Monday, 17 November 2014

On Perfume Promiscuity - The Great Solo Scent Adventure Part 3 - Nancy's Story

Tonight I tried yet again to edit the almighty findings of our intrepid scent adventurers as they embarked on a mission to stick to just one scent for three days and nights. 

Nancy's story was far too beguiling to copy and paste into teeny blog sized chunks, so here it is in full. Thank you Nancy for telling us such a personal tale so eloquently and I'm sorry I was your 'enabler' in the Armani purchase. It sounds like it was worth the investment though!

If you haven't read the introductory post about the adventure or Tresor's story, you can click here and here. That way you will understand what we were up to. Part 4 will appear soon with (finally) my edit of the other participants.

Nancy, pictured with essential hurricane survival equipment, canine best mate and perfume are obviously the crucial elements!

How many different scents would you apply in an average week?

Between 12 and 20

What factors influence your choice of scent, e.g. season, mood, time of day etc? And do specific genres appeal to you more than others within these factors?

Influences include:

Season and the temperature. I am a huge fan of oriental fragrances, which for the most part do better in cooler weather. In summer it is extremely hot and humid in New Orleans, where I live. I choose citrus, herbal, and light floral fragrances when it’s hot. Now that it is getting cool outside, I lean heavily to fragrances with amber, spices, patchouli, vanilla, incense, wood, licorice, labdanum, and lush florals. Rose goes any time of day and any temperature, by the way!

Time of day. A lot of times I need motivation to get myself up in the morning. I use a lively fragrance to give me a boost. Maybe something with orange blossom or ginger or citrus or pepper. I do rely heavily on bath products with a nice scent so that my shower is also a fragranced experience. It wakes up my senses.

In the afternoons and evenings I usually reach for more challenging, unusual scents. Depending on the next section, which is:

Mood and occasion.  When I want to project a certain image or feel a certain degree of confidence, such as a professional situation, I like to wear iris fragrances or even very fine, more abstract fragrances that don’t project too far. They make me feel strong. If I’m going to the symphony I prefer lush, exquisite fragrances, usually orientals. For funerals I tend to go with something soft, woody, and powdery. Date night—well that just depends! Sometimes I want to be snuggly, sometimes sexy, and usually all of these other factors play into it as well. When I’m sad I want a comfort scent with sweetness, when I’m happy I want something zingy or more adventurous.

New purchase.  When I buy a new bottle of perfume it is really hard to resist wearing it immediately! So sometimes I throw all of these previously mentioned factors to the wind and put on that incredible new scent. This goes for receiving samples of fragrances as well—I want to test them as soon as I can.

Health. My health plays an extremely important role in my choice of fragrance. I have some chronic health problems, and when they flare up I choose comfort scents above all else. I seem to be drawn over and over to powdery ambers, woods, and incense, and vanilla notes.

Roughly how large is your collection of full bottles, decants and samples?

I am not as good at organizing my collection as some folks are. I need to make a spreadsheet or something. I’m too lazy to do an exact count, but I own close to 200 bottles of perfume, another 40 to 60 decants, and at least 800 to 1,000 sample vials. I keep a notebook now of anything perfume related, especially listing fragrances I would like to sample.

How do you feel about sticking to just one scent for 3 days and nights?

I felt surprisingly anxious! Would I choose the right one? Would it satisfy my moods and cravings? Would I accidentally, out of habit, reach for another perfume and spray it on during the day?

What scent did you choose for this adventure and why?

I chose Ambre Soie by Armani/Prive. It wasn’t an easy decision but here is my reasoning: it has a number of notes that satisfy me a lot of the time, having an oriental, spicy, and sweet, balsamic composition. So it’s well-rounded enough to give me the oomph I crave in the morning with the ginger and pepper, but smooth and mellow and comforting through the cooler weather, with amber, patchouli, cloves, and all sorts of soft spices. And it has a wonderful licorice zing in it that I love so much. I can focus on different components of the fragrance and get different sensory responses. And finally, Ambre Soie is a new purchase for me. It was pretty expensive, and I was feeling sort of guilty for dropping that kind of money right now in my life. I figured if I could use it for this experiment I would have an excellent excuse for splurging on this!!! Thanks Sarah!

How would you describe your involvement with the perfume world?

I live in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I was born and have lived most of my adult life. I have always had an excellent sense of smell—my parents would ask me to sniff things out for them in the house. I have known since childhood that I respond to smells emotionally. I remember my mother bringing me to the grocery store with her when I was about two years old. The man stocking the aisles told my mother how “precious” I was. He had a very strong body odor, and to this day when I hear the word precious I think “stinky.”

Like so many fragrance fanatics nowadays, I had my collection of fragrances growing up. And I loved to smell my grandmother’s perfume. A world-class pianist who spent her childhood in Hungary and Paris as a prodigy studying with masters in Europe, my grandmother had exquisite taste. She wore two fragrances: Je Reviens by Worth and Bal a Versailles by Jean Desprez. It is the Bal a Versailles I remember on her the most, and it is and will always be the epitome of sophistication.

