

    hm.. now that is indeed food for thought... must really try Bandit then (both the green monster AND the sweet beast.. see what works best!) thanks for the suggestions! hugs, Wendy (PS will try and send that Jicky your way today)

  6. Maria10:48

    You hit the spot with this one! I never reach for Eau d'Hadrien adrien in summer, I just can't take it.
    I was excited to see Poivre Piquant mentioned, it was my scent over the last year 3 weeks holiday in Bretagne. It went so well with the ocean there, stones and hortensias and all the flowers around, with the wonderful cheese and pate and Cidre and Quemper. It was perfect (of course, I would always cheat any perfume here and there with few daily dabs of L'Heure Bleue).
    And this thing about summer perfume, that's something quite new and many times I thought that the blogs like yours and others just serve the marketing machines beyond mainstream perfumery which comes every summer with summer stuff.
    Perfume is perfume at any time and weather. Well, you try Lulu on hotest day and see. But I know a beautiful young lady from Tango dancing evenings who wears always Lulu, tones. And it smells absolutely stunning on her, even if last weeks we had over 40 degrees and it was like in Sauna in the dancing halls.
    And what can I say, my L'heure bleue smells divine anytime. Interstingly, only when it's very hot and I sweat, that coolness, medicinal facet of L'heure bleue comes out and it's so comfortable. I find Eau de Joy quite wonderful in the summer, too. And Jasmine et Cigarettes is one of my favorites, too.

  7. What an interesting post! Following your suggestion, I I just splashed on a bit of my sample of Poivre Piquant. You are exactly right about its appeal in warm weather, something that never occurred to me before. You have set my thinking about summer scents in some new directions. Thank you.

  8. Being a galbanum kind of girl, I was given a bottle of Silences for my birthday and since the heatwave hit, it's fast become a huge favorite of mine, too - for being cool, Green (yes, with a capital G!) and classy.

    This is a perfume which should be given much more love and attention - and it positively blooms in the heat!

    Here's a surprise - believe it or not, it layers very well with Balmain's Ivoire, which adds an extra layer of va-va-voom!

  9. Anonymous15:37

    Dear E,

    Hear, hear to the spicy orientals on a steaming summer day. The heat and humidity bring out the razor sharpness of the spices that cuts refreshingly through the unmoving air and revives flagging energy.

    Anything with tons of spice works for me. I love AT's L'air du desert marocain and always get compliments when I wear it, especially in the summer.

    My choice, however, would have to be chypres and Bandit is a beauty. I can never find the sweaty panties in it; on me it is sharp and clear and does not smell "perfumey". When in the hot, still air of the big city, Bandit makes me think of lying down in prickly meadow grass after a hot horseback ride on dusty roads shimmering in the heat, white shirt damp with clean sweat.

    I rather define summer fragrances by what I won't wear. Nothing floral or "fresh" as my skin seems to amplify the sweetness and musk and throw it back at me and those around me with a vengeance.

    I love AT's Lonestar Memories on my better half (and on me, though I do not do it justice). The dirt and smoke come to the fore in our humid summer and seem to hint at a distant wind bringing fresh dry air blowing off the prairies.


  10. Wow! GREAT list. With you all the way on the chypres and Orientals - in fact, I think 'green scalpel' is what I will wear today (getting a late start on the toilette :-)

    Ambers....I'm still having some difficulty with those but you know what? We are going to have some hot days coming up - I think I'll experiment!


  11. I love ambers so I really appreciate your suggestions for lightweight ambers.

    I read on Cafleurebon about Soivohle's "Amberene" as another good choice for summer. Has anyone tried it? I ordered a sample last week and can't wait to give it a shot.

  12. I'm copying your list of unusual summer perfumes into my "to try" list RIGHT NOW. Great concept for a post and intriguing choices.

    (Plus, where I live--Berkeley, California--it rarely gets hot in the summer anyway, and many of those fragrances sound like the perfect solution for cool, foggy summer mornings.)

