Perfume Pen Pals: Frederic Malle Bois d'Orage


Today at Barneys, my sales associate was as reckless as he was brilliant. We talked and talked about every fragrance under the sun, and every discussion reminded him of three more things I absolutely had to try, and before I left, I had sampled about 100 scents. It was like being at one of those all-you-can-eat buffets in Las Vegas. But without all the fatty starches and annoying children. (Or is it annoying starches and fatty children?)

I tried the entire Heeley line (perfectly pleasant but unmemorable: Travis, Nick Hornby, Jimmy Fallon, your pick), the entire Bois 1920 line (sharp and strong, but all of them smell sort of the same) and, unfortunately for me, the entire L'Artisan Parfumeur line.

This is where my sales associate and I parted ways: he loves L'Artisan and every time I rejected one, he had another ready to go. If this were a dating service and L'Artisan were my potential partners, I would've walked out and asked for my money back.

The one thing I will say for the line is, unlike Bois 1920, all of its scents seemed wrong in different ways. There was wrong blackberry and wrong spice rack and wrong licorice and wrong pepper.

And then I moved onto Frédéric Malle and smelled Bois d'Orage (French Lover outside the USA). Katie, it smelled EXACTLY like my father. Jesus.

At first, I couldn't place the scent, I just knew I was nine years old and my dad was standing there in his dirty overalls. And then it hit me: stale smoke. My father smoked cigars but never around the house, so he always smelled as if he had smoked a cigar two hours ago. And he smelled of dirt and sweat because he worked in hot greenhouses all day long.

And this is the smell of Bois d'Orage. It's completely unsweetened and unsentimental, just like my dad, which actually makes it quite sentimental. (My dad died when I was 18.)

I was heartened to come home and read Luca Turin's review in The Guide, in which he confirms Bois d'Orage smells of stale cigar smoke and sweat. There are times when smelling stuff that I can't tell what I'm smelling, and I'm certain I have no more of a clue than any other blockhead off the street. But Bois d'Orage is right in my wheelhouse, I'm an expert at Bois d'Orage, and so that's what I bought today.


Stepford Wives via
Greenhouse via


  1. I'm sorry to hear about Dan's father. But glad that he found something that can bring memories back.

  2. It must have been astonishing for Dan to smell something that was so specifically and holographically his dad. And it wasn't something as simple as a cologne his father used to wear - rather it was a smell that summed up the person himself. Uncanny.

  3. Great letter! I can relate; I lost my mom when I was 18, my Dad on my 35th birthday.

    I've also done the Barneys thing for fragrances, and that's how I was able to sample Frederic Malle's line as well. Ditto on the sales experience - I work selling fragrances for Macy's and I wish we could match their level of customer care and products.

    Frederic Malle's Eau D'Hiver is devastatingly beautiful. It haunts me; wish I had some right now, as there's a monster snow storm shearing through town as I write this.

  4. that is what I love about scent. The ability of it to transport you to certain times in your life. that is one of the amazing things that make scents so special. I smell Royale Spice and I remember a very special frenchman that made me feel very special.

  5. Dan, amazing! Your dad is Jesus? Wait, was that a period? Oh, thought it was a comma.....

    I know what you mean, though, about how scents can remind you of someone or something, another place or time. It doesn't even have to be the exact scent but something that evokes the person or place.

    I am not ready to smell a scent that reminds me of my Dad who I lost a few months ago. Just writing this makes me sad. Anyway, I will someday find a scent that reminds me of him and I will smell it and smile. Maybe Old Spice, even though he hadn't worn it in years, it reminds me of growing up and watching him get ready for work.

  6. It's interesting, that difference between a scent that conjures a memory...and a scent that conjures a person. I can't remember what perfume it was, because a combination of cedar and tobacco gobsmacked me and plonked me in my grandfather's woodshop, staring at his hand. Wait, that's more a memory. But I get the apparition.

    I do imagine that the right sebum scent would immediately not be a perfume but a hologram of a person.

    So, what's left is the question: Sparingly use Bois d'Orage as a magic potion? Or don't parse out applications, taking the risk that it sooner or later becomes more perfume than potion, but probably always retaining a hint of that first hit?

    Meanwhile, on a less poetic front...sorry the L'Artisans were such a bust, though I get the descriptor. I feel fortunate that some were definitely Not Wrong, Fleur d'Narcisse and Havana Vanille among them.

  7. ScentScelf,

    That's a good point you make about how regular use of a fragrance "wears out" the poignant association it may have originally possessed. The same thing happens with old songs when you hear them too often: they lose their magic time-travel aspect.

    But it's just as you say: the first hit of the perfume will always retain the hint.

    I do believe that since Dan wrote this, he's come around to the Heeleys and the Bois 1920s, and even L'Artisan to a certain degree. Hmm...and now that you've mentioned it, Havana Vanille might be one for him.

  8. ScentsofSmell,

    That's the thing: when is one "ready" to encounter their long-lost beloved in a scent? It's just as you say - you want to smell something that evokes the person, and smile instead of cry.

  9. Katie/Dan, many thanks for posting this very touching and witty email - I loved it.

    French Lover shall henceforth be known to me as "Dan's Dad" :)

  10. onesmalldog,

    And not only does fragrance allow you to revisit people, memories, places, but it also helps you create and seal in new memories.


    It's frustrating hitting on the perfect pairing of scent and event (or weather), and not being able to get your hands on the perfume.

  11. "Dan's Dad" is sweet!

    So do we know why a different name was chosen for the US market? I am agog. I know that Americans are supposed to prefer "clean scents" (as a sweeping generalisation), but I didn't think that such cleanliness extended to prudishness? There is probably a perfectly simple explanation...

  12. Vanessa, I certainly don't know, but "cleanliness extneds to prudishness" sounds like as good a summation of American uptightness as anything else. I wrote to F Malle for an explanation - I'll let you know when I know.

  13. Ah, I'm glad that Dan may have come around...the Heeleys to me are like an unappreciated well made but not edgy piece of clothing. Any one may not jump out at you, but they stand up to examination. And are certainly easy on the eyes, erm, nose, if not the first flash to catch your eye.

    Ooh! Good, an explanation. Our Barneys Malle reps are not even allowed to speculate. "...the American Market..." ...a wave of the hand...a slight shrug.

  14. Okay, I just talked to a Malle rep at Bev Hills Barneys, and it the French Lover to Bois d'Orage name change is down to marketing, pure and simple. "French Lover" lasted just a few weeks in the US before it was understood that fragile American males couldn't handle "Lover", French or otherwise. So in came "Bois d'Orage", which means "thunderstorm" or "thunder wood". Suitably blockheadedly macho!