I, like many who share this strange passion, basically live in a perfume shop decorated by hoarders. Perfume boxes are stacked Jenga-like on any flat surface, including the floor. Drawers overflow with samples, decants, and other fragrance ephemera and effluvia. Efforts to stay organized fail when another bottle gets added to the collection — already too much perfume for any one person to ever use in a lifetime.

Just like I will eat almost anything, I will wear almost anything as long as it is “good” and done with “heart.” My collection is a reflection of that: a smorgasbord of scent. I’m regularly stymied by sales assistants who ask me, “What do you like?” as if I only have three bottles and they all smell the same. “Everything,” I usually sigh and then move on since a collection like mine is not always conceivable to an SA accustomed to helping someone who can keep all of their perfumes on one bathroom tray.

(Side note: if you keep your poor fragrances in the bathroom where temperatures and humidity vary wildly, we cannot be friends.)

When I think about a “cornucopia,” a horn of plenty overflowing with pumpkin spice and everything nice, comes to mind. It’s American Thanksgiving with its crazy riot of savory and sweet flavors. It’s Rabelaisian excess made in the USA. Gargantua with a cowboy hat, seated behind a table groaning with heaps of meat flavored with sugar, spices, honey, fruits, vinegar, and topped with industrial marshmallows.

That’s basically my collection in a nutshell (or a goat’s horn to follow the analogy).

The wild thing is (as if an overgrown collection like mine is not already wild), despite having so much choice, I often struggle to choose a fragrance to wear. Lately, I have noticed that I walk out the door without wearing anything besides clothes and shoes. Partly this is because I know that, living in New York, I will inevitably come across perfumes throughout my day to spray and test out, but mostly it’s because I’m overwhelmed.

Or at least I thought I was until I was separated from my collection.

I recently returned from Paris, where I spent three weeks teaching and one week vacationing. Leaving New York was hectic. First of all, final grades for all my spring classes needed to be calculated and submitted before departure (a herculean task at the end of every term, but this spring, faculty only had four days to grade hundreds of pages, watch hours of video presentations, and fill out rubric after rubric). Then there was a leak from the apartment above mine which showered all the clothes in my closet with waste water, leaving me with nothing to wear in Paris except for whatever was in the laundry hamper. I finished packing minutes before getting in a cab to go to the airport, realizing as I was locking up that I had not packed any perfume. As I had no time to sit and contemplate what to bring, I just ran back inside and grabbed the first thing on my desk: a sample of BDK Crème de Cuir.

It’s fine,” I thought to myself as I settled into my airline seat, mentally inventorying the contents of my checked luggage to figure out if I had forgotten anything else, “I’m heading to Paris. Surely I will pick up something!

Then it didn’t happen. From the minute we landed to the date of our departure, each day was supercharged. Mornings were spent doing cultural activities “on-site.” Afternoons were spent cramming a semester’s worth of material into three short weeks. Evenings were dedicated to planning the next day’s trip/lesson and grading. The first weekend I spent doing laundry and buying clothes since I didn’t have much with me to wear. The second weekend was spent booking tickets and making reservations. The third weekend, grading and preparing for the students’ departure. The number of perfume shops I made it to? One.

And my sample of Crème de Cuir? Busted sprayer. I managed to crush out a glorious dab of fragrance before giving up in frustration.

But that doesn’t mean that I was completely without perfume. At the end of our first week, I met up with Emmanuelle Varron, one of my Perfume Playdate partners-in-crime, in person for the first time. Glamorous angel that she is, she left me with a fine collection of samples and decants of fragrances that I had not smelled before. The cornucopia was back! Endless choice was literally at my fingertips once more.

And yet …

Again, I felt overwhelmed. My days were busy enough as it was without another “serious,” “complex” scent competing for my limited attention. I wanted to smell good, but I also wanted to not think about my fragrance too much. Part of me also felt that it was somewhat disrespectful to wear something considered to be a masterpiece, only to run to the dry cleaners before they closed. Although part of me felt like I should try something different every day because I could again, I ended up reaching for the same fragrance day after day until I drained it.

Parisian Musk by Matière Première is the antithesis of a cornucopia. Built around Peruvian ambrette seed, it’s a straightforward, classy, clean musk fragrance that is easy to like and easy to wear. It is unobtrusive and unobjectionable, but that doesn’t mean that it is boring. Ambrette seed’s musky facets are amplified by Ambrettolide Suprême, a relatively new synthetic musk that no longer relies on insects for its manufacture like regular old isoambrettolide does. The primary raw material’s woody facets are attenuated with Virginian Cedar, which helps to snap the fragrance into focus by adding a crisp elegance that wears like a freshly laundered and starched shirt. Ambroxan pulls these two poles together, giving a rounded depth to the composition and adding a slightly saline element reminiscent of salty skin. The final product is polished with the scent of unripe figs, as if you ran your fingers over their powdery bloom, releasing a scent that is twiggy, green, and somewhat milky.

