Viewer Mail: Nobody Puts Naima in the Corner

Hey there, Katie,

I have a huge problem with fragrance. Maybe I shouldn't be a 22-year-old black woman in Chicago. I'm surrounded by flat celebrity fragrances. People in department stores take one little look at me and say: "Oh, you're tall and curvy, I know the perfect scent..." and then precede to spray a Baby Phat perfume on my wrist.

Imagine their faces when I walk over to the Chanel counter and ask for a sample of Coco Mademoiselle. You'd think someone tortured their favorite puppy. Well, I'm the one being tortured. I'm surrounded by ladies my age who are dripping in alcohol fruity sugar water that smells as flat as soda would taste after being shaken. They wear it because it has someone's freaking name on it.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm impressed with Jennifer Aniston's debut fume and J. Lo's debut fume, despite the fact that I rarely go for for fresh, just-out-the-shower clean. I'm impressed because all the other celebrity fragrances are cheap smelling and LOUD. Really, loud as in the perfume version of that sad 60-something man dressed like Kanye West flirting loudly with every woman in the world. Or WORST, Kanye West dressed as Kanye West flirting with every woman in the room. I'm sure you get my frustration.

Getting to the point, I need a scent that's for me. One that works with my lifestyle (busy, scholarly, cashier at a fast food restaurant), reasonable lasting power, personal (meaning only a boyfriend should get a good whiff of it, everyone else can get hits off its glow), and most of all, unique. The unique part should be easy considering most of my peers don't go for Dior Pure Poison or Narciso Rodriguez For Her edt, two fragrances that I've worn in the past. Though I adore warm and floral, I do like YSL Opium when I'm by myself. Opium, as lovely as it is, can put the faint of heart into a coma. Got any suggestions?


Naima, perfume profiling is all well and good, but only when based on a person's actual preferences and personality, and not what they look like. You seem like a person who knows herself well, which is half the battle when seeking out a new olfactory delight.

The fumes that make you swoon are, as you say, warm and floral -- you're drawn to the honeyed, rich orange blossom in Pure Poison and Narciso Rodriguez For Her. You also get a secret kick out of spice. I love your line “everyone else can get hits off its glow,” and that clued me into the quiet-but-still-present oomph you're looking for.

For orange blossom and other white florals with oomph and occasional spice, point your nose in the direction of the following:

Laura Mercier L'Heure Magique -- pikake and rose with sandalwood, amber and musk. Might be a bit syrupy for your liking – see what you think.

Agent Provocateur L'Agent – hovers between edible, drinkable and smearable. This blend of ylang-ylang, apricot, rose and chocolatey patchouli is decadence a-go-go. I always think Coco Mademoiselle lovers would go for this one.

Dita Von Teese -- a feminine bouquet of peony, tiare, jasmine and rose in a retro-contemporary style. Technically a celeb scent, but doesn't smell like one.

Kate Walsh Boyfriend -- yes, another celeb scent, but it's cool. I think of it as “tropical goth”: creamy white florals set against dark, dried fruit and slightly salty woods.

Bulgari Jasmine Noir edp -- spiced-up jasmine and patchouli, sweet and dark. Potentially too sweet for you, let your nose be the judge.

Estée Lauder Tuberose Gardenia -- the creamy petals, green stems and dewy wetness of gardenia, underscored by tuberose and neroli.

L'Artisan Parfumeur Seville a L'Aube – powdery'n'radiant orange blossom and spicy woods.

Jean Paul Gaultier Fleur du Mâle
-- my wild card pick: supposedly for men, but I love the thick, almost overripe honey smell wafting around this blend of orange blossom and sweet hay. Naughty, naughty flowers!

Summoning all fumies: got any fragrance dates you'd like to set Naima up with?


  1. What about Malle Noir Epices? Start with the body lotion (and maybe a small spritz of the 'fume from a sample)...see how that works for you!


  2. The love for Opium also made me think about spices, resins, and orientals rather than florals. I'm thinking a classic like Aromatics Elixir or its near-copy Aramis 900. Personal it is not, so easy on the trigger. But then, Opium is not personal either, not even in the reformulation.


    1. cacio, I am SO loving Aromatics Elixir these days! I've actually managed to make it "personal" by only spraying once at the small of my back! That seems to stifle its powerful propulsion, and keep its "magical forest" character in my immediate orbit.

