Suzanne's Perfume Journal

March 21, 2008:

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How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

   --lyrics from “Maria” from The Sound of Music

The film, The Sound of Music came out in 1965, when I was three years old.  My parents took me to see it at the drive-in (I imagine I must have been older than three when they took me, so this was probably a few years later) and it left an indelible impression on me. I wasn’t Catholic, yet I became enchanted by the nuns because, along with Julie Andrews, they were the true heroines of the movie. So clever! So brave! Such excellent singers!!!

If you’re interested in the sample of Bel Respiro featured in the photo above, please drop me an email to with the words “Bel Respiro” in the subject line.  This is a never-been-used, dab sample bottle from the Chanel boutique in Boston.  I don’t know what size it is, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s about 2 ml.  (Never used because I also have a spray sample that a kind perfumista sent me last year.)

I’ll select the winner via random drawing at the end of the day on Tuesday, March 25th.  DRAWING IS NOW CLOSED.

To those who celebrate it, Happy Easter, everyone!

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?
Chanel Bel Respiro and A Prize Drawing

This enchantment continued for a couple of years, and every time we went to visit my grandmother, I would beg her to open up her Victrola and put on this album she had by The Singing Nun, so that I could listen to a specific song—“Dominique”—over and over again. The lyrics were in French, of which I couldn’t understand a word, but I think that just added to the whole nun intrigue. Many years later, when I first started dating my husband and we took our first trip together to Switzerland, I was thrilled to see nuns taking walks together across the steep, green alpine landscape; it was as if I had actually stepped into The Sound of Music and become a part of it.

So, what does this have to do with perfume exactly? Well, not much, except to say that the music from the film has always stayed with me, and for some reason, every time I try wearing Chanel Bel Respiro, I find myself singing the lyrics to “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”  Because, how do you solve a problem like Bel Respiro?  How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?  How do you make it stay and listen to all you say?  How do you keep a spritz upon your hand?

Geez, I love this scent, but I will never own it in any sense of the word—it’s that diaphanous, that wispy, that elusive. Named for the country house that Coco Chanel kept outside of Paris in the 1920s, Bel Respiro is also Italian for “beautiful breath” (or “beautiful air”), and that translation says just about everything.  It is quite beautiful, but in a sheer, breathy way.  With notes of crushed leaves, rosemary, thyme, rose, lilac, hyacinth, green tea, aromatic grasses, myrhh and leather, Bel Respiro is herbal, green and spring-like—like an emerald lawn—in the top notes. (In comments I read at another blog, someone compared the top to the old “Herbal Essences” shampoo of the 1970s, and indeed, it smells similar.) The scent then segues quickly but naturally into a delicate floral heart that holds onto some of its greenery—just enough so that the fragrance seems fresh and dewy, like a nosegay of flowers gathered from a field rather than a bouquet bought from the florist. This is springtime at its finest: it is the scent of stepping out into the morning dew on a fine day in April or May.  And then, sadly, not long after that, it is gone.  Or at least it seems that way to me: on my skin, after an hour, there is only the faintest trace of it left.

I realize I’m slightly behind the times of the rest of the perfume community and that many people have already smelled this and either decided they liked it and bought it, or decided they didn’t and moved on, but, ummm, did I mention I’m a little behind the times?  I assume that if you are here reading this you’ve already figured that out about me and will therefore not collapse on the floor in convulsive laughter when I announce…hey, let’s have a drawing!  In honor of springtime!  For Bel Respiro!