Monthly Musings: Signature, October 2016

In my mind, it is ultimately very important to have favourites in perfumery because it puts principle into practice. The more I delve into my personal tastes as both a reviewer and a consumer, the increasingly static my tastes become. The wardrobe feature on Fragrantica forces some sort of contemplation, for the simple reason that you’re limited to 5 favourite perfumes and 1 signature perfume. If finding 5 favourites wasn’t hard enough, having to pinpoint 1 signature fragrance is indeed a challenge.

As I began collecting fragrances, inevitably the wardrobe grew. And as a fragrant spelunker, favourites would come and go, and change with an intense rapidity of pace. Brin de Reglisse took the signature spot for a long period of time, and now it no longer exists on the covetable 5. Simple reason: tastes morph. Yet as long as I do not forget the impact Brin de Reglisse had, then there is no shame in moving it away from its place on a pedestal. Without discovering Brin, I may not have discovered everything else. In that way, it is important not to dwell, but to accept this infinite exchange for it makes me a better explorer of scent. I do not love Brin any less either. Smell everything but do not buy just anything.

Then came Portrait of a Lady, a worthwhile contender and indeed it took Brin’s place for a heavy chunk of a year. The question pertinent to this post, why? Portrait of a Lady had the same effect of intense excitement: a structure to be explored with deliciously intriguing facets. And now, while POAL no longer sits on the Fragrantica shelf, it still exists as a firm favourite. It had its time and I explored it well. The mystery remains, perhaps more familiar now, and is concurrently understood with an intimate closeness.


Photo by Fragrantica

Jicky is a wonderful signature, and is still my signature (at the time of writing), despite disappearing for 2 months in favour of the original Comme des Garcons EdP. I chuckle thinking about it, especially in conversation when I explain this process, but it makes perfect sense to me. CdG is objectively a good fragrance, insofar that I’ll contend that it’s a great fragrance. When I first approached it, it had a structure of wonderful mysteriousness, at once approachable yet foreign; like seeing someone in the distance, unsure if it’s a friend or a stranger. As these 2 months progressed, the structure became less and less mysterious as I wore the fragrance and it became known to me. The hovering transparency which made CdG novel was used as a comparative standard against other scents. Ultimately, intimacy diminished its signature status.

But Jicky is back on and alloyed to the pedestal. Jicky is unmistakably glorious (as are most of the Guerlain’s, up until the late Jean-Paul Guerlain period) in its contradiction focuses on simple complexity, and that produces a heap of intrigue when wearing. Jicky is not a grand perfume. It is a naturalistic countryside, clashed with the abstract swirl of synthetics. It has been my signature for around a year now, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon … not until I get swept away by another Guerlain, Chanel or Lutens.

Jicky (parfum) 2015 Liam Sardea© 2015 Liam Sardea

That’s the thing with those old school Guerlain or Chanel fragrances or even certain Lutens perfumes, they do not so easily reveal the entirety of their structure and their composition as a whole, and thus they are for a long time mysterious and exciting to wear on that level. Brin de Reglisse eventually revealed itself in what I think is its entirety, as did POAL. Minimalistic structures (in that bare-boned style) do not make good signatures for that reason, nor do Frederic Malle fragrances because they are totally legible after a few good wears. L’Heure Bleure will continue to reveal facets of itself for many years of wear, as will Chanel’s Cuir de Russie, Patou’s Joy, Iris Silver Mist, Ambre Sultan, Bel a Versailles, and perhaps some of the more modern Chanel Les Exclusifs… To name a few. To explain this is beyond me right now, but I’ll try to tackle this problem for future discussion.

But this is a pedant’s view of what a signature scent should be, in which I am interpreting signature as my favourite scent, right now. What is worth the most time, what is the most mysterious, and what perfume comes back to me and asks me a question? Signature for any other person may mean what marks your identity, and what is yours. In which I respond Jicky… Initially, perhaps immediately at first, but then tremulously concede that Eau d’Hermes, Habit Rouge, L’Eau d’Hiver, La Myrrhe, No. 18, Cuir d’Ange, and Muscs Khoublai Khan all have some place in this consideration. Luckily, however, Fragrantica allows me to showcase a total of 6 scents. But alas, I have listed 8. This is the problem, and a consequently intellectual consideration: what is the point of demarcation between a good scent that is also a favourite, and plainly what I deem to be a good scent? What is want, and when does it become a need?