As you know by now, Scent Semantics is a monthly perfume blogger collaboration curated by Portia Turbo to bring together six writers from around the world to meditate on a single word, and then write about a fragrance(s) they’ve chosen to represent it.

I’m catching up on several months of Scent Semantics words, so these posts are out of order. I do encourage you to go back and read everyone else’s takes on this previous months!

Please visit their blogs and subscribe to support (links in the navigation and below).



My grandmother and her Chanel N°5.

Even though I had chosen this month’s Scent Semantics word, I found it a challenge to write about it. Where to start? Where to begin? The path forward seemed unclear.

The obvious thing to do would be to write about my family. “She had so many bottles!” my grandfather said, pinching his fingers together to the size of the bottle of the pure perfume, the extrait, which was my grandmother’s preferred concentration of Chanel N°5. “No,” I covered his hands. “It’s okay,” I said. As much as it would have been nice to have my grandmother’s perfume to cherish, the thought of disturbing her drawers, with their contents organized by her hands, felt too traumatic.

Instead, I have her bottle of N°5 Eau de Cologne, which was conveniently sitting on top of a chest of drawers. Is it from the 80’s? The 90’s? It’s about two-thirds full. I never spray it or wear it and I never will (I have my own bottles of N° 5 to get through). It smells unmistakably like her though: soft hugs and generous laughs.

(Although the current versions of N°5 are unmistakably Chanel N°5, they don’t smell like what they used to. For those of you wondering what the now discontinued N°5 EdC smells like: imagine a scoop of lemon sherbet on a soft bed of white flowers, doused with ice-cold Champagne.)

My grandpa turned 99 this year, a fact that feels both monumental and underwhelming at the same time. I don’t think Grandpa ever thought that he would outlive my grandmother by so long. It’s been almost 20 years since her passing, but her presence remains everywhere. Her coats still hang in the closets, her clothes still sit folded in drawers. The house isn’t a time capsule though. Decay has already set in. I suppose that when the time comes, I will eventually find those bottles of N°5 as our family deconstructs his home to prepare the house for its eventual next life with a new family. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find a few places where mice have nested. I’m certain that we will also finally identify the source of other infestations that have plagued my Grandpa’s apartment these past few years. Until then, Grandpa is the guardian of my grandmother’s stuff.

So. Much. Stuff.

We all have too much stuff. As a New Yorker with an overstuffed apartment, I long to inhabit a void. Tabula rasa but make it real estate. At least my grandfather can take comfort that his family will “take care of things.” He knows that we will argue about who has to deal with the cabinets full of roach droppings before my uncle finally sucks it up and does it. He knows that we will carry garbage bag after garbage bag of moth-eaten things to the curb. He knows that we will debate who gets which family photos before someone in the younger generation (ie. me) ends the discussion by taking them, scanning them, and sending everyone a link to the new family photo album in the cloud that no one will use. I already know when I will cry the most: it won’t be at the funeral, it won’t be at the cemetery, it will be sitting on the floor of my grandparents’ home with dust sticking to my sweaty arms and face as my family sorts through what will stay and what will go, dismantling 100 years of existence.

Once, when Grandpa was in his spry early-90’s, he turned to me on the way to a doctor’s office and asked, “Who is going to take care of you???” “ROBOTS!!!” I remember shouting over traffic. Maybe he didn’t hear me, or maybe he did and just deemed my answer too ridiculous to acknowledge. It did make me wonder who was going to take care of me. The most logical answer for a childless person like myself is me.

I imagine myself in my dotage, maybe lucky enough to be with all my other childless friends in a large beach house in Mexico. I picture a charming place full of slip-resistant tile, handrails, and no stairs. A place to live out the last of your days once you’ve outlived your partners and your pets. Family, as we all know, does not always imply blood bonds. We don’t always have just one family either. Many of us have multiple ones which can be inherited or formed by our own choices.

Merriam-Webster gives the following as definitions for family:

  • [noun] the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children (also any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family)
  • [noun] spouse and children
  • [noun] a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head
  • [noun] a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation
  • [noun] the staff of a high official
  • [noun] a group of things related by common characteristics
  • [noun] a group of related plants or animals forming a category ranking above a genus and below an order and usually comprising several to many genera
  • [noun] a set of curves or surfaces whose equations differ only in parameters
  • [noun] a unit of a crime syndicate (such as the Mafia) operating within a geographical area
  • [adjective] of or relating to a family
  • [adjective] designed or suitable for both children and adults

