On the Right to Change One's Mind: Scented Escapades in the Boudoir

by Elena Vosnaki
11/29/18 17:25:42 ( 20 comments )

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Have you ever had a fragrance turn from hate to love, for you? Sure you have. We all have. We just don't admit it as much, especially when other people rave on about it.

My transformation on the road to Damascus is rather recent, which prompted me to write about this very phenomenon in the first place. It involved a fragrance which I had bought a little while after its release, i.e. sometime during the early 2000's, and which I had gifted away after a few testings to my mother due to it failing to make me feel anything more than lukewarm indifference. Even worse than hate, this fate.

That fragrance was Vivienne Westwood's Boudoir. A pretty concept. A daring designer. An impressive flacon, topped by the regalia of Westwood's emblem, the regal sphere and cross. Even the color was inviting; its rosy shade gets warmer and more honeyed with age. Everyone, it seemed, was raving about it. But no, utter disappointment.

Boudoir was designed by Martin Gras in 1998 with the intention to create a fragrance that will make all men turn their heads after the woman that wears it when the smell wafts past them. The top notes are aldehydes, sweetly-fresh bergamot, hyacinth, and orange blossom.

The heart is sweet and opulent with jasmine, luscious rose, narcissus, carnation, orris root, cardamom, and coriander. The base brings patchouli, warm and milky sandalwood, tobacco leaves, cinnamon, and powdery soft vanilla.

The bottle was designed by Fabrice Legros. The top is made as a globe encircled by a ring, Vivienne Westwood's logo.

Now I need to make a confession. I know you're the only people on the planet that would understand and not judge me too harshly, right?

I don't care for men turning their heads on the street when I pass them by; I have my own man, thank you very much. I also don't subscribe to the notion of perfume as seduction, or man-magnet, or any of these things that people do believe in (and I don't judge them for it) and a few make a career out of (and those...those I do judge for it).

The essence extracted from the Spanish fly was considered an infamous aphrodisiac.

What I subscribe to, however, is the notion that perfume is a powerful tool of evocation, of introspection, of discovering one's self, of intellectualizing passing experiences and impressions, and that lures me in, for sure--hook, line, and sinker.

In appreciating fragrance for its intellectual properties, its transient beauty, its capturing of the zeitgeist, but also of a personal scent timeline, the direct object itself is desexualized, gaining heroic nuances that go beyond the carnal, into the spiritual; whereas the entire human history becomes eroticized, i.e. put under a new light because everything surrounding that experience gains an unforeseen intensity spanning the senses!

Consequently, when I read about Boudoir in a paperback back in 2000, that it was meant as an evocation of odorata sexualis, the famed expression of what in common parlance we refer to as "lady parts," much like retro fragrances were conceived as well (Shocking comes to mind), I admit I was fascinated! It's not that the actual, referred smell was luring me in, no, it's the concept of transliterating a mysterious quality of something intangible, of the transient and vague notion of femininity. It is something that transcends culture, ego, and purpose. Truth be told, I do like "skanky smells," scents that are a bit weird, rather risqué, and I always have. Tell me something is intimate, reminiscent of humanity, of mortality, and I'm sold.

So imagine my disappointment when I bought my own big bottle of the eau de parfum, and it turned out to smell like rose bubblegum in a bowl of talcum powder on me...No lady bits, no humanity, no mortality whatsoever. I was crestfallen, but I persevered like I always do in order to better understand the scent. After some wearings, however, I gave the bottle away to my mother, who loved it. She found it "very feminine" (her words!) and "just lovely." I sighed and chalked it up to a fortunate turn of events, in the end. It didn't go to waste, and someone appreciated it for what it is. Less clutter, too.

Recent discussions on our Hellenic forum, Fragrantica.gr, which always go into real depth, reminded me of this perfume again, after years of oblivion. It probably had to do not with the discussion itself, but with the fact that people with whom I share tastes on the intimate and human-smelling, without prior communication, had referenced the skanky parts in unmistakable ways. I was intrigued; had I judged it harshly, or--even worse--was I swayed by other stuff and sketchy skin chemistry and had misjudged it entirely? Did the very essence of the scent escape me then? With how many others had this alarming phenomenon happened as well?

