Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Comme des Garçons Daphne: Smashingly Exuberant

One of the hardest things about getting older is that you don’t feel any different than when you were young, but circumstances have changed such that you can’t go back and resume the life you once had: certain things are gone, and all you can do is remember them and be grateful you got to experience them when you were young. A few years ago, at my college reunion, I spent the day with my college roommate and her husband (he was one of my close college friends, too) and we somewhat stunned my husband (who is of a very intellectual bent) by admitting that the thing we missed most about college was dancing. Well, actually only Beth and I missed dancing—her husband, not so much; in fact, he was laughing rather incredulously too, asking how dancing could have been the highlight of our academic years. In reply, Beth and I shouted one word, broken up into two distinct syllables, that we knew he would understand. “Sick-ness!” we yelled in unison, and pretended to hurl beer bottles at a wall.

“Sick-ness!” was the rebel yell heard at Kappa Delta Rho fraternity late on a Friday or Saturday night, followed by the crashing of empty beer bottles that lasted into the wee hours of the next morning. Beth and I never participated in this ritual—we used to complain that it was infantile and tried to avoid it as often as we could, which wasn’t often, since we were dating fraternity brothers who were also roommates (Beth's husband was the roommate to the guy I dated all through college). This meant that if we wanted to sleep with our boyfriends (which is partially what weekends were for) only one couple would get to slink off to Beth’s and my quiet dorm across campus, while the other had to spend the night listening to the ear-splitting sound of breaking glass in the hall and hope that the coast would be clear when we had to leave the room to use the bathroom. I can remember a number of occasions when I just couldn’t wait any longer, and so I would try to steal into the hall quietly, but Andy, the hulking football player who invented “Sick-ness!”, would often see me and, with a crazy-ass look on his face, shout “Su-zy!” at the top of his lungs, followed by “Say it, Suzy. C’mon, say it!” And so I would shout “Sick-ness!” as loud as I could while practically leaping into the bathroom, knowing that a second later, as a volley of beer bottles hit the wall, I would be forgotten and left in (relative) peace.

It would be a stretch to say I have fond memories of this particular ritual, and yet it is tied to memories of all the things I did love during my years at college, and for several years beyond it, too: dancing my cares away with my best friends, at least two nights out of every week; being with people in the easiest way possible for hours on end; and not having much of a sense of time or deadlines, except as they pertained to classes (and I did manage to graduate cum laude, hold down a campus job, and run on the cross-country team, so it’s not like I blew things off, but somehow time didn’t have the pressing urgency it would acquire later). Aside from the people themselves who made college special, dancing is the thing I remember most—and I don’t feel foolish for loving it or missing it or saying that it was the best part of college, because to me, dancing is a very pure statement of happiness, of joy in living. I don’t think a person can dance without feeling some sense of joy, and most of the time, one is not dancing alone, so to my way of thinking, dancing is also a statement about enjoying the company one is in and it produces a “double happiness” that goes beyond the Chinese concept of the term, to include more than the notion of a man and woman walking hand-in-hand together through life. Maybe that is why I’ve hung onto a tiny card I received from Beth when I was in her wedding, just after graduation, and which features a drawing of an elaborate cake festooned with bluebirds and a carousel. “The cake’s for you because you’re my party girl,” she wrote on the inside. “I’ve probably danced with you at parties more often than with anyone else I’ve ever known.”

This past week fall arrived in the northern hemisphere, and with it the memories of college and dancing and even my post-college years, when I was living in a rural town in New York State but still went out dancing every Friday night after work, at a watering hole where revelers of every age group and walk of life hung out. I decided to celebrate this week by wearing Comme des Garçons Daphne, a perfume created as collaboration between the fashion house and Daphne Guinness, artist and heir to the Guinness beer fortunes. I know little about Daphne Guinness (reading the Wikipedia article on her is as about as interested as I got, much as I love her family’s brand of stout), except that she took a hands-on role in creating this intoxicating fragrance that bears her name. Daphne is the perfume equivalent of “Sick-ness!”—and I mean that as a compliment. It smells like it was composed by throwing a bunch of perfume notes against the wall like spaghetti and seeing which ones would stick, and the end product is a perfume that smells uninhibited and heated and intoxicated with the liberties of not following any preconceived formula.

The notes for Daphne include bitter orange, incense, saffron, rose centifolia, Tunisian jasmine, tuberose, iris, patchouli, oud, amber and vanilla. It’s a rich-hippie smelling thing when it first hits the skin, and the bitter orange provides a bright burst that is a halo shining on the head of a big patchouli and wood accord. Rather quickly, Daphne becomes a very sweet oriental, but one with enough sensuality and kaleidoscopic effects that its sweetness doesn’t bother me one bit. Knocking about as it does with so many other olfactory layers, this sweetness is just one measure of the perfume’s irrepressible spirit, which becomes evident about fifteen minutes into its wear, when Daphne really goes nuts—coconuts, to be exact. It’s not listed among the notes, yet I get a distinct whiff of coconut mixing with the wood and patchouli, becoming one of its swirling facets, and when that recedes, jasmine comes forward, the kind that has a sweaty and urine-like tinge to it and, therefore, smells wonderfully sexual to me.

Tuberose, a flower that Daphne Guinness reportedly loves, is surprisingly not a stand-out note, but it adds to the sensuality of the mix and might be responsible for helping to convey the air of coconut that comes through for awhile. Likewise, most of the notes in Daphne don’t single themselves out: I can’t say that I smell oud or even incense, but I do detect a lick of saffron that is lightly leathery and latches onto the jasmine to produce this animalic effect which I call “slightly urinous” yet which is not as daunting as it sounds, as the non-perfumista probably wouldn’t even notice it. What the non-perfumista would notice is that, overall, Daphne makes a big statement—one that if it didn’t already go by the name of Daphne might just as easily be called kefi, the Greek word which refers to the kind of exuberance that cannot be contained and, so, must find an outlet. In Greece, that outlet used to involve the throwing and smashing of plates during a night out of song and dancing; my understanding is that this custom has largely been replaced by throwing flowers, instead.

If that’s true, then I guess it could be said that I have aged like the wisest of Greeks, as my days of dancing and hanging out with the bottle-throwing crowd are behind me now, but I am still expressing kefi by throwing flowers around. For that’s essentially what I’m doing when I spray on some perfume and head out my back door for a run through the crisp fall air, or engage my husband in a private boogie in our kitchen while I’m making dinner. True, it doesn’t come close to equalling the irrepressible “Sick-ness!” of my youth, but when my perfume takes the form of Daphne, it at least stirs up the memories of that time, and I get to relive those days again without the noise and shattered glass.

September 24, 2012:

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Comme des Garçons Daphne eau de parfum is available from, where a 50-ml bottle is currently $150. My decant came from a generous reader (and thus my shout-out to Karen from British Columbia ... thank you, lady!)

Image (top of page) is actress Melina Mercouri playing the role of Ilya in the Greek film Never on Sunday; bottle image of Comme des Garcons Daphne is from