Perfect Scents

Scent is the strongest sense tied to memory. Catch a whiff of fresh-baked pie, or the shampoo a friend used in high school, and suddenly you’re transplanted back in time. You could see a picture taken at a specific moment, or hear a song that reminds you of a guy you used to date, but when you smell something—good or bad, it causes a visceral reaction unlike any other.

I have a sweatshirt that belonged to my grandfather, it smelled like him for years after he passed away. When I’d wear it, the scent would bring me back to the happy memories of planting snapdragons with him in his garden, or making gingerbread houses every December with my cousins in my grandma’s kitchen. I didn’t want to lose that connection to the past, and I feared that when the scent faded, the memories would fade as well. I can still remember those moments, but they aren’t as vivid, in some ways the lingering scent is like a crutch that eases you slowly out of grief. If by chance, we re-discover the unique fragrance of someone we loved, either from the perfume of a stranger, or from opening a box in the attic where the scent has been preserved, we experience that life all over again, it’s a bittersweet experience, and it’s why smell can be so meaningful.

I’ve had awful allergies all my life, it was a running joke that I couldn’t breathe through my nose for most of my childhood. I still feel like scent is the weakest of my senses, maybe that’s why I’ve always been so fond of perfume. When I was in Junior High I was all about body splash, specifically the Plumeria or Vanilla Bean scents from Bath & Body Works. To me, body splash is what teenage girls are supposed to smell like. The spray comes in plastic bottles, it’s icky sweet, and once the odor starts to fade what’s left is a not so pleasant chemical undertone—and that’s when you know it’s time to spray on some more!

If I smell Chanel Allure I am instantly seven years old, sitting on my mom’s bed watching her get ready as I wait for my favorite babysitter Tatiana to arrive with taped episodes of Kids Incorporated (she was the best). When I walk past someone wearing Navy perfume by Dana, I’m stuck in the nauseous heat of Miami in August, the smell mingles with the scent of dinner being served in the old age home where we’re visiting my grandmother. The smell still makes me sick — all I smell is nursing home food, it’s just part of the memory. There are hundreds of memories linked to scent in each of us, and when we choose a perfume it’s not just the pleasure of the smell, but it’s how each note makes a different impression on your brain based on experiences in your life.

Once I hit high school I started looking for a more mature scent, something in a pretty glass bottle. I went a little overboard when I discovered Poison by Christian Dior. It’s an incredibly strong scent and I layered it on, feeling mature, and mysterious, and dark. I still have a bottle of it, and sometimes I can’t help but spray some on just to feel the rush of memories it brings.

I think there are women who love perfume and women who hate it, I guess there are a lot of in-betweens too, but people usually have strong feelings about it in one way or another. On a job interview I was once asked by the woman I would be sharing an office with, if I would mind not wearing perfume, she was snapped at by her superior, but obviously she felt very strongly about it. I don’t think she could smell perfume on me, I usually don’t wear perfume to interviews, but I’m not sure what exactly constitutes perfume either. Do essential oils count? Some deodorants are really strong, even some hair products give off incredibly strong scents. Often when people hate perfume it’s due to an allergy, and I myself have had allergic reactions to perfume too. But humans have been dousing themselves with all sorts of aromas for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Perfume is such an intimate thing, there is a sensuality about it. The bottles, the way you mist it on, the gesture itself is romantic. There is a reason that a gift of perfume is meaningful. I’ve heard of lots of men who buy women perfume, but not too many who buy them moisturizer or eyeshadow. Scent in itself is sexy, pheromones, those chemicals in our sweat that another person may find alluring without even realizing, they’re scientific proof that humans are driven by their noses equally, if not more than, their eyes.

By college I was actively seeking out perfumes. I would go to Sephora, or Macy’s and spritz them on my wrists, my forearm, my neck, or any other accessible skin— because you have to try it on your own skin. The same perfume can smell different on every woman. Part of the beauty of perfume is that it mixes with your personal scent and they settle together, to work in harmony. I’ve tried on perfumes that I thought I would love based on the scent in the bottle, but on my skin they smelled awful. One of my favorite perfumes, La Dolce Vida by Dior, isn’t very pleasing sprayed from the bottle, but I love the way it smells on me at the end of the day.

Currently I alternate between two perfumes, Anna Sui’s Sui Dreams, and Lolita Lempicka’s signature scent. I also change things up with essential oils from C.O. Bigelow’s in Manhattan, and various other samples that I’ve collected along the way. I’ll never stop looking for new scents, you never know where you’re going to find them, but when you do, it can be like finding a whole new aspect of your personality.

What’s your signature scent? Do you hate perfume? Love it? How does it make you feel when you spray it on?


Filed under cosmetics, shopping

11 responses to “Perfect Scents

  1. I used to wear this (it was a christmas gift). I laughed at first but I ended up really liking it. In small doses I thought it was nice.

