Jérôme Epinette, the proper, precise fragrance chemist at Robertet, let me smell hedione in his shiny, glass-walled, glass-bottle-lined lab on Fifth Avenue. Robertet designs fragrances for many U.S. designers and brands, and it is Epinette who translates vague ideas into samples sent off for evaluation and, if approved, production. I loved hedione, not because it reminded me of Eau Sauvage but because it smells a little like concentrated peony petals after a spring rain. Indeed, Epinette told me that he describes it to clients as “petal-ly” and “transparent.”
“Transparent,” “fresh”: these are the qualities that became popular after the complex, big fragrances of the 1980s, and they can be found in many fruity, food-y fragrances, as Paul Austin, an Australian-born fragrance consultant who was a longtime top executive for Quest International, the large fragrance firm since bought out by rival Givaudan, told me. Unchallenging, foodlike fragrances now appeal to more sophisticated European noses, too, he said, though Europeans once preferred the “intellectual” chypre genre.
And yet … Eau Sauvage, dépassé as it may be, is still admired for its structure, and Austin says it had more character than many of the mainstream scents “we in the industry produce today.” In his guide Turin writes, “I always forget how good this darned thing is. Part of the reason I don’t wear it is that it reminds me of my youth.” He embraces the new!
Then, in our madcap Saks round, Turin randomly sprayed on a Guerlain eau de toilette that, he said, was the only thing he wore for years. I loved it. Eau de Guerlain is pure, unsweet citrus, with a lingering light verbena scent on the drydown. “If you want citrus, there is simply nothing better out there,” his review says. Bergamot and citrus, also the dominant notes in Eau Sauvage, are apparently what I want. It makes sense. Verbena was the scent of my childhood: my mother ordered boxes of specially milled lemon verbena soap for every bathroom.
Eau de Guerlain it is, then. Well … there was one new perfume that I kept returning to with an almost physical craving, even after smelling dozens: Bigarade Concentrée, sold by Malle and created by Jean-Claude Ellena, now the house fragrance designer for Hermès, where he designed Eau de Pamplemousse Rose, another citrus I liked. Bigarade Concentrée smells powerfully of bitter Seville oranges, with nothing sweet or false about it; Turin likes the “interesting mixture of citrus friendliness and resinous austerity.” But I wouldn’t pay the $210 for the 3.4-ounce bottle (the same size bottle of Eau de Guerlain costs less than $100).
Maybe my simple taste marks me as a cook. “All chefs like citrus,” Lev Glazman, who creates bespoke scents as head of fragrances for the Boston-based firm Fresh, told me. “It doesn’t interfere with what they’re cooking.” So sue me. My search for the new resumes–with flavors.
Corby Kummer is a senior editor at the Atlantic, where he writes about food.