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September 04, 2011

Denise Hamilton Guest Blogs

Do you think you could turn your passion into a career?  Friend of the Tarts Denise Hamilton has done just that--twice!  And she smells sooooooooo good while doing both.



By Denise Hamilton  


Last year, I went back to journalism.

I became the perfume columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

It’s a once-a-month gig, which I figured was do-able for a dame who writes crime novels full-time.

Besides, I needed some justification for the bottles colonizing my bureau, bedroom closet and bathroom shelves.

How many bottles?   

*Cough* I plead the 5th Amendment.

The idea for a column came last year while chatting with the L.A. Times Magazine editor, a savvy lady who shares my obsession.

“You know,”  I told her between sips of cappuccino, “ the NY Times has a perfume columnist. They do reviews and profile the ‘noses’ who create perfumes and they write about it seriously as an art form. Which I love! The classic French perfumes, and many of the artisanal ones made by niche firms these days are fantastic. Here, smell this.”

With that, I reached into a tote bag and brought out a half-dozen bottles from vintage Shalimar extrait to Donna Karan’s spicy oud scent Chaos to Andy Tauer’s “L’Air du Desert Marocain,” which smells like all the good spicy things about the North African desert, without the camel dung and camel driver BO.

Editor, taking bite of croissant and spritzing carefully: “Hmmm. Would you consider writing this column for us?”

After settling on a monthly fee, we discussed the format. It would be for the general reader, not the perfume insider.

The first column would introduce me and describe how I fell down the rabbit hole into perfume obsession, starting with a French/Russian mom who had plenty of Chanel, Yves St. Laurence, Rochas and Dior that I plundered as a child.

Subsequent columns have featured Q&As with acclaimed noses like Olivia Giacobetti (she created L’Artisan’s Premier Figuer, the first true fig scent); the versatile orange note in perfumerie (neroli, orange blossom, candied orange, petitgrain, etc) and  why perfumers use civet, musks and cumin notes that hint at sweat, sex and unwashed skin.

The answer: Despite our myriad disinfectants, deodorizers and soaps, humans are attracted – if only subliminally - to musky animal odors. So in the same way that bakers add a pinch of salt to sweets, perfumers add a little soiled sheets darkness.

Consider Jacques Guerlain, who dreamed up such classics as Apres L’Ondee Mitsuko, L’Heure Bleue, Shalimar and so many others. Guerlain once said that he included the smell of his mistress’s backside in each perfume he created. And as Chandler Burr so helpfully elaborates in his wonderful book “The Perfect Scent,” Guerlain “was referring to all three holes.”

You’ll have to figure that one out for yourself, my friends.

So now, when I need a break from stabbing, strangling, bludgeoning and shooting people, I put on some perfume and get cracking with the next column.

I get a lot of complimentary samples from perfume firms, but I also buy a lot of bottles myself, especially rare, vintage and discontinued ones, as I’m always trying to expand my historical knowledge about the art form.

I’m also planning a column about perfumers who use all natural ingredients, eschewing the aromachemicals that make up the majority of ingredients in many department store perfumes today. For those with perfume allergies, the naturals, made in small batches, with organic natural ingredients, might provide a viable option.

And in my September column, I’ve found a way to combine my love of crime fiction and perfume by writing about how mystery authors from the 1920s to the present have used perfume and smell as a clue to whodunit. These include Dame Agatha Christie, SS. Van Dine, Ruth Rendell and…moi.

The protagonist of  my new book Damage Control is a budding perfumista, a skill that will come in handy by the book’s end as she seeks a clue to  identify the killer. 

I hope you enjoy it!    Product Details

Meanwhile . . . What's your favorite perfume?

Denise Hamilton’s crime novels have been finalists for the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Willa Cather awards. She also edited Los Angeles Noir and Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics, which spent two months on bestseller lists, won the Edgar Award for “Best Short Story” and the Southern California Independent Booksellers’ award for “Best Mystery of the Year.”

