I don’t know about you, but contrary to the image of perfume promoted in advertising, I don’t use scent primarily to attract. Although being perfectly dressed up in the right fragrance for a night out is one of life’s greatest pleasures, it also struck me the other night, as I settled down in the warmth, coming in from the cold, post-work, that I often instinctively reach out for a perfume, one I sometimes already have in mind before I get in the door, craving it, selecting it as it rises up in my mind – often a rich, deep extrait, something complex that I can sink into – and apply it to the top of my hand. My brain is then changed. Thickened. Comforted, by the plush and the poetic olfactory.



We sit in private conversation, in sublime connection with the self, as I read, watch a film in the dark, or just think, separated from the sometimes unpleasant purity of awareness; nerve endings cushioned from harsh reality: healed, like balm.












Filed under Flowers

29 responses to “PERFUME AS BALM

  1. I can completely relate to this. The first thing I do after I get home from work is put on something comfortable and spray some perfume on myself with abandon–without the restrictions I have as to perfume when I am at work.

  2. Marina

    I can relate. I’ve long worn perfume for myself. Whenever I get home I always change and refresh my scent. It’s a wonderful way to begin the relaxation process.

    • Exactly. I love it, especially as I am only ever wearing something clean smelling for work. It is like overlaying a more integral, bodied self over the public face.

      What are you wearing these days, Marina san? I loved you in that Courreges.

  3. Renee Stout

    Looks like we all have the same idea about perfume. Fortunately, I work at home, so whatever scent I crave when I’m waking up, I can put it on and not worry that someone will complain that my Coty Styx, or vintage Miss Dior smells like something an old lady would wear. The perfume I choose sets the tone for the day and I wear it completely for myself. Just before bedtime I chose something else to apply so I can sniff it as I fall off to sleep.

  4. Sister Mary

    Yes. This is how it is.

  5. emmawoolf

    Fascinating. I find the right perfumes deeply comforting and cosseting (the Y Yves St Laurent extrait is perfect for this, the vetiver soothing and calming for on-stage nerves, or the right occasion). I would never think of reapplying something new when I get home, if I’m hunkering down for the night, I like the fade you get at the end of the day, but will try this approach from time to time, thank you for the suggestion

    • Y is a perfect example of the type of thing I mean. If you have already been wearing perfume all day then I can understand why you might not want to add any more, but in my case I have to be all laundry cleanish, as far as I can, and in getting back home and sinking into the chair of the upstairs videodrome (you will have to see it sometime, it really is the most divine private cinema), perfume is an absolute essential, a dream laden buffer. I love it.

      • emmawoolf

        I so love the sound of that. I unfortunately get home from work, drop my bags in the hall, walk straight into the kitchen and cook dinner. However I usually change out of hideous work clothes at some stage in the evening, which would be the perfect opportunity to try something new. (Your private videodrome sounds utterly heavenly. I by contrast haven’t watched a film that isn’t in the tedious family action genre with a 12 certificate for years.)
        I will try your suggestion this weekend x

  6. Do you have any suggestions about The kind of fragrance? I find it quite fascinating, not like Marilyn Monroe in Chanel no 5, more like Anouk Aimee, a dark quiet lady of The night, who soothes you to rest. Please advise me how and where and should these be vintage too? And how to follow your nose? Different from The daytime fragrances? A lot of questions, but this is new to me. I love The Notion of balm.

    • You know, I don’t think it is so much a question of any specific perfume so much as something that you love and that distances you from the daytime world.

      It needn’t be vintage, by any means, but as I would never in a million years think of wearing one of those scents in my daytime life, where I go all ‘fresh’ and clean and floral ( today I am wearing the delightful Velvet Desire by Dolce & Gabbana, for example, in very small doses along with lemon hand cream), when I get in it is like entering a portal into another realm. Japanese incense in the house to take things further askew, and then something like vintage Vol De Nuit or Infini or whatever (sometimes I fancy something spicy and diva-ish such as Diva or Coco), or else vintage Femme (see mine or the brilliant review by The Smelly Vagabond to get the general drift: I also keep mine by the bedside). It has to be heartfelt and real, a proper vintage, or else a sample of an interesting new niche, and it is like a bridge to a different zone. If you lived nearby I would gladly give you samples of everything, but I just can’t deal with the whole post office thing anymore. But you have been a perfume wearer for a long time it seems. You must have scents that take you out of yourself, or at least extend you, separate you from the shit, surely. Or do you outgrow things and relegate them to the past? I can understand that perfumed ethos too.

