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.

Promosexual: The Fragrance Lab at Selfridges

Smelling perfume is my favorite self-mesmerization technique. There's nothing like huffing fancy French fumes to still the squirrels running wild in my head. It's a ritual: drain the brain, spray the scent, breathe, allow colors and words and images to fill the mind. And repeat. And repeat.

As perfumer Sophia Grojsman has said, perfume is “medicine for the soul.”