In regards to perfume, we talk about fragrance families or classifications that group fragrances together based on shared notes and accords. But what about our fragrant families? Communities (mostly online) that coalesce around a shared passion for perfume? I’ve been fortunate to have met some of my closest friends through the fragrance community, which continues to grow and expand as new people connect with each other through and outside of social media. I’ve been a part of the “frag comm” for long enough to be able to identify “waves”: the first wave of ‘fume bloggers (Hello Typepad!), MakeupAlley message board folks, Facebook groups, the second wave of ‘fume bloggers (WordPress welcomes you!), the Youtubers (shoutout to the great Katie Puckrik, who did it first and better than anyone since), Twitter, then Instagram, then (briefly) Snapchat, and now TikTok, where the action seems livelier than ever. Sometimes, these spaces overlapped. It wasn’t unusual to interact with the same people on different platforms differently. Each one became an incubator for hundreds of fragrant families discussing fragrance families like unfolding patterns in a kaleidoscope.

Last summer, we did a Perfume Playdate on the fragrances that we felt would stand the test of time. If I remember correctly, the initial thought behind the conversation was to predict which perfumes currently on the market would become icons as big as Chanel N°5, Shalimar, and the like, in the future. Inevitably, the talk turned to what fragrances would we leave behind and which fragrances would people remember us by. It’s easier to identify one if you have a signature fragrance like my grandmother did. It’s much harder if you don’t.

“Daisy had … a lot of perfume,” I imagine Ari intoning at my funeral. As to what to spray on me prior to embalming or cremation, I think my friends would have difficulty reaching a consensus. “Something delicious,” Olya would say. “Something weird,” would probably be Josie’s response. “I have no idea,” would likely be the most common reply. But maybe that is okay to have everyone remember you in their own way.

As you know by now, Scent Semantics is a monthly perfume blogger collaboration curated by Portia Turbo to bring together six writers from around the world to meditate on a single word, and then write about a fragrance(s) they’ve chosen to represent it.

I’m running behind, as usual. So behind. I have several months’ worth of Scent Semantics to catch up on, but I promise it will be done. Sometimes life and family (ha! see what I did there?) take precedence over the fun stuff. In any case, looking forward to reading everyone else’s takes on this month’s word.

Please visit their blogs and subscribe to support (links in the navigation and below).


In my late teens and early twenties, I read many things that I understood, but didn’t really understand. How could I have? At that point in my life, everyone I loved was still alive and I had grown up not knowing any suffering at all. I imagine my eyes back then, passing over words like water over stones. Pathos was not completely lost on me, but the stories I read did not always resonate as they should have,

For example, I read Virgil’s Aeneid in college. No, I take that back. I skimmed Virgil’s Aeneid in college. (What can I say? It was the last work we had to read that semester, and I struggling to get through all my final papers and projects.) If I had to summarize it like an asshole, it would be this: duty-bound Aeneas, leaving the ruins of Troy on his way to a new homeland (Rome), makes a pit-stop in Carthage. There, he has an affair with Queen Dido, and leaves her a year later to fulfill his destiny. Consumed with despair following Aeneas’ departure, poor Dido sacrifices herself on a funeral pyre. Aeneas reaches Italy and marries Lavinia. Fin.

As you may have guessed, it was not my favorite work from my undergraduate years.

Fast-forward to one of the first classes that I had to teach in graduate school. It was Western Civilization and The Aeneid was on the syllabus. “UGH,” I remember thinking. The only thing that I could relate to at the time was Aeneas’ duty because I was duty-bound to teach this thing to my students. I hope I did a passable job.

Fast-forward a few more years. I found out that I was assigned to teach The Aeneid again! Dutifully, I picked up the text to re-read it. I just wanted to get over it as quickly as possible. But then something wholly unexpected happened. Reading it was a completely different experience. Maybe because by that point in my life, I knew what it was like to have my heart broken into a million pieces, to watch someone I loved leave me, and to have zero control over any of it. By the time I turned the page to Dido’s end, I was disconsolate. Not a cute tear or two either, but full-blown ugly crying. “What happened?!” my grandfather asked. He must have heard me and rushed into the room to find me weeping into my book. Blubbering, I waved my highlighted paperback at him. I don’t remember if he said anything back. I only recall that he closed the door gently behind him.

As I wiped my tears and blew my nose, I began to wonder about all the other great works of literature that I had slogged through. What else had I read and only superficially understood? What would it be like to re-read them today, tomorrow, in a year, in two years, in twenty or more?

How would I react to those texts at my grandfather’s age, after many more years of experience to inform my readings? If I re-read The Aeneid in my seventies or eighties, would I cry again? My grandfather turned 98 last year. 98! Universe willing, he will be 99 this year. Sometimes I wonder what he thinks about all of us, his family, fretting and fussing about this and that all the time.

“Youth,” I imagine him thinking, “Is so dramatic!”

