Sunday, September 8, 2013

If I Could Create a Perfume: Moonlit Jasmine at El Tiradito Shrine

For perfume lovers, the story of l'Artisan Parfumeur's Seville à l'Aube is a bit of an inspiration. Recounted in Denyse Beaulieu's book, The Perfume Lover, this fragrance would not have been possible without the experience and sent memories of Beaulieu. During a visit with renowned parfumeur Bertrand Duchaufour, Beaulieu explored his lab and smelled an ingredient that reminded her of a sultry night she'd had in Seville redolent of burning beeswax candles, incense and orange blossoms. 

As a lover of fragrance, it's hard not to imagine what I would create myself if given the opportunity. Smell is so powerfully linked to memory that many of us have an innumerable list of specific smells and perfume notes that make us feel happy. I could list at least a dozen one note ideas around which a good fragrance could be built, but until a few days ago had never experienced the perfect fragrance literally in the air.  

(image source)

This past weekend I visited my uncles in Tucson, Arizona. I've grown up visiting this place: Tucson has a very "home away from home" feeling for me. The magic to this second home is that it couldn't be less similar to the climate where I live. Home for me means four seasons; a frigid snowy winter, a lush fecund spring, a hot sweltering summer and of course a crisp and beautiful autumn. Though Tucson has it's own seasons, the change from one to the next is far less noticeable nestled in the Sonoran Desert.

One of my favorite places to visit at nightfall is El Tiradito Shrine in the Barrio Viejo neighborhood. Though the precise story has always evaded me, this shrine is dedicated to hopeless ones and aims to bring comfort to those who feel a sense of despair. It is said that a man is buried there who died fighting for the love of a woman, making El Tiradito the only Catholic shrine in the United States dedicated to a sinner. Visitors burn candles, and place letters in the cracks of the wall with the aim of seeking peace. El Tiradito is special during the day, but it feels magical and otherworldly when visited at nightfall.

This past Friday night at dusk on what was perhaps my fifteenth visit to this special place, the fragrance fates aligned and created what would be (for me at least) the perfect perfume. The air always seems to encourage a hush in the desert, and coupled with the silence it brings a dry yet earthy aroma of desert plants. Not far from the shrine, beautiful jasmine flowers bloomed in abundance. Dry and waxy smelling candles burned throughout the shrine, and the memory of incense heavy and intoxicating lingered in the air. I have never more wanted to bottle the smell and feel of a place in my life. 

Although we certainly don't all have the same access to renowned perfumers that Denyse Beaulieu has, it's fun to imagine what our own scent memories could bring to the table. Seville à l'Aube is made even more magical by the fact that it is inspired by real life events. At least from my perspective, such fragrances are an inspiration in a world where mainstream perfumes are a homogeneous blend of what big department store brands believe their consumers want. I certainly don't want to smell like everyone else, but I would adore the opportunity to smell like something very special to me. Some fragrances resonate with us immediately because they already remind us of a special memory, but some like my fleeting nighttime experience at El Tiradito Shrine in the desert are far too unique to be recreated exactly as we remember them.

If you could create a perfume, what scent memory would you base the notes on?