I needed to investigate!

With the purposes of avoiding cognitive bias and ensuring scientific accuracy (as much as these things can be assured in olfactive interpretive terms), I approached the member with whom I was most compatible, and she very obligingly offered to send me a sample in the mail from her own, freshly bought bottle, so we could compare notes on it.

My impression on it with the hindsight of 15 years is not that different than last time: I do get the rose (toned down now, I must have been very highly stung on disliking roses back then), the powder, the warmth, the huge sillage that extends down the street and greets you with a rather scary smile reminiscent of a drag queen in full dress. If this is femininity, then it's a very tongue-in-cheek femininity, but then what femininity isn't? (I intend to write about this very subject in more detail soon.) At the same time, what made me hesitant, disappointed, and apprehensive last time, makes me appreciate it and, yes, like it--or dig it, is more accurate--this time around!

I read a review by de173eld on Boudoir and I'm hereby quoting a specific part of it (it's actually longer) that I find utterly engulfing:

"The first hour of this is disgusting. Blast of vomit acid and wild animal piss or something organically vile, blanketed in talcum powder, face-sitting on top of a barely noticeable boozy sweetness. Very prominent hyacinth, the distinct smell of thick petal flowers reminiscent of unripe bananas. And freshly manufactured plastic? Absolute chaos. Loud too.What the hell is going on inside this little bottle. The image I get in my head is a woman with heavy makeup throwing up after a night of partying.

Eventually all that simmers down. I think this is the part everyone is raving about? It's the skankwhore hangover. I really like it."

Yup, I really like it too! The odd thing is, I didn't really catch any of those disgusting things on top which the reviewer puts as a disclaimer for not immediately sympathizing with the scent's pleasantness. I mainly get the abstract rosiness, the powder, the ambery drydown that oscillates between warmth and dry talc. And I have been known to otherwise have intellectual, though not practical, qualms about wearing scents I absolutely love in public due to other people's perceived disgusting connotations. You can read about those in my article about Incense & Citrus HERE.

This time around I pick up the subtle spiciness in Boudoir, apparently attributed to viburnum and cinnamon, and I better catch the nuances of vanillic patchouli which were sinking in a vat of orris powder and talcum the last time I had been wearing this.

Really, Majalis by Les Parfums de Rosine is not miles away from this version of spicy, honeyed, intimate, warm rose. I immediately fell for Majalis when it launched (and I haven't got a bottle yet, which is a travesty still to be remedied) and this makes me realize that what I'm actually having a change of heart on is mainly the rose itself.

Also, maybe it's the application technique, too.

Freshly applied, it's pleasant (and if you overspritz, it can be huge). However, it really lives up to its name after it has lived on the skin for a nighter.

This observation is immersed in a more generalized phenomenon, not just particular to the Westwood scent. I have had this happen to me with such disparate things as Dior's Hypnotic Poison (HERE you can read about my troubled relationship with it), Cartier's Must, Guerlain's L'Instant...

In fact, upon revisiting my article on L'Instant I come across this:

"It's not unheard of to change one's mind in the world of fragrance. We come of age, we learn more technical aspects as we grow into the hobby, we sample extensively, or we divert course after seminal experiences, even traumatizing ones. It's all par for the course. L'Instant de Guerlain for women (2003) in particular feels like a vindication in hindsight, if only because when it came out in the scene a few short years after the millennium, it had hardcore Guerlainophiliacs tearing their hair out that it was sacrilege. "This does not smell like a Guerlain" I distinctly recall reading on nascent perfume discussion boards and blogs. Yes, we do hear that with every new release from a classical house, don't we."


You see, it happens to us all, and so rarely do we feel OK to admit to it. Why? Is there shame involved? In fact, if you peruse our fora, there is ample discussion in hushed tones, of just how many have changed their minds from dislike to love.

