Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Scents and Scents' Abilities

The Quest for the E-Scent-ual Me
 Once more I’m cruising the counters, eyeing the various bottles, avoiding the questioning looks of the clerks until I find the object of my desire.

There! I spot the ad behind the counter and then the shapely vessel coyly hiding among other bottles on a silver tray.

Alas! There is another customer standing between me and my potential love.  I pace nervously at what I consider a polite distance, but apparently not I’m not polite enough.  The clerk scowls at me and jerks her head at one of her sister clerks.

“Can I help you?” the other clerk asks.

“No, thank you,” I nearly snap. 

The initial meeting must be private, an intimate introduction and perhaps conversation between just the two of us.  I stop my pacing and pretend to study the display shelf behind me, picking up bottles, looking at boxes while taking surreptitious glances at what might be my perfect match.

Oh, the places we’ll go, the sensation we’ll make.  She’ll announce my presence when I enter a room and linger a moment after me when I leave.  She’ll cause curious, secretive smiles from men and women, cause people to raise their heads from their books or laptops, lifting their noses into the air, unsure of exactly why. 

At last!  I think with relief as the customer sashays away swinging her pretty bag with rope handles.

I rush forward, seize my potential beloved, weighing the coolness of glass in my hand.  I sniff the atomizer.

Yes, yes, you are pleasing even freed from the fold-over in a magazine, I think.

I spritz a little on my wrist, sniffing it immediately, catching the faint hint of alcohol.  I wave my hand in the air a moment to dry, then sniff again.

Yes, jasmine and a hint of gardenia … maybe tuberose …

“Can I help you?” the clerk asks again.

“Not yet,” I say turning my back to her, closing my eyes and sniffing my wrist again. 

There’s no change. I spray more on my forearm.

“I just want to walk around a bit,” I inform the clerk matter-of-factly.

“Of course,” she says with a roll of her eyes and leaves me alone.

Is this it, I wonder.  Can you be The One?

It’s not just perfume.  Other scents also conjure up emotions or meaning for me .  The smell of diesel makes me smile, reminding me of the train that travels around the perimeter of Disneyland.  Leather reminds me of horses, as does the smell of cut grass. Tuberose reminds me of my wedding day, when I wove the blossoms into the wreath I wore.  Sweet olive reminds me of Louisiana and a friend who said the smell reminded him of urinal cakes (yeah, well, how would I know?).  Rubbing alcohol makes me wince, conjuring the doctor’s office and injections.  Stinky cheese makes me drool.  And each of my dogs have their own smell (and not in a bad way).

But, perfume ties in a specific identity for me.  My mother used to wear Chanel 5 or Halston for her daily scents, Shalimar for her evening fragrance. Even though she dabbles with other scents now and then, whenever I smell Chanel 5 or Shalimar, her image immediately comes to mind.  My sister only wore Poison briefly, but it still reminds me of her.  L’air du Temps reminds me of my 5th grade math teacher.  Giorgio reminds me of a dear family friend.  Pavlova reminds me of my first college roommate.

I started regularly wearing fragrances before I started wearing make-up, around sixth grade.  The first one I remember enjoying was Chantilly, powdery, casual, young.  It came in a pink box with a lace pattern on it.  It was a gift from one of my mother’s friends, who also gave me Jean Naté, Charlie, and Youth Dew.  But, it was the Giorgio family friend who gave me the fragrance with which I fell in love, Anne Klein.  It became my signature fragrance, at least in my mind. 

I wore it every day for ten years.  It was also powdery but heavy with the fragrance of “white flowers” – lily of the valley, jasmine, gardenia, and tuberose.  I loved the top notes, but even better how it wore during the day.  When I showered at night, there was a last fragrant sigh. The scent was discontinued about eight years after I started wearing it, at which point I started hoarding bottles, but I didn’t give up the daily wear. 

A guy I moved in with also loved the fragrance.  He also proved to be the tragic demise of Anne Klein.  When we broke-up, he took some of his belongings right away.  I was planning to move out as well, but I had to finish teaching the semester which ended in the next week.  We agreed that he could continue to remove his things while I was at work.  When I came home one evening, I noticed a scent in the air.  It wasn’t Anne Klein.

“You brought your girlfriend to my place?” I said with disbelief into the phone.

“No,” he said.

“I can smell her,” I said.


“You’re a stinking liar,” I said, slamming the receiver into the cradle.

How could I, with my signature fragrance not notice another perfume?  I stormed into the bedroom.  While the bed was mine, the mattress was his.  I sprayed the remainder of Anne Klein on to the mattress, pulling it off the bed and turning it over to make sure it was saturated.  He’d always remember the scent with me.  I’d find another fragrance to call my own.

It was more difficult than I thought.  I went back to White Shoulders but it wasn’t My Fragrance.  For my wedding, I raided perfume counters looking for something fresh and exciting.  I found Champs d’Elysée, a perfume made by Guerlain, maker of Shalimar.  I thought it appropriate that I follow in my mother’s footsteps, but not exactly.  I wore it for a while, but lost interest.  I still wear it occasionally and when I do, my husband smiles and says, “Smells like Ireland,” where we took our honeymoon.  But, he doesn’t say it smells like me.

I love freesias and looked for perfumes that featured freesias.  Somehow, the scent didn’t transfer well into fragrance.  L’eau d’Issey incorporated ozone, the “new” fragrance, and while it was pretty, it lacked depth and personalization, something I learned about when one of my college roommates and I both briefly wore Chanel 5 and discovered it smelled completely different on each of us.  I thought Tocca’s Stella was The One, even tried to convince myself it was, but it too, dimmed.

Alas!  We are one no more!
About a year ago it occurred to me, even though it’s almost 20 years later, maybe Anne Klein was still The One?  I went on E-bay and found her!  I paid much more than her original $16 price.  If she was as I remembered her, it might be possible duplicate her.  If not, at least I could wear her during “special occasions.”  When she arrived, I ripped open the box and sprayed her all over me.  I regretted it.  Either due to her age or mine, we didn’t click like we used to.  We’d moved on.

So, back to the perfume counters I go.

I wander around the store, sniffing my arm periodically, looking for deepening scents.  It’s nice.  I return to the counter and ask the clerk for a sample.  She sighs and obligingly squirts some into a small container and hands it to me.  I take it home, carefully remove it from my purse and put it on my dressing table among the other sample containers.  I sniff my arm again.

 Will you be The One this time? I wonder, already feeling let down.   

There’s a company in Los Angeles that makes custom fragrances with a professional “nose.”  $2,000 for the “recipe” seems reasonable if it restores a piece of one’s identity, but how will they know what's me?

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The Cranky Cow by Kou K. Nelson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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