Clouds of Perfume to chart your life

I want to tell you about my one and lasting love.  This affair has lasted for forty years and grown as I have grown, and evolved with me, to become the most memorable and visceral thing in my life (except, of course, for my own daughter).   To tell you of this love is a long winding road, but I will insert links as needed.

The first perfume I was given was “Pretty Peach” by Avon, but that said, years ago a woman walked past me and I was transported back to a time beyond memory.  As odd as it sounds, I saw and smelt and felt nappies (diapers, for my North American cousins).  This woman smelt divine, though, and I chased after her in the way that only a woman can do to a woman and asked her if she wouldn’t mind  very much telling me what perfume she had on.   “Chanel no.5”, she said, and then I realised.. nappies, changing room nurseries, of course!  My mother always wore that one scent.  In fact she never deviated until she smelt one on me that she loved and it was Estee Lauder’s “Pleasures”.

It’s remarkable that the olfactory sense seems to be the first one we become aware of.

To chart the progress through my teens would be too onerous for you, but some of you might recognise the stepping stones I walked across to reach the Perfect Scent.

There was “Anais Anais”, by Cacharel, a sweet confection of powder and roses, very like a difficult to get Chanel perfume as worn by the Queen Mother, and I regret that I can’t recall the name, having smelled it only once a long while ago.  The first time I smelt it was on a very outré Belgian, the girlfriend of, ostensibly, my first holiday romance way back when, in Torremolinos in Spain. Lancome’s “Magie Noir” was utterly covetable but gave me a painful headache, so I gave it away.  “Miss Dior” is something I equate with my school friend’s French mother, who was always ‘going out’ somewhere, wafting about in this scent which seems to get into the very fibres of your clothes.  It’s almost acrid after taste is not something one forgets, and it scents the wardrobe wonderfully of decadence, although, having smelt the newer version recently, I find it lacks that primordial appeal.

After these early teenage perfume trials, it seemed for me to be more about what the perfume promised, rather than the scent.  And this is certainly something the marketeers got their hands on soon after.  “New West” by Aramis was one of those.  In later years when I read the now available top, middle and base notes, I see that it is made up of ozone (can that be bottled?) and watermelon, but for me, it meant escape with a big ‘E’.

On then to a powdery something by Lancaster simply called “Lancaster”, and it’s aldehydic kick is reminiscent of the days before Jo Malone.  Once again, for me it brought to mind suntan lotion and therefore foreign beaches, so when I was at university, this was the dream idol of choice.

There are some scents I really dislike, not for themselves, but for the memories they provide, like Gloria Vanderbilt and the original Armani perfumes which smelt and felt like shoulder pads and the need to fit in and of course, to achieve, big style.  My ‘friends’ wore such perfumes and I know I grew to loathe them as much as I unwrapped a deeper sentiment for Chanel no.5.  Scent memories grow deep roots, I find.

Having said that it is more than appropriate for a woman to chase a woman down only to ask her what perfume she is wearing, it was with (almost) pleasure that during my first week living in Paris, France that a gentleman ran after me to ask the same question.  I had exited the Métro wearing “Calyx” by Prescriptives.  I was frugal with the putting on of it, because it was expensive, I thought.  Nonetheless, it certainly had an effect.  Before I went to live in Paris, I had visited there, and stayed with an, at the time, new friend.  Unbenownst to me, he had stolen my tee shirt which was soused in said perfume, and this, he said, had been the first step in his falling in love with me.  Before you get misty eyed, although we did have a long romance, it didn’t last, and it was no fault of my perfume.  At that time, I espoused “Rive Gauche” by YSL, although aldehydic, this is a fully formed perfume that is instantly recognisable and I think I wore only this for four years or so.  I still love it now, although when I spray it on, I feel my twenty-something self reaching for me, and that’s hard, don’t you find?

On we go to merrier times, then, and this must be the perfumes I wore as cabin crew for British Airways.  I felt like I’d won the lottery in so many ways, not in the least that we could buy duty free perfumes.

During flight training, a friend of mine had worked for Harvey Nicks, and gave me the hugest bottle (without lid, it was a tester) of the original Bulgari.  I’m still wearing it, fifteen years on.  However, as an aside, I put it on only when I’m going out with the girls, or have an evening totally alone.  This scent, unlike those that followed, is deep and powdery, with both rose and jasmine as top notes.  I put this on my skin and spray it on my clothes and quite suddenly, I am transformed.  The ability of perfume to transform our senses is surely its greatest gift.  Bulgari for me is one of those that smells so much like my skin (or how I would like my skin to smell) that I no longer notice when I’m wearing it.  I think, too, that this is a gift of truly great perfume.  The availability of new perfumes on board meant for me that I could start to indulge in some new scents.

