In late 1993, when I was still living in Boston, I was avoiding the rain by strolling through the mall at Copley Place. At the time, Crabtree & Evelyn had a store there, into which I meandered to mindlessly peruse the men’s grooming offerings to kill time. After whiffing a couple that didn’t grab me, my nose was struck by a cologne unlike any I had ever smelled.
It was woodsy, with hints of sandalwood, leather and a touch of citrus. It was clean, masculine, sophisticated and so very British. Grown-up. If it wasn’t “me” yet, it was certainly something my then twenty-three year old self aspired to be. Then and there, I bought my first bottle of what would become my signature scent for the next twenty years. It was called Sienna.
A fragrance is the invisible accessory. Appealing to our basest animal sense, it can inspire intense like or dislike, attraction or repulsion. It can trigger a profound emotional response from a memory. To this day, I can’t smell Aramis without welling up because it was my father’s signature scent.
I never liked the super-popular, hyper-marketed fragrances that are easily and readily identifiable. Wearing something that everyone else wears diminishes its power and kills its specialness, no matter how good the scent essentially is. There’s no mystery. Polo by Ralph Lauren is really a beautiful cologne, but since it was so overworn in the 1980s by every Tom, Dick and Gordon Gekko wannabe, it’s ruined for me. Sienna was never mass-marketed with magazine sample ads. It wasn’t in the “cool” manual. It was unique. It was low on the radar. It was special. It felt like something only a select few knew about, at least on this side of the Atlantic. I got compliments on it every time I wore it. People always wanted to know what it was, which I loved, because it wasn’t identifiable. It was mine.
I never tracked how long a bottle lasted me, but I’m guessing it was a few months. Last time I ran out (a few months ago), I made my usual trip to Crabtree & Evelyn in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. When I entered the store, I couldn’t find it. When the salesgirl asked me if she could help me find anything, I just said “Sienna.”
“Oh, we discontinued it.”
Who? What? When? “Why?” I asked. She didn’t know why, telling me that it always sold well at that particular location. But she did tell me I could still order it online.
On my empty-handed walk back home that day, I tweeted Crabtree & Evelyn about it, expressing my disappointment. They responded by apologizing but also assured me they still had plenty online. So I ordered it. I was so depressed, I watched St. Elmo’s Fire on Netflix. Twice.
This past week, I spritzed my last spritz of my last bottle of Sienna. When I returned to their website to reload… No more.*
I can only speculate why Crabtree & Evelyn would screw me over like that. (Yes, I’m taking it personally.) Maybe the Excel spreadsheets at Crabtree’s corporate HQ told a grim story for Sienna, or maybe the ones making those decisions have no discerning taste. Whatever the reason, if I were in charge, I’d have my Sienna, I’d re-launch it’s long-gone companion room candle, and I’d restore the beautiful original bottle it came in before Crabtree played it cheap and put all their fragrances in the same anemic bottle design.
At 43, I’ve learned that everything eventually ends, even the good stuff. Although I don’t like it, I have accepted that Sienna is gone and that Crabtree & Evelyn is dead to me. But all is not lost.
For years, my runner-up for favorite maker of fantastic low-on-the-radar fragrances has been Royall Lyme from Bermuda. They make their namesake, Lyme, as well as Bay Rhum, Spyce, Mandarin, Rugby and a wonderful Vetiver. Since my former provider failed me, my Plan-B is now my Plan-A: Royall Lyme’s Muske. It’s fabulous.
I can order it online from Royall Lyme’s website (www.royalllymebermuda.com), but an empty bottle gives me an excuse to visit my neighborhood friends at Fine and Dandy, who also carry the line. I have a new signature scent, and balance in my little universe has been restored.
A fun, fragrant footnote…
On rare occasion, when I ran out of Sienna and before I discovered the Royall Lyme line, I used to wear Pierre Cardin’s long-forgotten eponymous original men’s cologne. Introduced in 1972, it’s a very warm, sexy, ’70s scent that smells amazing. And since it hasn’t been marketed or advertised in decades, no one under 45 has ever heard of it. It still comes in its original ultra-phallic mushroom head bottle and… wait for it… you can get it at Rite Aid. You’re welcome.
* I understand that there is some Sienna available on Amazon, but in light of their dirty and underhanded book nonsense with Hachette, I refuse to buy from them and would be delighted if others would consider practicing similarly principled discernment.