Perfume. Had my brain been able to understand chemistry in high-school, perhaps I would have become a famous chemist – specifically, an olfactory chemist.
The very first perfume I was exposed to was my mother’s. I don’t know what it was called, but burying my face in her sweaters as a child saved me from vomiting when my father would fill the gas tank – I’ve always been sensitive to scent, and, in those days, either the gas tanks weren’t airtight enough, or the reek of gas was so strong that it permeated the metal tanks that contained it. At the time, though, it wasn’t so much the actual scent that I noticed as it was the ability of it to mask the sickly odour of the gasoline.
The first perfume that I was consciously aware of was ‘Y’ by Yves Saint Laurent. I was no more than ten years old. Someone’s grandmother gave a small bottle of it to my sister, who never wore it, but wouldn’t let me touch it. I was intrigued by it: The simplicity of the bottle, the unusual complexity of the fragrance. I would sneak into my sister’s room when she was out and carefully twist the cap off* and inhale deeply, trying to pick out anything it that I could relate to. I couldn’t; it was completely alien to me. (*Because dabbing the bottle at your wrist has since been proven to contaminate the liquid and therefore change it’s scent, the majority of bottles today are atomizers; but back in those days, it was de rigeur to have the twist off caps. It conjures a romantic image of a woman delicately dabbing her wrists and decolletage… but it also conjures the nightmare of the bottle slipping out of your hand and wasting its expensive contents into the cracks in the floorboards or the fibers of the carpeting.) Still, even at that young age, it evoked a feeling of crisply pressed white shirts, cleanliness, strength – a self-assured woman. How I wish I had been given that bottle so that I could have worn its fragrance during times when I was weak and feeling hopeless. Perhaps it would have given me the gumption to tell my chemistry teacher that I didn’t learn the way others learned, that I had no idea what I was doing, that I needed help. Maybe she would have taken the time, maybe it would have shown her that she could teach in other ways, maybe I would have understood. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
Then there was Love’s Baby Soft. Baby powder in a bottle. It was all the rage in the ’80s. My mum finally caved in to letting me wear perfume and gave me the money for it. My mum had strict rules for girls – no make-up, no black clothing until you turned 16… she thought they made girls look too grown-up, and I suppose she wanted to keep us young for a bit longer, innocent for a little longer. Despite having the word ‘Baby’ in it’s name, I felt so grown-up wearing it.
When I came of age and earned my own money, the first perfume I purchased was Paris, also by Yves. The next was Lou Lou by Cacharel. I regret ditching that bottle – it was so cool (see below). But it reminded me too much of a boy who did me wrong. Fragrance is intimately connected to memories for me, some are comforting, others not. I didn’t have the emotional or intellectual maturity then to realize that hurt eventually fades and you can enjoy things again without resuscitating the negativity.
One prime example of that is Cacharel’s ‘Eden’. In my early 20s, I went on exchange to Germany. It was simultaneously a dream and a nightmare – perhaps more about that in a later post. While there, I saved my cash and splurged on a bottle of this at Parfumerie Douglas. After two years, I reluctantly came home to finish my Bachelor’s – depression hit a whole new level. Feeling extremely nostalgic, I hunted high and low for a bottle of it in Montreal – to no avail. Years later, while visiting family in Scotland, I came across a bottle of it. One whif and I knew I wasn’t ready for it yet. But a few years after that, when I was feeling more optimistic about life, I decided to hunt again. And I found it at an outrageously over-priced duty-free shop downtown – don’t think it’s there anymore. Very ‘Schicky-Micky’ place, as the Germans would say. They didn’t have an open bottle to test my emotional readiness, but it was the price that disturbed me most: $200! WTF?!?!?! There was no way I could justify paying that kind of money for a perfume.
But then I played a little trick with myself. Anyone who knows anything about Montreal, knows that it’s in a province with high politico-linguistic tensions. So when the 2002 elections rolled around, I told myself: if the Liberals get in, then I’ll get it – more to celebrate the loss of the separatist government than to celebrate the win of the Liberals, if truth be told. But I digress…. And lo and behold, they won! The very next day, I marched over to the over-priced shop and slapped that visa card down- CHA-CHING! When I got home, I hesitantly undressed the cellophane wrapper, not knowing what kind of reaction I would have. To my surprise, it made me realize that I had gotten past the sickly nostalgia, the longing to be somewhere I wasn’t. I had managed to see my experience for what it was – good, but not all good. And I was able to appreciate where I was, be happy where I was. I realized that I had completely romanticized my experience there. And so it was all my associations with scents – even the scent of Ikea pressed wood furniture brings me back to Germany, but in a good way now.
