The Parisian métro is one of the best natural testing grounds for knowing what is going on impromptu in the world of perfume. Some days, you are more receptive than others. Especially when you are so tired you need to shut your eyes when riding on the train. This is when your nose stays awake, even more so than when you are alert enough to glance around, hopefully politely...
And this morning, in succession, I was struck by different identifiable sillages. A man was wearing Hugo Boss. It smelt of dark woods on vanilla with its fruity-ambery pruney effect. Nice. Wearing a perfume, even a mainstream one, you are not trying to blend in. There are hundreds of travellers on the métro yet only a small percentage wear fine fragrances.
Then a wave of Aromatics Elixir by Estée Lauder came towards me. I opened my eyes and saw a woman dressed like a Londoner, with a beige trench coat and a silk scarf lined with red around her neck. It occurred to me then that Aromatics Elixir is not only a seductive, elegant chypre with character, but also a *crisp* one and a good choice for getting in the grove in the mornings. Its medicinal aspect, its aromatic properties came to the fore reminding you it can be a herbal tonic for the mind.
Then I forget -- there was another distinctive perfume somewhere in the carriage this morning but as I did not whip out any notebook to jot down its name, I'm afraid I might have forgotten what it was.
I often smell Lancôme La Vie est Belle these days though. It's a cousin of Flowerbomb but with its own particular olfactory imprint.
The Métro at rush hour underground and during L'Heure Bleue (Blue Hour) above ground -- Looking like an OVNI
This afternoon on the other hand, I recall two other very clear sensations of perfumes. One was the feeling of being suddenly awash in the absolutely arresting sillage of Gucci Rush, its neon and milky modern chypré notes. This is one perfume that gives you a slap in the face whenever you smell it. It's dynamic, young - not necessarily youthul - and original. It is just itself. Thank God, it's still around. Thank God Michel Almairac created it.
But the most intriguing trail of the day was probably - or at least it is so far - the strange concoction worn by a strange-looking Goth girl. As I got on the train, I first noticed her "pattes d'eph" or bell-bottom pants made of red and black tartan wool cut at knee level by the lower part of her trousers' legs made of faux fur emulating a black Yeti with matted hair. I was hypnoptized by those. Lifting my head, I saw her makeup was a contrast in deathly white, crimson red and coal black eye-liner all put together with straightened, hard-looking, paper-flat, spiky somewhat hair. I didn't oggle her too much as there was a sort of field of aggressivity around her and an air of attentive defiance on the lookout for bourgeois reactions. Sensitive girl, please don't touch me. Her perfume however I could safely swallow in while turning my back on her and wondering what it was.
For a moment it felt like a ballet. I felt like I was "reading" her perfume in the air and that she was aware of my olfactory interest. She seemed to be waiting for my conclusion, observing me and following the inclinations and discreet yet discernable tiltings of my head.
First, her perfume smelled strange, like her outfit. I don't mean to say "strange" in a judgmental way. I mean "strange" in the sense that I am aware of the mean average of opinions and so I aim to use the term in an objective sense. Let's say that she looked original and smelled intriguing and desorienting initially.
But then when you tried to put a name on the scent, you actually could; it smelled as if she had put on a first layer of Dior Hypnotic Poison followed by a second layer of raw patchouli oil, an intriguing combination, like a butched-up Hypnotic Poison which never knew what happened to it. Behind the gentle wafts of vanilla and heliotrope, the darker and cruder and tarrier accents of patchouli oil pierced through. A new harmony. It even suggested Sables by Annick Goutal at some point, but without staying for a long time on that fleeting reference. No, it wasn't Sables, it was the patchouli overdose found in Sables.
The custom-made mix was, I realize now, a perfect olfactory echo of her sartorial efforts. It smelled red -- Hypnotic Poison whose bottle is ruby-like smells to me like the red lights district, the boudoir of a 19th century brothel, like what Belle could be wearing in Gone with the Wind for professional reasons... you get the gist of it. But then the patchouli came in to add a black note and a dose of rougher and hard-metal attitude rather than a hippie one. Still, that patchouli essence was obviously assuming a counter-cultural role like back in the 60s-70s. Clearly, that person whom I would have loved to photograph - but 1) I had forgotten my notebook-camera and 2) she might have opposed a "no" to the idea - was very careful about her stylistic choices, be them visual or olfactory.
And to that, I feel you can only say Amen - not A*Men (by Thierry Mugler) for those who think first of perfume names - just Amen like when you bump into people who believe in the same things, here the interplay between the visual and the olfactory, a carefully orchestrated system of sensorial correspondences.