I’ve always been fascinated by perfumes that mimic — actually mimic, I should say — everyday edible things. I don’t mean scents by Britney Spears that allegedly evoke “cookies and milk” and “iced coffee.” I do mean Long Island, New York–based Demeter, famed house of hyperrealistic olfactory delights. With more than 100 varieties, plus plenty of limited-edition batches, you may have trouble homing in on your favorite. For instance, in honor of the U.S. Open, the company bottled the scent of a freshly opened can of tennis balls. (Sniiiiiff-ahhhhh.)
I spent an afternoon in Seoul, Korea, in the company’s Gangnam boutique spritzing myself with everything from clean, damp earthworm and briny, fresh Play-Doh to tropical plantain and grassy-sweet tomato guts. Here are some of my favorites and less-than-favorites.
Sushi: Sweet, fruity lemon candy not unlike Fruity Pebbles, a little salty, seaweedy sand, sunscreen and, before the alcohol evaporates off, a hit of sake. All in all, I guess I can stop dabbing chu-toro behind my ears — this is much cheaper.
Mushroom: With a clear base in Demeter’s iconic Dirt scent, Mushroom boasts dense top notes of leather, ozone, wet leaf pile and just the tiniest hints of baby powder and amber, making it an ideal unisex fragrance. All of a sudden Sex Panther doesn’t bring up such great olfactory memories. It’s longer-lasting than the lighter scents.
Rye bread: Don’t sniff right away or it’ll smell like feet! Wait 10 seconds, then experience aromatic, slightly astringent caraway seed right off the bat, along with toasted bread crust and a sweet yeasty note throughout that makes this one of the most authentic scents I’ve sampled. I’m reactivating my J-Date profile — I just found my secret weapon.
Lobster: Call me crazy, but I’ve been enjoying Demeter’s lobster scent every summer for years. That’s right, summer. This smells beyond weird on human skin in the winter — I think it needs a little sweat to get it going. There are strong top notes of sunscreen and clarified butter to start, seawater, sweet steamed lobster meat and lemon in the middle and just the tiniest bit of rubber band at the end. Do not wear around cats. Do wear around significant others with origins in coastal New England. Not that they have anything in common.
Celery: I’m going to puke. The intern is going to puke. Everyone in the office hates me right now. How the hell was celery the dud, after they nailed lobster, of all the scented creatures on this earth? Rotting fennel, a little pee, a smidge of permanent marker and a whole mountain of rock-hard Good ‘n Plentys, just the way your doctor prescribed them. Pass.
Clean skin: Ahhh, much better. Ivory soap, sandalwood, milk, honeysuckle, amber and the scent of unscented body lotion, which is in fact a scent. This would have been very useful during my college “French shower” phase. What? I practically lived in a commune. There were mushrooms growing in the bathtub! And not the nice ones I described above!
Passionfruit: Fruity but only slightly passionate, definitely not passionfruit, but something else sweet and tangy. Fruit snacks, maybe? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kind, fresh out of the foil pack? No no, the dinosaur ones with the white shark teeth! Not quite String Thing…maybe yellow Fruit Roll-Up? Amazin’ Fruit? These early-’90s fruit snack references tickling anyone’s fancy?
Crayon: If a little kid was drawing a happy face on sturdy dyed construction paper with those wonderful scented Crayolas while eating a super-juicy nectarine and beaming with pride, it would smell like this. Three perfect notes (four if you count the pride), one heavenly scent. Wear this one while babysitting and watch that 5-year-old insist that he stay up watching American Horror Story with you. Or me. I definitely did not get a tip that night.
Hey, Jess, why don’t you make a perfume sandwich with the lobster, celery and rye bread? Hey, one step ahead of you. Smells like I can’t get this terrible old sandwich out from under my skin. Check out Demeter products, but create your own “recipes” wisely.