Papoutsanis Bar Soap – Tabac

What is soap? I know it used to be made from combining animal fat and ashes. The internet is telling me it’s fatty acids and an alkali metal. I’m curious because soap, specifically bar soap, has a consistent smell quality. Is that because there’s an industry wide standard fragrance base everyone uses, and then tops off with specific smell accents? Or is it the basic materials that make that smell? Someone tell me!! 

When I first smelled this Papoutsanis soap, I thought, “this smells like soap.” Then I thought “I really like this!!” Because, to be more specific, it smells warm, smooth, and cozy. It’s a nostalgic smell (though I think that’s true for most bar soap), and it makes me think of a sun filled kitchen with unfinished wood floors. A grandfather is there (he’s not mine) looking grandfatherly. It’s early September. I smell beeswax.

Because I had trouble describing this with words other than ‘soapy’, I smelled a Dove bar soap, the classic, and that helped me to smell this one better. The Dove smelled higher, this is lower. Dove was powdery in a bright way, but this is powdery in a rich way. The more I smell it, the warmer and cozier it gets. It’s old school – makes me want a beard so I could apply shaving cream with a brush and use a leather strop for my straight razor. 

 On the front of the packaging it said ‘tabac’ and on the back it said ‘cedar and amber’.  So perhaps it’s meant to smell like tobacco? Though in smell marketing people sometimes say ‘tabac’ when they don’t really mean it. I don’t smell cedar. Amber is a tricky one. In the world of fragrance, ambergris refers to a secretion of the sperm whale (now made synthetically). And amber (the resin) is merely a fantasy note, because it’s a good metaphor for the way some chemicals smell. I think this might be the second, because it is warm, cozy, resinous, powdery. Lovely. I got it for $1.99 at Bill’s Imported Foods, a local Greek grocery store


Review – Prada Candy Kiss

Saying ‘Prada Candy Kiss’ feels a lot like saying ‘my Maserati’ or ‘don’t worry, I made him sign a prenup’ – which is to say, surprisingly fun, glamorous, and silly – even funny. But that is not quite how this smells. That sounds juicy, and this smell is more powdery and comfy. I smell tootsie roll! And vanilla. And dryer sheets. There’s also a touch of grape, and cotton candy, and even a teensy bit of incense? This sort of smell is not usually my cup of tea, but I kinda like it! I just wish the dryer sheet part of the smell wasn’t so strong. 

This perfume is what’s called a ‘flanker,’ meaning it is a spin off of the original fragrance, ‘Prada Candy.’ There are a lot of flankers to Prada Candy. Not just Kiss, but also Gloss, Night, and Sugarpop. Truly, they are fun names. I’ll have to try the others someday. 

And though it’s a gorgeous name, I think that instead of ‘Prada Candy Kiss,’ they should call this ‘Pink Sweatpants’ or ‘My Chihuahua Ate My Homework’.


Review: Escentric Molecules ‘Molecule 01’

How things smell is contextual and suggestible. For example, if you give someone a vial of isovaleric and butyric acid and tell them it smells like parmesan cheese, they will believe you. And then if you give them that same vial and say it smells like vomit, they will, again, believe you. See study here.

Today’s perfume is by a brand called Escentric Molecules, and it’s called ‘Molecule 01’. I’m reviewing it because a friend wears it and asked for my thoughts (she is an excellent artist and you should check out her site,, where you can find her medieval/alien artwork and some excellent playlists). The salesperson told me that Molecule 01 doesn’t smell like anything; it just makes you smell more like you.

Disclaimer: this sample I have is very old – like four years old. 

Even at first application, it smells broken-in, like it’s been on the skin for at least an hour. The smell itself is evasive. I think I smell lilies? And pepper? Is it warm or cool? It certainly smells calm. I’m having trouble describing it, but I can tell you two things. One: it smells like opening a Vogue magazine. Two: wearing it, I feel like a glamorous robot.

It strikes me as a rather private fragrance. As in: “I’m wearing perfume, but I don’t want to be interpreted.” It’s the olfactory equivalent of keeping one’s face carefully neutral while waiting for a job interview to begin.

So does this perfume really make each wearer smell more like themselves? I put it on all three of my roommates and smelled them diligently. Yes, they all smell different. But of course they all smell different. And – to return to the way context affects perception – if the salesperson had told me it smelled like roses, would I be telling you that all three of my roommates smelled beautifully of rose? Maybe the marketing helps one pay attention not to the perfume, but to the person. I think that’s nice!

