I have a confession to make. I’m what you might call “promiscuous” when it comes to perfume.
The usual suspects, old and new.
(clockwise from front right: Petite Chérie, La Petite Robe Noire, Portrait of a Lady,
Pear Cassis, Un Jardin après la Mousson, Manifesto, and Orange Sanguine)
I’ve spoken at large about my obsession with makeup (especially lipstick, these days), but I’ve kept mostly mum about my embarrassingly large fragrance stash.
Growing up, I knew what a signature scent was in theory, but in practice, it seemed as abstract and unreal as the Yeti or Loch Ness Monster. It also had an allure that I seemed to lack, a girl growing up in Brooklyn. A signature scent seemed to evoke a chic Parisian woman who walks by and you turn your head because she smells so good and you don’t know what it is. And, bien sur, she won’t tell.
The romance of fragrance still feels very French to me as an adult. I still assume every French woman has a signature scent, something that is not available in the United States, and that they keep the name as secret as their internet passwords.
I can’t even say that it evoked a sophistication I didn’t have yet, as a teenager (or even now as an adult, big geek that I am), and that’s why I shied away from one. Honestly? I just liked smelling different every day. It was fun. It was like playing a different person every day. (I still do this with my makeup. I rarely look the same from day to day.)
So I was the girl buying every new perfume when it came out, desperate to get my hands on the latest and greatest. There was Pleasures and Trésor and Happy and my cherry-blossom-smelling G Gigli and my wear-in-winter-only tuberose Fracas. There were the two scents that just smelled so damn good on me, Eternity and Chaos. And let’s not forget Samsara and the summer I wore only Sexy Graffiti. Or the first time I went to Paris, and I followed Suzy Gershman’s advice and went to the most amazing duty-free perfume store ever, Catherine (which has since closed down, lucky for my wallet). I think my sister and I walked away from there with 4 new perfumes (in addition to the Spring Flower I had already bought at Creed), including a 3.4 oz tester of J’adore that was pure perfume (parfum!), not eau de anything. (For only $100!)
And, yes, I spent all that money. Because, as you know, perfume don’t come cheap. I actually feel faint when I think of the money I’ve spent on perfume over the years, especially considering how many of them it turned out I couldn’t wear.
Because, the problem is, I have an extremely sensitive nose. For example, I was standing in the kitchen of the friend’s house I was staying at in Nice this July, when I said, “I smell fig!” She looked shocked. And informed me that they had a fig tree outside their house. I was smelling it wafting in on the breeze. (This was owed to the phase I went through where I was determined to find a fig perfume, but wound up just not liking the way they wore.) She smelled nothing.
Unfortunately, when it comes to fragrances, there are some that smell so good to me, even sublime (I’m looking at you Flowerbomb!), but I just can’t wear them. On me, they are cloying and literally make me nauseous. And I was young and naive and didn’t know then what I know now: Always sample it ON yourself before buying. (This has made the site, The Perfumed Court, invaluable to me. Also, eBay.)
And then…and then…I first bought Pear Cassis by Fresh. And by god, I really wanted to repair my free-loving-perfume ways. I wore that perfume exclusively for a good year, and actually went through a couple of bottles. We’ve been through some great times, Pear Cassis and me.
But something always comes along to ruin a perfectly good relationship, and for me and my Pear Cassis, it was rediscovering a sample of Petite Chérie by Annick Goutal that I had gotten (when I, you guessed it, bought an Annick Goutal fragrance—Eau d’Hadrien—because the hotel I had just stayed at in Paris used that scent for their toiletries [and, yes, many went home in our luggage!]). But it wasn’t that I smelled it. It was that I put it on my wrists and did not want to stop smelling my wrists. It’s described as smelling peachy, but to me, it smelled like a fresh, ripe pear. An actual pear. And the Fresh perfume did not. And I was enchanted.
My first true loves, Pear Cassis and Petite Chérie
I wore Petite Chérie exclusively for the next 5 years. I stocked up on refills when I was in Paris and it was cheaper. I had the body cream as well, to layer the scent, because it does not last all day. And I had the first experience of what it means to really have a signature scent: A friend told me he smelled someone wearing my perfume on the subway, and he thought of me. And I loved that.
I would probably still be wearing Petite Chérie if it were not for one small, sad fact. When you wear something every day for years straight, you stop smelling it yourself. And contrary to some opinions, I don’t wear fragrance for other people, I wear it because I love the smell myself. So what is the point of wearing a perfume that you love so dearly when you can no longer smell it??
I was determined, at first, to find another perfume to switch off with, so that my sense of smell for Petite Chérie could come back, and I could wear it and smell it again, just like in the good old days. The Perfumed Court got more of my money, and vials and vials of perfume came my way.
It is due to the many vials I ordered and all the research I did that led me to my next scents. I say scents, because I discovered that I loved the smell of two specific scents layered more than I liked either of them on their own. And so my next purchases were Portrait of a Lady by Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle and Un Jardin après la Mousson by Hermès. The nice citrus of Un Jardin was the perfect counterpoint to the deep, headiness of the roses of Portrait of a Lady. And going by all the people who ask me what I’m wearing when I have that combination on, it seems people agree with me. (I probably should not have put this secret in writing. Oh well. I fail as a sophisticated Frenchwoman.)
If you try this and get compliments, remember to thank me! Portrait of a Lady and Un Jardin après la Mousson.
But I guess doing the research opened the floodgates. Or maybe a rake never really reforms. (What is the female equivalent of a rake?) Because I got a sample of La Petite Robe Noire by Guerlain (I couldn’t resist the name!), and I knew I needed to have it. And before I even purchased that, I bought Manifesto by Yves Saint Laurent in duty free because I smelled it on a sophisticated woman at the hotel I was staying at in Spain and she told me what it was.
If that’s not enough, I had read online about Orange Sanguine by Atelier Cologne right before my trip to France, and I just happened to walk by the Atelier Cologne store in Paris, en route to somewhere else completely, and I had to stop to smell it. Unimpressed with the smell in the bottle, I sprayed the crook of my elbow, and happily continued on my way with my friends. By the time I got to the end of the block and actually smelled it on myself, the scent of the ripest, most juicy oranges I had ever smelled was coming off my arm. I literally stopped in my tracks, made my friends smell it, and went back and bought it.
The new school: La Petite Robe Noire, Manifesto, and Orange Sanguine
And, as I’ve mentioned, my newest obsession is Folle de Joie, and it will be mine. (I have Birchbox credits and coupons. Oh yes, it will be mine.) I am using my samples very wisely, but have been wearing it basically every day this fall. And of course, there’s the sample of Vaara that I got at Aedes de Venustas that I’m obsessed with, since it just smells like autumn to me.
So that’s me. My name is Shani, and I’m a perfume addict.
But my absolute favorite part of scent—and maybe that’s why we DO shell out the big bucks for perfume—is how closely tied to memory it is, probably more so than any other of our other senses. How one whiff of a specific scent can bring moments, periods, entire years back to you.
How smelling Chanel N°5 or Diorissimo reminds me of my childhood, because that’s what my mother wore while I was growing up. How, while cleaning out my grandmother’s apartment after she died, I opened a dresser drawer and the smell of her perfume was still in it, and it was like she was back with me. How I will always think of the Scottish Highlands when I smell Pear Cassis. How I will always think of dancing with a very attractive Frenchman at the Bal des Sapeurs-Pompiers this July in Paris. How I hope my friends still think of me when they smell Petite Chérie.
And though I may have varied memories connected to the varied scents I’ve worn over the years, to me, they are priceless.
Do you have a signature scent, or do you play the perfume field? What are your favorite memories related to fragrance?