Le Labo, “Santal 33”
You might be familiar with the wet steam room at the Russian and Turkish Baths. The last time I visited (for a Groupon-subsidized birthday) it was especially aromatic, and occupied solely by a man lying on the tiled bench. After a moment, he produced a vial and poured a few drops onto the heater, which instantly filled the room with mentholated white steam. It felt like my nose had become a Camel Crush after the cartridge was crushed. He said it was LSD.
Santal 33 is a similarly potent formula that’s slippery when wet. Except instead of a spicy, minty hallucinogen, the smell is closer to ginger. Pink pickled ginger, in a unisex steam room.
Issey Miyake, “L’eau d’Issey”
In 1992, Issey Miyake released his own water scent. Far from nothing, Issey’s water promised to be light, refreshing, clean, and soft. However, the fragrance is quietly vile, more like fresh bottled sweat than water. It is a camouflage scent for an alien hoping to be detected as a real human body.
“Helvetica The Perfume™”
Helvetica The Perfume™ consists only of water. This is, apparently, the scent of nothing.
It’s exciting to finally own a special container of distilled water. Through this, I focus on everything about the perfume except its fragrance: although it has no smell, it works well as a placebo. I wear most perfumes to attract others, but as I wear Helvetica, only I am aware of its existence: a mirror that lets me reflect on my beauty, education, and cultural sensibilities. I do believe, however, that the perfume is poorly titled. It is titled after Helvetica, a Swiss typeface that is far from neutral. Why not name it fondly after its 2 ounce container, allowing its contents, whatever they may be, to last beyond the death of the typeface?
There are moments I find use for Helvetica. Sometimes I apply Helvetica on my rubber plant to simulate conditions of a humid rainforest. Other times I use Helvetica to discipline my cat.
Andreas Maack, “Craft”
You awaken with the sun in a honeysuckle bush. Apparently, you passed out with your right hand in a large bag of barbeque Lays, and the left clutching fun-size salt and vinegar Utz. Your hazy mind vaguely recalls trying to make Fig Newton s’mores over the now smoldering bonfire. You hit the bong and go back to sleep.
Rodin, “Rodin olio lusso perfume”
On March 15, 2016, every office lobby in midtown was was invaded by dew. Detected at dawn by the cleaning staff, they insisted the dew made their jobs easier: the spider webs usually hidden within the glass chandeliers were now made visible by droplets, their silk devices strung with stars moments before annihilation. Office workers reported the elevator’s up button as silky to the touch and its lime glow radiating a bit more than normal. At the end of the day, the consensus was clear. As the sun set, all midtown employees slowly marched towards the giant waterfall on the northeast corner of 59th street and sixth avenue.
An instant of balsamic sharpness is enveloped in honey and smoke from coiled incense. The moment, trapped in languid substances, crystallizes into candy. It tastes similar to the candied salted plums a Chinese matron might have in a dish on her rosewood vanity. Beside the dish is a compass, an hourglass, and a candle, its single flame multiplied to infinity in the gaze of two facing mirrors.
Costume National, “Cyber Garden”
Benignly minty and sweet. A nice boy on his first date with a girl way cooler than him that he met online. Despite its name, Cyber Garden is familiar and quite ordinary. It is the plastic plants at IKEA that privilege uninspired mimicry over celebrating and elevating its own artifice. It is regrettably not the verdant, immersive AR landscape I had hoped for, cultivated in a future so bright, that everyone must wear tiny round mirrored sunglasses.
Etat Libre d’Orange, “Secretions Magnifiques”
At first whiff, it’s the Cinnabon at Penn Station: cream cheese frosting and a lot of people at once. The savory funk of life triumphs over the sweet decaying stench of subterranean NYC garbage. As first impressions fade, a subtler aspect reveals itself: Secretions Magnifiques is starkly similar to the smell with which you can ascertain that a carton of cream in the fridge has not yet expired. While sniff-checking the milk is but a brief part of a groggy daybreak ritual, that umami creaminess lingers on your skin all day. You become fresh milk, blended with the metallic dewdrops of perspiration that form immediately after a brisk morning walk under a cold sun.
