The Venomous Fruits & Flowers of Summer: Perfumes that Own the Heat and the Night {Scented Thoughts}


Les Fleurs du mal by Carlos Schwabe, 1900

The musings below were written two years ago, in July of 2010. The list of perfumes corresponding to the type of "venomous fruits and flowers of summer" I have yet to write down.

July 17th, 2010

Recently I decided to go perfume hunting for new summer scents with the straightforward idea of purchasing fresh, citrusy colognes. (You might be inspired to buy the scented bouquets of flowers at ProFlowers.) I even had quite precise candidates in mind: the new Eau Fraîche de Rochas and O d'Azur by Lancôme. I told myself not to forget to re-check the new Eau de Cologne by Le Couvent des Minimes. Decide - yes or no - to take the plunge and adopt Un Jardin sur Le Nil by Hermès for its mix of slightly bitter mango and refreshing Eau de Cologne accents.

All these and others soon vaporized when I took in my first whiffs of heavier, brew-like perfumes. Somehow, my hand started reaching out to perfumes promising stronger sensations and when smelling them, the aquarelle scents quickly receded in the background instead of making the more opaque, cloud-like perfumes feel too heavy...

It was hot. It was really hot. I had thought I needed relief from the rising temperatures and the common-sense side of me (translation: conventional thinking) had advised me to go pluck some oranges and lemons from the citrus grove.

This was counting without what my unconscious mind was really craving.

Retrospectively, I am certain that having experienced natural smells in tropical and equatorial climes in my lifetime have shaped some of my deep expectations about olfactory intensity. And especially when it comes to the summer season and its rolling heat.

In an equatorial country, summer is like an uninterrupted ball taking place all year long. Time turns around in an endless waltz. There is nary a break from that langorous dance floor, except for some heavy pounding and brief, brutal afternoon rains for a few weeks. This natural environment creates an odd feeling of eternity and the sensation that there is something still about time. It has almost stopped. There are no four seasons. There is just a recurring wet stormy interlude when the skies open and the daytime darkness is stricken with flashes of electricity and thunder. This peculiar brand of temporality associated with constant heat encases your experiences of smells which are in fact not as strong as in a tropical climate where fruits and flowers have better opportunity to develop scents not as much washed out by pounding downpours. And yet, there is an extraordinary level of humidity and heat combined, a phenomenon which makes scents feel gigantic when they are finally released and free to express themselves.

This is perhaps why a durian fruit will always smell more powerfully rotten there and still be deliciously edible. Hints of decay and oxydation are everywhere making for a more paradoxical experience of so-called "good smells". That would have to mean smells which are good for thinking to paraphrase Lévis-Strauss' famous phrase.

In Malaysia, it is very much like in France in the way that borderline smells of rot and putridity are part of the culture and are signs of connoisseurship. If you can't take some of the fetid smells, you are just uncouth. It means, you lack sophistication and were not socialized by your elders to appreciate every nuance that develops within a difficult scent. You are not tolerant - and to borrow from gay pride terminology - you are not a rainbow smeller and taster.

What I instinctively want to recapture in a scent, it turns out, is that impression of muggy heat which makes a perfume bloom with exaggerated proportions. The air then is sticky-hot and the smells just expand like giant mushrooms. I love to sense in a fragrance also that contrasted passage from air-conditioned refrigerated coolness to tropical decay which is a hallmark of life in under the equatorial line and the tropics. And, lucky me, there is a perfume, even 2 or 3, which precisely suggest that.

I find that I am very susceptible to the sensation of a flower which exists only by its scent in the darkness of a tropical garden at night. To attract you, the scent it diffuses is even more intense - quasi hypnotic - as compared to during the day when it can attract you thanks to its visual patterns and colors.

I started out clearly wanting fresh eaux but I ended up with nocturnal, floral perfumes of the come-hither type, what I had to label in my mind as the "Venomous Flowers." Nowhere else but in such humid and hot quarters can you feel the proximity of life and death through smell when vitality translates into an illusion of olfactory decay to entrap all insects and you at the same time.

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