    2. Recently I picked up a Clinique Aromatics Elixer oil. It's beautiful and slightly more discrete but lasts forever. Also reasonably priced is Magie Noir by Lancome (no orange blossom but loads of sexy floral) or Annick Goutal's Grand Amour might be a good choice too.
      Portia x

    3. Portia, Magie Noir is a good thought for spicy mystery.

  3. The secret of good perfume shopping (more often than not) is subliminally telling the sales assistant to **** off. Many are the times that I've walked up to a counter with an idea of which perfume I've wanted to try, not directly stated which perfume it is, but instead let the sales assistant go through their sales algorithm, which usually involves them going through the latest blah, blah, blah masculine perfumes, which I'll denounce as crap, them giving me details on notes, which I either expand or correct, and them having to check their cards to see if i am correct, and once they are completely tried out by their fruitless search, I will announce the perfume I wanted to try all along, which will be something Nahema, with a look that says 'if you weren't so narrow-minded in your expectations of me, I wouldn't have been able to have wasted so much your time, would I now?'
    As for a suggestion for Naima, I suggest Bois Des lies.
    1, because its amazing
    2, because its the opposite of people's narrow-minded expectations of her seem to be
    3, because it fits the profile of the perfumes that she likes

    but mainly because

    4, I have learnt that in the game of perfuming suggesting, Bois Des Iles is a bit of a top trump.

    The only downside is its a bit expensive.

    1. Chanel Bois des Iles is ACES! Creamy sandalwood and florals with warming winter spices. Great suggestion.

    2. Serge Luten's Santal Majuscule would also be a good fragrance to try, which is very much the sandalwood core of BdI, but with the florals and aldehydes downplayed, and would as a more subtle alternative to Opium.

  4. Hi Naima, I would suggest Shalimar initial which Katie called it Shalimar training bra, it has iris & vanilla but really lovely. The second one is Chanel no5 premier which has ylang ylang, rose & jasmine. I think both are a good intro. to the most classic perfumes ever. Hessa

    1. By the way Katie great suggestions from you as usual, I used to wear NR For her Edt before,I'm wearing Lheur Magique and l'agant now love both. Hessa

    2. Thanks Hessa! I hadn't plunged in with Shalimar suggestions because Naima hadn't specifically mentioned a hankering for vanilla. But Naima, if you're nosing around the Shalimar family, also try the lighter, drier Shalimar L'Eau Initial. It's less sugary sweet than Initial, and I prefer it. But yes, Shalimar in edp or parfum is delooooooooxe!

  5. Hi Naima, I understand your frustration. There is nothing worse than a SA trying to profile your olfactory preferences based on your body type. I am not a snob, but I'd rather be caught naked than wearing a celebrity scent (and believe me, the idea of being caught naked is not as pleasant to me as it was when I had "everything in place"). As for suggestions, I agree with all of the ones already posted, but something tells me you would have some fun browsing the classic Guerlains. In a world where most of the releases smell like fruit puch or stale soda, nothing more "unique" than a neglected classic. Please try Shalimar (in all the reincarnations), Mitsouko, L'Heure Bleue and Jicky. Good luck!

  6. Hi, Naima--

    Being 22, I think you may be on a budget. Try Azzaro pour Homme. It is just yummy and nuzzly and warm, and it isn't very expensive at all. It has a subtle anise note, but it doesn't scream "licorice."

    The first time I tried it, I thought, "What's the big deal?"

    Now it's my best friend!

  7. One of the Ormonde Jayne perfumes by Linda Pilkington might be a nice addition to Naima's perfume wardrobe. I love their combination of subtlety, intensity, and beauty. Perhaps Champaca, Ta'if, or Ormonde Woman. The downside is they have to be ordered online, from England, but the upside is no one around you will be wearing these.

    1. I like this Ormonde Jayne direction you're taking us on. I submit Tolu, which as I'm writing this occurs to me may be a perfect match for Naima with its orange blossom, incense and the spicy cinnamony resin of tolu balsalm.

    2. I'm glad you expanded on the OJ idea. I just ordered Tolu yesterday for my bride. Of course, I'll have to try it, too! ;-)

  8. Esprit de'Oscar is lovely and affordable. According to Fragrantica, it has "citrus notes of Sicilian lemon, bergamot and citron, leading to the floral bouquet heart of Egyptian jasmine, orange blossom and tuberose. The base is oriental, creamy, smooth and very long-lasting with musk, heliotrope, tonka and vetiver."

