Summer Fragrance/Winter Fragrance

Another weakness: I love perfumes. Not all of them, but I love exploring them. Once I found out I wasn’t alone, that there were other bloggers who were addicted to perfumes, I was encouraged. I learned a lot–you can get samples from many places, there are online shops that specialize in niche fragrances, and there are a lot of people who like to collect samples, decants and full bottles and don’t feel bad about it.

For years, I’ve thought that summer fragrances were light and citrusy, and you wore the amber-laden perfumes in the winter. I thought this was common knowledge and at least true. Now I’m wondering about it.

L'Artisan Perfume's Ananas Fizz in the collector's bottle.


With the heat set high in the end of August, I’d quit wearing perfumes. I have almost no interest at all in popular perfumes, as they mix up too much fruit and too many ingredients. I’m not the department-store perfume demographic, which is considerably younger than I am. What sells in America to the younger demographic is a fruity-floral, often with oriental overtones. I respect fruity-florals, although I’m not drawn to many of them as the fruit is almost always berries, and florals are lost on me. I’m not a fan of jasmine, tuberose, iris and rose, although I love fragrances that contain some flowers. Orientals are heavier perfumes, and in my mind, when you mix too much, you get nothing at all wearable.

To me, many smell like too much and not much at the same time. In other words, many department store fragrances smell alike, in a generic, “you can wear it to the office” kind of way. They often are awash in the popular vanilla or the lasts-forever musk, neither of which do well with my body chemistry.

The scent I reach for most often in high heat is L’Artisan’s Ananas Fizz—a blend of pineapple, lychee,  a fragrance that starts with a sparkling citrus followed by a dry woody undertone. In the first half hour it smells like a fizzy, umbrella-topped tropical drink, but it is only slightly sweet, and the rum is drier, so there is no super-sweet kids’ drink smell. The bad news is that in the hot weather, the fragrance just doesn’t stay with me, and I don’t want to respray every 10 minutes. I have a bottle of Marc Jacob’s Ivy in the fridge for that purpose.

After a week without scent, I really wanted to wear something besides Dial soap. I reached for something I thought was a light fragrance and instead picked up Neil Morris’s Swoon, a blend of orange, tomato leaf, philodendron, jasmine sambac, oakmoss, black tea, agarwood and patchouli. Not what I would have classified as a summer scent. Tea, oakmoss, patcholi would have classified it as fall or winter. Lots of power and punch.

And then I realized that in many hot countries, powerful spices are used as much in summer as winter. Mexico’s cumin; Morocco’s cinnamon and clove; India’s garan masala, used in curry, are intoxicating spices used in the summer’s heat to great effect. Why should perfume be different than food?

Swoon went on fine, but I was shocked to discover I’d put on a “winter” perfume. No sense scrubbing it off, I liked the fragrance. I resigned to feeling hot and sticky. It didn’t happen. As I walked across the baking tarmac of a community college, I noticed a wonderful fragrance, not too heavy, not “warm.” I walked into the office, and stood in line. The woman ahead of me asked “What is that wonderful fragrance you have on?” The woman at the head of the line said, “You smell great!” Admittedly, I was grateful. I did not feel petal-fresh after the long walk.

What I noticed is that the spices lingered and hovered but not suffocatingly so. They smelled deep and interesting, but not “warm.” I was surprised. At the end of the day, I shed my damp clothing and forgot about the fragrance. The next morning, I gathered up the clothes to put in the hamper (I let clothes dry out overnight, having learned not to toss damp clothing into a hamper) and noticed a wonderful fragrance–Swoon. It smelled rich and wonderful, but not “hot” or “cold.” I’ve since tried some other traditionally “winter” fragrances–including Serge Lutens Arabie, which smells of candied fruits, dates, myrrh, and labdanum and reminds many people of winter holidays. While some of the fragrances are heavy, and some light, the major reason for choice is mood and not temperature.

It was a great discovery that lets me wear much more from my sample and decants according to what I want to surround myself with. I’m less concerned now about the ingredient list than I am about the feel of the fragrance. And that’s a good thing.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and a certified creativity coach who owns a very large collection of niche fragrances and is trying to find a place for them all in the new house. See her work at (c) 2008 All rights reserved.