There are some works that I adored when I was younger, but I never want to read them again because I want to preserve my naive impressions like museum pieces, precious and behind glass.

And then there are others I do want to revisit. I have a list and I am slowly working my way through it.

It’s been a humbling experience to re-read these books. Because I still own most of them, it has sometimes been an embarrassing one too. Before turning each page, I feel a mini-pang of anxiety. I know what is waiting for me: highlighted words and passages, notes and scribbles in the margins, and underlined or circled words.

Sometimes I agree with younger me’s annotations, but most of the time I don’t. “Why did I highlight THAT?!” is a frequent question to myself. “Well, that was flat-out wrong” has been another common thought, as has been “Um … did I even read this?!?

Clearly not!

Which brings me back to our Scent Semantics word: nostalgia.

The first time I really thought about the meaning of “nostalgia,” I was in graduate school. I will sheepishly, but honestly admit that although I understood the word, I did not understand it at the same time.

Back then, I was the teaching assistant for an undergraduate honors program, which culminated in a trip to Prague over Spring Break. The professor leading the program was Czech and the students were assigned works of Czech literature to read and discuss. We read Kafka and Kundera, possibly others as well. My memory is a little hazy — probably from all the Czech wine I drank (Czech wine is excellent, by the way).

Anyway, ever since Undina revealed this month’s word, that program and Kundera’s Ignorance have been on my mind.

For those who haven’t read the novel, ostensibly, it is the story of Irene and Josef, two Czech émigrés who meet again by chance in a Paris airport on the way back to their native land after 20 years away.

But really, it’s a meditation on return and its impossibility.

The Greek word for ‘return’ is nostos. Algos means ‘suffering.’ So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return […] In that etymological light nostalgia seems something like the pain of ignorance, of not knowing. You are far away, and I don’t know what has become of you. My country is far away, and I don’t know what is happening there.”

— Milan Kundera, Ignorance

The first chapter (which you can read here if you are interested) ends with a reference to Odysseus, who Kundera calls “the greatest adventurer of all time” and also “the greatest nostalgic.” For those unfamiliar with Odysseus’ story, his 10-year journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War is documented in the Odyssey, another Western Canon icon — and a great one too.

I will refrain from saying more about Ignorance as I haven’t gotten around to re-reading it, but thinking about the word nostalgia has made me, well, nostalgic!

Graduate school was a time in my life when I was not promiscuous with perfume. I was a signature scent-kind of woman who would drain an entire bottle before buying another (usually the same one). This was partly because my tastes wildly exceeded my student budget and I could only afford one bottle at a time, but also because I would become so singularly enamored with a fragrance that I didn’t want to smell anything else.

This is my last bottle of the great Sophia Grosjman‘s Outrageous! for Frédéric Malle. When it launched in 2007, it was only available at Barneys and only on the 5th floor, the original Co-Op floor. As a concept, Barneys Co-Op was where you could find “lower-priced” up-and-coming, edgier designers and more casual clothing. Periodically, I would go to Barneys to look at the beautiful clothes that I couldn’t afford, try on cool things that I also couldn’t afford, or eat a chopped chicken salad at Fred’s, which I could afford … barely.

At the time, Outrageous was the least expensive Malle you could buy ($110 for 100ml). It had no fancy display and the tester was generally plunked on top of the cash wrap, probably to entice customers to make it a last-minute addition to the rest of their purchases, but also to stop people from stealing it.

Outrageous! was relaunched as a Limited Edition in 2017, before finally joining the permanent Éditions de Parfums collection as Outrageous (no exclamation mark). Of its creation, Malle said that he “wanted an androgynous, super sexy scent, something like a good pair of jeans.” Its initial exclusivity to Barneys, specifically Barneys Co-Op, made sense because the Co-Op floor was known for its denim bar, a giant wall full of designer jeans stacked in floor-to-ceiling cubby holes.

When I smelled it for the first time, it was like nothing that I had ever smelled before. Imagine biting into the crunchiest, juiciest, green apple while sipping on an icy caipirinha in a New York City laundromat on a sunny day. That’s the closest I can get to describing it. The fragrance is a jarring clash of photorealistic and synthetic-smelling notes. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

How does it smell now? To be honest, I don’t know. Just like I don’t want to revisit books I loved when I was younger because I don’t want to spoil their memory, I’m not sure if I want to smell Outrageous today. Even its current name, without Barneys’ signature exclamation mark, is too painful to look at. There are still a few milliliters left in my bottle, but I refuse to spray them. The fragrance has likely turned and I prefer to keep the dregs literally as bottled memories.

As for Barneys, you can’t go back there. First, the Co-Op concept was retired. Then Barneys slowly became a retail dinosaur: over-priced and out-of-date. Once known for its cheeky originality and sass, the store slogged humorlessly on until it was finally put out of its misery in 2019. Even though I stopped shopping at Barneys years before it closed its doors for good, I did go the week before its last day of business to pay my respects. The store felt so familiar, and yet it was not the same. The physical shell of the store was still there, but its spirit had long gone.

