The Taste with Vir Sanghvi: All perfume is about sex; here are the best 20 feminine scents
This week’s column is a follow up on one Vir Sanghvi wrote a couple of weeks ago – about perfumes. They’re all about sex, he says. Here are the top 20 feminine fragrances he recommends.
Judging by the response to the fragrance column I did here a couple of weeks ago, people want to know more about the subject. The question I got asked most often after the column came out was: But what perfume would you recommend?
So here, for what it is worth, are the top 20 feminine fragrances I would recommend. (Well, recommend this week...)
They are distinguished by my own very Indian prejudices ( I love spice, rose ,vanilla and sandalwood!) and are listed in no particular order.
Angel: Created by the fragrance house Quest for the Thierry Mugler label in 1992 (Olivier Cresp was the perfumer), this launched the trend for gourmand scents, that is to say, perfumes that are almost edible. There is a cotton candy and black currant note to the fragrance but it still smells feminine and yes, delicious.
Bandit: This is a re-issue of an iconic fragrance created by Germaine Cellier in 1944. Cellier, one of the few top female perfumers of that era, was a tough lady (possibly lesbian) who created a strong, dirty smell that many people associate with leather, trench coats and sadomasochism. All that sounds exciting. But to me, Bandit is the smell of a powerful woman crushing fragrant flowers roughly inside her balled fist.
Comme des Garçons 2: In its way as influential in the perfume world as Rei Kawakubo’s work in fashion. Created by Mark Buxton using mostly synthetic materials he ignored Kawakubo’s brief to create the smell of a swimming pool of black ink and created a virtual rose within a green wood. Stunning and intensely wearable.
Chanel No. 5: The most famous perfume in the world. It is so iconic that Chanel sells several versions. The original, formulated by Ernest Beaux is the perfume. The Eau de Toilette and the Eau de Parfum have slightly different formulations. And there are two updates, the Premiere by Jacques Polge and a more recent version by his son Olivier.
All are wonderful. Go to a perfume store. Try each version and choose the one that works for you.
Casmir: A somewhat idiosyncratic choice. This is a peachy floral with a sexy drydown (the last smell you get). I love the vanilla notes and I think it smells great on Indian women. Created in 1992 by the perfumer Michael Almariac for Chopard, this can be hard to find.
Sel de Vetiver: French perfumers love vetiver, which we call Khus. There are many outstanding vetivers out there (Sycomore by Chanel, the Guerlain Vetiver, etc.) but this is light and unusual. It begins with an evanescent note of salt that perfumer Celine Ellena (for the Different Company) is justly proud of.
Carnal Flower: All perfume is about sex. Sometimes it can be downright dirty. But here, Dominique Ropion (for Frederic Malle) makes it all about sophisticated seduction. Floral and glorious.
Coromandel: A spicy fragrance from Chanel, perfect for Indian tastes created (I suspect) by Christopher Sheldrake who did something similar (Borneo 1834) when he was at Serge Lutens.
Black Orchid: Perfume critics laugh and attribute the success of this sensual and heavy fragrance (created by the perfume company Givaudan) to Tom Ford’s marketing savvy. But I like it anyway.
Eau d’Hadrien: The most famous of Annick Goutal’s fragrances, this lemon and basil perfume is light and perfect for wearing in India in the summer.
Chinatown: From the funky New York boutique company Bond No. 9, this irresistible and naughty gourmand scent is actually quite French in construction, made along classic lines by Aurelien Guichard, who is from a famous French perfume dynasty.
Duelle: I love vanilla and I love spice so I love this Diptyque fragrance (by Fabrice Pellegrin) with its notes of cardamom, saffron, pepper, musk and lots and lots of vanilla.
Vanille Galante: The great perfumer Jean Claude Ellena finds most vanilla scents too vulgar, so this one, created while he was at Hermes, uses the smell of the vanilla flower and not the pod. Delicate and light.
Habanita: Cheap and cheerful. This is an ancient (1921!) fragrance that Indians love because it mixes vetiver (Khus) and vanilla. You can wear it all the year round. (By Molinard)
A La Nuit: Only if you like jasmine and like going out to glamorous places at night. This fragrance, a massive jasmine flowerbomb, created by Serge Lutens, merges the French and Middle Eastern perfume traditions in a way that is perfect for Indian women.
Shalimar: Created by Guerlain in 1925, apparently as a tribute to the Mughals, this is an all-time classic. It begins with soft citrusy notes but ends up as a warm, sophisticated vanilla-esque fragrance. Perfect with saris or Indian dress.
Rose Pompom: The problem with rose fragrances is that nobody wants to smell like rose sherbet. Camille Goutal and Philippine Courtier (for Annick Goutal) got around this problem by opening the perfume with fruit before getting to the heart of the rose and then settling down with wood and patchouli. This is new (2016) but will be around for a long time.
Portrait of a Lady: More rose, this time from the great Dominique Ropion (for Frederic Malle) it is modern in construction and successfully mixes patchouli with Turkish rose and spice. A knockout in the evening. Coolly sophisticated.
Bois des Iles: All perfumers are flummoxed by the shortage of sandalwood oil after India banned its export. So most sandalwood perfumes use synthetics. Chanel, on the other hand, has located its own source in New Caledonia. Sandalwood from elsewhere doesn’t have the milky smell of real Indian sandalwood but Jacques Polge managed to save the beauty of the original Bois des lles, created by Ernest Beaux in the 1920s.This is Chanel No. 5 for Indians. It is full of our kinds of smells and yet is truly global.
Dries Van Noten: A strange animal. This is not a designer fragrance but one created by Bruno Jovanovic for Frederic Malle as a homage to the designer’s work. It is supposed to have Indian sandalwood (don’t know the source) but that’s not the dominant note to my nose. It is an assertive perfume that works well in our weather and I like it a lot more than I like Van Noten’s clothes.
I should have included these but did not for various reasons:
Rose Nacree Du Desert: Created by Guerlain’s master perfumer Thierry Wasser from the Isfahan Rose (different from our rose) this is the ultimate rose fragrance, intense and light at the same time. But it is part of a limited edition and is hard to find so I left it out.
Scent: By Theo Fennel. I bought this in London a decade ago, a hard-to-find fragrance made by Christophe Laudamiel for the jeweller Theo Fennel. It matches saffron and musk so well that it is both gourmand and sexy. But I have never found it since so I didn’t put it on the list.
Givenchy III: For years and years, this classic fragrance, created in 1970 by Jean-Francois Lotti and Raymond Chaillon was my favourite. Then it seemed to have disappeared and whenever I have been lucky enough to find it, the smell has never been the same. My guess is they tinkered with the formula.
Muscs Koublai Khan: This Serge Lutens fragrance by Christopher Sheldrake was launched in 1998 and its sheer dirty, sexy, power blows me away. Not on the list because I have only found it in a few Paris stores.
Diorissimo: The lily of the valley yields no perfume oil so all fragrances based on it are either made from cheap synthetics that mimic the smell, or like this classic, created by Edmond Roudnitska in 1956, made by blending natural and synthetic fragrances to convey the sense of the original flower. Sadly, the current version is nothing like the original. Either EU regulations made Dior change the formula or --- as they have done so often --- they are just using cheaper materials.