L'Eau Mixte (Parfums De Nicolaï)

In early spring of 2011, I asked Scent Goddess supreme Carol of WAFT to recommend a light fragrance or two for my pal Nan. Carol responded not just with suggestions, but with an entire tote bag of perfume samples, which we promptly dubbed Carol's Bag of Wonderful. For this unsurpassed act of perfumista generosity, surely a deck chair has been reserved for Carol at the Mount Olympus cabana. Nan and I sent our thanks in the form of a vintage flacon of Jean Patou Joy-- perfect for flirting with Zeus over a tableful of mojitos.

Somewhere in the Bag of Wonderful lay Nan's true scent profile; only a course of dedicated testing would tease it out. Her nose established its own rules right off the bat. Spicy Orientals, juvenile sweets, and musky masculines were out, as were labdanum-heavy fragrances and roses of every stripe. These made one pile. The 'likelies' went on to the next round, which took place on Nan's wrists. Here she learned of that annoying phenomenon whereby a fragrance can smell marvelous in the bottle yet fail miserably on skin. Another pile began to grow, composed of perfumes which fell flat. What remained began to take the shape of a wardrobe-- sheer, zingy citrus florals, fragrances with tannic tea notes and touches of sea salt, and light, powdery aldehydes or heliotropes.

Only one perfume was kept separate from the rest-- and that was for Nan's own protection.

One day, while rooting around in the Bag of Wonderful (which we kept at work so that we could compare notes from down the desk row) Nan pulled out Patricia De Nicolaï's L'Eau Mixte. It all comes back to me: her coo of delight as she sniffed the open vial... the eagerness with which she lavished its contents on her wrists... and the walloping allergic reaction (complete with numb lips, itchy eyes, and constricted breathing) that struck her within sixty seconds. We rushed Nan to the lavatory to scrubbity-scrub... and tossed L'Eau Mixte straight into quarantine.

This unfortunate incident was the only blot on an otherwise triumphant experiment, thank heavens. After her quick trip to Histamine City, Nan rallied and bravely resumed course, winding up at the finish line with a terrific final scent wardrobe (Kenzo Flower, Lili Bermuda Coral and South Water, Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis, Fresh Citron de Vigne, État Libre d'Orange Josephine Baker, Smiley by Smiley, Givenchy L'Interdit EdT, and Barney's Route du Thé-- the latter two gifts of mine).

And L'Eau Mixte? Banished to perfume Siberia.

Its parole process began when Blacknall Allen sent me a duplicate sample, which triggered one of those head-scratching, wait-don't-I-know-you? moments. Next, while laboring (as promised) to organize all of my samples in date-of-acquisition order, I unearthed the original sample of L'Eau Mixte from the deep dark wayback of a Scent Cabinet drawer. The moment seemed ripe for a retrial.

L'Eau Mixte's notes include grapefruit, blackcurrant, rose, mint, vetiver, oakmoss, and musk. Such a list immediately raises my hackles, since its first three notes top my own internal roll call of dealbreakers. Only days before, Michael and I had been trading comments about how frightening a grapefruit-blackcurrant combination would be. Sulphur plus cat tinkle! Whooo! Lo and behold, L'Eau Mixte takes that very same recipe-from-hell and turns it into something very close to heaven... only to get there, you have to pass through purgatory.

L'Eau Mixte's opening is where I most feel Nan's pain. A cursory bottle sniff suggests a delicious spicy pink grapefruit (a note which she loves well and which might have contributed to a slightly freer hand in application than caution would have advised).  But on skin, this transforms instantly with a flash of ice-white acetylene brightness into an intense cassis-spearmint combination that hits the brain like insta-freeze. I feel disoriented, dazzled, pierced clean through; I long to escape what seems to me like the warning rumble of a migraine-- or an Alpine avalanche, it's hard to tell.

After a minute, that high-pitched sonic squeal vanishes, and L'Eau Mixte immediately offers a sympathy rose as if to say, No hard feelings? None whatsoever. It's actually my favorite kind of rose, if a rose-hater can claim such a thing: peppery, tobacco-tinged, set within a calyx of dry and prickly greens. These set the stage for a beautiful chypre to unfold-- very crisp and austere, distinguished by a light dry vetiver.

But what about the blackcurrant? you ask. Damn. I was afraid you'd do that.

Friends, it's official. After all my huffing and head-tossing, cassis and I are semi-officially IN DEEP. I'm talking midnight whispered phone calls and notes tucked in pockets and pinkies clandestinely entwined under the table. Sure, in public we still snipe and snort and roll our eyes when the other is speaking. But turn the corner and you'll eavesdrop on a whole different tale. L'Ombre dans L'Eau, Magie Noire, Missoni Original, Odin Petrana... and now this. Who am I kidding? Me and blackcurrant, sittin' in a tree. No doubt grapefruit and rose will join us there presently.

True, blackcurrant can't shake that incredible ammoniac 'catty' quality which can be such an affront to the senses. But somehow I have learned to tolerate this in order to enjoy the bold, deep, fruity aspects of cassis. I'm no chemist, but I have read that the plaintive sharpness of odors such as blackcurrant, grapefruit, sage and fig leaves, tomato stems, and (yes) cat urine are linked through all sorts of common molecular groups-- ketones, oximes, mercaptans, sulphurs. Have I experienced a lowering of physical defenses against these molecules due to gradual, steady exposure? Would Nan become similarly desensitized over time? I wonder.

All things summed up and allowances made, L'Eau Mixte is a positive pleasure to wear. I feel certain that if only that overpowering top note had been tamed, it might have earned its place (roses or not!) as the central jewel in Nan's scent wardrobe.

Who knows?  It may yet stand to receive a full pardon.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, mint, grapefruit, blackcurrant buds, rose, jasmine, spices, vetiver, oak moss, musk