  13. You are singing my song today! At some point in the middle of July I begin to tire of florals, probably as a result of the overdose of gardenia, tuberose, tropicals, etc that begins the second the weather warms in the spring. So I start to rotate chypres and vintage aldehydics into the mix. This year, I've been drawn to dark, sometimes leathery, occasionally spicy, often animalic chypres. Powerful vintage fragrances despite the heat. Or perhaps because of it.

    Some of my favorites this year: vintage Visa, Jean Desprez Sheherazade, Parure, Nina Ricci Fille d'Eve and some of the Diors. None of these seem intuitively right in this U.S. East Coast heat wave, but somehow they are just perfect.

  14. Jared,

    GREAT taste, my friend! It's an exquisite fragrance, I find. I'd think a little VdN in extrait would be nice, it's not a sillage monster anyway.
    And yup, leathers are great in summer, if only because often the ambience is cool: I use Gomma (Etro) for that; a lighter Knize Ten version. Try it out if you haven't

  15. How right you are to recommend swerving from more predictable seasonal choices. Even if I do prefer sth lighter in summer, that's not always the case. Just last week in Mykonos I found that CdG's smoky-spicy "Jaisalmer" matches a Greek-island evening out beautifully. And for a particularly humid evening, even a drop or two of of something as rich as "Ambre Sultan" can match the climate surprisingly well.

  16. Josephine,

    ain't that the truth about them becoming dirtier in the heat. I think there is something about chypres being made on the island of Cyprus (Chypre) originally: They just fit the surroundings (weather, microclimate, nature)!
    Glad you're enjoying those two and thanks for the nice compliment :-)

  17. Ines,

    glad you liked the concept, it was something discussed a long time ago.

    I should think we'd have more fragrances to think about in the coming weeks ;-) May I suggest a couple for you in the interim? Do try Chanel no.19 in edt, Diorella, Etro Gomma, Passage d'enfer, Iris Silver Mist, Musc Nomade, Bandit edp (the butch, "certified" version)>they all cut the humidity and the stickiness nicely.

  18. K,

    good!! Glad you derived pleasure :-)

    I think it's not easy to find the right balance; sometimes when the climate is really hot (we're talking above 34-35C) unexpected suggestions about orientals or chypres or ambers don't always work: You have to test through "trial and error" to find out which things really work. If I was permanently located in the UK, I'd be having an easier time to just wear whatever I chose (well, I did, while there, LOL!)So, my point, you have some leeway in sticking to your favs year long, which I envy.

    Love your suggestions for minty things and green teas, though, even though En Passant was ruined for me by the yeast note...(such a pity!! I simply adore fresh lilacs)

  19. Wendy,

    by all means, honey, do try it. I always go for the butch, EDP "certified" version (or vintage parfum which is something else but similar in character). It's way cooler!

    PS. thanks!

  20. Maria,

    thank you for your kind words and for your most interesting comment!

    What can I say. Eau d'Hadrien is really fine. But it's kinda predictable for summer, it's more of a "go to" scent when you don't really want to be thinking about your fragrance (it's evanescent too, so fittingly I should wager). So is with most "summery" things, they're not challenging.

    As to the lovely LHB: the ONLY time and only concentration that I really swooned and adored myself wearing it was a hot summer afternoon when I sprayed myself with the old, discontinued Parfum de Toilette. That was HEAVEN! I'm trying to replicate the effect ever since, luckily scored some in a swap, but it needs the proper mood too.
    So your story about your Tango friend and her LouLou resonates with me more acutely than you had anticipated...I wonder sometimes if LHB does the same on me if I think it does, LOL.
    Ah, Jasmine et Cigarette is unique, great pick! Must have escaped my list because it didn't fit the categories. *off to refresh my memory of it*

  21. Kathryn,

    thanks! As I said above, depending on where you are and how hot it can get, it is a trial and error proposition: some things will work 100%, some less so; one has to experiment a bit.
    Poivre Piquant can't smell anything but good in the heat: I think it becomes flat and loses some of its beauty in the cold.

  22. Tarleisio,

    I am ever so happy you posted that: yes, the Silences club must expand! It's so good and it still goes for moderate amounts of money, so we should stock up before anything happens *knock on wood*
    Your rec on layering with Ivoire sounds very good, I should try it out! Thank you!

