Content by S. Elizabeth originally posted on the bloodmilk blog, July 13, 2015.
When I was younger, summertime, to me, meant curling up on a sweaty vinyl chair on the screened-in back porch with a pitcher of powdered iced tea drink and reading stories of ghosts and monsters and possessed children. If I was lucky, the skies would darken at midday, the winds would pick up, and a fearsome storm would thunder through the area; this is a common occurrence on a summer afternoon in central Florida, and normally would not last more than ten minutes.
I avoided the sun when at all possible; I did not relish playing outside with my sisters or the neighbor’s kids, I did not care for trips to the beach, I didn’t like being hot and sticky and gross. And I didn’t really have any friends to do any of those things with, anyhow. But then again, I’d never had many friends, so I really didn’t know any better and I didn’t feel badly about it! These long, sweltering days on the back porch voraciously tearing through stacks upon stacks of cheap, lurid used bookstore finds are some of the happiest memories I have from my pre-teen years. This was how summer was supposed to be, I thought, and at the ages of 11/12/13, I was young enough to have the luxury of spending that time however I liked. And after the daily rains, which were impatiently anticipated and perfectly inevitable -that was my favorite part of the day: a few glorious moments when the humidity dropped the tiniest bit, the air cooled a few degrees, and the sun disappeared entirely, culminating in a rich scent that still tugs at my memories and the edges of my dreams many years later. The musty scent of disintegrating paperbacks, the air heavy with the sweet, musky fragrance of jasmine, the tang of ozone, just before a heavy rainfall. This was the scent of my summers.
Years later when it comes to scenting myself for summer weather, I steer clear of many of the perfumes marketed for these sizzling, stifling afternoons when the evil day star holds sway. I don’t want to smell like the synthetic coconut of greasy suntan lotion, nor do I want to smell like those generic aquatics that are supposedly “crisp and refreshing” or the ubiquitous green tea and cucumber/melon melange which smell like so many country club air fresheners. Yes, I do want something lighter, for anything richer and heavier would certainly suffocate and strangle me in our notoriously murky, muggy Southern summers…but I want a scent that also evokes some sort of nostalgia, triggers a memory, conjured a long-forgotten dream.
Below is a list of my five preferred fragrances in this vein; scents for these summer months that are at turns cooling, invigorating, revitalizing and imaginative: summer scents for those who shun the sun.
Coriandre by Jean Couturier is a light, lovely chypre launched in the mid-70’s. If you are not familiar with chypres, well, they seem to be a rather divisive grouping of scents, with perfume lovers falling squarely in either the Love Them or Hate Them camps. To me, generically, chypres smell a bit cold and astringent, distant; but Coriandre is on the warmer, more familiar end of the spectrum. It does remind me of something from the 70s; it’s got a hazy Polaroid quality to it. A warm, grassy summer day recalled through the yellowed veil of memory. It’s dry and woody and musky and I think it smells a bit like a lovely little secret that you might never be ready to share.
Annick Goutal’s Mandragore reminds me of a scene in the 1980’s vampire film The Lost Boys, when the main characters’ grandpa says “….well that’s about as close to town as I like to get.” My perfume shelf is filled mostly with deep, dark, resinous fragrances, and Mandragore, with its bright lemony/peppery opening that quickly fades to a soft, minty bergamot, is as close to a “summer scent” as I like to get. It’s a lovely, (softly) zingy scent that calls to mind some sort of mildly alcoholic herbal shandy one might drink to refresh one’s self at the close of a balmy June afternoon. Unfortunately, much like the buzz from this weak cocktail, the scent lasts but a moment and is gone.
Safran Troublant by L’Artisan is a wonderfully restorative, heart-warming/opening scent. It should be part of a comforting bedtime ritual at the end of a long, hot day where one has done a lot of yard work or gardening. There’s a comforting sweetness to it, though not at all sugary or cloying. A creamy sandalwood pudding, a lukewarm bath lightly infused with milk and rose petals and a deep, enveloping hug. You’ll sleep quite well and be visited by the loveliest midsummer dreams.
Danube, by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is a beloved scent that is, for me, more about memory than the actual fragrance itself. It is a deep blue aquatic scent – but not salty, ozone-y, beachy aquatic, nor is it murky, swampy aquatic. Like a cold swimming pool on a hot day (maybe if you were adding grapefruit to your pool instead of chlorine) with every blue flower imaginable floating on top of it. Imagine being 6 years old and holding your breath and submerging yourself in a swimming pool, then slo-o-o-wly sinking to the bottom. The water is chilled, you feel like the only person in the world and everything is totally silent. Imagine peering up and seeing the sun streaming down into the water, between all of the blue petals. It’s calm and soothing and serene and is an absolutely a must for hot, sticky weather and for people who haven’t got a swimming pool. Unfortunately, I do believe that Danube is discontuned. For other other unique summer scents from BPAL, sniff out Fae (sweet, floral, peachy), and Zephyr (light musk, soft lemon and florals), and Aeval (dried herbs & sweet pea & tonka and it smells like all of my favorite occult bookshops at once -herbs and oils and stones and crystals and and the crisp pages of unopened books filled with unlearned knowledge.)
When I was 18, I was dating the boy who used to live next door to me, but who had since graduated high school and moved to Indiana to attend Notre Dame. We spent a week together on summer break, during which time he had flown down South to stay with me and my family. It was early in this visit that he proposed to me on the beach one night, and I accepted…though something told me that this was a doomed venture. I knew it was not going to last, and yet I agreed anyway; I suppose I just liked the idea that something interesting loomed in the distant future for me. One late afternoon a few days later, we took a drive; the sun hung low on the horizon, the windows were down, and on the wind that ruffled our hair was the musky, sweet scent of orange blossoms, as we had just driven past a massive orange grove. Jo Malone’s Orange Blossom smells like that summer afternoon, sweet blooms and dying suns and the melancholy of tears yet to be shed for reasons you’re not quite sure of.
A bonus scent, which I have mentioned before, so it didn’t seem quite fair to list it above: Comme des Garcons Incense Series: Kyoto. To be honest, Kyoto is my go-to fragrance no matter what the season; it’s austere and meditative and calls to mind a dark prayer in a cool, shadowy forest temple. But there is something exceptionally wonderful about it in the summer months. On a day of wretched, heated summertime oppression, do this: draw the curtains, dim the lights, strip naked, and liberally spritz yourself with Kyoto. Lay on your bed, mid-afternoon in the dark. Nap for a time. Dream of cooler places. And for what it’s worth, I just purchased my 5th bottle of this particular scent (and you know I have quite a lot of perfumes to choose from) so Kyoto is obviously getting a lot of mileage.
What scents do you dream of in summer time? What cools you down & soothes your brow when the temperatures soar?