The Scent of a Man


– Of memory, madness and Amouage Memoir Man

Nothing fires up our emotions or long-buried memories quite so well as a scent. It need not even be a perfume, although I’ve come to find more often than not that perfumes obviously have a special place in my heart precisely for that instant superhighway from nose to emotion and a whole slew of associations, images, and long-buried film reels of memory and feeling rush out to greet me.

Any man or woman, but maybe perfumistas in particular, will tell you… Clothes, demeanor, appearance, personal charm – all of these are fine and good, but really, those sparks and stomach butterflies and twinges in our hearts begin with our noses.

For all our sophistication, excuses and pretenses, that much of the primeval, atavistic animal remains.

I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, but I suspect that idea might have been bubbling away at the back of my mind that November night I wrote the short story that became ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’, which led to a book, which led to… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the course of my nearly three years as a perfume writer and over three hundred reviews, a select few are tattooed upon my soul in indelible, never-fading ink, often becoming so much a part of what defines me or my memory, it’s impossible to say where I end or the perfume begins.

When I’m confronted with this or that new perfume for review purposes, I myself often have startling reactions to the perfume I’m sampling. The best ones often involve a streak of spicy (and unrepeatable) language, or even inarticulate sounds that also can’t be repeated, which is no way to write about perfume.

Great art, so it’s said, has to be felt. This certainly applies to one in particular, which gave me such a violent reaction the first time I tried it I didn’t know where to begin or what to do.

Violent not for being bad, but for unleashing a whole blockbuster movie contained within that sample vial, one recurring, intertwined silken thread in my own life that runs silver and black, unbroken for over thirty years. For the longest time, it was padlocked and chained away in a secret vault in my mind until that afternoon just over two years ago when a spray and a sniff blew the padlock and chains to smithereens and out came… a story.

The perfume was Amouage’s Memoir Man. The story was inspired by that other story, that one real life tale of heaven and heartbreak, secrets and sighs called… The One.

Every woman has one. The one who got away, the one who lingers on, the one you try not to think too hard about. It’s over. It’s done. You know you will never again burn so hot nor feel so much, you know how that story ends (more heartbreak), you’re all grown up now, you’re over it, such madness, such magic can never happen again.

Yet if you’re a writer, it can and it will. It comes out in unexpected ways, provoked by who knows what hidden muses laboring away in the dark – by a perfume, or by the way that perfume accentuates and underlines that story and the man who inspired it. He was and still is the only one I’ve personally known who it defines and explains so beautifully.

I will go to my grave stating that no matter what they say to the contrary on all the perfume fora and discussion groups on Facebook, when it comes to bottling up the Guy Thing in terms of high romance, cinematic scope, style and personal statement, no one does it like Amouage. No other line’s masculine-slanted fragrances slay me or my ragged, battered, bruised and disillusioned heart to quite the same degree so consistently, and for over two years, I’ve wondered, as I often do… why?

It took serendipity to figure that out, or was it something even more portentous? Call it fate…

Because last week, while bobbing along on a summery tide of Business As Usual, bubbling with plans and dreams and things to do and perfectly serene, someone had the idea to track me down.

That one. The one who got away. Someone I’ve known for well over thirty years and seen in many moods and several disguises, the one who inspired a fair-sized portion of the Devil’s personality as he is portrayed in my novel Quantum Demonology.

Call him the Memoir Man. Or L’Homme Fatal.

Throughout those thirty-plus years, we were friends, both part of a tight-knit gang who had known each other through high school and far beyond. Until that fatal party thirty years ago that made us both take a good, hard look at each other, and in an instant, all our past lives and all our shared history of friendship was scorched away by something much more dangerous.

There was no turning back after that.

Since then, many other people wandered in and out of our separate lives. Ex-wives, an ex-husband, girlfriends and boyfriends, all the detritus we humans tend to accumulate as we proceed through our lives, and yet… chance encounters just kept happening. Unlooked for meetings on the street. Catching up. We began again because we couldn’t not. We ended. And began other ends, other chances to break each other’s hearts in ways no one else could ever manage.

Our last meeting thirteen years ago was high drama and super-heated words, and as he drove away, I was so glad I’d never, ever see him again.

I would be sane, I would be sensible, I would be cured and inured and inoculated forever more. If it killed me never again to burn so hot, never again to feel so much.

I would. Damn it.

Meanwhile, a writer was born, and as writers will come to know, no experience is ever wasted. Somehow, slivers of that old, repeating story would insinuate themselves into my writing of novels and stories and even a perfume review that came unlooked for as an old, dusty padlock blew up… with a perfume. That padlock came back on after my review, locked a little tighter and with thicker chains this time around.

Yet I swore a secret oath to myself, for reasons I could never articulate, if I ever met anyone again, he would be doomed to wear (among a few others)… Memoir Man.

So it was, until last week. I was a (little too) grown-up now, I was inoculated, I was sane and serieuse and a sensational writer (at least in my own mind). I certainly wasn’t that white-hot fury of thirteen years ago.

When I received that message, I wondered how to respond. As I walked to meet him again after all this time, (don’t ask) I wondered how much havoc was wrought with both of us in thirteen years. I wondered about that inoculation. Wrapped up my heart airtight with metaphorical Kevlar before I left, just in case. I wore an Amouage. (Fate!)