I discovered Givenchy’s “Organza” on a colleague, who seemd to embody sun cream and sunshine.  This delicious scent is still one I cherish, I wear it in the summer, and I feel like I’ve been dipped in gold when I do.  It’s deeply floral, with gardenia as the most notable scent.  I also still love the “Aqua Allegorica, Herba Fresca” of Guerlain, there’s something about its grassiness which pleases me enormously.

Guerlain is perfumes Royal Family, and Madame Guerlain was a client of ours when I worked as a legal secretary in Paris.  She was a tiny lady, and always wore fur, and the scent of Shalimar went with her everywhere.  Nowadays, there is the new, lighter Shalimar, and though I never thought I’d like it, I love it.  It’s powdery and deep, the kind of perfume you feel you want to drink, oddly enough. My only complaint is that it doesn’t evolve throughout the day, but that is reason enough to indulge in the original and stronger version.

The early nineties were still a time of the headier perfume, and Parisian ladies everywhere, it seemed to me, drenched their Carré d’Hermès in Shalimar.

This is the right time, I think , to tell you of the male scents most memorable to me.  No names here, but a short term acquaintance of mine wore “Eternity” by Calvin Klein.  This, for me, and maybe only for me, is the ultimate male scent.  It’s both fresh and clean but imbued with dark undernotes that last and last.  One whiff of this, and I am cast backward in time to a beach hut, on a beach, and well, you can guess how the memories unfold.  I’ve recently bought my husband his signature scent, “Green Irish  Tweed” by Creed.  It’s hugely expensive to my mind, but it fits my man so very well.  It’s not fabricated leathery, nor fusty and powdered, but encompasses for me, what  a man should smell like when he is completely himself, either in shorts or three piece suit.  I can’t get enough of that scent.  Have a look yourselves, and tell me what you think.

Aboard the Queen Mary 2, I discovered “Virgin Island Water”, also by Creed.  If this perfume were a cocktail, it would be a Tequila, on the beach, and at sundown.  The lingering smell of lime and coconut is almost indefineable, and, given the price of a bottle, I spray it only on my scarves and on my favourite dresses (the woollen or silk kind which don’t demand too much washing) so that when I put a garment on, I am transported.  If I could bathe in this scent, I would.   Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Virgin Island Water is overpowering or fruity, it’s neither of those things.  It is truly a scent of dreams, a paradisical whimsy which embodies hope, thoughts of better times, and memories of all that could have been.  It is my number one favourite perfume of a list which I have strived and struggled over.  Mr Oliver Creed, I salute you.

If I can’t have It, I choose Jean Paul Gaultier “Classique”.  There’s something about it that lasts.  I sprayed the last of my first bottle on the drawers in my bedroom which held all my fancy stuff.  I know that it is rose and vanilla, which is not so unusual, but to me, this is evocative of sun lotion and baby powder.  It’s one of those very rare perfumes (think “Roma” Laura Biagotti) which really evolves throughout the day.  And who doesn’t want that?  So you have a scent that you put on in the dark at 6am, and is still there in its essential form, as you disrobe in the evening.  I keep coming back to this, I can’t help myself.  When I save up my Boots points and wonder indulgently what to spend them on, my eye is drawn like a magnet to JPG and I succumb every time in complete confidence that this is the scent for me, from the morning, evolving through to the evening, where people still sniff as they air kiss me, and a smile says, “you smell nice”.

The only other perfume which caused a man to run down the road after me (once again, in Paris) was “Romance” of Calvin Klein.  Now why should this be?  What was it that reminded him olfactorily of something wonderful?  I don’t  know, but this was the second occasion of a total of two, where a man chased me down the road (notwithstanding being mugged in Amsterdam, of course).

Knowing as I knew how deep the olfactory memory went, I chose the superlative “Allure” by Chanel for my signature scent when my baby was born.  I won’t look at what the websites say it is composed of in derteminate fashion,  since, for me, it is powder and vanilla and ever changing staying power.  That is to say that this scent evolves as you do, throughout the day.  It isn’t strong, but has the power to remain on your skin and clothes like a veil, and how I love it for that.  And I wanted something my daughter could  reach out and remember, as I had, the Chanel No. 5.  I know it’s whimsical of me, but having witnessed the power of the ability of the nose to remember, I wanted to give this scented memory/gift to my own child.

It is enough, for today, but more will follow dear friends, as I leave you this evening , and spritz on a something or other to give me good dreams.  And so to you, dream well.

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