Tuscany per Donna (Aramis for Estée Lauder)

As you may have already gathered from popular culture, New Jersey is so Italian that being non Italiano is like being from Jupiter. According to the US Census Bureau, we have the third highest Italian-American population by percentage in the nation. But the best pizza. THE BEST. Got it?*

Growing up, I found myself viewed as an resident alien by my classmates, who reckoned that the least Italian you could be was 25%. Otherwise, what was the point of living? Sometimes I asked myself the same question. One school chum of mine lived in what appeared to be a Renaissance gift shop-- all 1/12th-scale Michelangelo reproductions in gilded plaster and rococo crushed-velvet sofas. For an after-school snack, her mother prepared us a merenda fit for the gods: pane e Nutella, steamed milk, enormous black grapes from the farmer's market. Compared to my Saltines-and-Jif upbringing, this transcended simple melting-pot multiculturalism and verged into Romance with a capital R.

But often enough the idea of a thing can be more compelling than the thing itself, and instead of il paese natale, one winds up in Kitsch Italy-- a place as colorful and fictional as the mural of Portofino on the wall of the local pizzeria. Nowhere is this fabled land easier to find than here in America, where a credit card makes a handy substitute for a passport and armchair travelers can accomplish the Grand Tour with nothing more than a laptop and a six-pack of San Pellegrino. "Authentic" hand-painted majolica ware, gift baskets of flavored olive oils, Rosetta Stone language courses and Under The Tuscan Sun-- who needs the real Italy when you can order it online?

If Kitsch Italy had a duty-free shop, it would sell nothing but Tuscany per Donna. Issued in 1992 as a companion piece to Tuscany per Uomo by Aramis, Tuscany per Donna comes boxed in cardboard printed to look like a baroque tapestry in autumnal shades of russet, peach, and green. (Remember those hideous floral "upholstery" vests we all wore in the Nineties? Uh huh.) Its urn-like flacon is appropriately Romanesque; the tawny pinkish-amber liquid within radiates a strange, sweet humidity, like a wall of honeysuckle on a muggy midsummer day. What this rampant, bosomy aroma has to do with Tuscany, I really can't say. According to the Italian garden guides I consulted, more relevant scent notes might have been cypress, olive, juniper, bay, boxwood, chestnut flower, rose centifolia, iris germanica, wisteria, geranium, lavender, rosemary, thyme, fields of wild red poppies... In short, Tuscany per Donna probably doesn't smell much like Tuscany.

But it smells a whole lot like New Jersey.

At this moment, honeysuckle is the name of the game south of Asbury Park. Spilling over concrete retaining walls, peeking through the interstices between fence posts, heaped high by every roadside, its vines -- heavy with yellow, cream, white, and sometimes even pink blossoms -- hold my home state together. Now that I think of it, drinking honeysuckle nectar was the first thing I learned to do as a kid newly moved to New Jersey. You pluck flower after flower, carefully pulling out each stamen to drink the pale nectar, so sweet you can hardly stand it...

You know what? Forget Italy. This, I think, is what Estée Lauder had in mind, New York girl that she was: a Jersey Shore summer in a bottle. It may not be the most refined fragrance in the Lauder line-- but for voluptuous, uninhibited fun, Tuscany is much closer than you think.

*And me born in Chicago! Ma, io sono grullo?

Scent Elements: Rose, muguet, citrus, Mediterranean herbs, jasmine, carnation, honeysuckle, peony, sandalwood, amber, vanilla