As you know by now, Scent Semantics is a monthly perfume blogger collaboration curated by Portia Turbo to bring together six writers from around the world to meditate on a single word, and then write about a fragrance(s) they’ve chosen to represent it.

I can’t wait to read everyone else’s takes on nostalgia, which was actually the word for March. (Forgive me, dearest crew! I’ve been so overwhelmed this spring).

Please visit their blogs and subscribe to support (links in the navigation and below).


It was not easy choosing a word for this month’s Scent Semantics. At first, I was stymied. Potato, I thought. Dinosaur. Orphan. I wanted a word that was challenging and rich with possibility, but all I could come up with were shallow words (coffee, minty) or unserious choices (unprintable).

Finally, I settled on taste. I was inspired by an exchange that I had with an acquaintance who asked me for a recommendation for a perfume. “Well, I don’t really know you that well,” I demurred. “It doesn’t matter!” they replied, “I trust your taste!”

Do you?!” I wondered as I looked around my apartment, my gaze falling on a pizza-shaped pillow, a framed autographed photo of Mr. T., and a perfume from Zara that smells just like canned peaches.

Anyone who knows me probably expected me to choose a food-related word for this collaborative project. Although taste cannot be divorced from its gustatory roots (ie. to have a specific flavor, to eat or drink in small quantities, to perceive/experience/enjoy by the sense of taste), I would like to also explore it through its other meanings: individual judgment, critical evaluation, discernment and appreciation of aesthetic qualities.

De gustibus non est disputandum!”

In matters of taste, there can be no disputes!

Or so I thought.

Then I fell off a metaphorical cliff into an abyss of relativism where everything was subjective and all arguments were rendered moot. You like what you like, and who can argue with that?

“Tastes good!” my Grandpa says, smacking his lips in enjoyment of something that makes me gag. Chicken feet, cartilage, fish heads? Sorry, Grandpa, hard no. I don’t hold this against him. I recognize that my squeamishness reveals more about where and how I grew up, versus where and how my Grandpa did. He has every right to like what he does, as do millions of others who share his affinity for the squidgy, soft, gelatinous, and rewarding bits. Part of me wishes that I could appreciate those foods too, but I can’t. I don’t like the taste, the texture, and also the work it takes to get a minuscule amount of chewy, fun stuff off a single chicken toe.

Whereas Grandpa gets a pass, others do not.

I admit it: I judge.

You judge too. Everyone does. We do it every day. Judgment doesn’t have to be mean, but it often is. “Mask-hole,” I think as I give the stink-eye to another unmasked subway rider who is flouting NYC’s mask mandate. “Ugh!” I complain to Joel when we get an invitation to join friends at another restaurant where the food is bad and overpriced. “Y2K Jessica Simpson wants that back now!” I bark at my friend who meets me at a café wearing a straw cowboy hat.

This gets us to what follows saying “to each, their own”: if everyone is entitled to their own taste, does that mean that we all have good taste?

‘Taste is relative’ is the excuse adopted by those eras that have bad taste.”
— Nicolás Gómez Dávila

No one will actually own up to having bad taste. I’m not talking about people who humbly admit that they have no taste. I mean those who think they have taste, but don’t and don’t know that they don’t. To have bad taste is, well … bad! It’s not nice to say someone has bad taste. Bad taste is synonymous with ignorance, being uneducated, being provincial.

But can good taste exist without its opposite?

For good taste to be good, it must be rare. Not everyone can have good taste, which is why a discussion of good taste can be so incendiary. In addition to being an expression of expert discernment, it is also elitist, snobby, socially and economically classist.

Someone has to have good taste! Or at least better taste. Otherwise, what would be the point of criticism and reviews? Where would fashion magazines be if their editors and contributors were not considered to be credible authorities on what looks good? Would there still be awards for the best movies, books, restaurants, etc. without the votes of so-called experts? Would entire art collections be devalued? What would be the use of curators if it didn’t matter what you curated?

For this meditation on taste, I have chosen three banana perfumes: Blackbird Y06-S, L’Artisan Parfumeur Bana Banana, and NARS Audacious.

Banana?! Yes, banana!

They might taste good, but bananas defy good taste! Bananas are vulgar. Their bright yellow color literally honks at your eyeballs. They’re a funny shape. (Yes, I went there!) I bet Anna Wintour has never “gone bananas”! Bananas are cheap. A single banana goes for almost pennies. Artificial banana-flavored food is tacky. Circus peanuts, anyone?

On a side note, if you want to know why banana-flavored things don’t actually taste like banana, do read the great story of the near extinction of the Gros Michel banana whose presence is gone, but whose flavor lives on as artificial banana flavoring (isoamyl acetate).

