Perfume Pen Pals: Neutrogena Rainbath


For me, summer vacation has come to mean traveling from one house in which I don't write to another house in which I also don't write. The vacation houses are always more scenic than my own but they also have more ants and less water pressure and so my state of mind remains about the same.

This year would have been no different if only on the morning of my departure I hadn't tried to carry too many things, stumbled and, with great force, slammed my leg into the stairs. People always say accidents happen in slow motion but for me the accident was instantaneous and it was the whole week after the accident that happened in slow motion.

Call in the cereal spatter analyst!

Nothing could be done except limp around and try not to think about my injury. Or sit very still and do nothing but think about my injury. A friend once tried convincing me to run a marathon, saying that at some point during the 26 miles, it becomes all mental. Which is exactly why I won't run a marathon: if it were all physical, I could do it, but the moment it turned mental, I'd curl up on the side of the road and wait to die.

Now I know what you're thinking: "Dan's no barrel of monkeys when he's healthy, so spending a week of confinement with him and his owies must be agony." (Susan says hi.)

But you're wrong, KP. I found hot showers helped mitigate the discomfort and it was there I discovered a colossal bottle of rich, copper-colored shower gel called Neutrogena Rainbath.

Have you heard of this stuff? It's apparently been around for decades and is sold everywhere in America except the places I shop. Neutrogena says it's "a unique fragrance of spices, fruits and herbs," which both undersells it and oversells it. Because Rainbath basically smells like old-school Brut.

"Oooh...just splash it on all over, eh Henry?"

I guess in 2014 there's no advantage in saying something smells like Brut and that's a shame because Brut smells great. Or smelled great. The new formula isn't the same but then nothing is the same, our minds and bodies are breaking down, we're all enduring a protracted decline and we're haunted by our memories of better times. Or maybe that's just my bum leg talking.

Anyway, the smell of Rainbath stays on the skin remarkably long and one morning when I emerged from the shower Susan said, "You smell like the '70s!" Which, as you know, is the best compliment you can give someone who loves fragrance. It's like telling an actor he reminds you of a young Brando.

This is all to say that everything is fine now and I smell great. How was your summer?


Acqua di Parma Colonia

Living in London, the defining perfume of my past few years here has been Molecule 01 by Escentric Molecules. Not a day goes by that I don't nab a whiff of a waft of "the little aromachemical that could" in the city's streets and tubes, galleries and supermarkets. I smell it in double-kiss hellos with film editors, yoga teachers and pop stars' himbo consorts.

My friend Brix Smith Start sprays it with a free hand in her Start boutiques, and provides a Molecule 01 logbook for visitors to share their Mol 01-scented adventures.

Another friend, the artist Caragh Thuring, has hit upon a masterful combination of Chanel Cristalle and Molecule 01 that sounds like blasphemy, but smells like heaven.

And every single time I'm browsing in Liberty's seductive perfume room, I witness eager shoppers snatching up boxes of the stuff.

It's easy to see the appeal: Molecule 01 is a one-size-fits-all scent. It works on both women and men, simply and without pretzel-like contextualization. It's a daytime/nighttime/spring-to-winter winner. And everyone agrees that it smells great.

All of which can be said for Colonia by Acqua di Parma. Like Molecule 01, it was adopted by tastemakers and beauties, along with the frothiest cream of Hollywood. Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, David Niven and Ava Gardner were among those said to be partial to Colonia's blur of aromatics, citrus, rose, jasmine and musk.

I'm developing a theory about how this ragtag crowd all ended up smelling the same:

David and Ava cavort in a sea of Colonia.

Niven is narked by Grant's appropriation of his sig scent.

"Audrey, are you wearing my Colonia again?"

Colonia: the Molecule 01 of classic Hollywood...and beyond.

Colonia is available from and

David Niven and Ava Gardner filming The Little Hut.
Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young in The Bishop's Wife.
Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn circa Charade.

Perfume Pen Pals: nu_be


I recently tried the nu_be series, "an olfactory periodic table," which smartly counters the complaint that these new brands put out too many perfumes at once. If anyone criticizes nu_be, it's like criticizing the chemical structure of the whole world. "Too many perfumes? You try living without oxygen!"

My initial perception is unavoidably rooted in each perfume's relationship to its theme: Does Carbon smell like carbon? (Does carbon smell like pepper and sandalwood?) Does Hydrogen smell like hydrogen? (Does hydrogen smell like Fresca?)

Does Mercury smell like mercury? (Does mercury smell like that metallic Sex Pistols perfume by Etat Libre d'Orange?)

I think perfume themes work best for people who wear fragrance as a conversation starter. Our correspondence notwithstanding, I'm unnerved by having to make small talk about my perfume.

If I'm at a gathering and someone asks about what I'm wearing, I'm overcome by hyper-self-consciousness and it's all I can do not to crush the glass of wine in my hand. Or to drop it. The space between crushing and dropping is never narrower than when I'm obligated to talk about the way I smell. It's almost worse than getting stuck in a conversation about astrology.

Hey, why isn't there an astrology perfume series? People love talking about astrology. Inevitably when someone asks my sign, I'll say Taurus right before declaring I don't believe in such things, right before they respond, "Ha, ha, ha, typical Taurus!"

Apparently, my skepticism is built right into my sign and that I have no truck with astrology proves astrology is real. Which I don't believe even when, inevitably again, astrology enthusiasts name several other Taurean traits and all of them ring true. It's so annoying, like being an atheist and having to go to lunch with God every Thursday.

Where did I lose you, KP?

Back to nu_be: I do believe in science and I also believe several of these perfumes are quite good. I like Carbon best, probably because it wears more like a perfume than a concept. Oxygen is notable more for what isn't there (almost everything) than what is (almost nothing). It's pleasant enough but then so is breathing.

Sulphur is thick and spicy, Helium is sweet and feminine, Lithium smells like Dad spilled Indian take-out all over his leather recliner again.

Say, this sag aloo really tickles!

That reminds me...on an episode of Top Chef, the contestants asked each other if you could only eat two foods for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Several said bread and cheese. (Which, by the way, is the correct answer.)

Your forever food.

And while nothing here is the perfume equivalent of bread and cheese, they all beat anything with an astrological sign on the bottle. I don't care how good you tell me it is, on principle alone, I will never buy Taurus perfume. (Though I'd probably love it.)


Still life with bread, cheese and knife by Julian Merrow-Smith via
Taurus by akirathunder via

Prada Amber

A few years ago, I smelled Prada Amber being worn to great effect by an elegant woman at a TV industry party. The party was a "class reunion" of the first TV show I ever hosted in the UK, the notorious pop culture crash called The Word. The Word was live on Channel 4 every Friday night at at 11 o'clock, an hour of the biggest stars, the hippest bands, and the most shocking, tabloid-freak-show studio events.

Perfume Pen Pals: Kerosene Black Vines


I know nothing about most occupations but here's how I imagine roller coaster architects work: they draw up dozens of plans for coasters that are never built because the designs are so unruly, almost every rider would get sick. Eventually, the plans are meticulously reigned in and, because of this, these architects surely see their finished coasters as a compromise.