My first stop in New York may have been Aedes de Venustas, but that was pure geography. The first store I had thought of – the one that topped my list, the one I would have sacrificed all others for – was not in Manhattan, but across the East River in Brooklyn.
CB I Hate Perfume acts as a spartan, stripped-down Yin to the sumptuous, cosseted Yang of Aedes de Venustas; the contrast between the two was even more striking because I went from one directly to the other.
In college-aptitude test formulas …
Back in the 1990s Christopher Brosius founded the Demeter line, which specializes mostly in singular scent-sations — the creations were designed to smell like exactly like something, whether it be Ginger Ale, Linden, Snow or, two of my favorites, Dirt and Tomato.
On his website, Brosius has a manifesto in which he describes most perfume thusly: “A childish masque hiding the timid and unimaginative /An arrogant slap in the face from across the room.” And then he wraps up with: “People who smell like everyone else disgust me.” (Well, then.)
His creations are, not surprisingly, unique and personal; many come not just with descriptions, but also tales of inspiration and history. So, for example, the scent Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is described thusly:
The salty breath of the breeze off the Mediterranean, driftwood, rocks covered with seaweed and the smell of old leather suitcases.
But I was (and remain) affected more by the story behind it:
I lucked into recording the film on DVR one night, and it was delightful. Which only made me want to visit the shop so much more badly. While (the now-closed Phoenix store) Passage had carried Mr. Hulot’s Holiday and what that store owner had described as “its West Coast equivalent,” At the Beach 1966, I wanted to smell everything Brosius had to offer — especially the uncommon scents.
I had a huge fragrance crush.
Because it was still relatively early that Saturday, I was the first (and only) customer in the store, and the selection was daunting. Shelves on the left held hundreds of bottles of accords, grouped by family (smoke, skin, spice, zest, chemical, clean, sweet, water, etc.); shelves on the right displayed the most popular scents.
I careened from side to side like a game of Pong: One scent would lead me to the family on the other wall; I would be distracted by a label and lose my train of thought, then start over again from wherever I was standing. I delightedly texted my friend Heidi: “They have a scent that smells like Pimm’s Cup!” and then curiosity would drive me to Burnt Rubber and Doll Head …
I could have spent all day there, but I knew that if I had any hope of hitting other stores that day, I had to buckle down and make a decision. I kept returning to the Smoke themes, and eventually ended up with Burning Leaves. (Today I kept sniffing my wrist to figure out what undertone I also discerned in the scent, and eventually it came to me: horehound candy.)
I also found a scent that to me combines kindling wood and tarry smoke tones. I love it perhaps even more than Burning Leaves, but I also will admit that another factor played a role in its purchase: If someone catches a whiff and asks: “What cologne are you wearing?” I can reply: “I’m glad you asked.”