Perfume for Bitches

I have been thinking about bitches lately, those poor misunderstood creatures. There are rude women. There are mean women. But these women are not bitches. A bitch is a woman who is smarter and tougher than you. In the immortal words of the terribly clever Tina Fey, “People say that Hillary [Clinton] is a bitch. Let me say something about that. Yeah, she is. And so am I. Know what? Bitches get stuff done.”

If you are a talented, successful lady, I guarantee you that someone out there thinks that you’re a total bitch. Not because you have done anything wrong, but because you are a woman who dared to leave the kitchen. (Even if it was just to go to the living room! No hating on homemakers here.)

Joan of Arc was one crazy bitch. Rosa Parks was a stubborn bitch. Rosalind Franklin was such a brilliant bitch that she discovered the goddamn structure of DNA without any help from her clueless, backstabbing male partner. Estee Lauder was a ballsy bitch from Queens who purposely broke a bottle of Youth Dew on the floor of Saks Fifth Avenue to prove that it would sell. J.K. Rowling, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Sylvia Plath were depressed literary bitches. And yes, Hillary is one bad bitch- a bitch with a J.D. from Yale who has visited more countries as Secretary of State than any other one-term SoS.

Last year, some pro-life protesters stood outside of Hopkins with huge billboards featuring illegally-obtained pictures of aborted fetuses and legally-obtained-but-still-awful pictures of concentration camps and Jim Crow lynchings. They harassed and threatened female students. I stood next to them for hours with $50 worth of condoms and a sign that said “Please use these so you never have to deal with these assholes.” Those protesters called me “the most selfish bitch [they’d] ever met.” Can I just tell you how proud I am of that title? I hope they put it on my goddamn gravestone.

All of this got me to wondering: what perfumes do bitches wear? A great bitch needs a perfume as sharp, strong, and self-assured as she is. Let’s start with some historically bitchy perfumes. Joan Crawford and Dolores del Rio wore the audaciously spicy Estee Lauder Youth Dew (entirely appropriate, considering how Estee convinced Saks to sell it!). Jean Patou Joy was favored by the notoriously difficult Vivien Leigh (who was later determined to have had bipolar disorder), the famously icy Queen Elizabeth II, and pioneering comedic bitch Joan Rivers. Oprah and Tyra, two of the highest-earning black entertainers, wear Kai. Barbara Walters and Hillary Clinton wear Angel.

A bitch-worthy perfume cannot be too sweet. It can be sexy, but never girly. It must empower and embolden the wearer. We’re talking about the austere woodiness of Parfumerie Generale Coze, the savage smoke of Tauer Perfumes Lonestar Memories, the smooth haughtiness of Chanel No. 5, the witty rasp of Thierry Mugler Womanity, the aggressive greenness of Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio. (Sorry, y’all, I’m not going to say Bandit. I just don’t like Bandit!)

Some bitches prefer to keep their claws sheathed; see the above example of Oprah and Tyra wearing Kai. They need more subtle scents that merely hint at the glorious bitchiness within. For these bitches, I recommend soft leather perfumes like Cuir de Lancome, Bottega Veneta, and L’Artisan Dzing!, or maybe quietly ominous fragrances such as Ormonde Jayne Woman, Gorilla Perfumes The Smell of Weather Turning, and Chanel Sycomore.

What are your favorite bitchy perfumes?

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38 thoughts on “Perfume for Bitches

  1. Bitches wear No. 19. Ormonde Jayne Woman. Jolie Madame. Coromandel. And by “bitches” I mean “this bitch”. Basically, bitches where whatever they want, whenever they want. And they do it well.

    1. Tell it, girl! Although I must say that even though I often hear No. 19 cited as a bitchy perfume, I have always thought that it was a little too pretty for that. I am happy to be proven wrong!

      1. I think it’s incredibly pretty, but hey – so is Kai! I do find it to be bracing in a “I need something to prop me up a bit” kind of way. It’s one of my absolute favorites, especially when I’m feeling stressed-out, but it’s not soothing. Does that make sense? I do NOT find it “cold” or unfeeling, as some people say, rather it is an olfactory spine. lol

  2. I’m going to say Bandit is one of my favorites — I know you don’t like it but it’s kind of glorious when I wear it. It’s just dark red lipstick and a black trench coat and pair of stiletto boots and an attitude of being intelligent, empowered, charming with a biting wit.

    I’ve said before that Chanel No. 5 is like a comfort scent of mine so I don’t find it ‘bitchy’ in the least. My best friend has similar feelings toward No. 5, which come from the fact that her late mother wore it and so she associates it with her and still to this day sprays it on the teddy bear her mother gave her when she was a child.

    Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance is kind one of my bitch perfumes but not to the point of Bandit. Lady Vengeance is more of my wanna-be bad girl fragrance, I suppose, but I do wear it when I’m feeling aggressive. If Bandit is a trench coat and red lipstick, Lady Vengeance is a leather moto jacket paired with fuchsia lipstick.

    I’m a bitch. I don’t try to be bitchy. I’m not mean or rude but I am volatile, I’m easily provoked, but I’m the truest kind of friend to those I’m close to. Because of this people usually know exactly where they stand with me. I’ve had people tell me that the only people who don’t like bitches are the ones who don’t have said bitch on their side. And yes, bitches get shit done.

    1. The teddy bear story is the cutest thing I’ve ever read. Seriously tearing up right here.

      Your version of Bandit does indeed sound glorious! And the Lady Vengeance line seemed just about perfect for this post, but alas, I have only tried that odd Not a Perfume from the Juliet Has a Gun line.

      All of the women I know who have bitchy reputations are actually terribly nice. They are just a little too bright or a little too straightforward or a little too popular for their own good.

      1. My friend used to always sniff me whenever I was wearing No. 5. I didn’t realize why until she later bought a circa mid-90’s bottle of the EdT. She, sadly, cannot wear it b/c it doesn’t mesh well w/ her chemistry. She told me that when her mother was in the hospital she’d spray the perfume on her bear before she went to bed. She lost her to breast cancer when she was seven. So now she keeps with the tradition. It’s really sweet & heartbreaking

        And I’ve always heard how bizarre Bandit is so I’m curious to know what other people smell. I can send you a decant of Lady Vengeance if you’d like. Not A Perfume is not a very good ambassador for the line. A friend of mine recently gave me a bottle he’d procured and while it’s nice, it reminds me of dryer sheets somehow. I spray it on before I go to bed. Lady Vengeance on the other hand, I spray it on and it’s like that terrible Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo & Juliet. It’s like rosaries and guns and garish icons and poorly delivered poetic lines. Maybe that doesn’t sound appealing … actually.

        Agreed. The most outwardly nice person I used to know turned out to be the most terrible person. Her niceness was actually just her being fake to everyone.

  3. I find No 19 a bit bitchy, and Tania S described it in just such terms in The Guide (maybe I was susceptible to this review, but I think the flinty iris note would have done it anyway).

    “Haughty and immune to sweetness, with a somewhat antiseptic air, this extraordinary perfume appeals to any woman who has ever wished to know what it is to be heartless.”

    Agree with OJ Woman and Jolie Madame, and would add Cabochard and Narcisse Noir – oh, and maybe Rochas Femme. Even wearing Poison could be deemed a bitchy act, whoever wore it!

    I don’t particularly care for these scents, but when I am in the mood for a bit of foresty hauteur I reach for OJ Woman.

    1. What an excellent description (even though I’m not sure that it describes No. 19 particularly well!) Tania Sanchez really is an awfully good writer. I haven’t gotten to try Cabochard or Narcisse Noir. What makes them so bitchy?

      1. Cabochard is a kind of herbal/citrus/faintly urinous leather, and if my fading memory serves me, Narcisse Noir is a civet and big white floral bouquet of apocalyptic proportions. It was for the longest time my scent nemesis – not sure if I feel bold enough yet to test if that is still so.

        1. Oh, you must! Think of what a great post that would make! I, sadly, cannot post on my scent nemesis, because one of my close friends wears it and I would not want to offend her. So you must do it for me!

  4. I have a raft of bitchy perfumes, and I adore every one of them. They do tend to be profound orientals though. Nettie Rosenstein Odalisque is still extremely sexy in a haughty kind of way; Youth Dew, Opium, Magie (NOT Magie Noire, though it could qualify), definitely Rochas Femme, and the original, sorely missed Miss Dior. One incredibly bitchy and fabulous perfume. Makes me feel strong, sophisticated, and sexy. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention La Perla. Great stuff.

    1. To be a passenger on that raft!!! I was going to put Miss Dior and Mitsouko on the list, under the classification “haughty chypres”, but I ultimately wasn’t sure if I could recommend them in their current state. May we see them restored in our lifetime! Although I wouldn’t bet on it, considering Miss Dior Cherie has just been renamed as “Miss Dior”.

  5. Hey Arielle,
    Anything i’m wearing is a bitchy perfume.
    Today my bitchy perfumes have been, breakfast and Trivia question writing a sample of Une Rose by Frederic Malle, then for work tonight I drenched myself in Dali EDT, now late and nearly off to bed it’s Byzance,modern on chest, vintage on wrists. MMMMM All beautiful and all bitch!
    Portia xx

    1. You are an utter delight! What is the Dali EDT like? My boyfriend and I have been Dali-crazy since seeing Adrien Brody’s hilarious portrayal in Midnight in Paris. I know Dali has a million perfumes- if they’re any good, I’ll hunt them down!

