This past weekend, I tried to come up with an idea for a perfume post that would be different from my normal slant; in other words, not linking perfume to something romantic or sexy—and not something that makes me sound so nostalgically old that I feel like the perfume blogosphere’s version of John-Boy from The Waltons. There are many ideas that lend themselves to perfume blogging, yes? Food, fashion and art, just to name a few. Yet apparently my nature is so deeply ingrained that even in trying to think outside the box a tiny bit, all I did was take a twisting route that landed me back in the box even deeper.
My brainstorming took place where it often does, on my daily run through the fields near my house, where the grassy path was cool and wet from an autumn drizzle and strewn with fallen leaven from the nearby woods. It was also littered with fallen walnuts, buried beneath the leaves in their green husks, and every time I stepped on one, its astringently earthy aroma was released. The air I moved in smelled misty green, edged with a whiff of all things woodsy and autumnal, and it brought back the memory of making terrariums with my mother during one of my elementary school years in which she helped me and my sisters make them as Christmas gifts for our teachers. “Winter gardens” she called them: the thing to have on one’s shelf next to the window when you are longing for the real thing that is covered in snow. Remembering how much she loved them, it occurred to me that while it’s unlikely that anyone makes these anymore (probably not even the most rural kids in Appalachia), I could still use this as the topic of a perfume post. “It doesn’t hurt to get a little nostalgic every now and then,” I said to myself. “I’ll do a post on a perfume that smells like a terrarium. Very seasonal.”
I thought I had just the perfume for it, and on my arrival home started pawing my way through my samples, soon locating Yves Rocher Nature, which does indeed smell misty and green, but more spring-like than autumnal. My decant of Rochas Mystere was close by too, and I indulged in a spritz out of sheer happiness, knowing that even though it would suit my post nicely, I’d already written about Mystere in a way that fully satisfied me. So I pawed on, stopping short when I came upon a decant my friend Ann had sent me of a fragrance that dated almost back to my terrarium days: Aviance Cologne by Prince Matchabelli, which came out in 1975 and has long since been discontinued. I remembered Aviance as smelling mossy and green when I’d caught a whiff of it from the atomizer some weeks before. “Oh yeah, this could be perfect,” I thought, as I sprayed some on my scentless other arm and a tendril of something resembling damp grass and earthy moss drifted up from my skin. Within seconds it got a boost from the laundry-starch smell of aldehydes. The starch gave it a cool autumnal stiffness.
It was perfect, all right. So perfect my arm could have used a sling, considering how attached my nose became to the spot where the Aviance now unfolded; so perfect I could only blink my eyes in amusement as it started throwing the odd wrench into my winter-garden plans. A floral component of Aviance was soon developing on my skin that made it smell feminine, while still being outdoorsy in a sylvan-glade kind of way. “There could be a lovely wood nymph living in my perfume terrarium, keeping guard over the whole thing,” I said to myself dreamily. Concurrent with that floral element, however, another accord was making itself known: a honeyed musk smell, tinged with a gentle whiff of lightly urinous jasmine—an accord dwelling quietly within the larger scent, yet managing to be quite stirring and sensual. I tried to keep my thoughts where they should be, and maybe that’s why my mind chose to home in on a little jingle from the 70s. No, not the one from the Aviance television commercial, but the one that spoke of cookies being made by little men in a hollow tree. Don’t ask how I got there, but it occurred to me that it would be fun to keep a man in a hollow tree, and that you if you were a wood nymph living in a terrarium where there is really not a lot of other folk to keep you company, you would be entitled (more or less) to have a man living in your tree. Otherwise the job of overseeing this tender ecosystem would get lonely.
