Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Try Before You Die

Photo by Leandro Farina

Ever since reading The Perfume Bible last week and poring over the list of "100 perfumes to try before you die" I've been obsessively making my own lists, arguing with the authors (in my mind), listing and deleting, trying to decide between Onda and Rozy, Bottega Venetta and Elie Saab, L'Eau d'Issey and Escape (the latter is in the "worst ever" category). And you know what? I'm not going there. But I still want to make a list. Not the "100 perfumes every perfumista should try" (Robin of NST already did that), not "100 Best perfumes in the known universe", and not even "100 greatest classics" (Luca Turin already wrote the book).

 For once I'm being a minimalist. This is a list of 10 perfume I think everyone, be it a fragonerd or my assorted brothers-in-law, should smell at least once as cultural-olfactory references. Not because Gaia The Non-Blonde likes or hates them (well, maybe), but because I believe they have an important role in the fragrance world, and perfume is just one of those commercial/art/design elements that make up the modern world.

This is my list. I'm curious to know what's on yours.

  • Chanel No.5. Once upon a time everyone recognized it at first sniff. Nowadays younger generations are more likely to identify Coco Mademoiselle. Still, few perfumes are as culturally important (or as exquisitely composed).
  • Guerlain- Shalimar. It's nearly impossible to choose between the classic Guerlain perfumes. Still, Shalimar is the grandmother of all orientals (even if Emeraude came out earlier) and is the reference point for everything from Musc Ravageur to Le Labo Vanille 44.
  • YSL- Opium. The spicy oriental that defined the 1970s. Read "Fear of Flying" while wearing it.
  • Serge Lutens- Muscs Kublai Khan. There are many dirty musks out there, but MKK embraces the body like nothing else. Cleanliness, filth, a floral veil and a fruity undertone, it's as unique as it is polarizing.
  • Serge Lutens- Iris Silver Mist. I fully admit my bias toward Uncle Serge, so this is the second one from this iconic line. Since we can't have Fath Iris Gris on this list, I've chosen an iris from the other end of the spectrum, yet it showcases all the important characteristics of this note.
  • Dior-Eau Sauvage. The ultimate in aromatic-citrus that proves that these notes have more complexity than just "shower fresh". It'll also make you question the validity of most modern citrus perfumes from the last couple of decades. Why did they even bother?
  • Robert Piguet Bandit. I'm choosing Bandit over Fracas because there are uncountable big white florals out there, but there's only one Bandit. Gender ambiguous, leather, whips, and bondage. It'll help you understand art and music videos on a deeper level.
  • Thierry Mugler- Angel. No matter how much I personally dislike Angel, it's a a landmark in perfumery, the beast who launched a thousand clones, tainted the 90s with its monster rotten chocolate fruit, and probably the reason CB hates perfume. 
  • Frederic Malle- Le Parfum de Therese. This is the second appearance of perfumer Edmond Roudniska on this list (Eau Sauvage was also his). Therese, composed for the perfumer's wife, is one of the most beautiful perfumes ever created in my opinion. Diorama, Diorella, Diorissimo, and Femme de Rochas all lead to this magnificent achievement.
  • Hermes- Terre d'Hermes. It might be almost a cliche in men's fragrance, but this animal-mineral-vegetable perfume is a brilliant example of modern perfumery and the talent of perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena.


  1. Great picture and very good list! I will make a conscious Lutens smelling effort in the next few months.
    Good luck with the missionary work with various brothers in law....

  2. I love that photo!
    Honestly, I would choose all the ones that you listed for a top ten and, frankly, I'm basically incapable of going minimalist when it comes to perfume lists, so, since I've got zero time right now, I'm going to throw out a few other perfumes before I have a chance to think more and go into my typical War and Peace length list mode.

    Aftelier Tango, Palimpsest, Cuir Gardenia, Cepes & Tuberose - basically anything Mandy has created, since everyone should experience the heart stopping beauty and compelling originality that can be created with all naturals when in the hands of a genius perfumer.

    Bulgari Black - because everyone should know that real beauty can come from an unexpected note like rubber (OK, and if it's not love at first sniff, it's an example of why several wearings should be given to some perfumes over time to see if an olfactory epiphany about them can ever be achieved).

    MdO Vanille - one of several examples of how vanilla can grow up and become a sophisticated swan.

    Balmain vintage Vent Vert - Iconic, stunning green, illustrating both why vintage should not be dismissed and, also, along with Bandit in your list, another example showing that not all top of the line perfumers in the past were men.

    SL Arabie - simply because it's such an intense example of what it is to travel via scent.

    L'Artisan Tea for Two - L'Artisan was one of the very first to really set off the niche perfumery movement and I couldn't choose their best, so this is simply the first that came to my mind.

    Caron's Tabac Blond - truly timeless leather (and, despite the difficulty of finding it, I can't stop myself from mentioning Lanvin Scandal).

    Amouage Gold for Men - prime example of why gender distinctions should be ignored and a line that I think will be around long into the future (and, just because I'm wearing it today, Ormonde Man as another example of gorgeous genderlessness).

    FM Vetiver Extraordinaire, MdO Vetyver, Vero Onda - more genderless perfumes and examples of a classic note that deserves much, much more attention.

    Patou Joy parfum formula (preferably vintage) - it's such a classic floral and it had a reputation for being expensive and luxurious when that actually meant something and was at least somewhat justified by the quality of ingredients used.

    Norma Kamali Incense - OK, how to justify having this one on the list? Just because I'm very much in love with it and in the mood for it these days isn't going to be enough, so maybe because everyone should know what a really warm, quite intense non-European church incense perfume can smell like?
    Still ended up with a too many perfumes - I'm seriously hopeless with perfume lists.

  3. For some reason, Le Parfum de Therese didn't sit well with me the one time I tried it. I own, thanks to ebay, several vintage bottles of Diorama, which I love and prefer to vintage Miss Dior. Agree with Anna about vintage Joy--not to wear routinely, but to have a reference point for quality jasmine and rose.
    My pick for modern perfumery has to be Moon Bloom--just exquisite.

  4. I'm quite happy with most of your list, really, very deeply satisfied with the range and categories. I can't smell MKK very well, so I'd substitute L'AP Timbuktu or one of the early CdGs for weirdness. I'd also sub in Knize Ten for Bandit. I would probably have made other different choices, starting from scratch, but I am stuck by the strong perfume logic of yours. Brava! nozknoz

  5. "It'll help you understand art and music videos on a deeper level." Explain please.

    I think this is a very personal response to this particular fragrance - how can you possibly say it will have the same effect on me or anyone else?

  6. A couple more contenders:

    Fendi Fendi - Liquid mink coat, there was, is and will never be a substitute.
    Scherrer Scherrer: Ur Green Chypre.
    Magie Noire: Green + incense + moss = olfactory Samhain.
    Chanel No. 19: olfactory Beltane.
    Safari before it was ruined: Possibly the perfect dry green chypre.
    Eau de Eden: Aquatic Floral done right, simultaneously rich and transparent, bugspray free.


I love comments and appreciate the time you take to connect with me, but please do not insert links to your blog or store. Those will be deleted. The comment feature is not intended to provide an advertising venue for your blog or your commercial site.

Related Posts Widget