Journeys of discovery in scent


After my post last week about negative scent memories I felt I should balance things out by reflecting on some of my happy memories of perfume. Because they’re definitely not all negative. It just took a long time for me to decide that fragrance was something I wanted to play with for myself. Looking back, I think most of my positive memories seem related to a story I wanted to tell through scent. A journey to some person I wanted to be.

I am 10 years old. In the guest room closet my mother keeps her out of season clothes and some special items, including a glorious, silvery fur coat. The whole closet smells like my Mom. I have no idea what the scent is, whether it’s a perfume or just “Mom.” I like to visit the coat every once in a while. I stroke it like a cat. I bury my face in its silky softness. My father gave the coat to Mom a few years ago for their tenth wedding anniversary. She always wanted to own one, but now it hangs lonely in the closet. She doesn’t wear it because, in the town we live in, people would look down on her for doing so. I understand. I feel sorry for the foxes, but also sorry for Mom. I imagine that she visits the coat sometimes, just like I do, and imagines herself as Katherine Hepburn or Greta Garbo.

I am a teenager (actual age…not sure), but I am about to buy my very first fragrance. For weeks…no…MONTHS I have been fantasizing and agonizing over this purchase, ever since I sniffed the CK One sample strip in Seventeen magazine. I smell it over and over and imagine myself as the 90s sylph this perfume was meant for. Someone a lot cooler than I am, for sure. Confident and self assured. At ease in her trim jeans and grungy flannel. I save my babysitting money and I plan the purchase carefully. I’ve scouted the local Marshall Fields perfume department. I know exactly where I can find the CK One display (I’ve visited it many, many times). I can almost feel the cool bottle in my hands. I worry, how will I know how much to apply? What if I use too much? Do I want people to know I wear this? Should I hide it so my sister does’t find it? I am a shivering clump of nerves and delight.

I just tossed that bottle of CK One last year. Yes, the same bottle. In the intervening 20+ years I had used…maybe half of it. I think it wasn’t the right fragrance for me. I always felt so self conscious when I wore it. Yet somehow I couldn’t let go over the story I told myself about who I was when I wore it.

I am 22 at my first real job after college. I haven’t purchased a new fragrance since CK One, but now I am consumed by a fever to try something new. I feel so young and awkward at my new job and want something that will make me seem older and more grounded. It’s an illusion, but it’s a start. I often walk to a local Shopko during my lunch breaks and there I’ve spotted a buzzy new perfume called Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker. I have no real idea what it smells like, but I’ve seen a few episodes of Sex and the City while on the elliptical at the gym. SJP seems like someone who has taste I can rely on.

I just tossed that bottle as well, at the same time I tossed the CK One. I wore it all the time for about a year. Then I changed jobs and in my new office I had to abstain from perfume because I had a colleague who was very sensitive to fragrances. I almost never wore it after that. But occasionally I would snatch up the bottle and spritz it into my closet or my underwear drawer.

I am in mid 20s. A new fragrance has caught my attention. Curse those perfume sample strips! I think this one came to me sandwiched in the pages of Fitness Magazine: Chanel Chance. I end up buying the Eau Fraiche version…I honestly don’t think I knew it was different from the EDP I sniffed until I got it home. I was too embarrassed to take it back, so I kept it and discovered I liked it. I wore it at a big job interview and to help me build my confidence when I started the new job a few months later. I never made it very far into the bottle (office fragrance sensitivity again). But I enjoyed the occasional spritz. Until the bottle started leaking and I had to toss it. By then, I think the fragrance had started to go “off” a bit. I didn’t realize that the bathroom cabinet was a bad place to store perfume.

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