I consider made-to-measure perfumes as silly as having a novel written specially for you, and find most all-natural perfumes invertebrate. The combination, a bespoke natural perfume, was therefore as irresistible to me as a roadside sign in Bourgogne saying “pick your own escargots”. However, the perfume guide I’ve just finished co-writing does include one brand of natural fragrances, those from profumo.it. The guy who makes them, Dominique Dubrana, is a French-born self-taught perfumer (profumo.it). His compositions just happen to be really good. He called me up recently and suggested I look at a new feature on his website. On it you can now compose your own fragrance by ticking boxes of raw materials in seven different categories: flowers, spices, trees, fruity, special, resins and pheromones. Each category contains from 6 to 13 possibilities. Picking just one in each would afford you just under six million choices. Knowing my skepticism, he offered me a free try (the finished product, no matter what’s in it, retails for … €).
I picked rose, chamomile, carrot seed, sandalwood, tonka, benzoin and castoreum. This was a little disingenuous on my part, because I had once seen all these in Jean Carles’ recipe for Lucien Lelong’s magnificent Elle,Elle and wanted to see whether Dubrana’s creation would spontaneously gravitate towards that paragon of sentimental perfection. What money buys you on the profumo website is Dubrana’s time and skill as well as the raw materials. What I like about this is the absence of any irrelevant claptrap: childhood memories, astrological signs, personality types, palmistry, etc. But it does require a little knowledge of what the materials smell like. The aromatherapy rack at your local hippie store will help with most of them, and you can read about the rest on wikipedia. I assume Dubrana picked the menu carefully, and would probably tell you if your chosen combination was guaranteed to smell awful.
Today the perfume came in the post. Dubrana had warned me that, to his surprise, it smelled of violets. The combination of boozy rose, rooty carrot seed and the blowsy warmth of chamomile smelled iris-like to me. It was oddly satisfying to spray from a bottle labeled Luca (by rights they should all be called Dominique, but who’s going to argue?). Much more important, it was a kissing cousin of Elle, Elle and exactly, uncannily my kind of perfume: transparent, melancholy and on the edge between woods and flowers. Not for the first time, I have to eat my words.