Fast forward a few years to when I discovered online fragrance shopping. I did my research and found two sites that were reputable and reliable – and I still buy from them from time to time. The savings are sometimes incredible – even with the shipping. It was then that I became a perfume whore. I went crazy. I even bought fragrances blindly -sometimes pleasantly surprised, sometimes aghast. I’ve been good the last 3-4 years, though, and have decided to be much more discerning. I’ve given away quite a few fragrances. And have decided that liking a scent just isn’t good enough. It has to change my mood, I have to LOVE it. If I ever get to the point where I feel, ‘meh’, about a scent, I find it a new home with someone who will love it… or be happy just to like it.
The fragrance house I’m most fond of is L’Artisan Parfumeur. Even though I wouldn’t buy a lot of their fragrances, I do have to admit that they are well crafted. And I use the word ‘crafted’ because creating something beautiful is a craft. The shit they sell these days is mostly ‘made.’ The unfortunate thing about perfumes is that they are often discontinued after a few years. Or, they have special editions that you happen to miss – mostly because you just didn’t have the money to fork out when you first swooned over it. One such fragrance was L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Mon Numero 8. Now, it is only sold in Asia because their marketers seem to think that only Asians will buy it. The only rationale I can think of is that perhaps Asians are more into subtle, intimate perfumes, whereas North Americans (and possibly this trend is seeping into Europe?) seem to be into bitch-slap scents. One perfume blogger (I can’t remember who it was) described Mon Numero 8 as ‘porny ballerina.’ Perfect description. Essentially, it’s like smelling the face of a well made-up, elegant woman – remember when make-up smelled good? It’s like that. And a ‘porny ballerina.’
Now, finally, to the real reason I’m blathering on about perfumes: with all the new bans on ingredients due to skin sensitivities and the like, a lot of formulations are going to change. And soon. As much as perfumers will be successful in making old favourites almost identical… they’ll just be that: ALMOST identical. Perhaps I’m just being an insensitive (pun intended) bitch, but if people are that sensitive to perfumes, maybe they shouldn’t spray them on their skin, or simply avoid them altogether. As it is, the new fragrances they’re rolling out these days are mostly deplorable – pandering to millennial tastes that scream ‘cheap lay’… and I mean that for both the boys and the girls. Eighty-sixing the traditional molecules that make a truly great perfume great, will most likely alter the over-all character, the dry-down or the longevity of the perfume. Even the old stinky ones don’t bother me as much as some of the new ones – there’s something smooth and full about their stinkiness. These new ones? They smell like a $5 trick* desperately trying to mask the sweaty stank of her last 5 clients. (*It should be noted here that although I’ve never smelled a prostitute, I just imagine these poor men and women using whatever $10 rank scent they have access to and dousing themselves with the stuff to: a) get the clients off of them asap, b) perhaps associate their horrible circumstances with an equally horrible scent – an olfactory means, if you will, to separate the scent of their normal, human lives, with the often inhumane lives they lead to earn money. I strongly support legalized prostitution – we don’t know their circumstances and instead of wasting energy on judging them, perhaps we should use it to make things safer for them… environmental health and safety should be applied to all occupations. But, again, I digress….)
There is a problem with people dousing themselves with scent and I can totally understand why it upsets others. However, dousing yourself with an old stinky perfume is nowhere nearly as intolerable as dousing yourself with a new stinky perfume. Perhaps, along with an allergy alert (like the ones for nuts) fragrance houses should put a ‘use in moderation’ note in their advertisements and packaging (like the ones for booze.) Just sayin’.
This turned out to be a really long post. The whole point of this was: “Heads up, folks! If you have a favourite perfume, stock up now ’cause chances are it won’t smell the same in 2015!” But I’m kind of known for going off on tangents….