      1. So the current Dali EDT is a shadow of the original they tell me. I have no comparison and LOVE it. Big fat bombastic floral, HELLLOOOOO! I have sampled two others and remember them not. I have heard that DaliStyle is good though.

  6. Hmmm, I really don’t consider myself a bitch, it’s just not my style. But to me a bitch IS mean, and I dealt with enough of that crap growing up that I never want to be that person. (Looks like I’m parsing semantics with you again, Ari. It’s just how I roll.;))

    I have learned, through the years of being Son3’s advocate, that the most effective way for me to get stuff done is “polite but persistent.” Basically, being calm but refusing to go away until things are dealt with to my satisfaction. (Now that I think about it, isn’t that how Rosa Parks did it?) My go-to scents for that kind of strength are Ormonde Woman and Infusion d’Iris.

    And thank you for the shout-out for us homemakers. I admit I DO get pissed when people dismiss that choice.

    1. I could happily debate semantics with you all day, Dionne! The point that I tried to make in this post is that you do not actually have to be a bitch to be called a bitch. Most so-called bitches are perfectly normal, nice women. People will consider you a bitch for doing the most innocuous things: accepting a job you are qualified for, choosing not to date someone… I know myself to be a kind, generous person. I also get called a bitch at least once a week, because I stand up for myself, friends, and people who I believe deserve standing up for. We may not think of ourselves as bitches, but other people will! That’s what I meant.

      Ormonde Woman is a popular choice in these comments! A perfume must have a very clear message to be perceived the same way by so many people.

      1. Gotcha, Ari. I guess it’s because I’ve never been called a bitch to my face. Ever. I’ve been called opinionated, outspoken, bossy and a “pushy broad,” but never a bitch. (It even makes me wince a bit to type it.) But then I don’t believe I’ve ever even been sworn at, either.

        BTW, *love* the condom story.

  7. Wow, I can’t quite imagine Hillary Clinton in Angel. I think I imagined her as more of a leather perfume person.

    1. Isn’t it the most hilarious perfume choice ever??? I just love that someone so famous for her pantsuits wears a fragrance as push-up-bra-y as Angel!

  8. I know you don’t want to say Bandit, but I have to say it – Bandit Bandit Bandit! Ha! It definitely is a perfect bitch perfume. Chypres are the bitch category of perfume – Paloma Picasso, Azuree, Norell, etc. Those perfumes make you stand up straighter, walk with more determination, kick butt and take names.

    1. Oh, now look what you’ve done!! Didn’t you know that Bandit follows the Bloody Mary say-her-name-three-times-and-she-appears rule??? 😉

      Chypres are totally bitchy. I sometimes wonder to myself if the gradual replacement of chypres with insipid sugary fragrances does not have some deeper sociological meaning…

    1. Third vote for No. 19, third for Bandit, 4th for OJ Woman!!! We are really all on the same page today 😉 I have only briefly tried Portrait of a Lady, and now that I have your word that it is a sufficiently bitchy perfume, I must give it another try soon!

  9. Ooh, I second Vero Profumo Onda. But I guess I’m still in search of my fav bitch scent, and I didn’t realize I was even looking until I read your post! But that describes it so well. Sometimes I want a perfume that demands attention, that says, “I am here. Take notice.” Of course, most of the time I just want one that says quietly, “I’m here and I smell great. Did you notice?”
    I loved your sign at the rally and I love that you stood your ground amongst the opposition protesters. You get my “Fantastic Bitch” vote for the day!!

  10. I have to say, I still own the original Poison, and I wear it. haha I also love Fracas. I also wear Gucci Envy when I feel like it, not often.

    1. I looove the first ten minutes of Gucci Envy. Then it becomes soapy- so sad! For those first ten minutes, it is a wonderfully bitchy perfume.

  11. Great post Ari!

    It always bugs me when people think of me or call me a bitch— I’m one of those poor souls who has yet to reclaim the word, although I utterly agree with your description. In my case it has come along with taking a job I was better qualified for, or for telling someone something they needed to hear (as a friend) that other people were unwilling to do. Just living my life the best that I can has gotten me labeled Bitch; maybe someday I’ll take your lead and embrace the title 🙂

    I know what my bitchy perfumes are, and I certainly love them! They are my, “insert extra spine here,” and “I’m gonna get shit done” fragrances: Chanel no. 19, L’Heure Bleue (because it’s so unexpected), 28 la Pausa, Bel Respiro, Antonia… Basically, anything heavily green, or with lots of iris!
    Maybe because those types of scents aren’t considered seductive?

  12. Revlon Charlie perhaps? and yes Chanel no.19. I’ve once known a lecturer from my uni who loved no. 19 and she’s one goddamn badass woman!

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