Our first fragrance loves


14th February, 2010

With Valentine's Day upon us, what better time to think about the fragrances that made us fall in love with fragrance! We ask our team of writers and some of our future writers, which fragrance made their heart and nose, go Boom!

Mark Behnke

It was 1986 and I was early in my career. I was regularly wearing Ralph Lauren Polo and Aramis and while I liked them I can’t honestly say I loved them. Fragrant love came in a Macy’s men’s department when I was shopping for clothes. While I was looking at the shirts the most amazing smell kept wafting around me. I looked up and saw a smartly dressed woman holding an oval bottle filled with an amber liquid. I walked over and as I got closer realized that was the source of the smell I was taken with. I asked her what that was and she told me this was the new Calvin Klein scent Obsession for Men and sprayed some on my wrist. Although I didn’t know it at the time that was my first experience with the Basenotes Salute, wrist firmly glued to nose while walking around. I couldn’t get enough of this fragrance. I would be back in Macy’s buying the whole Obsession for Men line the next day; cologne, after shave, deodorant and soap. I covered myself in that fragrance for about a year and to date that is the only time in my life where I’ve worn one fragrance for so long. Even today, when I wear it, it makes me fall in love with fragrance all over again.

Mark Behnke is a regular contributor to the Forums under the name, Somerville Metro Man. Mark will be writing a regular niche fragrance column for Basenotes.

Marian Bendeth

Before my first kiss, my first Puppy love was with L'Air du Temps. By the time I was a sophisticated little Missy, I wore my Hermes Caleche as a precocious six year old. By the age of ten, I had amassed a little fragrance collection of Madame Rochas, Memoire by Shiseido, Courreges and Fidji along with so many other smaller scents.

When that first kiss did finally come, it was Rochas's' Audace that made me swoon. I owe so much to the House of Rochas and my other boyfriend, Guy Robert!

Marian Bendeth has won three Canadian fragrance awards for her writing on Basenotes and is founder of the consulting company, Sixth Scents.

Dimitri Dimitriadis

Greece, 1994. With the ear-splitting chirrup of cicadas in the coastal pines, and the Mediterranean sun hammering down on my back, I first experienced Paloma Picasso's Minotaure from a friend's bottle that was bought to the beach. I spritzed modestly, releasing crisp citrus molecules onto the air that came to rest across my collarbone. For a moment, the oppressive heat abated and I basked in the perfume of blood orange and lemon-like geranium; my eyes drawn instantly to the vivid potted bushels lining the shuttered sills and white-washed balconies behind me.

As the shadows of the day grew longer, Minotaure continued to swell on the air - a sensuous, rich, brawny leather emerged... and I felt transformed.

My unforseen love affair had commenced.

Dimitri Dimitriadis is a regular on the Forums and has contributed his graphics and writing skills to Basenotes. Dimitri also blogs at Sorcery of Scent.

Anya McCoy

I loved perfumes as a toddler. My mother and her friends, and all my aunts would give me their almost-spent bottles of perfume to play with. I spent hours mesmerized by the beautiful scents and bottles, playing with them as another little girl would with dolls. It wasn't until I was seven that I could put a name to a perfume that absolutely transported me - Chanel No. 5. Desperate to experience the incredible opening blast of beauty, I doused myself over and over in an attempt to recapture that magic. I suppose that is the real sign of an addiction, just looking for the rush by going after the high over and over. I've since devoted my life and art to natural perfumes, but I will never deny the perfume that led me to love perfumes beyond reason.

Anya McCoy is president and owner of the Natural Perfumers Guild as well as the perfumer behind Anya's Garden. Anya contributed occasional book reviews and natural perfumery columns to Basenotes.

