Scent Semantics, November 2021

The inimitable Portia has come up with a new game for us perfumistas, to take place on six different blogs, every month! The chosen day for “Scent Semantics” is the first Monday of each month. The bloggers will take turns choosing a single word, then write a fragrant reflection on it. That could be a memory, of a scent the word evokes or something else, an actual name of a scent or note, a favorite work of art, whatever comes to mind. And readers can play in the comments, or just comment on the post!

The participating blogs are: Scents and Sensibilities (here), The Plum Girl, The Alembicated Genie, Eau La La, Undina’s Looking Glass, and A Bottled Rose. I hope you’ll all check out the Scent Semantics posts on each blog!

Scent Semantics blog list

Portia chose the first word: “brave.” I have a fragrance I like to wear to feel brave, on days when I want a little confidence boost. It is Chanel No. 19. I hadn’t really thought of it that way until I started reading more about fragrance a few years ago, and learned that many people find it challenging, elegant but remote and even, one might say, a bit bitchy.

I feel it helps me straighten my shoulders and stiffen my backbone. This is just a conceit, of course, but No. 19 is undoubtedly cool, elegant, a bit unapproachable. I wear it when I anticipate conflict of some kind, especially at work. It reminds me to stay cool, and use my intellect instead of my emotions while I navigate whatever the conflict is. The version I have is the vintage eau de toilette, which means that the galbanum and oakmoss are full-force presences. I love both of them, there is just something about their bitter greenness that appeals to me (I also love bitter greens and vegetables, like arugula, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, etc., and we know that the senses of taste and smell are closely linked). Bergamot is another astringent note, one that I also associate with the color green.

Bitter greens; image from Splendid Recipes

Among No. 19’s floral notes are also some of my favorite flowers, which I think my subconscious must find comforting as well as empowering: hyacinth, iris, rose, lily of the valley, narcissus. Perfumes aside, those are flowers I grow myself, and grew up with, since my parents were avid gardeners. The heart of No. 19 is not bitter, or particularly green although the galbanum continues to make itself felt, but the most prominent flower notes are cool ones, like iris, orris root, lily of the valley, and narcissus. This is the stage when I think many perfume lovers find No. 19 lovely but remote — a bit standoffish.

The base notes are stern, dominated by oakmoss, vetiver, and leather. Minor players are cedar, musk, and sandalwood — all warmer notes than the dominant ones. Taken together, No. 19 gives me a quick burst of energy at the start, with bergamot’s brightness and galbanum’s assertiveness, then comes a heart phase that is more cerebral than ebullient, finishing with the formal base of its chypre structure. If that won’t stiffen a woman’s resolve and backbone, I don’t know what will! All of these impressions align with the presentation of my vintage EDT; I have the tall, refillable spray canister, with its square but rounded edges, its sleek columnar shape, its brushed silvery metal casing. If I had to pick a female incarnation of this fragrance, it would be another fashion diva, sometimes compared to Chanel: Diane von Furstenberg as she was in the 1970s, building a fashion empire on a simple wrap dress.

Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg in office
Diane von Furstenberg, 1974

What fragrance or fragrant memory might you associate with the word brave?

22 thoughts on “Scent Semantics, November 2021

  1. Hey OH!
    What a fabulous choice. CHANEL No 19 is a perfect brave front to the world.
    You say it’s a conceit but anything to help smooth the way and give you a calm, sturdy exterior will help you stand taller and be more assertive. I too have been known to use CHANEL No 19 in exactly the same way.
    How freaking cool it is finally having a collaboration to work together on
    Portia xx

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Completely agree about Chanel No 19, although I have the modern EdP which is softer. I also have Jacomo Silences, but usually when I need extra backbone it’s to be heard and the opposite of silent, so the semantics trip me up and I end up choosing something else to wear!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chanel No 19 EdT is one of my strong favorites, it’s probably the No 1 Chanel perfume for me – if I had to pick one, which I hope I’ll never have to.
    I also would think of it as a layer of invisible force field around me. It’s cool, elegant, beautiful and slightly distant.
    Great choice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope I don’t have to pick one either! The other day I was in Ulta for something else, and I spritzed No.. 5 Eau Premiere from a tester. I had forgotten how good it is and how much I like it. Couldn’t stop sniffing my wrist for hours!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. 19 can do it! Love your choice of perfume, and that photo is just fabulous!
    Looking forward to more thoughts and musings, in Scent Semantics.
    And a big thankyou to Portia for organizing it.

    Liked by 1 person

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