Scent and sensibilities

I can’t remember not loving perfume. My European grandmother encouraged me. When I was a little girl she would let me play with the bottles on her ornate vanity. She loved heady scents like Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew, a spicy fragrance with deep amber and vanilla notes. I still share her taste for a spicy, oriental perfume.
 
My first “signature scent” was Heaven’s Scent (or Sent) by Helena Rubenstein, launched in 1941. One afternoon in a famous advertising stunt, little bottles attached to balloons drifted down to commuters. It was a complex blend with top notes of bergamot, lemon, orange, and neroli settling on a floral “heart” of rose, carnation, ylang-ylang, and lily of the valley. The base notes were the oriental essences I learned to love with my grandmother. I wore it in junior high school for two years. I fell in love with its combination of lemon and lily of valley whispering over dusky sandal wood and oak moss.
 
Fans still buy the original scent online on such sites as eBay, preferring it to the newer versions made by Dana and A vintage spray bottle of Heaven Scent Mem.
.
My next serious signature scent was Estee Lauder’s Cinnabar, a sophisticated blend of Aldehydes, citrusy bergamots, spices, Orris, Jasmine, Vanilla, Amber, and Patchouli. I still wear it today, along with Shalimar by Guerlain. Shalimar is a classic French fragrance. It is a deeply sensual blend of bergamot, iris, vanilla and amber.
 
Over the years I have added Chanel N 5, Bal a Versailles, Vicky Tiel’s Sirene and Chanel’s Allure Sensuelle to my must-have scent wardrobe. All these scents could be characterized as my beloved floral-Orientals but in different depths and styles. I wear them according my mood. My fragrance reflects my deepest sensibilities.
 
Over the years I flirted with other types of fragrances. I tried too many to mention. Occasionally, I have fallen for a trendy scent, but it usually didn’t work out. I gave away most of a pricy bottle of Dior’s Poison. I kept the original launch bottle of Hypnotic Poison I was given because the bottle was stunning. But I never could wear the heavy fruity essence.
 
During the steamy summer of Vogue Russia’s launch I found myself layering Guerlain’s Jicky and Shalimar. Jicky launched in 1889 is a sexy citrusy fragrance with a kick of civet. I realize now I was recreating an exotic version of Heaven Scent. Perhaps, I was reaching for a burst of youthful energy to get through that frantic summer.
 
I wear scent for myself. At home alone I will wash my face and spritz on scent, even if I am just cleaning the house. Recently, I read Alyssa Harad’s beautiful memoir, Coming to my Senses: A Story of perfume, Pleasure, and An Unlikely Bride. She writes about how she came to love and wear fragrance at the age of 36.
Vintage Femme by Rochas in the black lace box
I love how she reveals the world of perfume and perfume lovers at a time when scent seems to be under siege.
 
When Alyssa, a self-described Birkenstock-wearing academic and feminist, finds herself fascinated by perfume, she is embarrassed. Initially, she hides her interest from her friends. She knows many of her academic and bohemian circle in Austin, Texas do not approve. As she gradually reveals her fascination with fragrance she is constantly forced to defend her love of perfume. Occasionally, she is surprised as a friend or colleague reveals a secret signature scent.
 
As she delves in the world of perfume Alyssa meets perfume bloggers. She is amazed. The bloggers are elegant, educated, artistic, and accomplished women.
 
Perfume for Alyssa is deeply sensual and evocative. Certain fragrances move her so deeply that she becomes overwhelmed. Others leave her cold. She is not alone; fragrance is powerful. Alyssa describes trying to find her mother’s favourite fragrance, Femme by Rochas. The fragrance help to define her mother’s youth.
 
Alyssa hunts down “decants,” or samples, of vintage Femme. She mails them to her mother and asks her to choose the “right one.” She does, and is carried happily back in time for a brief moment. Such is the power of fragrance.
 
My mother paid scant attention to such things her whole life. But once she sent me for a bottle of FA, the German shower gel. She later explained the only compliment she had ever received on her fragrance was after using the distinctively scented FA.  So she just had to have the FA!
 
Often, when I wear a classic perfume, strangers stop to tell me that it reminds them of a first love or some sentimental event. They have even thanked me for wearing it.
 
Coming to My Senses is a wonderful story about a woman letting go of her inhibitions and prejudices to discover and create something new and personal. It is a wonderful book.

Share