Colin Murchie

My first memories of fragrance are from when I was very young. I remember playing with my mum’s empty bottles of Pagan when I was about 2, one of my first memories. I began collecting scented novelty soaps as a child and ended up with quite a collection, all of which I assume have been used up by now. This progressed onto cheap fragrances from bargain basement chemists, can’t remember the names so they must have been good! My first “real” fragrance was Drakkar Noir. I’ll never forget my first sniff of it, the wonderful complex top notes with the woody masculine base. To this day the top notes take me back to when bought it at 15. I was so disappointed that the top didn’t stay around for longer, the best part of this fragrance in my opinion. This is where the addiction started. From age 15 I have never had less than 20 fragrances which has grown and grown ever since. When I stumbled upon Basenotes I had around 70 fragrances, now I have over 800. It’s all Basenotes fault!

Colin Murchie is an occasional contributor to Basenotes and spend many years moderating the Forums.

Ali Nakhai

Perhaps it's the warmth of nurture or the flattering projection of admiration but young boys always want to be like their father, stealing umm borrowing his cologne and in later years his watches, ties and car. A child can be the greatest thief this side of Arsine Lupin. I still remember waking up in Memphis, Tennessee as a child and inhaling the smell of Halston Z-14 filling the house as my father was getting ready for work.

We only had one bathroom and as one often does, I'd wake to an internal alarm clock located in my bladder. With contorting knees and facial expressions not unlike a cat after is swallows a canary, I'd quiver outside the bathroom taking delight in the Z-14 fumes. It's a powerful concoction, balsamic notes and deep woods and a thick styrax benzoin drift get right up in your face with more attitude than a mother in law. I'd finally get my turn in the bathroom and after shutting off my internal alarm I'd take my time carefully looking over the bottle and dabbing it on with precision. I'd hold the beautiful smoke tinted bottle as if it were a grail.

What made Z-14 so special for me was that despite its dark bold presence it had a silky zip that added a sense of refreshment. Other "power scents" of the eighties like Antaeus, Kouros or Calvin didn't have the air of comfort for me that Z-14 had. I'd come out of the bathroom smelling a little too fragrant (especially for an eight year old on his way to third grade arithmetic). My father never minded - he'd just laugh. He always gave me samples when he bought a fragrance and I hoarded them. I had my own little men's fragrance counter in miniature form. I'd never use the Z-14 samples since I didn't want them to finish.

Z-14 doesn't just make me think of my first fragrance impression as Valentine's day nears but also it brings up memories of my father whose birthday also happens to be on Valentine's day. I recently read that Halston is revamping the formula (I assume making it less think and more friendly to today's consumer). I hope that they don't do away with the original formula as that wold make me an unhappy widow. It's said that one never forgets their first love, that is in many ways irreplaceable. Z-14 is.

Ali Nakhai is a writer and film maker based in LA and NYC.

Grant Osborne

I remember being given a bottle of Jazz for my 18th birthday, and while I enjoyed its scent, it meant no more to me than a functionary fragrance such as the one in my shower gel, or deodorant. It wasn't until I started selling fragrances a few years later when I ran into Body Kouros by the excellent Annick Menardo. I remember sniffing it at the time and being strangely repulsed and attracted to it, which is what got me hooked. Since then, Menardo's work continues to attract me - Bulgari Black, Time for Peace, Hypnotic Poison etc..

Grant Osborne is the founder and editor of Basenotes

Christopher Peterson

Fragrance to fall in love with. Love for fragrance. The deep spell that a magic fragrance gives, and how smelling the thing is a delight impenetrable and effervescent just like love. First fragrance to make fall in love with fragrance? There are so many of these firsts, and each one different.

Adolescence. Fantasy that anything in the world could be gotten at the large department store in my small northern Midwestern American city. Go there and imagine that someday I might wear a round point collared shirt, blue striped with white collar and cuffs. Ride the escalator imagining a fantasy future supplied by the things between those walls yet avoiding looking at my reflection the mirrors on all sides and the ceiling of the escalator’s diagonal passage. Stopping at the chrome, glass, and solid black lucite fragrance counter and the discovery of smell voyages. Universes even. Lagerfeld (the one now called classic or original). Chanel Pour Monsieur (the oakmoss and citrus glory that came before the “concentree” version today so widespread). Lauder’s JHL. Each arresting. That people could smell of this! That this glamour world existed, that I might go where people smelled so exotic and, that I could join that world, clearly so far away and different from my small city on the river! That people could put these on and then take them for granted, turning to do whatever they had to do in their days and forgetting that they smelled of the exotic in the old--read European--world, and thus,in forgetting their scent, make it so much of a part of them and so guileless. So effortless. Such glamour and all the interesting places and people in the world, so easily. Those bottles sent me places and there’s no forgetting them.

