Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Breath of God and Paul Giamatti—All in the Same Breath!

March 2, 2011:

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“This is Breath of God,” I told my husband last weekend, lifting my scented wrist to his nose.

I had applied it lightly, as I do every perfume, so was surprised to see how hard he physically recoiled: his head actually jerked back. “Maybe he’d better brush his teeth,” was his snappy reply.

Breath of God truly is the most freakish, bizarrely compelling fragrance I’ve ever smelled. It doesn’t smell good at all until you’re ridden it out for an hour or so, and yet that initial hour is just so riveting for someone who is, let’s say, not new to the perfume game; someone who has traversed across the far reaches of that obsession and is standing at the edge, thinking there is no real new territory to explore. While it would not be accurate to say that only a person of a certain age could appreciate Breath of God, I do feel that a certain level of experience—and by that I mean life experience—is necessary to understand its appeal. Falling in love with Breath of God is akin to falling in love with the actor Paul Giamatti and the types of characters he plays. You arrive at that kind of love after you’ve had your fill of looking at all the pretty-boy actors, who will always be pretty to you—and eternally appealing in the way that pretty is—yet after seeing them in so many films they might just as well be mannequins dressed up in a new set of clothes and plopped into a slightly different scene every time. They are about as satisfying as potato chips, and suddenly you find yourself looking past them to this strange little man in the corner, who not only appears to be removed from society but perhaps forsaken by it, and yet… By his singular voice and thoughts—by the things he says and doesn’t say, as well as all of his eccentricities—you can see that there is an inner world operating under his balding dome. It’s a world largely at odds to the real world, yet it’s rich and teeming and seems to wholly occupy that space inside him that in some people seems occupied only by the requisite body organs and the habitual firing of neurons.

I’m not sure how I would have felt about a Paul Giamatti character when I was 28 (I have a feeling he would have appealed to me on some level even then, having been born with a temperament that seeks out the fringe), but I know how I feel now that I’m 48. This is the kind of character that gets under my skin and brings out all of my maternal instincts: I want to take this strange little man home and hide him under my covers and then emerge again to roam the city sidewalks in a new way. That’s the way I feel about Breath of God, too: this fragrance that is paunchy, dark and awkward to the point of neurotic; informed by all kinds of bad habits (there’s a serious nicotine stain on the Breath of God); and impervious to grooming such that it will never complement my look when we’re walking down the street together. Part of its very appeal is its ugly-duckling nature, which leads you to foolishly believe that here is something no one else will want and, therefore, you can have entirely to yourself (but which will, of course, undermine this false sense of security when it proves, thank God and Greyhound, that you can never have anything entirely to yourself).

I’ll eventually give you the fragrance notes for Breath of God—in fact, I’ll give you two lists of notes, from different sources, which when overlapped might give you a fuller, truer picture of the scent—but they won’t give you an inkling of what it smells like. I have to concede that my husband’s reaction to Breath of God isn’t far off the beaten track from my own (even though he clearly doesn’t like it and I do). In its first hour of wear, Breath of God is the scent of a man wearing aquatic aftershave and smoking the mentholated cigarettes of the woman sitting next to him at the bar (because he has emptied his own pack and, being short on cash, has not much choice and thus every enticement to pilfer hers when her back is turned). It also smells like said-man’s quiet belches, which are grapey from the wine he is nursing and melon-like from the slice of honey dew wrapped in prosciutto he ate earlier—having copped it, too, on his way into the bar, when he saw the slices lined up on a tray in the adjacent conference room—and which is now “repeating” on him.  At times, the hiccup of mentholated cigarette is as strong as horse liniment, making him wonder, why in hell do women smoke these things? (Which is something I've always wondered too.)

Fragrance notes for Breath of God, per, include cedarwood, rose, ylang-ylang, vetiver, lemon, grapefruit, neroli, black pepper, and cade. Whereas at The Perfumed Court, where you can purchase a sample, they are listed as smoky scents, sandalwood, amber, neroli, patchouli, rose, lemon oil, floral notes and jasmine. I wouldn’t be surprised if Breath of God encompasses all of the notes on both lists: it is, as I mentioned above, it's quite paunchy, yet with a degree of swarthy quietness about it such that you would never accuse it of being loud and flabby.

After an hour, the whole thing settles down into a lightly smoky accord, rather wistful with most of the menthol and the aquatic fruit burned off and a whisper of something floral and vegetal left in their wake. Breath of God smells autumnal and slightly melancholy at this stage, which perhaps also explains why my Paul Giamatti fantasy is spun up by it. (Further induced by my current state of anxious anticipation to see his latest film, Barney’s Version. Perfume, like any other art form, is never experienced in a vacuum.)

If you’d like a more concise and rational description of Breath of God, visit the Lush website. In fact, this is a wise suggestion, seeing as I am currently sitting here convinced of things my history doesn’t seem to support: convinced that were I to walk into a bar right now I would not bat an eyelash at the lanky, good-looking men but make a B-line for the short and nerdy ones; convinced that I have what it takes to fathom the mysteries of such men; and convinced that Paul Giamatti represents the Breath of God better than anything or anyone else.

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Breath of God perfume was once a product of the UK company B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful, a sister company of Lush.  For awhile it was discontinued, but can now be purchased as one of the "Gorilla Perfumes" on the Lush website: $39.95 for 1 fluid ounce/30 ml. My sample came courtesy of the swap I did with Ines (who is not alone, no, not by far, when she says she hates this scent!).

Image: Paul Giamatti in Barney's Version is from, which has a great review of the movie, btw.