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The Perfume I Love Is Inspired by Whale Vomit


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Juliette Has a Gun Not a Perfume
Juliette Has a Gun Not a Perfume ($100)

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I’m not a signature scent person. I have a lot of fragrances that I rotate through depending on my mood and the season. But there are three or four that I grab regularly. One of my favorites is by an indie brand called Juliette Has a Gun and the name is Not a Perfume. So hipster.

This fragrance house was started by Romano Ricci, who is the grandson of the late fashion designer Nina Ricci. According to Fragrantica, a great website for perfume geekery, the name Juliette is an ode to Shakespeare. She’s “armed but equally as romantic as before.” I know! I’m rolling my eyes just writing it.

It gets worse. This one is called Not a Perfume because instead of being a mixture of a lot of different notes, it’s just one. Sephora calls it cetalox and Fragrantica calls it Ambroxan, a synthetic version of ambergris (gray amber). Ambergris was traditionally used as a base for many perfumes, with other notes layered in. But here, the base is the perfume. (Or isn’t, if you want to go ahead and accept the name.)

Ambergris sounds chic. It’s not. It’s the waste of the endangered sperm whale. Per National Geographic: “Scientists still don't know for sure the exact origins of ambergris. They do know that when sperm whales have a stomach or throat irritant, often a squid beak, they cover it in a greasy substance and cast it out. It was once thought the ambergris was ejected by mouth. As of now, the argument seems to be weighted toward the back end of the whale.”

It costs tens of thousands of dollars and is illegal to use in the US now. Also, yuck. Hence the synthetic version.

For a perfume that isn’t a perfume, this sure smells like perfume to me. And it smells great, whale waste history be damned. It has a woody, warm, soft smell that’s not spicy at all, and just a little powdery. Most importantly, there’s not a hint of floral (or squid beak) in it. It smells sophisticated and subtle, and lasts most of the day. The bottle, which is matte white with silver and red script, is really attractive, too.

Not a Perfume, also not real whale poop. (Sephora sells a travel size for $28 if you want to try it before committing to a big bottle.)

Shop It Here Juliette Has a Gun Not a Perfume, $100