Denise’s new novel, Damage Control, will be published by Scribner on September 6, 2011 and has already received a starred review in Publishers Weekly (excellent), a rave advance from Kirkus (In a novel that marries celebrity culture, surf noir and the bonds of friendship, Hamilton is at the top of her game) and kudos from James Ellroy (A superb psychological thriller).


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I'm a French/Russian mom and I think my girls will like perfumes too. They are collecting my empty perfumes bottles, always have a bottle of child perfume in the car otherwise the youngest doesn't even want to get in (she's got a terrible motion sickness) and like to go with the nanny to perfum stores to get some perfume spray on the hair.

Personnally I'm quite reasonable about perfumes and have only from two to four bottles (always of big size) at home. I use classic French perfumes: Midnight Poison of Dior and Classique of Gaultier (especially in the summer). These are my perfumes! I'm also testing some Fragonard perfumes now. What can I say? They smell too good too. I also use sometimes Burberry Week-end and used to like a lot FlowerbyKenzo Fleur de coquelicot

As for perfumes for men, I have the same tastes: I adore Eau de Savage de Dior and completely crazy about Fleur du Male de Gaultier. I even slow down when I feel this smell on the street.

Well, I don't think I'll ever wear Shalimar again. But heh, y'never know.

My favorite, all-time ever most brilliant and wonderful perfume, is 1953 Jolie Madame by Balmain. Maybe you can explain to me (as long as it doesn't involve any holes) why they describe it as leathery? I don't get that at all. It's deep, definitely, and I even get the bergamot. But leather? Really?

Okay, now I have to go buy all your books.

My favorite, Ocar de la Renta. Still reminds me of the high school girl and the scented letters. A real failing of email and text.

I never remember the name, but there is one perfume I can only associate with Tom, a transvestite from my Rocky Horror days.

Ach, I'm a perfume conservative. Joy's my fave. The original Issey Miyake a close second. Although I miss Calyx, which smelled like grapefruit blossoms--very Palm Beach in the moonlight. Great post!!

I've never been able to use perfume and breathe at the same time but it got a lot worse when I developed COPD. The natural scents didn't seem to bother me as much and I adore the scent of fresh basil.

Unfortunately, 2 days ago while working with basil to make tomato-basil soup base (I have an overabundance of the herb this year) I found myself having to reach for the rescue inhaler twice. So it looks like I'm about to be denied the pleasure of even natural scents.

Love this post too! Almost 50 years ago when I was 15 my boyfriend gave me MY Sin for Christmas. It is still my favorite scent, even though I can't get it anymore. I've tried one with the same name - they say it uses the same formula or something - but its nothing like!

The Perfume House (http://www.theperfumehouse.com/), in Portland OR, used to be an old bungalow in a little neighborhood. It looks as though they've done an extensive facelift to the house. I heard that the man who started it worked for Chanel as a 'nose' for 20 years and then retired to his hometown, which doesn't quite match the history on the website. I do know that it is a delight to visit, the owner loves to talk about fragrances and is able, by looking at your skin, tell you which of his range of perfumes will be a better match.
Thanks for visiting, Denise.

Nothin' fancy or french growing up Just ivory soap and ban roll on.
I had a Halston era...then Fendi but always very lightly applied. Now maybe a squirt of Fresia after my shower.
Perfume has gone into the "you can live without it" category unfortunately.
Such is life!

Hi everyone,
I love reading these fragrant comments and it just confirms my theory that perfume strikes a very deep and resonant chord. Holly, you are right on about The Perfume House in Portland. We have a similar little shop in LA called Scent Bar. For me it's like a kid walking into a candy store. And the people are so knowledgeable and nice.
Judi, was your boyfriend trying to tell you something when he gave you My Sin at age 15? LOL. That is quite a sophisticated scent for a teenager, but you started with a classic, not the Love's Lemon and Jovan musk that many of us did. Good on you!

Xena, Fendi was one of my faves. It's discontinued now (there is a new version but it smells very different) so I have stockpiled several bottles.

