The Perfume Diary, Week 1: Nasomatto’s Duro

This scent is a story without an ending. Or I suppose it’s more accurate to say that, hard as I try, I cannot extend a single inhalation quite long enough to find the end. It is a loose string that I pull and pull — first sweetness and leather, then wood, and then it crescendos in a mix of things I am not yet trained to recognize, a beautiful chaos. It takes five long seconds, easily, to realize the full extent of it.

I’ve long been obsessed with perfume for reasons I can’t really explain. I think it may have started in my adolescence when I began to swim competitively and I noticed the strange alertness and increased heart rate that always, without fail, accompanied the smell of chlorine, as if my sense of smell were somehow manipulating my muscle memory and nervous system. One whiff and my body still knows: it’s go time. And in truth that has played out in countless ways over the years. Whether scents were ambient and accidental or deliberately applied to my person, I have been fascinated by the strange way a smell can segment a personal history into chapters. Since we often don’t notice the scents around us in the moment, and since they somehow only gain meaning in retrospect, we are doomed, in a way, to suffer wistful nostalgia for bygone eras at the hands of our noses. Our sense of smell is most attuned not to the familiar and everyday, but to the lives we no longer live — the places we were and the humans we loved and the people we wanted in that moment to be.

Because scent is more closely tied to memory than any other sense, scents can get you closer to time travel than anything else out there. Hence, roses bring my grandmother back to life, blown out candles will always take me back to church, and olives reacquaint me with a childhood friend who smelled inexplicably of them. And I find it exceedingly hard to rewrite these memories when I find myself face to face with the same scent again. No matter how many friends of mine choose to wear some newly en vogue rose scent, my grandmother cannot be unseated. She looms large in my imagination.

I’d like to try this little experiment, in which I wear one new perfume for a full week, for every week of this year, and record how it makes me feel, how it exaggerates my awareness of the life I’m living now, and how it takes me back to the lives I no longer live. It’s sure to be at times exasperatingly sentimental, and for that I apologize in advance. But I wonder if there’s a way to turn smell into some sort of language that helps me to better grasp the things I’m living through right now — you know, the important things, the things that are just as fleeting as a perfumed stranger. My hope is that this approach will at least cure me of my professed inability to maintain a journal.

So, here we are, with the first scent from Nasomatto. I chose to start with him because I’ve been wearing one of his other scents for years (the first really quality perfume I’ve ever owned), and it has its own wonderful story. I stumbled upon the scent on a trip to New Orleans, when I wandered by myself into the first real perfume shop I ever visited, a gorgeous little one-room shop with antique paned windows instead of a wall. I lost my mind, temporarily, having discovered something — not the perfume specifically, but perfume more generally — that I recognized instantly was going to turn into an addiction for me. Much too poor to spend money on a thing like that, I left the shop with a slip of testing paper with the name of my perfume written on it. I saved it for months until C, then a brand new boyfriend, found it on my dresser and surprised me with the perfume for my birthday. I’ve been wearing it every fall and winter for the two and a half years since, and I know that if and when I retire it, my mind will catalog all its separate notes as the very essences of romance, courtship, and finally, home. I am actually looking forward to taking a bit of a break from it so that I can come back to it a year later and encounter the emotional experience of my first years with him and my first years in New York freshly, and in broad strokes. I’ve learned that my nose can teach me certain truths about myself that I can’t know on my own.

Wearing Duro this week, I traveled back to New Orleans with a group of friends (boyfriend excluded). We went out on Frenchman’s and ate everything and pretended it wasn’t cold until finally we couldn’t anymore and had to retreat to a dark mahogany booth in the bar of the 19th century Columns Hotel, trying with our mint juleps even still to pretend like it was summer. The scent is emboldening and a bit dangerous, and it was perfect for the city and it was perfect for the dive bar where we found ourselves at two in the morning, drunk and playing pool with strangers. I played so good I was accused of being a shark; and perhaps this display of extremely impressive athleticism was what compelled my female opponent to take to scheming on me. Listen, I never get hit on. I’m not necessarily saying that it is the fault of the scent, but I will say that overly masculine scents like Duro often leave me feeling a bit more aware of my sexual presence than I otherwise would.

I’m trying to do a lot of brave things this year, such as continuing to work on a novel, and… well, you know that phrase, “Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”? I could use that kind of confidence. I could use the kind of confidence of the person who wrote the Lucky Scent description for this fragrance:

“It’s untamed and virile, a raw and gorgeous fragrance… It revels in its masculinity and doesn’t give a flip what you think about it. It wouldn’t take kindly to being labeled unisex; it’s made for a man and there’s definitely something about it that screams to life on male skin. It’s elegant yet carnal and very, very sexy.”

Indeed, even Nasomatto’s official description of the scent says it “aims to enhance all the manifestations of male strength.” Of course I rolled my eyes at all this dated gendered nonsense, and of course I had to try it. (And then, of course, C promptly stole the rest of the sample from me once the week was over.) It was sweeter than I expected, unbelievably complex, and perfect for winter. But mostly I loved it for its beautiful chaos.