To revert back to a personal point of view, in rethinking about the various fragrances I had a change of heart on for the favorable, I realize more fully one of the components that had me initially displeased was often rose, the king of perfumery. That does present a problem. I admit it: It took hard work on my part over the years to appreciate rose for what it is and to familiarize myself with the better grades of rose absolutes and fragrances that highlight this noble material.

Now let's think a bit harder: Why did I have trouble with rose in the first place? Bad associations are one thing: Toilet fresheners and dusty potpourri left standing for ages have not done much to make rose an appreciated note for some of us. However, it went deeper than that.

I had always pictured rose lovers as romantic creatures, specifically a niche in romanticism that differs from what I embrace: People living in interiors dressed in ice-cream pastels; wearing dresses in chiffon and lace in pretty, feminine shades of pinks and salmons; hair up in disheveled buns; and leafing through retrospectives of the New York City Ballet. They adore being offered flowers on a first date, getting treated to dinner at a posh restaurant, and watching a rom-com with glee. Their china is patterned with tiny flowers edged in gold; their jewelry is dainty, pretty, and girly. They cherish Jane Austen and find the money-related matrimonial wannabe woes of the heroines utterly charming. Perhaps they have been dreaming and planning their own wedding ever since they knew how to talk. What I mean to say is that this mental image recalled instant Victoriana to my mind, even if Austen's more Georgian really, if we're to be period-appropriate. You might also accuse me of prejudice and pigeon-holing, so I confess my sins.

The thing is, I am none of the above things, for better or worse; I always preferred the Bronte sisters' dark and gloom, I dress in dramatic black and white (or red!) with bold accents of jewels when the mood strikes, firmly prefer wood and baroque interiors to "pretty" things, and detest frou frou in almost everything. My china bears simple platinum Greek keys and nothing else, and I didn't have a wedding plan in my head until I actually decided to wed. I equate romanticism with gothic literature, strong passions damaging everything in sight, and Chopin préludes, preferably visualizing the composer coughing up a bloody storm under that damp roof in the Majorca. Not a pretty picture, eh?

So I considered it natural that roses--and rose fragrances that replicate the scent of the flower--didn't hold much appeal to me. However, slowly getting to acquaint myself with fragrances I thought I couldn't do made me change my mind, and that's OK. I can stop beating up myself for it. The way NoelleNice stopped hating vanilla.

"I felt like Vanilla was so trite and would remind me of the body sprays teenage girls wore in the 90s. Now I love vanilla, especially as our Australian weather trends towards Autumn. Before bed and when lounging at home I’m enjoying spritzing Monotheme Fine Fragrances Venezia Vanilla Blossom. I also occasionally use it to layer.

Looking forward to exploring more sophisticated vanilla fragrances that have been recommended to me on this forum."

Maybe it's neilkatherine who summed it up best for me, in the end.

"This is what Morticia Addams wears while pruning her rose heads, preferring the thorny stems. A vampy and subtly erotic scent."

Yup, I can live with that image, which warms the cockles of my small, gothic heart all right. I have learned a valuable lesson: It's totally cool to change one's mind. There is wisdom in that. What's more, it's often very much a lesson in humility.

So if you need to confess, go ahead in the comments, and tell us about your own "dislikes turned to love"!

You can consult my other articles on Fragrantica on this LINK.


Elena Vosnaki

Elena Vosnaki Editor, Writer & Translator

Elena Vosnaki is a historian, archaeologist and fragrance author. She has written for Fragrantica since 2009. Vosnaki has worked as the Perfume History Curator for the Milan EXPO 2015, and as a guest lecturer at the Athens School of Fine Arts. She is the founder & editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on scent. Her writing has been twice shortlisted in FIFI Editorial Excellence Awards and is extensively quoted by authors. Interviews regarding Vosnaki's unique status as perfume historian & writer appear in VOGUE Hellas, ICON Magazine and Queen.gr.

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Nahéma Extract


When it comes to not being motivated by sex and/or romance, me thinks the lady protest too much.
I get it. I get it.
But, you know, one can be an intellectual and a free and sexual person at the same time. It's alright.

