Suzanne's Perfume Journal

A Visit from My Mother, Olfactory Obsession,

and Nasomatto China White

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July 27, 2008:

I haven’t had much time to studiously contemplate perfumes lately: my mom and stepdad came up from Florida and were staying at my house until yesterday, when they embarked on their long drive back home.  But I have had ample opportunity to smell perfumes on other people, those near and dear to me, and that has been fun.  At a family dinner last Sunday, my two nieces arrived wearing Carnal Flower and New Haarlem, my mom had on Black Cashmere, and my husband, Yatagan.  Whatever fragrances anyone else had on—myself included—I have forgotten, but I can tell you there was a lovely commingling of scents wafting across my patio that evening; as a group, we created our own unique flower bomb, and it made me deliriously happy. 

When I first began collecting perfumes, I think my family thought I was a little crazy.  Perhaps they still think that in some ways, but since I began decanting fragrances for them, their regard towards my perfume obsession has, to my surprise and delight, become a shared appreciation. Also, I suspect they are happy that my obsession is with perfumes rather than with, say, postage stamps or Hummel figurines or the Philadelphia Eagles.  There is something elegant about amassing pretty glass bottles filled with jewel-colored elixirs, even when one has amassed a gargantuan amount of them (which I haven’t…yet), whereas with a stamp or ceramics or sports memorabilia obsession, I imagine one would always be treading the border of Tacky town.  Think about this: if you loved stamps as much as perfumes, what would your house look like?  I envision houses hand-wallpapered with Elvis Presley stamps and that sort of thing.  (Though when I did a Google search on stamp collectors, it looks like they mainly showcase their collection in books, and the one house I found that was wallpapered in stamps reveals a mosaic-like work of impressive beauty.)  

While she was here, my mother also wore the Chanel Coromandel I sent her last fall, and every time she put it on, I went Mmmm.  The smell I loved most, however, was her own unique skin smell, which has entranced me since I was a child.  Supposedly everyone has their own uniquely identifiable smell, yet I have only noticed this with a select few people in my life.  If I were to lose touch with everyone in my family and then one day cross paths with them on a busy street in a foreign country, the first person I’d be able to sniff out would be my mom.  Her skin smells earthy and warm in a very good way, but really there are no words to describe it.  It’s a comforting scent, and prominent—even my husband notices it.  When I was a little girl, there were several occasions when my mom went on a trip by herself, and when she did, our family dog, Jimmy, would get so upset that he would seek out an article of her recently-worn clothing—usually the night gown she kept folded under her pillow—and then proceed to chew it to bits.  He could have taken his anger out in a number of ways, and certainly there were other family members’ shoes or clothes he could have gnawed on, but always he sought out something that carried my mom’s warm smell and then destroyed it—something he never did in daily life, only when she went away.  And now that she is gone from my house, the scent of her still lingering but quickly ebbing, I think I understand his doggy grief. 

Anyway, what I suppose I’m trying to say in this rambling and rather aimless post is that, though I haven’t been actively thinking about fragrances the past couple weeks, the subject of smell—both perfumed and natural—is never far from my mind.  It’s my obsession, and if you’re still reading this, it is probably your obsession, too.  I’m thinking that obsession, fanaticism, addiction, whatever you want to call it, might be part of our human-animal makeup, though how we express it (or, perhaps, repress it?) is the true reflection of our individuality.  Maybe later in life I will collect stamps or heirloom flower seeds; maybe in another life, with a persona radically different from the one I have now, I will accumulate tattoos. 

But for now, it’s perfumes—so I’ll end this post by saying that there is one fragrance that wormed its way into my consciousness over the past couple weeks, and apropos to this post, it is China White, a pricey extrait de parfum from the niche house Nasomatto.  China White is addictive, though I’m not sure if it’s the fragrance itself or the mystery of its construction that accounts for why I can’t get this scent off my mind.  I would love to know just what the hell is in this stuff; it strikes me as a truly cunning decision by the Nasomatto people to withhold details about their fragrances (their website provides very little in the way of description and nothing in terms of perfume notes).  Were I to wager a guess, I’d say this is a vetiver scent and that other key notes include castoreum, to account for the light, ashtray smokiness that is prominent during the first half-hour of wear; iris, to account for the powdery quality; tuberose—a soupçon of it at least—to provide a hint of the buttery flesh note I smell (and reminding me of the pale arm being proffered to the needle—the image that comes to mind when I think of the perfume’s name and its reference to heroin); and sandalwood, the warm, sweet smell of expensive Mysore sandalwood, that would account for this perfume’s silky smooth blend as well as its spendy pricetag. 

On immediate application, this scent doesn’t give me any kind of euphoric jolt—in fact, I feel rather underwhelmed by it and ready to write it off.  But as it develops, I am more than intrigued; I can’t keep my wrist away from my nose.  It is floral without being flowery, slightly green and woody, and just powdery enough to make you imagine a bag of heroin—or a discreet dusting of expensive talcum powder.  At a cost of $148 per 30 ml (one ounce), it’s not priced terribly: after all, this is pure perfume we’re talking about, not an eau de parfum.  But it’s pricey enough that I’d probably seek out a small decant before buying a bottle, because, for me, the mystique of this fragrance stems mainly from my curious desire to know what’s in it.  I suppose I’ll have to wait until a better nose than mine reviews this fragrance, and wait I will. 

My obsession, it seems, extends only so far.

Image of Nasomatto China White is from the Australian website Saison.com, where it can be purchased.