A few months ago on Twitter I was asked to pick 4 scents to describe myself. Four?!

A few months ago on Twitter I was asked to pick four scents to describe myself. Only four?!

The question then moves into what do you wear when you’re not reviewing scent? I am not a zen-charged purist, and I indeed wear a wide array of scents and virtually never go scentless. One argument is to wear a perfume according to mood. True, but I don’t think an individual will wear a certain scent if they feel like eating coq au vin. Moods need to be placed into categories. Happy, sad; broad. Fragrance choices based on seasonality is wonderful too. The popular perspective, and perhaps the one I adhere to the most is a scent for every note, and going further into each style of a note. Rose can be moulded as a chypre, singular, symphonic, fizzy, bloody, spicy, …etcetera. Perfectly good excuses to wear multiple scents of the same focal note … But if you don’t like galbanum, then don’t buy it for the sake of owning a galbanum! Build towards it.

Reader: there has not been much time to think about scent, because I have university exams to tend to. But, I’ll be free soon, and devilishly fragrant…fragrant-er.  


4 thoughts on “Monthly Musings: Signature, October 2016

  1. I expect that people approach this subject from a variety of angles… For myself, a signature is sort of a homing beacon, a tonic to return to after trying everything else, or suffering all kinds of vicissitudes from day to day or week to week. Because, following the morning’s regime of grooming, scent often reemerges at times beyond one’s control (an unexpected exertion, a flush of intimacy or temper, etc.) trust is an enormous factor in this process. If a certain smell appears when I am at a disadvantage, is this reassuring, or is it the spore of embarrassment? And of course one is often in an environment one can’t control, including the smells of things. What do I want to smell at the end of it all, still persisting as a whisper after removing the suit jacket and unlacing the shoes? Can I weather the variability of this being more than one scent? And how do others remember it? For myself, I get stuck on all kinds of things: tradition, tribalism, objective cost & quality, advertising and the reactions of intimates. One would like to picture a perfume as a master signifier (I often dream I am wearing something I’ve never worn, and smell it in the dream), or a mood regulator (I regretfully confess to losing my temper more often while wearing Eau Sauvage), but we seem to be too disorganized to cohere under a single sign, or find constancy in a single mode; the latter is a trap attached to the advertising of masculines in particular. I guess I think of the signature as the equivalent of what in grammar is referred to as a ‘shifter’: a phrase that precedes or follows the sentence subject, governing: time, place, reasons, condition, contrast (“for an hour”, “next to”, “since”, “as long as”, “although”). Uncovering the facets of a composition, as you describe it, would then be not just determining all of its notes, but scoring those notes against the tempo of your day to day.

    • Hi John,
      Thanks for your detailed reply. I was doing some back-end blog cleanups and noticed I never replied to such a deserving comment – for that I am sorry. I think we can move our collective propositional attitudes on this matter in a pleasant way – on such a merit, perfume becomes an artform … so engrossing that it would seem foolish to argue otherwise. Locating and locking in a signature is indeed a way to recapture a specific splice of time. And so I think I can assert that we choose a signature not on the scent alone, but the meanings that have been imposed on it. I had the most engrossing discussion with a friend about the limits of meaning on a single aesthetic object. These considerations move into shaky territory, because it can wreck havoc on notions of objectivity, uniformity, and direct realism. Thankfully, Philosophy is teaching me to grapple these problems with rigorous order.

      I appreciate your well thought out approach to scent, it has truly inspired me.
      All the best.

  2. I wear and enjoy many different fragrances, including by season, but if I have a signature, it is not a specific scent but two notes: muguet and rose. Those two cover a lot of territory in the fragrance world, so I’m able to deploy them throughout the year! I tend to wear muguet-inflected scents more in the first half of the year (late winter to early summer where I live) and rose-based scents more in the second half (mid-summer through fall and into winter).

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