And is there any better representation of low-brow comedy than the classic pratfall of slipping on a banana peel?

Low-brow comedy is easy to understand. It is meant to appeal to the widest audience and is often physical and scatological. It is slapstick: humor contingent on surprise, boisterous jokes, physical contortions, pulled faces, and buffoonery. It is the laughter that follows a pie in the face or wiping out on discarded scraps.

High-brow comedy, on the other hand, is intellectual, ironic, absurd, and potentially obscure. High-brow humor is not funny to everyone. Like high art, you either get it, or you don’t. If you do get it, your membership in the exclusive club of thinking women and men is assured. If you don’t get it, you can take your place with the other plebs down below.

To understand bad taste, one must have very good taste.”
— John Waters

For all its popular appeal, low-brow humor can also be deployed to devastatingly effect to subvert, to overthrow, the bring down those who think they’re above the masses. The snooty businessman is just like the rest of us when he slips on a banana peel and falls.

Banana perfumes are subversive too. At first, they seem like olfactory gags. Laffy Taffy, but make it perfume. On second sniff, they are all much more than that. They are not for everyone. The audiences for these perfumes are either true fragrance connoisseurs or 4-year-olds. Apart from perfume sets for children, banana perfumes could only be categorized as true niche.

Take Blackbird’s Y06-S, which opens on the skin with the smell of an overheated VCR.* Slowly, the charged notes of warm electronics step aside to make way for a pile of underripe bananas and indolic jasmine. Kashina turned me onto this fragrance, which was her enthusiastic response to my wish for a perfume that smelled like animatronic monkeys in trees. It smells like that, but it also smells more urban — like the most fabulous dumpster in Bangkok. Imagine the olfactory glory of discarded green bananas, trashed garlands of jasmine whose white petals are quickly turning orange, and plastic-sheathed wires tumbled together in a giant receptacle. When I smelled this for the first time, I laughed out loud. This is the Warhol of banana perfumes.

L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Bana Banana is the most perfect banana of the three. A gorgeous, bright yellow, unblemished fruit served on the whitest cloud of musk. It is a banana hologram, so unreal that it is practically surreal. Despite that, it still feels accessible. I know this banana. I’ve thrown it countless times into my backpack before running out the door to school. I’ve peeled off its stickers and stuck them to notebook covers and cafeteria walls. I’ve pulled apart its sticky bunches in supermarkets and tossed it carelessly into shopping carts. I’ve blended it into smoothies, sliced it onto crêpes, and arranged it on top of peanut butter. It is the Sistine Chapel ceiling of banana perfumes, both profane and divine.

With its sleek dark bottle and minimalist presentation, no one would ever suspect that NARS Audacious smells like bananas. I assure you that it does! Banana is not listed as one of its given notes, but that is what makes this tropical floral fragrance feel the most subversive. What is more audacious than a banana perfume trying to fool you? NARS Audacious does not smell yellow, green, or even brown. The scent is more like the steamy whisper of a peeled, chalky banana in a Balinese spa, It smells luxurious, glamorous, expensive. But it’s still a banana!

As you know by now, Scent Semantics is a monthly perfume blogger collaboration curated by Portia Turbo to bring together six writers from around the world to meditate on a single word, and then write about a fragrance(s) they’ve chosen to represent it.

I can’t wait to read everyone else’s takes on taste this month. Please visit their blogs and subscribe to support (links in the navigation and below).

* I hyperlinked VCR because some of my students have told me that they have never seen one before.


Is there anything more luscious than the word LUSCIOUS?

Luscious not only sounds delicious, it literally is

According to the Advanced English Dictionary, luscious is derived from the Middle English word lucius, which is an altered form of licious, short for delicious.

In addition to tasty synonyms like delectable, scrumptious, and yummy, luscious can also refer to someone with “strong sexual appeal.” See also juicy (“juicy barmaid”), red-hot (“red-hot mama”), voluptuous (“a voluptuous woman”), and toothsome (“a toothsome blonde in a tight dress”). 

Ponder with me the ridiculous, gendered examples of “strong sexual appeal” given by the Advanced English Dictionary, developed by the Cognitive Science Laboratory at Princeton University and populated using the WordNet lexical database. To be sweet is to be angelic, but to be edible is to be a MILF, working a powerless job that leaves you at the mercy of a leering, hungry public. Skinny, bony wenches need not apply! To be luscious, your [bra]cup must runneth over! Think Jennifer Coolidge (boozy, buxom, blonde), or more tragic figures like Marilyn Monroe (objectified, underestimated, exploited) and Anna Nicole Smith (ridiculed, victimized, shamed).

