A Memoir in Scent

these are ancient Roman perfume vials - beautiful, aren't they?

I just got a new perfume today, and I think I like it. This is actually a big deal for me, as I am very choosy about fragrance. I'm also a bit superstitious about perfumes - I seem to always find a new fragrance love just as a new chapter opens in my life; my magical thinking tells me it is the perfume setting the tone for the next life adventure, and not, more logically, the other way around... so yes, finding a new fragrance is a big deal! I wish I could be the kind of girl who has a life-long signature scent - I love that idea - but my life has been much to dramatic and varied for that to work.

During my pre-teen years my Grandmother started buying me Coty Muguet du Bois dusting powder. Lily of the Valley - my birth flower - girlish and pristine - but even then it just didn't suit. Even then I was an earthier girl than that. The fragrance now is nostalgic, yes, but holds the tinge of pre-teen confusion and distress.

The first grown up fragrance I chose for myself was Yves Saint Laurent's Rive Gauche. I was 15, and I chose that so chic blue and silver aluminum canister at Selfridges in Manchester; I remember I bought a sketchbook and some good drawing pencils the same day. ("I am a woman now; I am sophisticated; I am an artist - and I smell good."). That summer in England I also discovered high heels, punk rock, rum and coke, and the deliciousness of flirting. The unique, watery, metallic smell of that perfume still evokes a cool misty English suburban morning and the excitement of awakening sensuality.

At nineteen I married for the first time. I wouldn't call it a mistake, but it was definitely a detour. I carried gardenias and wore Chanel #5. We honeymooned in Cape Cod in September. For years I couldn't smell either gardenias or Chanel without again experiencing the alarming incongruity of anxious claustrophobia on a deserted, windswept beach. Five years later I emerged from the stuffy gardenia scented cocoon of this marriage into a new bright space. At the duty free shop in Brindisi, before boarding the ferry to Corfu, I bought an unusual bottle of fragrance with a gorgeous malachite patterned lid - Coriandre. This bright, odd, spicy, androgynous, herby perfume is just about the opposite of super-feminine Chanel #5. Coriandre is Mediterranean mornings, art, romance, and self-determination. The next few years were full of adventure.

My 26th birthday found me in a wonderful little carriage house in L.A. with a lemon tree outside the window. As a birthday gift I received a bottle of a heady Hawaiian Jasmine scent called Pikaki which you could only get at a certain little shop on Melrose Avenue; it came in a hand lettered bottle. I loved that exotic floral with a little hint of the Botanica. It was funky voudu sexy and suited me exactly.

Years went by. I forgot to worry about what I smelled like. Probably I smelled like coffee and baby powder for quite a while. I remember when my daughter was about six, finding a bottle of Pikaki in the back of the bathroom drawer; the label was almost worn off and there were just a few drops in the bottom. It smelled sweet and stale and not very nice. It made me sad. Just a week or so later, my grandmother visited and brought me something much more grown up than Coty, or Pikaki - a scent that is still one of my all time most beloved, Fendi Theorema. Amber, nutmeg, white pepper, tangerine deliciousness. This is a fragrance for a grown woman; a woman of warmth, complexity, and sensual depth. This was my fragrance until it just became impossible to procure. This is the smell of friendship and community, comfort, achievement, love, and dance. It was with me through the years when I discovered the breadth of mature womanhood, the richness and sensual depth of the life of a young mother. It mixes in my memory with the smell of dust on the rehearsal stage, woodsmoke on long beach evenings, the smell of my daughter's hair.

Things shifted, of course, and not too long ago I found myself in a fancy cosmetics store in Santa Monica, staring down a row of Hermes fragrances. Now these are sophisticated scents. Jardin en Mediterranee is what I ended up with; it's so chic and complex. To tell you citrus and cedar and sunshine just doesn't convey the mystery of this fragrance. This scent now evokes such a clear picture; me on the roof of a parking structure in Santa Barbara, on the phone with my sweetie back home in BC, over the moon about having just signed our first really prestigious showroom. Hermes is the smell of my early forays into artful entrepreneurship.

That was a few years ago now. I found a new fragrance today - it's warm, and gentle. It's rich. It has a little zing up front but it settles easily into a delicious softness. It's beautiful. I'm not telling what it is. Yet. We have to see where this goes.

I highly recommend this as a fun journaling exercise - your memoir through fragrance. I gained a bit of insight into my life patterns writing this post! If you write one too, please leave the link in the comments, I'd love to read it.


3pieceonline said...

This was a beautiful post. I will try to chronicle my life through scent since of course I create scents now this should be interesting.


Cheri said...

I enjoyed following this thread of scent through your life. Our histories have many layers. Following a single thread can bring a simple clarity to the whole tapestry. I was reminded that scent brings impact to our memories. Scent can instantly transport one through the thickest veils of time. This entry was evocative reading.


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