Paulina you have wonderful taste and how sweet that your girls already love perfume. They will remember and cherish these memories. I too love Eau Savage (on myself as well as on the DH (dear husband).

So fun to to see these comments!

Judith, I am sorry that basil is triggering your breathing issues. It can be quite pungent in the kitchen. I do love that note and would love to see it in more fragrances. You soup sounds extremely yummy.

Cornelia, you are a classic girl and let me tell you, it's impossible to go wrong with Joy. This is a timeless perfume that smells as good today as it did decades ago. I have to be in the mood for indolic white florals, but sometimes nothing else will do. But I have to be careful not to over-apply.

Alan, Oscar is a fantastic big tuberose with tobacco/hay notes and I used to love it but it's gotten a bit watery recently so I seek out the vintage. I am dying to know what perfume reminds you of Rocky Horror. Must be something gothic.


Reine - I do get a leather note from Jolie Madame, but it's a minor key, like the softest, most finely stitched leather gloves clasping a giant bouquet of just-picked violets. JM has been reformulated by Balmain (as most everything has) and it's not as deep and resonant as my vintage bottles, but it's fairly true to the original. If you want interesting reviews of JM, go to http://www.basenotes.net/ID10210315.html and read what others get from this classic 1953 scent.

Denise - your perfume knowledge and research fascinates me! I love fragrances but seem to be on a constant search for one that is "me." Right now I'm in love with layering three Jo Malone tea scents - Fresh Mint Leaf, Sweet Lemon and Sweet Milk. A favorite I truly adore but can't wear much 'cause it gives DH an awful headache is Issey Miyake's L'eau D'Issey. But the one tried and true that I always seem to fall back on is one that a lot of people really stick their noses up in the air about - Elizabeth Arden's Red Door. It seemed to suit me years ago, and seems to still suit.

I was a lucky recipient of an ARC of Damage Control. LOVED it ! ! !

Hi Kaye!

I'll soon be visiting your blog!! I love the Jo Malone fragrances, they smell very natural to me, and very French cologne-y. Regarding L'Eau d'Issey, your DH may be allergic to an aromachemical in this perfume, whereas the Jo Malones might not have as many synthetic ingredients. (All perfumes use synthetics, except the ones labeled all-natural, but some firms use more synths than others. Aromachemicals are cheaper in many cases, and easier to find - try sourcing ambergris and oud these days! But since there are thousands of aromachemicals in different perfumes, it's hard to pinpoint which one is giving DH headaches. I hope you can find some others that don't trigger his sensitivities.) I confess I haven't tried Red Door, but if it suits, then wear it proudly. I've heard it's a spicy Oriental, a bit like Cinnabar or a toned-down Opium. In perfume, as in fashion, everything has cycles, so for a few years aquatics like l'eau d'Issey are in, then people move into fruity florals, then into more spicy scents. So hang onto your bottles and the time will come when everything old is new again.

So lovely to see you!

I've worn 24 Faubourg for years now...it's so wonderful, it stll transports me.

In high school, Shalimar of course. (My mother wore Chanel #5, and my grandmother Joy. Any remember YOuth Dew? Yuck.)

And, for a brief high school moment, I tried Heaven Sent, until a "boyfriend" asked what it was. I told him and he burst out laughing, began to sing the commercial, and I was--mortified. End of Heaven Sent, end of "boyfriend."

Flirted with Cabochard, and that YSL in the blue can. And Pheromone, for a long time. (What was the deal with that?) I LOVE Hermes' L'orange Vert for my husband..oh, it's marvelous.

In Joe Finder's new book, the heroine wears Nombre Noir. Is that real?

Eager to read Damage Control!

Hi Hank! I adore 24 Faubourg, but prefer the Eau de Parfum to EdT cuz it's more resinous orange-y.

Blue can YSL was Rive Gauche. My mom wore that, it's a bit too aldehydic dry for me. But adore the leather in Cabochard.