But it wasn’t until I turned 30 years old that I had a fragrance epiphany. I’ve read a lot of research and personal accounts to try to explain the phenomenon, but I won’t go into all that now. Suffice it to say, I got very sick with a pneumonia infection that would not clear from my body. The acute lung problems subsided, but I lived with fever and the ravages of this pathogen in my system for more than 15 years before getting effective treatment. In the meantime, my sense of smell, or perhaps my perception of smell, blossomed. If I were outside speaking to someone, for example, and the wind blew, I would be so distracted from my conversation because of the light smell of sweet olive drifting through the breeze. Or gardenia. Or whatever was growing out there. I would completely miss what the other person was saying to me and have to go seek out the flower immediately. My friends joked that I had become an “idiot savant” of sorts, distracted easily from movies and social activities because of a smell.

I started reading about fragrances, found myself joining my first chat room-bulletin board website and immersing myself into the world of perfume. I ordered niche fragrances from a few recommended sources, and, well, it all began.

I would like to tell one story that pertains to your dream, Sarah. You dreamed of the anxiety you had trying to choose scents and relocate in a hurry. What a great way to get this whole exercise started—to choose just one scent for days. 

This was a reality for me in 2005 when, after Hurricane Katrina, the levees failed and the city flooded. I find that I am still having trouble writing about this experience almost 10 years later. Suffice it to say that the stress was unbelievable. My mother was recovering from brain surgery (she was okay but her sense of balance was not good), my father, a physician who never left his hospitalized patients during a hurricane, was himself in intensive care for heart trouble. I have my own illness problems. I saw the storm was coming and had to get my parents’ organized, including packing necessities like canned goods, water, and 3 dogs. We rode out the storm at the hospital and all went well. But when we heard rumors about the levees and flooding, it was another ordeal to try to get out of the city before we were stuck. There was no electricity, no television or phones working, and we didn’t know if we could find enough fuel for the car to get us to a safe destination. My birthday was mixed in there somewhere too.

From Friday until Tuesday it was survival mode nonstop. I didn’t know what day it was when we got to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and had to be told it was Tuesday. I broke down at that point—the first moment I had had to breathe, and to shower!!!! In the following week we were able to get to Mobile, Alabama, where my brother and his family live and where I would live for the next two months. After a week or so in Mobile, I started trying to buy some things—a few pieces of clothing, some shoes, face cream, etc. Our world was spinning, as we found out that more than 13 feet of water was sitting, stagnant in our family home in New Orleans. All gone. My grandmother’s beloved Steinway grand piano had been flipped over in the rush of water and had drifted into another room. I can imaging the creeping noise as the water raised up and hit the strings. Heartbreak.

The horrific eye of Hurricane Katrina

Worried about cars, insurance, trying to find friends and coworkers, all this craziness. And in the midst of it all, a large box was delivered to my brother’s house addressed to me. Inside it…perfume!!!! My friends online, at MakeUp Alley, had all pitched in and found me. Full, new bottles, large decants, sample vials, even flip-flops, which I really needed! I was floored. Loving notes. My family looked in the box, completely bewildered. What is that? Perfume? It was so odd to see, and so utterly beautiful. I cried. I came to the conclusion that food, water, and shrimp boots are necessary for hurricane survival, but perfume and the love of a perfume community—well that is true humanity and civilization.


Day one of the challenge. I sprayed Ambre Soie on and inhaled a beautiful, smooth sweet scent with a little cinnamon and ginger. Amber is not too prominent, and there is some ginger and thin patchouli lurking around. Very pretty. But is it too smooth and a little watered-down? I’m worried I’m going to get bored with this one sooner than I thought, now that I know I have to wear it for three straight days! I head out to a coffee shop with my computer. And then, wow, here comes the licorice! I had almost forgotten that wonderful licorice punch that convinced me to purchase this fragrance in the first place. I spend an hour or so with my wrist glued to my nose, inhaling sweet resins and licorice. Aaaaah! By nighttime it’s just a warm, extremely close-to-the-skin scent. I give myself some more sprays.
A much-anticipated sample came in the mail today, and I’m frustrated that I can’t try it out on my skin. I didn’t even try to smell it from the sample vial for fear of the temptation.

Again with the Ambre Soie. Today I pulled out a lot more warm, stewed fruits in the opening. Was surprised I didn’t notice them as much yesterday. Perhaps this idea of using the same fragrance often allows me to smell more nuances or focus on whatever my need du jour is. It’s much colder today too. I’m pulling as much warmth from this scent as I can. Labdanum, patchouli, clean amber, ginger, clove. It’s truly gorgeous. And the licorice blast. I’m still happy with this one!

Last day of the challenge and I’m glad for it. I completely love and appreciate Ambre Soie and feel enveloped in deep brown and purple satin. I’m getting a hint of a more masculine aspect of the fragrance today and can see how a man would love this too. It’s warm but not cloying, sweet but with spices peaking out all the time. My temptation for spraying a floral scent on is intense today, and I am eyeing my bottle of Penhaligon’s Amaranthine. Don’t worry; I was faithful to the challenge.

My other temptation comes when participating in my online fragrance groups and reading my favorite perfume blogs. Descriptions of scents are like menu items when I’m hungry; I’m gaining an appetite for them and the cravings are growing strong. I settle in to my last night of smooth, Ambre Soie softness and drift off to sleep.

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