Fleur de Fleurs Vintage Parfum de Toilette (Nina Ricci)

After war, pestilence, famine, and dying single, smelling bad is arguably womankind's greatest fear. From adolescence clear through to old age, we field so many warnings about feminine odor that autophantosmia becomes a kneejerk reflex. We live in terror of offending the world around us-- not through any real fault of our own, unless being female really is the Original Sin.

Laboring under the assumption that women don't already obsess over their own bodies, Cosmopolitan has published this online slideshow to familiarize us with the six major pongs emitted by our own personal Down Unders. Musky, bleachy and sweet are deemed normal. Tinny (metallic) is also normal, but only during one's moontime. Yeasty and fishy are invariably bad. Baaaaaaaad. And even there, a distinction exists-- for while a yeast infection is undeniably inconvenient, wafting a mysterious odor of fresh-baked bread is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. You want horror? Try trimethylaminuria. This incurable metabolic condition causes its victims to smell like decaying seafood no matter how scrupulously clean they are. It's a devastating life sentence for which a strictly-modified diet provides only temporary reprieve. I mention it because I know full well that the complaint I'm about to deliver is totally frivolous by comparison. If a perfume makes me smell fishy, I can just scrub it. I put it on; I can take it off. Simple, right?

There's so much to like about Fleur de Fleurs, Nina Ricci's 1982 aldehydic springtime floral. First (and most obvious), there's that gorgeous Lalique-designed flacon. Inside, one finds nectared cyclamen and hyacinth underpinned with sandalwood and civet. It's fresh. It's sexy. It's eager to please. But then (oh god forgive me!) the pissy, fishy stench of stale feminine fluids rises up and just ruins everything.

I've come across this phenomenon before in other fragrances (Le Galion's Eau de Bourrasque still snaps at me from the briny deep!). What do they have in common? Aldehydes-- every damn time. But aldehydes don't always produce a marine stink. In some fragrances they sparkle like silver-gilt paillettes; in others, they generate a rich, soft, fatty sensation like cascades of melted candle wax. Could it be another scent element against which the aldehydes rebel? A citrus note? A floral molecule? What?

To give due credit, Fleur de Fleurs perfumer Betty Busse did compose the gorgeously louche-tastic original Chloé. On the other hand, we also have her to blame for 1968's Esteé Super, an aldehydic floral with one of the fishiest undercurrents I've ever encountered. My mother-in-law loves Esteé Super almost as much as she loves Hermès 24 Fauborg. But Hermès 24 Fauborg makes her smell like a wildflower bouquet-- and Esteé Super makes her smell like canned salmon. Fleur de Fleurs, I'm sad to say, would make her smell about halfway inbetween.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, greens, bergamot, lemon, cyclamen, rosemary, magnolia, iris, lilac, jasmine, hyacinth, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, sandalwood, civet, musk