  7. No, recently I I have been buying scents from the past in original version. Oils and perfume extract and all such things are new to me. I don’t much like the glitterend stalls of mega stores. I used to have my OWN perfume shop in Amsterdam with madame Irene, vintage southern french. But her daughter who should have taken over got sick. I miss her still and in your Words I rediscover my delight in entering her shop and choosing according to my mood and time in life. There has never been a remplacement for her.
    There is a vintage perfume shop in Amsterdam, but I still have to visit. I take such delight in all your pictures as well. Discovering scents among bric a brac, I was thrilled by your discoveries of original Guerlain perfumes. To me iT also is a Thing of remembrance and I like things old and beautiful. I am not a minimalist, although beautifully crafted simple things, for example pottery or architecture can take my breath away.
    Burning my midnight Oil and getting advice is in itself comfortable like The balm you described so eloquently that I almost felt iT. My nose And I Will follow your trail, very inspiring.

    • That is such a nice thing to say.

      I didn’t know you had a perfume shop (your own words are very mysterious). What was it like? Please tell me more.

      And please also go to the vintage shop in Amsterdam and tell me more about it. I love that city, as you know, and the thought of a vintage perfume (or is it fashion?) shop is completely delightful.

  8. I did not OWN The perfume shop. I was a customer, very much pampered always leaving with savoury sacs. I still have Some samples, And I cherish madame Irenes memory very much. And I will visit The vintage perfume shop although I fear it Will greatly inconvenience my spending shopaholic nature. Temptation is so hard to resist, as I’m sure you und.erstand. A friend gold me about iT, adding it was forbidden fruit. I think I Will succumb

  9. I completely understand what you are saying. When I come home, the first thing I do is shower, then in fragrance myself. I always fragrance with extraits in the evening. In this colder weather, I always am wanting something rich and soothing and cocooning; last night was vintage Tabu, a show stopper truly. I have just been wanting to feel cozy as of late, but always have worn scents that are like balm for my soul.
    Even when I used to go out for the evening, or on dates. I never wore scent for the attraction aspect of it, always for what I enjoyed. Once, on a date, I was wearing Jean Desprez Sheherazade and my companion was so smitten with the scent, which really surprised me to no extreme. I guess scent has always been a much more personal thing for me, than what the companies want it to be- that magic elixir that will capture a partner.
    Scent as balm for the soul, an elixir for the spirit, that is what it should be.

    • Never smelled Sheherazade but I remember you raving about it (and how fantastic to get that kind of reaction).

      Vintage Tabu though. That is going to be one of my reviews soon. I also have the vintage extrait. Blimey it is quite something.

      • Tabu is something. I will look forward to reading your impressions on it. Wish I had thought to send along some Sheherazade, you must experience it.

  10. I don’t know how you do it. You wrote exactly how I feel but could never express in words. That acts as its own balm, the connection you give us to you, a kindred spirit. Again, as so many mornings, thank you for this read.

    Sometimes I almost drench myself in vintage PdT at night, as if the physical sensation of fragrance and cool alcohol on my skin was part of it, absorbing the scent over so much body, this heady veil, or aura — being taken over by the intensity of it. I did that last night with vintage Femme, with a spray of the 2013 version — quite something, in small doses — over top to add the leathery/bitter-sweet plum bite that the original has lost over time. It does feel purely balm-like in the full sense of the word, soothing and at the same time protective. Living can be so draining to the soul, harsh.

    Other times, extrait on the back of the hand, nose to skin at intervals, huffing it with mouth open to give every molecule access to all receptors. Then it is like hearing a symphony — or a string quartet, or solo cello, depending on the perfume. It seems as though it is filling my head with vibration.

    None of this having a bloody thing to do with attracting anyone. Completely private, self-indulgent, and yet paying a kind of homage to the artistry and beauty and emotion-stirring quality of scent itself. Yeah, baby!!!

    • Exactly. And I think that Femme is in some ways the ultimate for what you are talking about. I doubt I will ever wear my PdT outside, though I wouldn’t rule it out if I were in the right mood, but the reason the full bottle is gradually going down is precisely what you write about here. That perfume really is truly warm and orchestral, completely gorgeous, a total nerve soother and soul protector.

  11. For some reason this post made me wonder what you see when you go to select the balm. Have you ever posted a picture of your collection of bottles? Perhaps too personal of a thing, I understand, though I’d be delighted to have a glimpse!

  12. Probably true. But my dear young man, I have many, many years on you . . .

  13. I know what you mean about “Yes and no.”

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