To be luscious is to be vulnerable, both in terms of food and sex. To inspire that kind of desire is power, but it’s also a liability. It will be difficult for you to survive for long in this world. You are craved, devoured, consumed. Who wants a piece of you? Everyone!

Just like poor, maligned, luscious women everywhere have been targets for vicious trolls,  jealous haters, and cruel egomaniacs, luscious perfumes are also stigmatized. Too easy to like! Too facile! Too basic! Nothing tanks your perfumista cred faster than to admit that 90% of your collection is comprised of gourmands. But it’s all so stupid, you complain to your arch, elegant friend whose collection is 90% chypres — the fragrance family of choice for cool, intellectual, serious collectors. This friend has no sympathy for you, a dismissed puddle of wide-eyed goo next to her polished, pointy boots.

What if I were to propose a perfume that is both luscious and challenging, in a good way? Nothing as ground-breaking as Angel, but one that distinguishes itself from other gourmands by doubling, tripling, QUADRUPLING down on its lusciousness?

Pantheon Roma Trastevere is weaponized pecan pie filling, with nary any dairy to tame its sticky sweetness. Imagine an extreme, super-concentrated version of Angel Muse without the whipped cream, and you begin to get the idea. This perfume is sweet, so sweet that it actually makes my teeth ache a little. Thankfully, it’s balanced by the aroma of roasted chestnuts, which adds a savory dimension to the fragrance that saves it from smothering you in syrup. According to Pantheon Roma’s website, the fragrance is a tribute to Trastevere, a colorful, working-class district known in the 16th Century as “the oven of Rome.” I wouldn’t describe Trastevere, the fragrance as smelling like bread. That being said,  if you could bottle the crusty, lacy caramelized bits that cling to the surface of sugary pastries like palmiers or the ginger pecan tart pictured above, this would be it. 

Full disclosure, my travel spray of Trastevere was a gift from my Perfume Playdate partner in crime, Olya Bar.

Scent Semantics is a monthly perfume blogger collaboration curated by Portia Turbo to bring together six writers from around the world to meditate on a single word, and then write about a fragrance they’ve chosen that best represents it.

Semantics (from Ancient Greek: σημαντικός sēmantikós, “significant”)[a][1] is the study of meaning, reference, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and computer science.”

I can’t wait to read everyone else’s takes on Sheila‘s pick this month. Please visit their blogs and subscribe to support (links in menu and below).


Scent Semantics is a new monthly perfume blogger collaboration curated by Portia Turbo to bring together six writers from around the world to meditate on a single word, and then write about a fragrance they’ve chosen that best represents it.

Semantics (from Ancient Greek: σημαντικός sēmantikós, “significant”)[a][1] is the study of meaning, reference, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and computer science.”

This month, Elena has chosen the word ANGELIC.

The word angelic has always been synonymous with “boring” for me. Not that I have an issue with religion or people who are religious (I don’t), but the dictionary definition of angelic“resembling, or suggestive of an angel (as in purity, holiness, innocence, or beauty)” — seems dull compared to their portrayal in the Old Testament where they are flaming sword-waving, wrathful, inscrutable, and terrifying messengers of God.

Old Testament angels are scary. They’re meant to be scary. They are awesome, but not in the banal way we would say, “These tacos are awesome!” More like the slack-jawed, wordlessly blinking way that we might be when face-to-face with something much bigger, more powerful, and completely incomprehensible to our puny human brains. I’m fairly certain that if most people saw an actual angel as described in the Old Testament, they would soil themselves.

I’m not an expert on angels. I didn’t grow up going to any religious services, which is probably why I find angels fascinating in an esoteric way. According to the Kabbalah, there are ten kinds of angels in the “choir of angels,” each weirder and more terrifying than the last. Take the cherubim who, far from the chubby, winged babies commonly found in Renaissance tableaux, were described in the Book of Ezekiel as beings with four faces (one human, one of a lion, one of an ox, and one of an eagle), two pairs of wings, and human legs with shiny hooves. Freaky! What about the six-winged seraphim, fiery beings with one set of wings to cover their face, one set to cover their feet, and one set used to fly. Even freakier! Let’s not forget the ophanim (angels shaped like interlocked flaming chariot wheels, covered with eyes), which are just plain weird.

Coming back to our Scent Semantics word of the month, if the definition of angelic is that which is “resembling, or suggestive of an angel,” why can’t the word also encompass that which is resembling or suggestive of these stranger, more hallucinogenic, and more terrifying angels? Being angelic is just what angels do, regardless if they are more benevolent human-looking ones, or ones that look like eyeball wheels.

What about the fallen angels? The rebel angels? And the most famous fallen, rebel angel of them all: Satan. In Abrahamic religions, Satan (also known as Lucifer) was supposedly a beautiful angel, cast out of Heaven as eternal punishment for rebelling against God. Surprisingly, the Bible doesn’t say that Hell is Satan’s kingdom, only that there will be a place of everlasting fire for him and the other fallen angels. Hell is not an idea that the authors of the Bible invented. Many ancient and modern religions imagined a fiery underworld inhabited by malevolent entities, and damned souls.