Christopher Peterson is the writer behind the Xtreme Scents column, and will continue this subject in a column to be published soon.

Elena Vosnaki

How can one pinpoint the precise moment in time when one of their inquisitive senses really "opened up" and revealed a Heaven of Delights, such as smell can? The magic bullet that cut through my brain's rhinencephalon came at an age when no more did I know this part of my brain existed, let alone being able to pronounce it! Before seeing Yves Saint Laurent's couture on Betty Catroux and Talitha Getty in the photos of the glossy magazines that my mother used to cut out clippings of when she deemed them beautiful and before I leafed through my father’s art-books with the colorful, geometrical Mondrian and trapezoid Braque paintings, an objet d'art in liquid form had tagged at my heartstrings and not only my nose: Opium...The very word makes me cuss with delight, sigh with longing and feel inexplicably happy the way only romance can!

The trigger had been pulled while stepping into a taxi out of which a woman wearing Opium had just left. My puerile ears had the good fortune of catching the driver’s phrase “My God, this Opium scent is everywhere and it’s so strong!” My mother nodded her beautiful head in silent demi-assent ~as she always did when she was too polite to disagree or further an argument. Myself I was not yet capable of discerning nuances of speech so as to differentiate a positive from a negative one. I only seem to recall that that was the most exquisite scent I had ever smelled, I was straining to absorb every single molecule I could attach to my nostrils’ Velcro and I was already seriously longing for it as soon as I stepped out of that taxi. I can’t really recall where we were going, whether our purpose was a practical or social one, what we were wearing or how the driver looked like. My memory obliterated all those things, choosing to cherish only the precious memento of first smelling Opium off the sillage of a complete stranger. It haunted me for years and as soon as I had pocket money or could request gifts of beauty I knew what my little heart desired: the forbidden elixir encased in the cinnabar bottle with the black tassel! Other perfumes came and went and I amassed whatever I could lay my hands on, but Opium became my foray into the world of a love affair with perfumes themselves. And for that I'm forever grateful...

Elena Vosnaki is a perfume historian and the owner of the blog, Perfume Shrine.

What made you fall in love...?

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    • VM I hate civet | 14th February 2010 20:19

      Apres L'Ondee, at the age of 48... First the description of it as "mercury trickling down bathroom walls" and then the scent itself.

    • Flora | 14th February 2010 20:36

      Wonderful memories! Some of these perfumes are those I love also.

      I adored my mother's demure violet perfume as a child, and when I got a little older I would sniff the bottles at department stores. I grew up where there was very little available in the way of fine perfumery, well before the days of Internet access, though I explored what I could, so my true awakening did not come until I was a young adult and I moved to a city large enough to have "real" perfume in the stores. I wore Anais Anais for years, having swooned over it instantly when it was first released. Then a dedicated perfume boutique opened up in my city and I discovered the real thing - Caron, Rochas, Guerlain, Le Galion (yes, it was THAT long ago!), and most of all Jean Patou, and I was never the same again.

      My heart was stolen for all time when the Jean Patou Ma Collection of reissued classics was introduced in the Eighties. They were all wonderful, but the one that took my breath away was the beautiful and perfect Vacances. I still can't accept that it's gone after the P & G takeover of Jean Patou. I will never forget how it made me feel the first time I smelled it; freshly cut and dewy grass courtesy of the sharply green galbanum, ethereal lilac and mimosa, and wondrously realistic and heart-soaring hyacinth. Nothing like it has ever been produced before or since, and its demise is a great loss to perfumery. I have part of a bottle left, and wearing it is almost an exquisite pain, like reading a letter from a lost love.:cry:

    • DustB | 14th February 2010 20:54

      Great contributions everyone! It's sure fun when something is unexpectedly very powerful for us, isn't it? Great stories for the day, thanks.

