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


  1. Shouldn't Sulphur smell like the Devil himself? True, a brimstone perfume might have a very limited audience...AnnieA

    1. *Very* limited, I would've thought. Unless "who cut the cheese?" is your idea of a friendly greeting every time you walk into a room.

    2. Having worked in a winery, I think someone could work the smell of sulphur solution sprayed onto pinot noir-dampened oak into something rather evocative. Though *I* wouldn't wear it...

    3. martini, Sulphur (the perfume) *is* rather evocative, though I can't speak to its resemblance to the sulphur solution used in wineries. Or to the devil. But if I were to buy one perfume in the series, and wearability weren't a factor, I'd probably pick Sulphur. It's basically a deep, complex vetiver, too much for a sunny Saturday at the farmers market but perhaps appropriate for something more subversive.

      By the way, it's a sure indicator that one has gone down the rabbit hole when he starts picking perfumes while deliberately not factoring for wearability.

  2. Martini, Luca Turin mentioned in a fragrance review that sulfur is what makes all tropical fruit taste and smell delicious. Without it, it's not good at all. Although I'm not sure how one removes sulfur from tropical fruit.

    Dan, these fragrances would have fascinated me when I was in my early 20s and still excited over Demeter smellies.

    1. Heading straight to my local grocery store to smell all the fruit!!

    2. Nora, these are the opposite of Demeter's hyper-literalness. The connection between nu_be perfumes and their elements is ambiguous at best and a more obvious comparison can be made with Antoine Lie's previous work (he created several in the nu_be series).

      I won't get into what excited me in my early 20s. But it definitely wasn't perfume.

    3. Dan, by the by, there IS a perfume range that celebrates the astrological dimensions of smelling: CnR Create actually launched the aptly named "Earth Taurus" (and others) in 2012.

      [Being a sagittarius and thus a top-range know-it-all, I MUST show I know! ;oD]


    4. Thanks for this, Sylvia. Have you tried them? The descriptions under each of our signs are quite complimentary! I'm sure many of the others are more critical but I have no time to read them.

      There does seem to be a disconnect between your spectacular personality (self-confident, dignified, adventurous, a sense of tolerance *and* cosmopolitanism) and your associated fragrance (a light, fresh, fruity floral).

      I'm of course characterized by my soft nature and love of peace, which translates to a light, fresh, herbal fragrance. With a bull pendant around the bottle!

      Someone please buy these so I don't have to.

    5. Dan, I'm sorry to say I haven't tried any of them, but the comments of other users indicate that the CnR Fragrances are all very light and hardly spectacular.

      I don't know if this what you are looking for in a perfume, but judging from your sense of humor I should imagine you need something much more quirky with a definite statement. Maybe there is a fragrance out there that's called "Tongue in Cheek"? I'm sure if they translated that into French it would sound exactly like the soft and peaceful character of the Taurus... ;o)

      With compliments, Sylvia

    6. Yes Sylvia, the description of each zodiac sign is more elaborate than the perfumes, which are all "light and fresh." Where's the commitment to the theme?

      I'm worried that a French perfume called Tongue and Cheek would pay tribute to organ meats. Still, it wouldn't be the weirdest thing I've worn.

    7. Alright, you win. Ever tried "Freak"?

    8. I haven't (and I won't take your suggestion as an insult), but I noticed Freak's perfumer, Azzi Glasser, also created the new Bella Freud collection. And I'm convinced (based on almost no information) Katie will love Bella Freud 1970:

      KP, can you run down to Harvey Nichols right now and confirm?

    9. Dan! Are you psychic? (Is that yet another typical Taurean train we can accuse you of possessing?) I only just was hanging with Azzi and Bella at Harvey Nick's for the Bella Freud Parfums launch last week!!

      1970 is really nice (a variant on the sophisticated sexiness of L'Artisan's Safran Troublant) but the one that really popped me up was Je t'aime Jane. Going to write about the line asap!

    10. If I were psychic, wouldn't I have known you preferred Je t'aime Jane?

      I hope the line is available in the States soon. Because adding in a flight to London, the cost metrics make no sense. And as a Taurus, I'm nothing if not practical.

    11. The line doesn't have a US outlet yet, so no Bella Freud for you!

  3. Hello Katie!
    I'm familiar with the brand and my favorite element from this collection is Helium [He].
    To me it smells almost exactly like Ambre Narguile from Hermes. I was wondering if you get that association as well?

    Best from Poland

  4. As helium is inert and doesn't react with anything, it doesn't have any form of compound under normal circumstances- either or solid or liquid- that can be placed in a perfume, and is itself (as a molecule) so small it can't be smelled. There is- literally speaking- no resonance between helium and perfume. I can't get over the sheer level of dumb with which this company names its perfumes to think that any of them can be anything but- at best- serviceable.