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Just what was that perfume—described as a combination of fresh mown hay, musk and lavender—Selene Bourgani wore that so captured Christopher Marlowe Cobb when he met her on the Lusitania? We asked Denise Hamilton, award-winning mystery writer and perfumista


This is how Robert Olen Butler describes the scent that so intrigued Kit Cobb, “Nothing of flowers. This was the smell of the green things in the world, the unadorned things of a field, of a forest, hay newly mown, and beneath this smell a musky scent, but something faintly sweet as well, lavender perhaps.” To us, this is a classic perfume mystery and the best detective we can think of to put on the case is Denise Hamilton so it was to her we took the query.

In a reply to an email, Denise wrote:

“Lavender has always been a very common ingredient in men’s colognes. What you describe might be a classic fougere such as Fougere Royale by Houbigant, which is considered one of the first perfumes (dates to 1872) and from which springs the genre of perfumes/colognes for men known as ‘fougeres‘ from the French word fern.





Fougeres can be very refined or they can have what some of us call ‘the dreaded barbershop accord’ which smells cheap and somewhat overpowering and cloying. But they are characterized by a kind of loamy, ferny note undergirded with lavender, (which can turn soapy) and musk and spices. Others on the perfume board[s] decided it must be Jicky. Though Jicky has a decided vanilla note, so not sure I agree. But that’s in the drydown. The initial blast would be more lavender and herbs.”


Speaking of Mysteries will be talking to Denise soon about her short story “The Thinking Machine,” in In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, her own mysteries and, of course, perfume.


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