    • Kevin Guyer | 15th February 2010 06:13

      The first time I smelled patchouli oil, in the 70s, I knew the scented life was for me!

      Happy V-Day everyone! :laugh:

    • tigrushka | 15th February 2010 06:46

      Though I was sniffing at every perfume bottle I would get my hands on since I was a toddler and at thirteen had sniffed around enough to know that it was either Anaïs Anaïs or Rive Gauche I wanted for Christmas (got both and was over the moon!) The One that made me fall in love with fragrance was Rive Gauche.

      I don't remember when or where I managed to actually try it, but in those days testers were shelved and guarded by the SAs at the department stores, so it must have been on a Helsinki-Stockholm ferry tax-free parfumerie where the testers were "out in the open" so that even a kid like me could sneak a spray... I remember disliking the top notes (I'm still not very fond of aldehydes) but the drydown stole my heart. I still have a vivid memory of the woody oakmossy loveliness.

    • kewart | 15th February 2010 10:07

      Rive Gauche stole my heart too, long ago, Tigs. Also Mitsouko and Jicky.

      You know it's a keeper when it tugs at your heart strings and

      takes you out of yourself into another, better place.

      Recently, Sienne l'Hiver and Divine's L'Infante did that same thing

      to me too.

    • dmoran227 | 15th February 2010 14:39

      Hello, my sister! Rive Gauche was for me also the first in my love affair.It was the late 70's/early 80's and my mother had it on her tray along with Emeraude, Lily's of the Valley. I enjoyed those as well but the Rive Gauch haunted me. I thought of her often though my teens and twenties, too busy with children and such to reconnect. About 5 or six years ago I did an internet search and I found her again. That purchase was also the beginning of me deciding that this is my hobby. Being a working mother it was a little hard to justify multiple scent purchases when I have plenty. I don't play tennis, scrapbook, I collect scents.

      I still wear Rive Gauche and the the warm sensuous drydown still gets those endorphins flowing.

      P.S. I'm new here, Kind Greetings to all, I was so happy to find this site.

    • 30 Roses | 15th February 2010 16:40

      My whimsical grandmother started me on my fragrance love when she bought a gag gift item, a small toilet-shaped bottle complete with hinged lid (i.e. "toilet water") and, after replacing the nondescript contents with Tabu, presented it to me. I loved it! It was hardly a scent to give a child, but that didn't matter to her or to me.

      The first fragrance I chose for myself was Coty's Muguet des Bois, and in high school and college my wardrobe grew-- I explored, and wore, many types of perfumes. I particularly loved the exotic perfume oils sold in the incence-selling shops of the 1970s.

      Coriandre became my signature scent in the 1980s, and I rediscovered soliflores in the 1990s. If it were not for Basenotes, I might have gotten stuck at that point, as I lost interest in most of what the mall shops sold. Since I started testing niche perfumes, my husband has begun sniffing and buying fragrances for himself (if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!). Our daughter joined the fray by writing a fragrance brief of her own. I think this family is in for a long, fragrant ride!

    • tanto | 15th February 2010 20:37

      I was a young man in high school in Milan, Italy. Actually, I was too busy with sports and school to ever pay any attention to fragrances. It was in early October and there was a school dance and yes, I was going to the dance with my "dream girl", Maria. I went to the local profumeria to buy Maria her favorite fragrance called "Calila". The sales girl also showed me "Acqua di Selva" for men. This was the first time I had ever smelled this cologne and was very impressed with it. Well, the next day I went back to buy a bottle for myself and have been using it ever since. This was in 1965. So, I have worn Acqua di Selva for almost 45 years and still enjoy it.

