Nasomatto China White Valentine’s Day with Stevie Nicks circa 1977.

For a fumehead like myself, the juice in those fancy glass bottles is a drug. A spritz of Chanel or Frédéric Malle is a hit, and an afternoon spent smelling everything at a perfume counter quickly leads to an overdose. So when I discovered a scent called China White – slang for high-grade heroin – the name made perfect sense.

China White is an extrait de parfum by niche house Nasomatto (Italian for “crazy nose”). At the first bump you’re grooving along, enjoying its old-fashioned, cologne-style briskness, when suddenly it ducks into an alley and morphs into sweet ash and cold cement. The hell? Anyway, you go with it, because China White has a mind of its own. What happens next is the smoky powder. Or is it powdery smoke? Whatever, you almost feel like coughing, but instead you breathe in China White’s strangely transparent incense.

There’s definitely violet leaf in there, which conjures the cold cement, along with a harsh greenness. And there might be some vetiver, a sharp-smelling grass with a syrupy richness. Then a shadow of a rose passes through, and any sharpness shape-shifts the powder into leather. Before you can say "Hillary Swank", China White’s gone from butch to femme to “I don’t know – you tell me”.

How can China White be simultaneously green (signaling moisture) and powdery dry? Smoky (signaling heat) and cool? Old-fashioned and futuristic? The sweet ash never quite becomes ashtray, instead turning a little salty and, uh, “personal” after a while. Tom from the blog Perfume-Smellin' Things describes China White as “cocaine-dusted roses”, which is such an evocative description, conjuring up a Valentine’s Day date with Stevie Nicks circa 1977.

But another way to interpret China White might be to take the name literally: white china. Earthy clay, fired to fine porcelain, glazed to a gleam, then shattered into powder. This thing is weird...a little intellectual...and addictive.

China White is available from