    In my opinion, it is very well made, and can compete with Guerlain and Chanel Bois des I'les. An added bonus is that it is suitable for wear at work. The Oscar de la Renta website is a nightmare to navigate, so I would go directly to one of the decant sites to sample. Amazon has this eau de parfum right now at very good prices. I may get a backup bottle of it today.

    Naima, we all get profiled by the SAs and yes, it can be irritating. I do all my perfume shopping (sampling first in most cases) on the 'net. Good luck!

    1. Whoops, I meant to type Esprit d'Oscar. Sheesh.

    2. You've got me curious to try this one, queen cupcake!

  9. For warm and floral, Annick Goutal Neroli is simple, but lovely.

    On the warm and spicy front, Anne Pliska is a great amber, and not too $$$$. Also YSL Cinema is a great gourmand with a great lily note.

    Happy hunting!!!!

  10. Naima, you mentioned Narciso so I'm going to toss out its sister scent, Lovely. Yes, it's a celebrity scent, but it's so much smarter that the dozens of Paris-Brittany-Hilary flankers. At first I didn't buy it because it reminded me too much of NR, but now that I own it I tend to wear it more than NR. It's a little more everyday, a little less "ooh-la-la." Because there are some days when you just want "la," ya know? It also lasts all day.

    Have fun sniffing!

  11. Here are a couple of suggestions

    Serge Lutens : Fleur d'Oranger
    Serge Lutens : Féminité du bois
    Guerlain : L'Heure bleue

    Roger & Gallet : Bois d'Orange
    Roger & Gallet : Gingembre
    Hermès : Eau d'Orange Verte

  12. This might be in a different direction, but it might be worth it to investigate a discovery kit from Juliette Has a Gun. I think it's only 10 euros, shipping from France to the US is included in that cost, and you get very generous samples of the entire line. Plus the cost of the discovery kit can be applied to a full bottle of anything.

  13. Oh yes, Feminite de Bois!

    I also think, given your taste for classicism, you should try Hermes 24 Faubourg -- an orange-blossomy oriental with stunning elegance. Can be found at online discounters.

  14. Late to the game here Naima, but as a fellow Chicagoan I wanted to let you know I feel your pain. I don't find many knowledgeable sales associates here. I do think (hope!) a lot of their assumptions have to do with your age. I am Casper white and 35 (but still regularly get asked for ID) and they all insist on giving me the newest celebrity fruity floral to try. Once I told a woman at Macy's that I was interested in trying classic fragrances to add to my collection. I was thinking Chanel No. 5 or Shalimar. She said she had just the thing and brought me Mariah Carey's Lollipop Bling.

    Anyway, my suggestions aren't nearly as exotic sounding as many of those above, but here goes:

    John Varvatos Artisan - it's mostly sweetness and orange blossom, but because it's a "men's" fragrance it has a little woody kick to it. As a bonus you get a good size bottle for relatively little money because apparently men won't pay as much per ounce nor cubic foot of sillage as women will.

    Chanel Coco - the clear bottle with the black label. Not the mademoiselle nor noir, just the original. This is proof that Lady Gaga is wrong and a fume and be both sexy and interesting. I'm pretty sure this is orange blossom (which seems to be a recurring theme in the suggestions) and other florals, but it's deep, warm, and comforting. I've found that it goes really well with Thanksgiving dinner, too.

    Both of these can be found at Sephora, so you can ask for samples and try them for a few days. (I think their policy is three per customer?)

    I also think you may want to play with the Jo Malone line since you want the scent to stay close to you. Layering their Orange Blossom with Nutmeg and Ginger might give you the results you're looking for. I also like Black Vetiver Cafe. It's a little vetiver, more sweetness and coffee. It reminds me of a pancake breakfast. (Thanksgiving dinner, pancake breakfast,...apparently I need to eat something.) If you decide to give these a try, the Nordstrom in Schaumburg has a really good JM counter. Zydra and Lisa are the two SAs I see most often and are very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. Come to think of it, all of the beauty and fragrance SAs I've done business with there have been pretty good.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. Thanks, lucy, for your comprehensive considerations. I just love that Lollipop Bling is a classic in some circles!

  15. Two thumbs up for Boyfriend. It's the only celebrity fragrance I own. Love it. It's the kind of straightforward, no bullshit fragrance.