    • jayjupes | 16th February 2010 00:18

      i was reading christopher's

      got up, put on lagerfeld classic

      sat back down and read his reference to it

      super magic times

    • JDBIII | 16th February 2010 15:23

      Growing up, my father wore Aramis. My sister wore VSP, Anais Anais, and any other girly florals that got in her way. My mother wore Tuvara by Tuvache. And, I wore nothing. One day, out of the blue, I decided to give my father a new fragrance for his birthday. I picked out the Nine Flags box which must have been very reasonably priced at that time. My father continued to wear Aramis, but I was fascinated by all those different scents in one box. It was truly a treasure.

    • actiasluna | 17th February 2010 04:14

      My grandmother's vanity, one of those waterfall-style pieces with the glass shelf in the middle, contained a collection of miniature perfume bottles... no doubt as she could not afford the bigger bottles. One scent left its mark on a little cloth book she gave me, a scent that was powdery musk and from that day forward every time I smell that scent I think of her and that little book. From her box of Tabu powder to the vanilla smell of Jergens hand lotion to the pipe tobacco my grandfather smoked, to the sagebrush and rain and dust smells of the farm, to the moist-earthy-green smell of the lawn after the rain, to the first zesty nose full of the orange my father started with his teeth, the ripe peaches and apples in the orchard, the lilac bushes in bloom, the tomato plants' heady zing as I picked them, the alfalfa hay and oat smell mixed with the animal smell of horses, ozone in the air as the blue sky changed with a sudden summer squall, my childhood was all about scent. Most of the perfumes I chose had an element of each of those scents... but none captured them.

    • dmoran227 | 17th February 2010 12:43

      Ahh Jergens, another very strong smell memory from my childhood. I grew up in the NYC area and the smell was the classic cherry almond. My sister and I got a set every Christmas along with a tube of bonne bell lip smackers and a perfume each. The earlier scents were what you'd expect loves baby soft, heaven sent, skin musk, etc. But when I was thirteen we each got a bottle of OPIUM! I used all mine up quickly and talked my sister into giving me hers. My uncle worked in trucking and one of their contracts was a perfume discounter. There were countless nameless wonderful scents.

      As far as the Jergens go's I am instantly nine years old when I smell that cherry almond with a touch of vanilla.

    • actiasluna | 17th February 2010 21:35

      Yes, cherry almond vanilla... that's it. (Heaven Sent and Emeraude were mine, along with some lemon-smelling groovy sixties thing and that musk oil never finding but... always trying for the same musk scent as my grandmother's perfume!

    • HDS1963 | 17th February 2010 22:01

      I was always interested in fragrance from an early age I think. I remember being very interested in my early teens by the effect of wearing things like Brut or Denim or Old Spice (which I never really liked). I flirted with Paco Rabanne for a while too, but never really liked it if I'm honest.

      Then, when I started working when I was 18 or 19 and could afford to buy my own fragrances properly, my two early loves were Pierre Cardin pour Homme and Cacharel pour Homme.

      Probably the more significant of the two is the Cacharel, since in my relatively primative perfumisti brain, I recognised there was something magical about the evolution of that fragrance. I loved the spiciness of the fragrance and the way different accords came to the fore and faded to a background warmth. Thing was, nobody I else I knew really liked it, but I knew there was something really good about it.

      To this day, I have a bottle of it (and the Pierre Cardin too for that matter) in my now considerable fragrance wardrobe and still appreciate it as a great fragrance.

      They were the first tottering steps on a long and interesting journey of a lifetime. For as long as I have a nose to smell, I will love great fragrance.

    • LaNose | 19th February 2010 14:36

      Ah!....it's difficult to identify my first fragrance love: Mom's vanity housed Shalimar, Tigress, White Shoulders...and God knows what else. But the fragrance that has resonated with me most did not come from a perfume bottle, but from our kitchen: On some Saturday mornings, Mom would begin cooking her version of Chicken Paprikash; for what seemed hours the house was filled with this remarkble peppery scent and aroma that surpassed its flavor; there was something very primal about it to me. That scent has stayed with me always.

      Today, that scent-memory is evoked and stoked by two scents: Jicky by Guerlain and En Avion by Caron. What a joy!