Today, I am feeling Hinoki. It is Monday, or at least I think so. Nine weeks into lockdown, each morning dawns another Blursday. Time torques, the compass shrinks and with it the conviction that a horizon exists and, beyond it, an end to the pandemic.
As a balm for a latent terror of lethal microscopic airborne particles, I spritz myself each morning in a benign aerosol cloud.
This is what the droning experts from the increasingly competitive self-care sector refer to as coping. Other people drink. I drink, too, but I find I need something to give shape to the 12 hours between waking and cocktails. That thing is fragrance, a substance with well-established powers to alter mood, unlock memory and evoke foreign vistas, a significant fact for anyone that has spent months gazing at four walls and a bonsai tree.
For years the stuff I’ve worn has been Marinella 287, a freshly citric, almost barbershop eau de toilette produced by the underrated Neapolitan haberdashers of the same name. Like the label itself, Marinella 287 is to be admired for its modesty.
Lately, though, I find myself hankering for more complex stuff, fragrance heavies acquired over my travels and yet seldom worn because I lacked the occasion or the nerve.
As it is Monday, I begin light with Hinoki, a fresh and arboreal scent created in 2008 for Comme des Garçons by the perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. Because fragrance is all but impossible to describe, its makers often resort to narrative drivel. According to some printed text that accompanies the bottle, Hinoki (one in a group of fine numbered releases from Comme des Garçons in collaboration with Monocle) is meant to evoke the sensation of soaking in a hinoki wood tub in the garden of a Kyoto ryokan.
Who knows? What is certain is that its airiness is a delight when I pull off the stale-smelling N95 protective mask I must wear to go out for coffee.
As though packing for a real trip, I map out the next week, planning a daily changing fragrance wardrobe. Tuesday, I decide, will be Angeliques Sous La Pluie, a sprightly if fugitive (you have to renew it 25 times a day) unisex fragrance created for Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle by Jean-Claude Ellena.
The celebrated Mr. Ellena was formerly the “parfumeur exclusif” for Hermès, the man behind First for Van Cleef & Arpels, Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert for Bulgari and the author of a 2012 memoir, “Diary of a Nose,” a volume that crams a surprising load of pretension into a mere 145 pages. Almost as much as wine talk, I dislike the notion and lexicon of “noses.” I resist the trashy clutter of adjectives often deployed to fancy up simple chemistry in the flavors and fragrance business. The ineffable magic that occurs when gorgeous molecules of smell and taste stimulate our pleasure receptors is best left to imagination — unless, that is, you are Proust.
By Wednesday, I anticipate a mood shift because, even more than during ordinary times, Humpday feels like a trick to dupe you into forgetting the coming three days of labor. Glad as I am to have paid work, I miss the real rhythms of the office, the camaraderie, the proverbial water cooler, the supplies.
Absent all that, I will douse myself in Guerlain’s Mouchoir de Monsieur, a powdery granddad concoction first formulated in 1904, and then fire up the old laptop. I will imagine while writing that I am that rake who dabs cologne on his handkerchief before making sorties into the belle epoque salons of Paris, and not a wage slave who has to remind himself to wear pants for Zoom.
Thursday, I will sport Dior Homme as a deeply affectionate nod to an old-school classic. By this I mean the dusty, woody lavender-and-sage version first created in 2005 by the perfumer Olivier Polge, streamlined in 2011 by François Demachy and still available online and in certain countries in its first iteration. Though a further updated Dior Homme was released just before the pandemic, its butch rectangular bottle is a mite too assertively branded for me, its fragrance almost anachronistically sweet.
Sensing that by Friday I will want to put some celebratory punctuation on the week gone by, I weigh two unalike though equally tempting options. One is Krigler’s Oud for Highness, a densely sensual fragrance created in 1975 by this heritage label for King Hussein of Jordan. The other is Baccarat Rouge 540 from Francis Kurkdjian, the gifted creator of Jean Paul Gaultier’s metrosexual best seller, Le Male. Baccarat Rouge 540 is a fragrance that — while its components include wholesome substances like jasmine, saffron and cedar — dries on the skin with a singed finish evocative of the term “gateway drug.’’
Yet that is deceptive. Each of these fragrances is intoxicating and yet exists in a universe far removed from the drug-counter crack created by marketers and doomed to die on the dusty shelves of discount outlets.
If, like my Saturday choice (the tonic and peppery Eau de Citron Noir by Hermès) some are not quite claimants to greatness, still they retain their transporting powers. And they mostly reach a standard set by Tania Sanchez — co-author with Luca Turin of the smartly cutting encyclopedia, “Perfumes — The A to Z Guide” — for olfactory authority.
“It decorates the day,” Ms. Sanchez wrote of any fragrance that justifies itself and the term. And if ever the days needed ornament it is now.
(Here you may be wondering what becomes of Sunday. The answer is nothing: It is the palate cleanser of the fragrance week.)