L’Esprit d’Escalier

Some of many stairs in Valparaíso
Some stairs in Valparaíso

If you have ever been at a loss for words in reply to a remark made to you, only to have exactly what you would have liked to say occur to you much later, you have experienced l’esprit d’escalier. Translated as “staircase wit,” it happens to the best of us.

(According to Wikipedia, the expression refers to a type of mansion in which the reception room was one floor above the ground floor, and “to have reached the bottom of the stairs means to have definitively left the gathering.”)


I didn’t set about making a perfume to retrofit this name today. I wanted to make a perfume, and I wanted the notes to have some contradiction giving way to unexpected harmony.

So I set out exploring ingredients, including some that might be expected more in a spice cabinet. The result turned out to smell unfortunately medicinal. However, when I tried it on my skin, I found that after several minutes the out-of-place notes disappeared and what remained was a lot more pleasant. Thus, to console myself, I reasoned that this was l’esprit d’escalier—the initial greeting wasn’t right, but the “right” tone came later (too late for first impressions) and settled into the minimal, residual comfort of better-late-than-never.

However, I knew I could do better, so I made some adjustments. This iteration:

  • Top notes: sweet yuzu, pink grapefruit, carrot seed
  • Heart notes: sandalwood, geranium, black pepper
  • Base notes: rosewood, labdanum, rosemary, agar musk


The yuzu provides the dominant citrus, a default “riposte” made slightly awkward with a dissonant hint of carrot seed. These top notes soon leave the party in a huff, and the heart notes of reason gather round to reset the tone, although they haven’t forgotten the carrot seed. Finally, the rosewood and labdanum reinforce what should have been, relaxing into the slightly musky mollification of “there, there—next time you’ll get it right the first time.” This enables acceptance of what actually was, manifested by the presence of the yuzu until the not really bitter end.






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