Which brings me to my choice of fragrance this month: Boujee BougiesHellflower. Boujee Bougies is a project from Olfiction, an independent fragrance house founded by two people very familiar to Perfumeland: perfumer Pia Long and Creative Director and writer Nick Gilbert. Rounding out the Boujee Bougies team are Thomas Dunckley (aka the Candy Perfume Boy) and perfumer’s assistant Ezra-Lloyd Jackson.

With a team like that, we all knew that they would create something wonderful.

According to the Boujee Boujies website, Hellflower is a candle inspired by “a tatty old sci-fi novel […] all about a populace addicted to flowers.” I have not read it, but I will take Pia and Nick’s word that it’s hilariously bad. Like a lot of pulpy fiction, a summary of its plot is difficult to find on the internet, but in all honesty, do you even need the plot?

Hellflower: The Candle, is meant to evoke the scent of burning flowers (magnolia and jasmine) and brimstone, the ancient name for sulphur.

Thankfully, these sulphurous notes are not the kind you smell when you overboil eggs. Instead, they are more like what you smell in grapefruit, specifically like when you leave grapefruit juice out for too long. And Hellflower is quite juicy.

As it burns, it’s simultaneously voluptuous and energizing. It’s not a suffocating scent, however the candle creates a narcotic haze of grapefruit creamsicle that floats through the air like gauze. It’s a beautiful and unexpected. Is it angelic? I’m not sure. But isn’t that the beauty of this Scent Semantics project? To meditate on the intersections of scent and meaning, and follow where each of these words takes you?

Speaking of other meditations and semantic scent journeys to follow, I can’t wait to read everyone else’s takes on angelic. Please visit their blogs and subscribe to support (links in menu and below).


Scent Semantics is a new monthly perfume blogger collaboration curated by Portia Turbo to bring together six writers from around the world to meditate on a single word, and then write about a fragrance they’ve chosen that best represents it.

Semantics (from Ancient Greek: σημαντικός sēmantikós, “significant”)[a][1] is the study of meaning, reference, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and computer science.”

This month, Portia has asked us to apply the word BRAVE to a single scent.

When I first saw this month’s word, my initial thought was that I have not felt particularly BRAVE for the past year and a half. 

If anything, I have felt the opposite of brave: I have felt SCARED.

Scared and anxious for my family, friends, colleagues, and students. Scared for the future in the face of a seemingly endless pandemic, extreme weather due to climate change, increasing misinformation, distrust of institutions and experts, and entrenched political polarization. Resigned to possibly never feeling truly relaxed on a plane, in a train, or in an automobile ever again. Saddened by the possibility that hugs will always be cautious and kisses on the cheek will continue to feel unsafe.

But the more I considered it, the more I realized that there have been BRAVE moments. Not big acts of bravery like saving a trapped child from a ravine (don’t ask me why that example came to my mind first), but a myriad of little ones. These micro-acts of bravery included going grocery shopping in those early days of the pandemic when the world was shut down, locked up, and under quarantine. Ordering in to support my favorite restaurants when we weren’t sure how the virus was spread and contactless delivery seemed frightening to both deliverer and deliveree. Shivering six-feet apart from a friend on a park bench before vaccines were widely available.

It’s funny to think of how different the world is now. 

I’m back on campus for the first time in 2.5 semesters. Is it still strange? Yes. Not only does every masked face remind me of that, but also every sweaty, reduced breath through my K-95 mask (especially during long lectures). To be honest, sometimes I have to duck into an empty classroom just so I can take my mask off for a few precious minutes and exhale.

In those moments, especially right after I peel my mask off my face, I can really perceive the fragrance that I am wearing. K-95 masks blessedly filter out virus particles, but they also filter and muffle scent molecules too. Not all, but enough that when I remove mine, it’s like smelling in full color again.

My BRAVE fragrance for this month is Ormonde Jayne’s Montabaco — which has been my go-to teaching scent of the Fall 2021 semester. Sometimes I think about Montabaco as not being my tobacco fragrance since the French language teacher in me considers Linda Pilkington to be the actual owner of the possessive adjective “mon.” That being said, I’ve come to think of the “tabaco” less like “my” version of tobacco, and more like MY protector: strong enough to wear like a suit of armor, but soft enough to soothe and comfort. Montabaco is also a study in contrasts: dark and light, shadow and shine. All of which encapsulates how I’m feeling right now: more hopeful but not completely at ease.

I can’t wait to read my new crew’s individual takes on BRAVE. Please visit their blogs and subscribe to support (links in menu and below).