There is a story in my family that when my mother was in high school, she won a scholarship based on not false but mistaken pretenses and faulty translation. Her maiden name was two syllables featuring staccato vowels. This was probably an Ellis Island shortening or misunderstanding of the name of a village, but when the Japanese businessman came to present the award for a student of Japanese heritage he was puzzled by the appearance of my Italian mother.
When I got married in 1995, the Manhattan hotel where we had our wedding (The Essex House) was then owned by a Japanese chain, so it had lots of Japanese businessmen milling around. When we went to take pictures in the lobby a large group of Japanese men asked if they could get a shot with us because it is considered good luck in their culture to take a picture with a bride and groom on their wedding day. We said yes, but only if our photographer could also take a shot with them.
We liked this shot so much we added it to our final wedding album; when people inevitably ask me, “Who are those guys?” I just say they’re distant cousins on my mother’s side.
All of this is an elaborate way of saying that Les Nereides Oriental Lumpur is a joke on me, but not a bad one; one that takes you by surprise so that you laugh in shock, but then want to hear over and over again.
The site which sells it in the US, Lucky Scent, describes the fragrance as a feminine oriental with notes of saffron, curry, nutmeg, sandalwood, vanilla and patchouli. Sounded fairly typical and I was looking for quality with a reasonable price tag so I ordered a sample to try.
Five minutes in I was gasping from a fragrance memory I hadn’t experienced in almost 30 years– the hot peppers my grandfather used to bring to restaurants in a Tupperware container because nobody made them hot enough for him.
Italian people in New Jersey in the mid 20th century had summer kitchens in their houses, a habit left over from the “old country” that sometimes translated oddly to American split levels. By the time my parents built their house in 1974, this custom was merely vestigial– their family room has water and electric hookups in it so you can throw a kitchen in there quickly in an emergency. Without a real summer kitchen, my dad used to dry his own hot peppers in strings hanging from the laundry room ceiling.
This perfume smells precisely like those red peppers, being eaten by a very clean man who has just shaved, which I suppose unites the peppers in the laundry room theme. I don’t experience Oriental Lumpur as a feminine fragrance at all, which is fine with me because I strongly prefer unisex and masculine scents. Every now and then some sweet spice peeks out, but the bulk of the experience is red peppers and clean aftershave with maybe a tiny bit of shaving cream left over behind the ears. If this sounds disconcerting, it is, but it’s also delicious.
So what do you do when an oriental fragrance you’re testing turns out not to be exotic at all, but to remind you very much of the house you grew up in? Adopt it as your signature scent, of course! I’m sure there are some among my friends who would say hot pepper fits me, and I certainly won’t smell like anyone else in suburban New Jersey.
Oriental Lumpur is available from Lucky Scent for $70 for 100 ml. Samples are available from them and from Surrender to Chance. While I can’t guarantee you’ll like it as much as I did, I do guarantee it’s unique.