Tigidy101 12/04/18 19:30

Enjoyable article! I only got back into fragrances about 8 months ago. Even in that short time my perceptions have changed. Not my likes or dislikes, per say,but how I perceive fragrances. Initially I thought that there was very little difference between a cheap bottle of Playboy fragrance and a more expensive designer line like Versace, Mugler, or Givenchy. Now, that has changed dramatically. I can smell a real difference in quality! Oh, I still love my sweet, cheap, womanizer of a fragrance in my Playboy VIP. But my initial thinking that it would never be worth spending $50+ on a fragrance I've found is dead wrong. The vanilla in L'Occitaine's Eau de Baux is just on a different level than lesser scents. Le Male really does smell better than it's cheaper imitators. Not long ago I couldn't tell a difference. I'm kinda proud of my accomplishment.

Next year I may very well appreciate a fragrance I dislike now. That's why I have not gotten rid of my "bad" blind buys yet. Mont Blanc 's Individuel comes to mind. I still can't understand how so many people think it's awesome. Kind of frustrates me that I find it so bland and can only relate it to fabric softener. Just so...boooooring....and plain! Why would someone want to smell like laundry detergent? Yet it's rather beloved! Have I missed something here? Am I too much of an amateur/noob to appreciate it? Maybe my nose will change or my appreciation of it will evolve as I learn more? Who knows.

It's just been fun to see my own appreciation of fragrances change (and quickly at that!) as I've learned.

StellaDiverFlynn 12/04/18 04:24

Thank you Elena for this interesting topic! I too went through from dislike to love regarding a few classic chypre. I found the aldehyde in 60/70s chypre too bracing, oakmoss and patchouli too dry etc, etc. But once I found out that I enjoy those chypre with a bit of oriental and animalic warmth, they help to pave my way to explore those more austere green and aldehydic floral chypre.

Besides olfactory preferences, I suspect that my unconscious ageism played a role in disliking classic chypre, like you pointed out in your Incense & Citrus article. And the mental image of "elegant woman in office uniform" conjured up by certain classic chypres ad also doesn't fit my own perceived image, like rose is easily equated to a romantic Victorian woman. But as I get more and more used to these classic perfumes, these prejudiced images disintegrate more and more.

The comments from chanka and ghostie77 also provide interesting juxtaposition to the topic. Indeed, some people are more flexible than others in one's taste and preference, and some people enjoy pure sensory pleasure while others also take pleasure from intellectualization, and there's no shame in either of that.

ghostie77 12/03/18 02:53

chanka, I loved your comment! I doubt it'll stay up for long, but I'm glad I got the chance to see it. I think there's perhaps a lot of truth in your words. Generally, I don't like being challenged by a scent, I just want to smell pretty. And I confess to sometimes agonizing over a scent, trying to 'get' it. Sometimes, this results in me appreciating the artistry of said scent, but mostly, if I wear it, I just wish that I was wearing something else or I'm conscious that I smell like animal secretions.

I adore perfume, but the more familiar I become with all the different categories, the more I realise I just want to smell 'nice'. Call me basic, but to me it's really that simple. For me, one of the biggest joys in being alive is smelling something wonderful. A garden in bloom on a wet, early summer's day. The smell of a baking cake. The briny air of the ocean. Beautiful smells that lift one's soul.

I can't help but think that sometimes we overthink 'training' our nose. Overly intellectualising perfume and forcing ourselves to appreciate an odour that initially makes your nose wrinkle. Sure, you can get used to those various bodily secretion smells, both animal and human, but why bother? I might have 'got used' to and 'appreciate' a cat litter tray-esque smell, but I'm sure that 90% of those around me will not be so tolerant.