Yes Nombre Noir is real, it's a Shiseido perfume, but it's long been discontinued and very sought after because it was created by Serge Lutens, who went on to form his own amazing line and re-invigorate classic perfumery in a niche scale. I shall have to ask Joe where he got that idea, cuz it's quite obscure, really, though it has cult status. If he's sitting on a bottle, it's quite spendy now when it even appears...on ebay.

Fun posts, and fun comments. I wonder how many of us wore Shalimar when we were young, and never knew. Maybe that's a good thing. What's definitely a good thing is "Damage Control." Really loved it!

So sensitive to chemicals now that I avoid scents, so I could never survive that reviewing assignment. I used to keep unscented lotion on my desk and ask students to use that instead of their "lovely scented products that I am so envious of," and they did that for me, and saved their expensive products for other times.
I've noticed theater mailings suggesting going light on fragrances for the comfort of other patrons (and actors smoking water vapor cigarettes on stage instead of real ones). Breathing, one of my favorite hobbies!

This is a heavenly blog! I'm a scent fanatic who grew up with a father who is allergic to perfume. I taunted him with Tabu and Chanel no 5 and patchouli oil. I still adore patchouli notes and musk, and in other moods love the newer fresh perfumes with grapefruit notes and grass. Love spicy ones, too. (Love Jo Malone.)

I wrote a novel about a perfumer, originally titled Scent of Hours (and published in Italy under that title), published here as Madame Mirabou's School of Love. It was so much fun to do the research and my office smelled of neroli and lavender for months afterward. I learned a lot, including the fact that I do not have the gift my character did (but I can fake it well).

Yes, me, too, the parfum. Why is that?

And yes, Rive Gauche! How nostalgic...xoo

My mom had quite the collection of perfume when I was growing up. Some of the ones she wore were Shalimar, Chanel and Obsession. I started with Benetton, and then noticed that whatever I wore turned to a vanilla scent on me. I've tried Cashmere, Burberry and others and even a simple vanilla scented body spray (figured why fight it). Then a year ago I found Amazing Grace by Philosophy and I know it's mass marketed and produced, but it's fresh clean and airy scent appeals to me and doesn't make me smell like vanilla. My husband loves the new scent and tells me so every day.

Denise, we adore you. Thanks for being our guest.

I think My Sin has to be the best name of a perfume, ever.

My mother wore Chanel #5, so that's what I believe is perfume. I'm such a dork, though. I never wear any. Mostly out of ignorance, I think. I should drag you to a department store when next we meet, Denise!

This is the third time this week my comment has disappeared!! If I comment again, the first one will probably show up . . .

I am another scent sensitive persons, headaches, nausea. Not fun. It is getting worse as I get older.

Have a few essential oils in the house. I love tea tree oil, smells so clean.

I have a oil blend by a local company called Peppermint Halo. It has 6 essential oils in it for headache treatment. It smells like chocolate peppermint to me and I use it even when I don't have a headache.

I had a crush on a guy at my gym (years ago) because his cologne was so wonderful. He didn't wear much so it gave me an excuse to get close to him.

Right after college graduation I succumbed to the lure of a classified ad in the back of "Saturday Review" that invited you to have your own personalized scent made. They sent a fairly detailed questionnaire, and for several years I happily used that scent, which had my favorite notes of sandalwood and rose, but was not overpowering, and they named it "La Licorne" which pleased me no end. I'm always sorry I stopped the subscription and would dearly like to re-order it but can no longer remember the name of the company or any of the details.

I tend to switch around between White Linen (and it annoyed me no end that they divided it into different "moods"), Saphir and Mediterranean, and I avoid perfume counters because I am a sucker for a new scent.

What a fun 'job', Denise!

One of my favorite memories is of my mom coming to kiss us goodnight if she was going out for the evening, all dressed up and looking lovely, with some marvelous fragrance; probably Chanel. So I was a fan of perfumes for a long time, particularly the most simple: cinnamon, vanilla, citrus, etc.

