There are some perfumes with names that perfectly align with your first impression of them. You almost wish you had been present at the creative meeting when all the great minds (and noses) converged — like directors, set designers, producers, costumers and actors on a movie set before the shooting begins — to hash out the vision for the fantasy to come.
That's what I feel about White Linen. The name itself is poetic, and immediately conjures up summer, heat, and the casual but chic fabric linen whose wrinkled, organic imperfections are its charm.
Bright yet warm, crisp but yielding to softness, White Linen (classified as a floral aldehyde), has always been an olfactory puzzle for me. Even now, it's hard to isolate the notes even as I read them and furiously sniff my wrists. Perhaps this is the effect of the powerful aldehydes, which work to abstract the notes to suit the perfume's larger concept.
The same way that the sun and heat in the summer can subsume a host of impressions (flowers, trees, grass, picnic, breeze, feelings, thoughts) into one blinding image or feeling, White Linen's initial aldehydic blast blurs the individual notes.
But once you get in the shade from the perfume's rays, as it were, the gorgeous florals (rose, lily of the valley, jasmine, ylang-ylang) and soft woods (sandalwood and cedar softened and sweetened by orris, honey, and tonka) alight on your consciousness the way a random butterfly might alight on your arm during a summer picnic, finally allowing you to focus on one thing for a moment.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, there's civet in the earlier formulation of White Linen. I'm coming around to the belief that civet is added to perfume not just for a little stink, but for a host of psychological effects that can be best described as subliminal tension: unease and a fear of loss, of the kind you fleetingly feel on a beautiful day you don't want to end. (It's put to good use in a similar way in another wonderful summer fragrance, YSL's fruity-floral chypre Y.)
Top notes: Aldehydes, citrus oils, peach, blossom-calyx note
Heart notes: Rose, lily of the valley, jasmine, orris, ylang-ylang, lilac, orchid
Base notes: Cedar, amber, sandalwood, civet, honey, benzoin, tonka
It's no surprise to me that Sophia Grojsman is the mind/nose behind White Linen. She is a magician at conjuring up not just beautiful scents and visual impressions, but also complex feelings associated with a perfume's theme/concept. (YSL's Paris smells like roses and violets, yes, but also hope, joy, and innocence.)
When I smell White Linen, I smell the detergent that was used to wash the fabric and the smell of it vaporizing as it's ironed. (I suppose it's more romantic to imagine it drying on a line, but there's something about the intensity of the aldehydes that doesn't mesh with the gentleness of that image.) I can also "smell" the sun and the garden and perhaps woods that surround the veranda I'm sitting on drinking lemonade or a Mint Julep. But not many perfumers can add that extra dimension to a fragrance: mood, feelings, psychology. I'm not sure how she does it, but she's a wizard; in a class by herself.
Like a pointillist painting by Seurat, White Linen, if looked at up close, will yield its individual components. Its genius is that its first impression, and lasting impression, is what you'll remember: crisp, laundered white linen on a beautiful summer day.