Acqua di Parma Profumo (Acqua di Parma)

In my high school, the first letter of one's last name determined a lot of things-- assigned morning homeroom, locker location, and guidance counselor, to name a few. Only one other freshman shared a final initial with me, so for four years, my partner on all fronts was a charming young Italian named Enzo.

When I say 'Italian', I mean exactly that. With a green card proving he'd been born in Sicily and still technically belonged to that fabled volcanic isle, Enzo had the distinction of being the Real Thing among mere immigrants' sons. With their Chess King slacks, Ray Bans, and mall-bought gold-plated cornicello pendants, the local fourth-generation Giovanni-come-latelies never stood a chance.

Not that they had to. Being openly gay, Enzo had no interest in their gum-cracking girlfriends. But he had something they all wanted: Continental style. Even at age fourteen, Enzo wore impeccably tailored dress pants complete with blade-sharp center creases, matching leather loafers and belt, snug cashmere V-necks revealing a triangle of bare tanned skin adorned with a heavy curb chain in real 24K gold. When facial hair began to sprout, Enzo painstakingly manscaped it to match that of his idol, WHAM!'s George Michael. And when la Cosa Nostra whacked his oldest brother back in Siracusa, Enzo never broke stride. After a week's mysterious absence, he reappeared dressed as elegantly as ever-- but entirely in ink-black and soot-grey. We asked him how long before he could wore colors again.

"Never. I have respect," he declared.

One final way in which Enzo cleaved to European customs was in the area of personal hygiene. One often overhears Americans marveling at the infrequency with which other nations bathe; we never seem to ask ourselves whether our own habits are excessive. Many of my peers admitted showering twice and even three times a day -- in the morning, after gym, and before bed -- in an effort to remain perpetually "fresh" and inoffensive. They applied copious amounts of scented shower gel, multiple applications of antiperspirant, and buckets of cheap cologne to cope with the horror of having a smell in the first place. Not Enzo. He demonstrated perfect comfort in his own healthy pong-- a ripe mixture of musk, sebum, fresh sweat, fine leather, and olive oil soap accentuated with fleeting hints of saffron, rosemary, and fennel courtesy of Mama's cucina. Enzo showered only every two or three days, with splashy bathroom-sink ablutions inbetween; he never wore deodorant and scorned the idea of aftershave. His hair was glossy, his skin glowed, and did he smell good? Abbi pietà, ti prego!

I haven't seen Enzo in over two decades, but Acqua di Parma Profumo brings him instantly to mind. I can't imagine what kept me from trying this sample (kindly gifted to me by JoanElaine over two years ago) for so very long, but only one day-long wearing has me scheming for new opportunities and scenes in which to sport this distinctly Italian scent.

A floral chypre with an animalic purr, Profumo smells at once pretty and dirty, attractive and repulsive, compelling and discomfiting. The power of its constituent parts (oakmoss, civet, labdanum, jasmine) draws my thoughts to some very specific examples: how, for instance, my husband's body odor is far more enticing to me before he takes his morning shower than after; how I come home from a long day at work complaining that I "smell like a monkey" only to find my spouse nuzzling my hair with loving fascination; how my cat's fur emits a wonderful musky aroma when he's sleeping, and how he hurries to blissfully sniff and then curl up in any chair or bed we've recently vacated. As a family unit, the three of us maintain a miniature scent "culture" which reassures us, and maybe only us. I don't know if outsiders think we smell funny, different, unfamiliar. But we -- like Enzo, enmeshed in the comforting matrix of tradition -- like our own scent just fine.

Is it for this reason that Acqua di Parma developed Profumo (or Yves Saint Laurent Kouros, or Chanel Antaeus, or Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour le Soir)-- to bottle the subtle identifying signal of one's tribe? If so, I beg this one to count me as a member.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, jasmine, rose, iris, ylang-ylang, sage, patchouli, oakmoss, labdanum, civet, musk, sandalwood, spices