This smell is perfectly named, though. ‘Molecule 01’ – simple, and yet confusing.

P.S. I did some research: this perfume is made of one solitary chemical compound, called Iso E Super. The compound was first made in the 60s and has been used in smaller portions in many fragrances, but this was the first one to use it all by its lonesome. Fragrantica (the Wikipedia of perfume) says Iso E Super smells “dry, woody and cedarlike, with aspects of ambergris, vetiver and patchouli and a slight phenolic nuance. At the same time, it is amazingly transparent and neutral.”


Cheap Thrills: Mint

Most of the best smells are very, very cheap. Hurrah! One of my favorites is mint. Not peppermint, just regular old mint. If you’re not clear on the difference between pepper and regular, I’m talking about the mint you’ll find in a mojito. To me, mint smells like a summer garden. If it were a drink, it would be prosecco – cheering, cool, bubbly, and fun. 

Because mint is used so commonly in hygiene products, I find it’s easy to expect that the plant will smell sterile. But when I smell the fresh leaf, while it certainly smells ‘clean’, it also smells warm and green and sunshiney. Delicious.

My recommendation to you is to pick (or buy) a bunch of fresh mint, and put it in a vase on your bedside table. Pinch it every once in a while to help the smell disperse. It will certainly add some delight to your sleeping time, and I wonder – will it affect your dreams? Let me know if you try!

Now here are two mint memories of mine, for readers with stamina:

I once had the good fortune to live with a Moroccan family in Fez for six weeks, while I took Arabic classes. Every morning I was given fresh mint tea with breakfast. It’s made with a little bit of gunpowder green tea, a LOT of fresh mint, and a LOT of sugar. I loved it, and I think that experience is part of why I have such fondness for mint now. Here is a video I found on youtube explaining how to make it yourself. I cannot recommend it enough! And don’t skimp on the sugar, that’s key. 

I had one other highly memorable experience with mint in Fez. On a tour of the old medina, we stopped in a leather goods store whose back porch had an excellent view of the tannery. The tannery is basically many open-air stone vats filled with dyes and curing liquids for the animal hides. These hides are cured with lime and pigeon droppings, and the smell is potent. The store owner gave us bunches of fresh mint to hold in front of our noses while we watched the men at work in the tannery. The power of the mint to counteract the smell of animal flesh and poop was impressive. 

(By the way, working in the tannery is one of the more dangerous jobs out there. Workers (often teenagers) stand in the vats with the hides to wash and scrape them, thus exposing themselves to a lot of very dangerous bacteria, and there is also a lot of accidental injury. This is true of many tanneries in different countries.)


Review: Le Labo – Neroli 36

The word ‘Neroli’ refers to an essential oil produced through steam distillation of the blossom of the bitter orange tree. Neroli smells citrusy, sharp, and herbal to me. If you want to smell it, try the essential oil section of a hippie grocery store. 

With a name like “Neroli 36’, I expected this perfume to smell like, well, neroli, but honestly it doesn’t. It smells soft and sweet, with a small punch of plastic. I smell sunscreen, playdough, tootsie roll, orange blossom. There’s even a bit of coconut in there, to my nose. I imagine this would make me nostalgic for my childhood if I’d grown up like the children in commercials do. A great big whiff of that connecticut corporate americana vibe – like the Draper family in Madmen, if they lived in the 2000s and quit smoking. 

I don’t like ‘Neroli 36’, but it’s still engaging to smell. Definitely poorly named. I’d call it ‘Suburbia Summer’ or ‘Beach Day with Babysitter’.


Nose Hunger

I’ve always smelled. But I really started to smell – as in: read about smells, imagine smells, mentally catalog smells, in addition to the regular smelling – in college. I was sitting in the school library, reading one of those sneaky ads (10 pROdUctS oUR EditOrs lOVeD tHis juLY teehee buy them NOW). I read a description of a perfume, and suddenly, my nose was hungry. My nose was really hungry. I wanted to smell something complicated and beautiful – a smell made by someone who really knew their stuff. But I didn’t own any perfume. And I was in a nowheresville town with nary a perfume department to be found. It was winter – no good plants to smell. So I just started reading and reading and reading about smells. 

That nose hunger has been alive and well ever since, so I’m finally going to start writing about smells, instead of just thinking and reading. Join me!