Ruby red.

It came to me recently why fragrances containing grapefruit notes pose such difficulties for me: without fail, they remind me of dieting.

Armed with a horror of plumpness left over from their own girdle-bound maidenhoods, our mothers ruthlessly surveyed us for signs of unruly growth. As we blossomed, they pinched us back. Impatient sighs issued forth whenever we ate ice cream (or licked our fingers). Frazzled copies of the Pritikin and Scarsdale Diets magically appeared in our paths, casually laid on coffee tables and kitchen counters. Finally the offer came: wouldn't we like to share Mom's "special" meals? We gamely ate soft-boiled eggs (no butter!), dry squares of wheat toast (no jam!), carefully-measured half-cups of low-fat cottage cheese cradled by leaves of lettuce (iceberg only-- fewer calories than romaine). And if we still wanted dessert after all that... enter the grapefruit.

Halved and served without sugar or garnish, the grapefruit proclaimed the proverbial 'strait gate' traveled by the dieter. Who else but the faithful would eat something so acerbic, so biting, so reluctant to give up its contents? The fact that it had its own custom tools of extraction declared its challenging nature-- we had to really work to eat it, and for our pains, we'd more often than not receive a mouthful of bitter pips or a painful squirt-in-the-eye. To prevent the exercise from seeming overly punitive, we could choose a "fancy" pink or red grapefruit over the everyday "white" variety... but a maraschino cherry for decoration?! Are you crazy? Those things are seven calories apiece!

Today I am a grown woman, in charge of my own body, destiny, and dinner plate. I know full well that grapefruit pulp is packed full of essential phytonutrients-- Vitamins A and C, pectin and lycopene, anti-aging and antioxidant compounds, and tons of healthy fiber. The oil pressed from grapefruit peel is one of the few non-phototoxic essences in the citrus family, which should please IFRA; it also serves as a topical antiseptic and bactericide, which should please Florence Nightingale. Though bitter to taste, grapefruit zest acts as a lymphatic and digestive stimulant; its tonic properties are a boon to any detox tea blend. Grapefruits really are miraculous, yet I never buy them in stores or order them in restaurants. I simply can't shake the opinion that they're the housewife's "austerity measure"-- an edible form of self-punishment for secretly wanting an big ol' sloppy ice-cream sundae. Their very scent is a guilt-provoking jolt-- and that's why I've largely avoided that note in perfume.

Why spoil one of life's most wonderful indulgences with the bitter smell of penance?

Tastes change, as do opinions. Little by little I've talked myself into sampling without shuddering. For the most part, the compositions which work best for me cast grapefruit as a supporting player (AG Eau d'Hadrien, Creed Neroli Sauvage). I'm not fond of it topped with caramel (Tokyo Milk Kabuki, HdP 1873 Colette), but I will take it paired with sea breezes and fresh flowers (Lili Bermuda Pink). If I'm in the mood for a confection to make up for all those skipped desserts years ago, I can head off to Sephora and sniff Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune (grapefruit sorbet) followed by Lavanila Vanilla Grapefruit (grapefruit panna cotta).

The point is, I've gradually come to terms with the persnickety pamplemousse. If I feel any guilt now, it's because I didn't give this note the chance it deserved.

Here are a couple of Citrus x paradisi fragrances that I credit for talking me around:

Citron de Vigne (Fresh)
A bright, true pink grapefruit essence whose astringent character is encouraged by tannic tea and red wine notes, this comes closest of all to the scent of a fresh grapefruit in hand. Imagine laboriously working a thumbnail under the pliant peel... the stickiness of the peel essence on your palm, followed by the sting of juice... the cottony texture of the bitter pith... the pink inner flesh veiled but visible... Now pour yourself a garnet glass of Pinot Noir and get ready for a refreshing, mouth-puckering treat.

Scent Elements: Neroli, bigarade, pink grapefruit, red wine accord, jasmine tea leaves, lemongrass, patchouli, sandalwood, amber

Oyédo (Diptyque)
For this grapefruit maceration, substitute a half-and-half mix of kiddie grape juice and Jarritos Tamarindo for the red wine, and throw in a bunch of fresh thyme. It sounds like it could be a mess, but somehow it achieves a crazy balance. I prefer the savory drydown to the supersweet opening, but patience being a virtue, the wait is well-justified.

Scent Elements: Lemon, lime, yuzu, grapefruit, mandarin, orange, mint, caraway, thyme, tamarind, cedar