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The Air Up There — Climb (And Smell) Every Mountain With New CLEAN AIR Eau de Parfum

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After a decade of living in New York City, you can pinpoint a plethora of peculiar (and almost entirely unpleasant) smells: roasted peanuts that are just on the verge of being burnt, dried-up urine (it’s the unofficial smell of every subway platform), garbage rotting in the summer heat, day-old fish and sewage (a Chinatown special), horse manure (thanks to the “romantic” horse carriage rides tourists take around Central Park), cheap incense being sold on the street, car exhaust fumes, sweat and musk inside taxicabs (often made worse when the driver refuses to wear deodorant!), burnt rubber (from car, bus, and motorcycle tires), cat litter inside bodegas, and so forth. You know what you forget after a decade of living in New York City? What clean air smells like.

Yes, air technically has no scent, but there are other atmospheric smells — whether it’s a saline ocean mist, a lemon-y crispness in a garden, damp grass, the faint aroma of pine, or any combination of grassy and herbal motifs — that do create a unique olfactory experience. But no matter how you conceptualize the notion of clean air, you know it when you come across it: your body feels more spry than usual, you can’t resist the urge to take deep and slow breaths, to fill your lungs with fresh oxygen.

The new CLEAN AIR Eau de Parfum ($38 for 1 fl. oz. and 69 for 2.4 fl. oz. at Sephora.com) attempts to encapsulate the aroma of the air at the greatest heights within the Himalayas  mountain range— in fact, it was inspired by the idea of a hot air balloon over this South Asian region, which encompasses such famed peaks as Mount Everest and K2. To that end, the perfume is meant to feel fresh yet exhilarating (much like the experience of ascension), liberating and blissful but still subtly feminine and seductive.

Developed by IFF perfumer Ruhi Patel, the CLEAN AIR EDP features a mountain air accord, along with bergamot blossoms, and a lush green accord as opening notes. At the heart of the scent, meanwhile, you’ll find sparkling freesia, dewy peony, and powdered aldehydes to infuse the requisite femininity and romanticism into the scent. Last, for a sensual finish, the fragrance features base notes of enveloping musk, cashmere woods, and white amber, all of which accomplish the necessary feat without weighing down the scent or making it feel overly earthy (after all, the goal is to create a gravity-defying sensation).

When I first spritzed on the perfume, I immediately detected a rush of sparkling, zesty, lively citric notes (presumably those bergamot blossoms), but these were enveloped by a lush greenness that gave the scent a leafy freshness. Bergamot has the unique quality of not being as sour as a lemon or as sparkling as an orange, striking a middle ground within the citrus universe, so it’s quite a pleasant choice — especially when the goal is to energize, to create a sense of optimism, as is the case here. I can’t say I detected the mountain air accord but, then, how would one really pinpoint that particular aroma? Maybe if I’d spent time in any high altitude environment, the scent would trigger memories of that time but, not having had any such experiences, I can’t detect that note. I can, however, say that the first impression is crisp, fresh, and decidedly citric.

As the top notes begin to subside, the floral heart notes surface but they never seem to dominate so that the citric note lingers way past that initial impression, almost swathing the bouquet in the middle of the aromatic composition. The most potent of the floral notes would be the freesia, which bestows a playful sweetness upon the fragrance, while also adding a mouth-watering, berry-like fruitiness. The peony note is far more subtle, and it actually is best detected about an hour to ninety minutes after you first spritz on the fragrance. And even then, there’s a damp quality to these florals that keeps them from overwhelming the senses and which adds to the overarching theme of freshness.

Lastly, the base notes add that woody aroma that’s essential when creating a fragrance meant to honor a refreshing breeze in the grassy highlands, but they always remain subtle, and almost whisper-like in their softness.

Overall, I think CLEAN AIR stays true to the brand’s heritage, to its history of creating fragrances rooted in simple pleasures like warm cotton, rain, and skin. I do, however, find that, much like its name suggests, the fragrance doesn’t make a striking impression, nor does it have a distinctive personality. It’s hard to even find an attribute to describe the scent — it’s not particularly romantic, nostalgic, assertive, exotic, seductive, innocent, flirty, forbidden, mysterious, playful, juicy, woody, aquatic, spicy, or Bohemian. Yes, it’s refreshing, like a cool breeze, but that’s its only real distinguishing characteristic. Because of that, I can’t picture this ever being a go-to scent for me, but I do think women who like very subtle scents might appreciate this perfume’s innocuousness.

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