Keiko Mecheri, “Clair Obscur” (formerly called Jasmine)
These days, awaking to dreams set in exotic landscapes is easy. Simply follow Instagram accounts from a time zone opposite yours. Then make sure to charge your phone each night near your bed, allowing foreign whim to orchestrate your last conscious thoughts. As your world is winding down, theirs is beginning: dream meat.
In the garden of nocturnal perfumes, you find Clair Obscur. A small white flower kindly emits its mist. A sign nearby tells you do not approach the mist or else you will get wet. But you can enjoy it from a distance while remarking how light it is for such a nocturnal fragrance. Its angelic radiance cloaks you in anonymity: no one has to know your username here and it doesn’t even matter because no one follows you back anyway. You are a sponge. Feel free.
But perhaps seeking foreign content is a way to mask dealing with the everyday. There is, after all, a reason most dreams are nightmares. Commend your coping mechanism. Lead your followers in a human chain through the dark.
Air Val International, “Pokemon”
Like bars, movie theaters conceal grime in darkness and leisure. But at least bars reek of antiseptic liquors. The cinema makes no distinction between food, floral, and fecal. The same can be said for Pokemon. (And Pasolini). Unfortunately, the fragrance named for my favorite childhood media franchise smells like waiting in line for the restroom at a movie theater. Yellow butter substitute and cherry Jolly Ranchers combine in an unexpected accord that approximates pink liquid soap. And any illusion of sterility that triclosan might afford is quickly dispelled by a whiff of some mother’s powdery floral as she whisks her child—who waited 90 minutes for this moment to arrive—into a stall.
Comme des Garcons, “Sugi”
While Hinoki, the first of this series, is a pocket-sized cedar forest that grows on demand, Sugi is its lighter, hologram counterpart. This ecosystem apparition is filled with Japanese cedar, as expected, but also pepper, lemon, and iris. Nomads recharging at this node will discover that a clean, delicate powder remains for those who wait.
Andreas Maack, “Dark”
A pair of chrome shears trimming the thorns from a rose’s stem. Each clean snip confirms the sharpness of the twin blades. Some of the thorns fall on the cool concrete floor. You are surprised by the gratification you derive from such a banal chore, your attention to such indiscernible pleasures, and most of all, by the strength of the aroma emitted by the dying flower. It is very sweet, and like the concrete on your bare feet is cold to the touch. The dropping temperature becomes apparent so you shut the windows through which afternoon air carried citrus groves into your room. In the absence of a breeze, the odor of iron, at first indistinct, has come into full prominence. It’s the smell of blood, and like one of Argento’s guileless giallo heroines, you are startled to realize that the blood is your own.
Comme des Garcons, “Hinoki” (Part 2)
How do I describe my favorite fragrance? The clarity that the aroma of cedar inspires in a heady sauna. It’s a hamster’s dance: lightfooted yet measured choreography performed on woodsy substrate. When Alan wears it, he draws out the peppercorn and sweeter notes. for me it’s distinctly celery. It’s as strong as a pink Himalayan rock salt lamp turned on during the day. Think of its potential in the evening.
Comme des Garcons, “Hinoki” (Part 1)
In the dark, dark woods1, there was a dark, dark hot tub2. And in the dark, dark hot tub, there was a dark, dark white (looks gray) lily3. And near the dark, dark white (looks gray) lily, there was a dark, dark lilypad. And on the dark, dark lilypad, there was a dark, dark blob of SPF 50 sunscreen4. And swimming through the dark, dark, blob of SPF 50 sunscreen, there was a dark, dark ladybug. And on top of the dark, dark ladybug is a bright, bright flashlight. My friend holds the light as I rescue the ladybug from the blob. It flies away into the wooded night.
1 Scandinavian cedars or Japanese cypress. Or, pine-sol with a citrus infusion.
2 Or, a natural hot spring bubbling from the earth’s molten core.
3 Everything is black and white in the moonlight, even lilies.
4 Good protection, or a pleasant surprise on a low ozone day.