I just like to smell nice, and I have no shame admitting it. I change my mind all the time with various scents, and there's also no shame in that, either. Tastes change, we are all constantly evolving.
Elle L'aime Édition d’Été

UnearthlyApothecary 12/02/18 12:18

Boudoir was really hard for me, I had a vintage early nineties bottle. I loved everything about it until it got to this point (after it had been on my skin for a bit) where I get this embarrassingly gross kinda fishy vibe from it. Whatever caused that totally ruined this otherwise wonderful scent for me.

sidewalks 12/02/18 00:41

Boudoir has also been largely reformulated, and that might have changed your opinion on it when comparing the old to the new!
Elle Shocking (Elle Eau de Toilette)

LadyIva 12/01/18 11:32

There are a few fragrances in my collection that I initially disliked; yet, somehow I was intrigued by them, so I continued to test-wear them in different weather conditions, discovered all of their facets, and literally learned to love them. Such scents are:
Narciso Rodrigues L'absolu for Her - the opening is truly stinky, but it soon morphs into a most amazing musky tuberose; an acquired taste if there ever was one!
MFK Oud Silk Mood Extrait - initially I was put off by this immensely strong and woody rose, but then I discovered that it is so addictive that all other rose scents have paled in comparison! This is the fragrance that I would take to a deserted island.
MFK Baccarat Rouge EDP - yet another Kurkdjian's creation that initially baffled me (wtf? burned sugar? saffron? kinky jasmine?) until I got hooked.

I should also mention a few opposite cases, where I went from 'like' or even 'love' to 'puke' - I don't know if it's due to hormones or something else:
Tom Ford Black Orchid
Bvlgari Jasmin Noir
Carolina Herrera Good Girl
YSL Manifesto L'Elixir
Lipstick Rose

chanka 12/01/18 09:13

Never happened to me
If I don’t like something I usually stay not to like it
Not talking about hate something or realy extremely dislike..

For example if i dont like cat piss I don’t like it and will never like it
The same with all perfumes in category as “dirty” I don’t like them,
I will never appreciate stink/smell
What can change is maybe chemistry of skin and then perfume once disliked van become tolerable..

I noticed that people wih pets at home in closed apartments see/ smell things differently and are less sensitive for this category
It is natural as every animal stinks and cats do all their needs at home and people get use to it and it becomes something familiar so they can be attracted to it unconsciously..
As we are attracted to scents that reminds us something mostly
Purple Flowers

Minikers 12/01/18 03:37

Just this week I went from feeling very meh about By Kilian's "Straight to Heaven" to being in absolute love!
Private Label

ecs305 11/30/18 23:27

I had no idea about the notes and intention with this scent. It's been on my radar because of the bottle, name and its being mentioned as being an actual boudoir fragrance (similar to the lingerie company fragrances). I've not yet smelled it.

But I have another scent that fits the overall direction in the article - Omnia Profumi Oro. It smells almost overtly sexual, in an off-putting way. Not sexy or sultry but human and sexual. I couldn't believe it when I first tried it, I thought to myself "Are they serious? Is this actually a joke somehow?" But I realize it is a well made fragrance and it may just be me who has this response to it. I thought I would share this here, in contribution to such fragrances out there. I oddly love it and am still trying to figure it out.
drugstore classics

drugstore classics 11/30/18 20:21

As usual, Elena, your writing (both style and content) fills me with bliss. Thank you for yet another fantastic article!

As for the subject, OH do I AGREE. I still love what I Initially loved on discovering scent not 10 years ago. But many problematic, what-were-they-thinking fragrances now capture my heart entirely! I think it was the magic of Acquiring New Tastes. But also the growth of my inner self - reaching out for aromas less simple and more complex. I initially respected but feared fragrances with 'meaty' or dark notes, such as Knowing, Cinnabar, Youth Dew. They haunted me with equal fascination and disgust. I didn't understand then the total joy of their dry down, and especially that what can smell horrid on first sniff can swiftly become an old friend. So be it. I love old friends, don't you? :D

Now off to look up some of the fragrances listed! :D
Alces Alces
Sweet Like Candy

Alces Alces 11/30/18 16:09

Boudoir has always been a love for its oddball beauty. So no revelation for me there.