  23. Natalia,

    thanks honey for chiming in, what a fascinating account your present.

    What can I say, I just always loved spices and so many of them are actually cooling; I suppose there IS wisdom in the Middle-Eastern and Indian cooking that uses them in abundance. They do cool you off. Of course there are some which are more cooling than others: the clovey tint of carnation, basil, cardamom, pink pepper...rather than cinnamon or nutmeg for example.

    LAdD is a masterpiece, I find what works is the "incense" note (not really incense, but let's get along with those that mention it as such) and dryness. I'm glad you point out its spicy facets instead. Lonestar, I'm afraid I can't do...oh well, lots more for others.
    On Bandit (great image you have there!!), it would all depend on the version you have and your perception of dirty panties. I think mine differs a bit (your might too) because I don't smell them in Boudoir for instance, while the whole world says they do :/

    It's an interesting phenomenon about musks and sweetness, as you so succinctly say: I do hear several people on whom some musks can become too sweet. I can see how this would present a problem with "clean" compositions which routinely rely on white musks and other synths to amplify their message and longevity.

  24. Musette,

    thank you! All these are proven to be compatible with the heat, guaranteed!
    Silences is metal icy and a little creepy too, so "green scalpel" was the first thing that popped into my mind and once it was there...hard not to write it! LOL

    I'm not an amber person on the whole (find most too heavy, too dense, too sweet), but a couple of them are balanced and work well. Do try the ones I included and also try Ambre Sultan if you haven't in the heat: although I find it too masculine for myself sometimes, the herbal accents make it an unusual and very delightful take on the amber mix.

  25. Aqu,

    it seems the lightweight ambers did serve their purpose then.

    To answer your other question I haven't tried Amberene yet, but if and when I do, I'll be sure to write a line about it, if you're interested. If they're recommending it, it must be conductive to the warmer weather.

  26. Nina,

    thanks for saying so, what greater pleasure for a fragrance writer than to inspire people to try out things? These are all guaranteed to work in the heat well.
    And I think cool, foggy mornings might benefit as well.
    Best of luck with your experimentation!

  27. Melisa,

    yeah, thanks for saying so, I think I do!

    This inevitably happens because we're so impatient too, don't you find? As soon as the first warm ray rolls we bring out the white florals and the tropicals and by the time heat is really on, we've bored of them for the time being. And we anticipate warm, cuddly scents when it's August. LOL!

    Chypres especially I find fitting for summer, no matter what everyone says about them being autumnal blah blah blah. Have you been to Cyprus, the Greek island? It's HOT almost year round (I don't think it ever drops below 20C even in winter). Chypres weren
    t originally for nought there.

    What an elegant list you have there! Fille d'Eve and Parure are firm favourites of mine, such wonderful, expansive perfumes! (which reminds me I have fallen behind into actually reviewing Fille d'Eve)

  28. Michael,

    oh brother, you were at Mykonos? I'm so envious! ("blindingly-white sugarcube maze of Mykonos Town" describes it perfectly!).
    Me being a stone throw's away anyway and despite that being stuck here grading papers, while I could sun myself at Super Paradise and sipping Fredoccinos at Mykonos' Little Venice......grrrrr.....Anyway, my time off isn't far away, so shouldn't be complain. OK, back to perfume again:

    Yup, incense is very ingrained as a note in the Greek landscape (all that incense burning at churches and homes and its inherent dryness) and indeed the herbal accents of Ambre Sultan fit the hot weather perfectly (I would love to smell this on a man; mine isn't yet sympatico to the AS idea)

    Have fun whatever you do!

  29. I do hope that you review Fille d'Eve. I recently happened upon it and I've fallen head over heels. There is very little information about it in the blogosphere. I would love to hear your impressions.

  30. Wow. I mean this is fun to read. I gotta throw in a blog entry regarding this atypical summer fragrances picks. lol

  31. Clara7610:28

    Great stuff, I like it!
    Perhaps you forgot to mention one amazing perfume of the season. Eau Flirt- a the perfume that flirts for you. Lavender & pumpkin pie brings out the wickedly irresistible sexy fragrance.


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