After allowing this thought, however, it seemed I could not keep my winter garden confined to a space the size of a gold fish bowl (the container my mother had us make ours in—pretty fish bowls with scalloped rims that made our winter gardens look Victorian in style ). Because once I started imagining a wood nymph and a man into the picture, there was nothing I could do to make them small. They began to fill up my mind like the beautiful elven creatures in the Lord of the Rings movies—and quite truthfully, such elegant beings are more in keeping with what I smell in Aviance. This perfume is labeled as being a cologne, but other than its outdoorsy green accord, which lends the scent its alfresco character and “setting,” there is nothing cologne-like about it. Aviance does wear close to the skin, but not in a way that one would characterize as diminutive or demure. Aviance has depth and richness, achieved mainly through the aforementioned honey-musky component—and though this sensual aspect is quiet compared to what one might find in a modern perfume of this type (a sensuous perfume from a house like Amouage, for instance), nonetheless it assumes a certain significance and makes the perfume grow and come alive in one’s thoughts.
It’s nearly impossible to find a notes list for Aviance on the Internet, in the same way it’s difficult to find a bottle of Aviance Cologne, even though one can find its flanker scents (Aviance Night and Aviance Musk) everywhere. But there is a fabulous review for the original Aviance at Yesterday’s Perfume which describes notes of aldehydes, leafy greens, lily of the valley, rose, jasmine, musk, cinnamon and tonka bean, and this list is pretty representative of what I smell. Because Aviance is a rather elegant and abstract perfume, and not one in which there are notes or accords that I think of as being overtly feminine or masculine, it’s a perfume I can’t really fit into a narrative, other than to tell you that it does remind me of how one would imagine The Lord of the Rings’ Arwen might smell. And yet it’s even a bit more abstract than that. Aviance reminds me of how Arwen might feel as she’s waiting for Aragorn (who is rather important and can’t be kept in a hollow tree). Even though Aviance has no overtly masculine and feminine notes, there is an undercurrent of sexuality that runs through this scent, represented by its base notes.
I suppose that’s why the 70s television jingle that went with Aviance featured a woman singing about how she’d been sweet and good all day, fulfilling the duties of motherhood, but when evening came, she was “going to have an Aviance night!” I like the idea behind that, and you’d think I’d just run with that idea for this post, but somehow perfume is too personal for me; I have to run with it on my own terms, sometimes literally. On Sunday, with all of this in my head and with Aviance on my wrists, I again headed out on my run through the fields, and this time I heard the lines to that old Led Zeppelin song, Fool in the Rain. Now, when I say old, I mean that only in terms of its age: Fool in the Rain’s syncopated drum beats and sophisticated timing make it classic and ageless, the way Aviance comes across to me (and the way Aviance’s TV jingle does not).
Well there's a light in your eye that keeps shining
Like a star that can't wait for the night
I hate to think I've been blinded baby
Why can't I see you tonight?
And the warmth of your smile starts a-burnin'
And the thrill of your touch gives me fright
And I'm shaking so much, really yearning
Why don't you show up, make it all right? †
In the end, that’s what I decided Aviance smelled like to me: a fragrance of anxious longing, full of restless fears and eternal hopes, both stilled and deepened by the coolness of misty autumn. I breathe it in and I picture Arwen, when she is waiting in the silvery woods of Rivendell for Aragorn to return from his quest, and I imagine her, too, when she has lived beyond him, thousands of years later, waiting for him to somehow return to her through the magic of time travel or until she could join him in death. True, it’s not possible for there to be a modern-day Arwen, and yet in my mind’s eye I see her: Aviance on her wrists, eyes searching for him across tree-lined boulevards, and something in the autumn air that makes her pick up her pace as she hears Robert Plant’s voice urging her on, declaring “I’ll run in the rain till I’m breathless. When I’m breathless I’ll run till I drop….”
Aviance Cologne is a discontinued perfume that’s hard to find, though bottles do turn up at online auction sites like eBay. My review is based on a decant sent me by lovely Ann of the Perfume Posse, whose “walk down memory lane” post of it can be found here.
†Lyrics from "Fool in the Rain" written by John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, copyright 1979 by Flames Of Albion Music Inc.
Photo of Liv Tyler playing Arwen in The Lord of the Rings films is from Undomiel84.wordpress.com.
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October 14, 2013:
Aviance Cologne by Prince Matchabelli: The Nature of Longing