Rather my revelation concerned almond notes. I dislike almonds as a food and as a flavoring, and used to detest them as a scent. Almond scented fragrances always smelled like Scott's Liquid Gold furniture polish, a scent from my childhood. Not a fan. The revelation came when I tried Guerlain L'instant Magic. Suddenly I became able to tolerate most almond notes (except for Givenchy Pi, my archnemesis). Almond scents made sense! Hate turned to love or strong like, though it's still a mystery why anyone would want to eat the little flavorless rocks.

Your description of the stereotypical rose lover pretty much describes me; Royal Doulton Old Country Roses has always been my china; pastels are my favorites; Frederick Morgan prints are on my walls; I even belong to JASNA. The only difference is I avoid anything to do with modern weddings and modern romantic comedies because narcissistic sentimentality irritates me. That paragraph made me laugh aloud.

Very enjoyable article.
Halston Night

it's=it+is 11/30/18 12:56

Okay, my own confession is this: I have no conversion story. I came out of the womb with a full head of jet-black hair, and I'm wondering if that head wasn't already full of opinions, too.

But another confession is that your articles NEVER fail to put a great big grin on this old mug. Darling, you write so beautifully! "... interiors dressed in ice cream pastels ..." Your rose is in the prose!
L'Instant de Guerlain Eau de Toilette

justfloral 11/30/18 09:19

Yes, Boudoir has the "almost urine"/honey note covered by cosmetic powder. It is Viburnum note (favourite flower of Vivianne). I think Viburnum smells even nastier with semen undertones.
Acqua Neroli

baerro 11/30/18 07:56

I don't know about hate turning to love, but there is one dislike that turned into a like for me, though I don't know if I like it enough to get a larger bottle (even travel-size) after my sample finally runs out. But I used to dislike Atelier Cologne's "Cafe Tuberosa." It had such a boozy opening, like a vodka mocha or something. I wasn't used to "boozy" in scents, so it hit me hard. After a while it dries down into a mellow tuberose, which is pleasant. But now I've grown to appreciate the vodka mocha aspect.
Pleats Please Eau de Parfum 2013

smellagent 11/30/18 07:15

I had that hate turn to love experience too. One that pops in my head is Andrea Maack's first Coven. To me at first it smelled just like a tree root pulled out of wet earth. It freaked me out so much I kept sampling it and started appreciating the subtle whisky note and the lovely oakmoss. I ended up buying a FB and good thing too as it is now dc'd. I have had others too.

Q80 11/30/18 03:10

A REAL great topic to talk about! disliked turned love"

+ "Aziyade" by Parfum d'Empire Was a pure hate with that sweat note underneath a cheap fruit perfume. I just didn't understand the concept back then cause i wasn't aware that animalics are my favorite note till last year.

+"Re Profumo" brand was a great dislike untill summer of 2018, i just can't get enough of 3 of their blends that i should get full bottles ASAP.

+"PHI Une Rose de Kandahar" by Tauer was a meh, but on Sept 2018 i realized that it's a grand beauty.

+"Anima Dulcis" by Arquiste was a yuky then i realized that it was pure ecstacy. i need to give "Nanban" another try ASAP

+ Francesca Bianchi's "Angel's Dust". It wasn't a disliked but it was the least loved from her line.

+ "Pirates' Grand Reserve" by Atkinsons was a dislike, but now it's just beautiful.

The MAJOR fragrance (from a brand i enjoy) that i still can't tolerate with since 2014 and the feeling wanting to vomit once i sniff it still carrying on till this day is "Montecristo" by Masque. I have spoken to Alessandro many times in order to get the concept behind it that might change the feeling of vomiting but it just didn't help! It's just too much
get the Twist

get the Twist 11/30/18 00:01

I have one big vintage bottle of this BOUDOIR that has been gifted to me by a lovely friend, a long time ago. I never liked it because I felt it was too much for me and I could pick a rubbery smell from it...I kept the bottle till today and....guess what ? Now I really LOVE it !! I enjoy wearing it during autumn and fall. It's warm and sexy and really unique and bold! A pleasant revolution! :)

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