But, because a lot of my patients are sensitive to fragrance, I don't wear scents in the office, and I dislike the habit some youngsters have of wearing patchouli in a ridiculous effort to mask the residual of pot--especially if they give me an enthusiastic hug and then I carry patchouli, which I don't particularly care for, through the rest of the day.

I must go to the Scent Bar and see what they recommend for my current chemistry. Lovely idea.

Denise, I have a few small bottles of perfume that have never been opened and may be anywhere from 25 to 70 years old, depending on what relative passed them along. I've always wondered if opening them would lessen the value of any potential sale, and whether the contents would smell as they were originally intended.
Any idea?

So great to see all these fun comments.
Laraine, if you want to sell your perfumes, definitely don't open them. They immediately go down in value. Some people also collect for the glass bottle 'presentation,' not the juice, so any tampering, taking cellophane off box, etc will also affect value. Perfumes can stay well preserved if stored away from heat and especially light. (Having them in boxes helps that). Some 70 year old perfumes might be worth a lot of money if they are old & rare Carons, Guerlains, Chanels. It just depends. To get an idea, go to ebay and type in your perfume, the concentration, the size. Look at "completed listings' on the left column to get a better idea of what they are selling for. Feel free to email me from my website, www.denisehamilton.com if you have specific questions, and I'll try to get back to you.

Gaylin I'm glad you found some natural scented oils that you can wear. There are many folks who still do 'bespoke' perfumes and they range from ridiculously expensive to reasonable. One great legitimate person is Dawn Spencer Hurwitz. She is a licensed aromatherapist. You can google her. She makes lovely perfumes, including customized ones, I believe.

Thanks, Denise! If you ever decide to leave writing (please don't), you can have a full career in scent!

Hi to Barbara from a fellow scent fanatic. I have no desire to create my own perfumes, oddly, I am just so happy to wear and explore and write about those of other people! Patchouli is also one of my faves, especially L'Artisan's Patchouli Patch. Chanel's Coromandel, part of the L'Exclusifs line, is probably the winner in my book though.

And oops I think that last post I did was meant for Cyranetta as well as Gaylin.

Brandy, isn't it wonderful when you find a perfume that is yummy for both you and your dear ones? I've got one I adore, Andy Tauer's L'Air du Desert Marocain, that I can't wear around my husband, he claims it smells like polecat pee. So I wear it while he's at work, LOL

Storyteller Mary - essential oils is a good way to go. There is even a Trader Joe's cedar-sage natural all-purpose cleaner that I really like! Sure smells nicer than some of the harsh chemical ones.

Nancy, I will accompany you to the mall anyday. And anyone remember that I Love Lucy episode where Mrs. Trumble wanted Lucy to buy her a French perfume when she went to Paris? Mrs. Trumble was too embarrassed to say the name so she had to whisper it in Lucy's ear, then Lucy promptly blurted it out.

oh no! site just ate 3 long blogs. grrrrr!!!

Hi Denise,

Thanks! That was an interesting link. I'll have to trust the observations.

I was always a bit on the fragrant side of my friends and subject to more than a few comments. They were always telling me to "go fresh," but there are worse ways to stand out I suppose. I learned to go light, and that seemed to work with my crowd.

Denise, you are right about essential oils -- I can tolerate real citrus and lavender. The Better Life products use only natural scents and no harsh chemicals

Loved your blog. So fun1 My Mom wore Chanel#5 and buying before that, Tabu. I picked up the love of scent from her, and have been buying perfumes (starting w/Avon) since I was a young girl.

Over the years I've used everything from Bill Blass for Women, Magic Noir, real Ambegris, Beautiful (it's changed over the years)to RL Women which is no longer around.

My absolute favorite which I've worn the last few years is Fracas. One of my favorite things is to grab a scarf and find the scent is still lingering. For back up's Marc Jacobs Gardenia and Hanae Mori Butterfly. Have been known to stop in my tracks when I smell Hanae Mori for Men. Oddly enough, I've never worn Chanel...which started my love of fragrence. ;) thanks for the fab article, now off to get your books!

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