Perfumes for the Season: Autumnal Perfumes

Guerlain Mitsouko.JPG

There’s something about autumn air that lends itself so beautifully to perfume. Whether allowing yourself to experiment with headier, stranger scents — ones that require room to unfurl, and an eye for the dramatic to pull off — or scenting a scarf to trail perfume behind you as you walk, it’s the perfect kind of weather to play and experiment with perfume. Moderate temperatures allow so many perfumes to come into their own, without worrying too much about being overpowering, or losing their power due to heat and hasty evaporation. What’s more, the drama and endless associations conjured up by the season mean wearing a perfume can be like playing your favorite character, especially during the time of year when many of us enjoy curling up with a book indoors. With that in mind, here are some scents I’d recommend for crisp autumn days, golden light, and wild clear air. 


Dior Homme Intense (Dior, 2011)

This is one of the so-called “masculine” fragrances that I think wear perfectly for any gender expression. A sophisticated mix of lavender, ambrette, and a cashmere-plush iris in the top and heart melt away to the base of cedar and vetiver, all of it spiked with a wine-dark, gourmand relish of baked-apple sweetness. If there were a scent for a character from Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, I’d choose this one. It’s a scent for bright autumn mornings and wood-paneled libraries, for the scent of crushed leaves and wine-colored light. For hours spent reading, hands wrapped around hot cider, and sly smiles, stolen kisses, and bitten lips.


Mitsouko (Guerlain, 1919)

This perfume is one I never stop obsessing over, truth be told. At once stern and tender, spiritual and voluptuous, its peach, cinnamon, and oakmoss spine, wrapped in spices and flowers, is something that exists outside of time somehow. With the dusty sweetness of peach offset by the feral darkness of oakmoss, it is by no means an easy perfume, but one that richly rewards thought, care, and bravery, with a history as complex and mythic as the images it conjures. This is one for silent afternoons, light clear as a bell, falling on old wooden tables. This scent is all yearning, melancholy and wry smiles. A scent for writing letters to loved ones far away, for poetry read aloud beside the fire, for cello music at night, and for long, lonely morning walks. 


Burning Rose (Carolina Herrera, 2015)

Plush and wine-stained, this perfume is ideal for autumn evenings out. Whether you’re going to the opera or the club, this scent wears close to the skin, revealed in dizzying, heady glimpses at the turn of a head, or a wave of your wrist. Rich Bulgarian rose combined with the simmer of Laotian cinnamon give the impression of full-blown roses piled on a brazier, combining sweetness with a dusky bite. If Byron’s line, “She walks in beauty like the night” were a fragrance, this would be it. For nights of frosty stars and amber lamplight, red lips and firelight, music and velvet.


What would love do? (Lush, 2016)

This one is such a treasure in the particular vein of Gorilla Perfumes: that is, original, wonderful perfumes using quality ingredients that still manage to be (relatively) affordable. The notes listed are seemingly straightforward: lavender, tangerine, and benzoin, but the effect is wonderfully complex, running the gamut from dusty roadside grass to fresh-baked cookies. Luca Turin has called it a modern incarnation of Guerlain’s “Shalimar” but I’m not sure I’d agree completely — on my skin, there’s something much more youthful about it. The tangerine lingers, fresh as morning air, and the soft, slightly bruised comfort of crushed lavender bloom into vivid life, particularly on autumnal days. This one is for days of jumping in piles of leaves, outrunning the rain. For holing up with old adventure books in countryside attics, tramping through the long, mist-wet grass, and coming home to the smell of fresh baking. 

Mishka Hoosen is a writer, creative director, and neophyte perfumer living and working in Cape Town, South Africa. Her first novel, Call it a difficult night, was published by Deep South Books in 2015, and she is currently working on a book about perfume and the anthropocene thanks to a residency from IFAS. Mishka is The Attic on Eighth’s Perfume Columnist.