Everything had changed. Some things never did. We would be sane, we would be grown-ups, we would be sensible if it killed us.

We would. Damn it.

Last night, I suddenly bounced around the room and began to upend my perfume cabinet, looking for That One to remind me. My little sample vial of Memoir Man.

Because to me, that was – and is – the scent of a man.

The Memoir Man.

Image: Robert Mapplethorpe

With thanks to Christopher Chong, who knows a thing or two about getting a girl in trouble…


Save the Genie! Find out more here.

Silver and Black

– a review and a story of Amouage ‘Memoir Man’

Sometimes, we choose what to remember. I tried for so long to forget you, forget that last time, that last day, the day you walked away and walked out of my life.

Somehow, I succeeded so well, I nearly convinced myself of that ultimate lie, your parting words, the ones you knew would hurt me most of all:

You and me, baby…we never happened.”

I can still see myself as I was that day, frozen to the steps, looking back over my shoulder at you as you just walked on and didn’t look back, not then, not ever. I remember coming home in a white-hot fury, packing away every reminder of you I could find, vacuum sealing every memory, every word in some padlocked part of my mind until finally, that lie was true. We never happened, baby, and only my ashes remained, as cold and gray as the wind and sky that day you walked away.

Until today. The day I found that beautiful black and silver bottle, half-full of that haunting, provocative scent, the one you always wore and liked so much, you bought me its counterpart, Woman, sparkling like some willful, black secret in the dark behind it, and in that heady, perfumed cocoon that set us apart from the rest of the world, we were both of us blinding dark and dazzling light, heavy and heated as molten lead and lighter than air, every love and all the passion every man and every woman ever felt and ever lived.

I had to sit down, to sink to the carpet in a swoon when I sprayed the air with your scent, as it blew that padlock in my mind to pieces and everything, everything poured out, memory and madness, magic and the music that played that night I saw you across a crowded room and caught you staring back.

That bittersweet opening kick of herb and darkest green, mint and absinth took me there in a single sniff, a room full of posturing and pretense, beautiful people talking beautiful things. I was never one of them, I was the wormwood, the outsider in the mix, brought in to add a little offbeat color, a spicy-green counterpoint of my own. So I thought as I stood apart, so I felt until something made me look up to where you stood. In the eternity between one heartbeat and the next, my world fell apart, the room fell away, I walked away from all my old life and all I knew…toward you.

Remember how we stood, not saying a word in a room full of words? Remember how we simply breathed each other’s reality in, how you wrapped me in that breathless aura of incense and lavender bouncing back and forth? Now incense with all its sacred air, next lavender with its earthy, dark secrets, and peeking behind like a promise, a silky black-red ribbon of rose, a hint of things to come, sensations I never knew and sights I never saw except with you.

“Let’s go”, you said that night, and so we walked off into our tempestuous future, wrapped in that cocoon of endless light and blazing dark. Laughing debates at 4 AM and books we read and things we did and places we went, everywhere wrapped in that invisible cloak of all lovers throughout all time, and what happened underneath that perfumed aura of light and deepening dark, no one knew and no one guessed.

I knew…I knew I needed you to take me there, I knew your need to go there, even when you raged, even when all the world never understood you, even when that fury included me, pushing all your red-alert buttons.

It was part of the thrill, part of our mutual electric charge, that challenge we kept throwing in each other’s face like a gauntlet, that tension that broke plates and smashed boundaries and ripped our pretenses apart.

All the sandalwood, all the vetiver, the amber, the musk and oakmoss, the vanilla and tobacco…all the potent, drydown promise of you could not, would not make me submit. I would not give you the upper hand, not give you the submission you craved, not give you anything but the one thing not even you dared demand. You knew what it would cost you, you knew what it would mean, you knew that if you and I took our story there, there could be no turning back. You were a man nothing could frighten, but the finality of that mutual surrender scared you, spooked you so badly you could only walk away because it was the only conclusion we could draw, the only place we had left to go.

Instead of that electric heat, all I felt was burning cold. The perfumed cocoon was ripped away and I stood shivering in the wind, trembling at your fury, shaking like the winter trees at your final, parting words, hissed between clenched teeth and flung into the wind the instant before you walked away.

So I thought and so I sat for most of an afternoon on my floor, holding these two black and silver beauties in my hands, telling me what I had wanted so badly to forget and obliterate, the haunting scented history of you and me, of the man unlike any, of that story I always knew and always will…

I can breathe us in any time I choose, feel your aura wrapped around me like a cloak in these two peerless bottles that read ‘Memoir Man’ and ‘Memoir Woman’.

You and me, baby…we happened.

Notes for Amouage ‘Memoir Man’:
Top: Absinth, wormwood, basil, mint
Middle: Rose, frankincense, lavender absolute
Base notes: Sandalwood, vetiver, gaiac wood, amber, vanilla, musk, oakmoss, light blonde tobacco

Disclosure: Sample provided by Amouage for review.

‘Memoir Man’ is available at Luckyscent, First in Fragrance, Alla Violetta Boutique, Les Senteurs and from the Amouage website.


For The Man who inspired it.