Every year when the weather starts to get a little warmer, I start dreaming of Italy. Picture: blooming walls of flowers, shiny red tomato plants, the smell of cappuccino and tobacco wafting from outdoor cafes, the sun-bleached roofs and walls that paint entire cities the colors of biscotti… Another chance for an Italian summer slips away from me this year, of course. A global pandemic is not the time to traipse around cobblestoned towns slurping precariously swirled hazelnut gelato off a waffle cone, let alone travel anywhere else. But I’m getting pretty close to the feeling of an Italian summer whenever I take a very long, very fragranced shower. It’s the all-important starting point of my fragrance routine and honestly, a hell of a sensorial experience. Hair and body products smell the most strongly then, filling the shower as I lather but leaving the faintest whisper of a scent after I rinse. I don’t need a heady perfume permeating my nostrils all day long, but I love a gentle scent that maybe only I can smell, and for that, no eau de whatever is required. All it takes are a few hair and body products. The cocktail recipe goes as follows:
Like dried beans and brisket, my hair needs to marinate. I try to leave a hair mask on for at least 30 minutes, so I usually apply it before a workout. Instead of getting in and out of the shower, I wet a brush and run it through my hair to get everything a little damp, and then apply the mask from the ends to chin length. Not all masks imbue your hair with a loyal cloud of fragrance that lasts for several days. Sisley’s Hair Rituel Regenerating Mask is my favorite for the task: honeyed, bright, and just a little bit woody, the best way I can describe it from memory is like a freshly sliced pear. But recently I’ve been getting into Fable & Mane’s Holiroots Hair Mask, which is less than a third of the price. Sometimes I open the jar just to inhale it—you mostly get intoxicating jasmine, enigmatic fruity notes I can never quite place.
In The Shower
I stole miniature bottles of Davines Momo shampoo and conditioner from a hotel in Philadelphia, and I’m still milking them months later. The trick is to spread out my usage for when I really need a burst of joy in the shower—the scent is incredible but kind of hard to describe. It comes from a specific type of melon that pretty much only grows in Sicily, the paceco cartucciaru melon, which is similar to honeydew. But there’s also an undertone of earthy grassiness and a spicy, peppery edge that lingers. It’s almost like sitting across a table from someone wearing Le Labo’s The Noir. And the table is in a garden. And on the table is a bowl of fresh cut fruit that you have to eat quickly, lest the sugary juice start attracting bugs. The stuff itself is gentle and moisturizing, and gives the mask’s scent more depth.
While the conditioner sits in my hair, I wash my body. You either love the squeaky clean feeling of Dr. Bronner’s, or you don’t, and even loyalists have just as strong opinions about the scents, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Almond is the best of them all. It’s gourmand but never cloying, and smells exactly like marzipan or the almond granita I got one hot day in Brooklyn last year and still dream about. And it’s not one of those soaps that make you work for a whiff: dreamy wafts of almond fill my entire steamy bathroom as soon as I flip the cap open. As I rinse, absentmindedly opening and closing my mouth under the showerhead, I sometimes dream of picking up the gigantic bottle and taking a swig. (Though I must emphasize: ‘dessert’ is not one of the 18 uses listed on the bottle and drinking soap will send you straight to the hospital.)
Another product you’ll want to eat but shouldn’t: Jordan Samuel’s Granita di Caffè. This scrub has all the nuances of a perfect cup of coffee, which, along with Dr. Bronner’s almond soap, shape-shifts my human body into an ideal Italian breakfast. If you sniff the open jar, the first notes of sweet, burnt caramel introduce the deep bitter coffee scent, like smooth steam coming off a hot espresso. Ah! It’s perfect. When I get to scrubbing, the sugar and salt combo melts away slowly, eventually dissolving right into my skin or the shower water and leaving no mess. My skin is left with a sheen of oil (it’s the coconut oil, mango and shea butters) that not only replenishes what Dr. Bronner stripped away, but also locks in moisture from the shower for hydrated legs all day. Theoretically I could stop here, but of course I’m not going to.
When I get out of the shower, I immediately throw my hair up in my Crown Affair towel and pat-dry everything else. Then I apply Epicuren’s Kukui Coconut After Bath Lotion from clavicle to ankle bone on slightly damp skin. It’s lightweight and non-greasy, but deeply hydrating. (Of all my lotions, this one leaves my legs feeling softest hours later.) Plus, the scent is long-lasting too. Rather than smelling overtly tropical, the coconut is delicate and a little milky, with musky skin notes that complicate an otherwise kind of juvenile scent. This lotion smells like covering myself in sunscreen so I can lay out on a barge in Lake Como.
Finally, I unwind my mostly-dried hair from the microfiber towel and shake it out. I give it a few spritzes of Playa’s New Day Hair Mist all over—the unique formula gives funky ridges a chance to re-dry, and I straighten any stragglers out as I finger comb through my hair. Secondarily, it locks in the moisture I applied in the shower and also acts as a hair perfume. Playa’s version of quintessentially Italian neroli is soft and powdery—so different from the uber-sexy Tom Ford Neroli Portofino and bright Behnaz Pure Neroli fragrances I have at home. It elevates the floral notes in my hair, and brightens the sweet summery thing happening everywhere else.
Once I’m dry enough to step into a PJ set, I whip up a big bowl of spaghetti with some homemade tomato sauce and queue up an Italian or Italy-set movie to set the mood. (The heart-achingly beautiful Cinema Paradiso is a good place to start.) It’s not ideal, but it is a facsimile of la dolce vita that I don’t have to venture outside for. And it’s my favorite part of the day.
Photo via ITG