    Baryshnikov Cologne by Parlux, Baryshnikova was introduced in 1996 as an alluring men’s fragrance. This masculine scent possesses a blend of citrust, ginger, with subtle hints of pepper and cedar. Finishing off with this fragrance is musk, flowers, and wood. This spicy and enticing men’s fragrance is recommended for office wear.

    And for the dudes out there, Bruce Willis’ cologne has finally launched! Now you too can small of “grapefruit, pepper and vetiver”.

    Another great post Justine! I love the way you changed the color of the line in your drawings. And speaking of associations, your line weight and color choices for some reason make think of the Jetsons!

  2. Alison

    I love perfume! It is such a sad day to spray the last drop of a perfume. I have so many favorites….but moschino’s love love is a constant in my collection. Its a light citrus scent, sort of like dolce&gabanas light blue. I too love lolita lempika..I havde a few of her scents,they are all pretty similar just a hint different,which I like. This might make u sick, but in high school in addition to body splashes I used to wear navy. Ugh if I smell it now,it makes me want to faint, its just awful. Funny that it doesn’t remind me of high school…it just makes me dizzy. I also love mens cologne, I think I wear my boyfriends cologne more than he does! I buy calvin kleins mens CK be just for me though,its musky and delicious….I just love it….which reminds me…I need to do some scent shopping.
    Justine,I love the illustrations…you use such great colors……..

    • Navy makes me SO sick! I feel so nostalgic when a girl walks by wearing body splash—oh high school! I like mens cologne too, It always has much richer tones. Get yourself to the nearest Sephora pronto and do some scent shopping!!

  3. sara

    i hated perfume for a long time because my mom tends to overdo it. i think i’ve only bought two full sized bottles (not counting b&bw & a demeter) in my adult life: l by gwen stefani and dreaming by tommy hilfiger. i love l so much and i guess i’d consider that my “signature scent”, although i don’t wear it that often anymore.

    i also love anna sui’s perfumes but can never find them in any stores around here.

    i wish i had perfume bottles as pretty as the ones you drew!

    • Thanks Sara!
      When I was doing searches today I found that Anna Sui perfumes seem to be WAY harder to find than they used to, that sucks! There must be places to order online though, otherwise I’d be so sad!

  4. Megan

    I actually kind of hate perfume. I have a pretty sensitive nose so they tend to be way to strong for me. Just being around someone wearing a normal amount of perfume can give me a headache.

    On the other hand, because of my sensitive nose, I love all sorts of other scents – the smell of other people and places and things. It’s one of the things I love most about cooking, all those amazing food and spice smells and how they change.

    I just learned a good new smell word – petrichor: the smell of rain falling on dry ground.

  5. haren

    With perfume if you love it, the scent makes you feel happy and sexy and wonderful. If you hate it, you want to claw it off and it makes you wretch. After many years Chanel No. 5 is still a classic for me.

  6. My favorite perfume had always been Shalimar by Guerlain. I wore it from the time I was 14 until Saks 5th Avenue opened an Anna Sui counter in Skokie, and then I started to like her signature perfume. Then some years later I was reading a fashion magazine and while flipping a page got a whiff of Jessica Simpson’s Fancy. I never, ever bothered to smell fragrances in magazines, but I just had to have this scent. It went against all my better judgement of what a classy perfume should be. The bottle was ugly, it was so girly smelling, and the worst part: it was a product of Jessica Simpson! But I just loved the smell so much! Now, several years later, I wear Rose Ikebana by Hermes. My sister says it “smells like wedding,” which is okay because these days that is how I want to smell.

    By the way, Justine, did you happen to see the FIT exhibit circa 2005 of perfume bottles? It was AMAZING!

    • My mother used to wear Shalimar too, so I always have such positive associations with it! You bring up a good point, I’ve smelled some celebrity perfumes and really liked them (I think one actually was a Jessica Simpson scent) and had reservations about buying them, but you can never tell what scent you’ll be attracted to right? Jessica Simpson has some cute shoes too, her products seem to be higher quality than other celebrities.

      Mmm Hermes perfume, I have no idea what that smells like, but I image it’s amazing, especially if it smells like wedding, that sounds lovely.

      I didn’t see that exhibit, I wish I had! I love perfume bottles—I used to collect them and try to mix my own perfumes when I was a kid, it never worked out very well though, I probably smelled awful, but the bottles were so pretty!

  7. Wilberthe

    I don’t really know what it is about the scent, but I feel so much prettier when I’m walking around smelling like vanilla. I use the Vanilla Lace scented body products by Victoria’s Secret; I like it so much better than perfumes, because often I can’t even identify what a perfume smells like. With this stuff, it’s obviously yummy vanilla and sometimes I just want to spray some into my mouth!

    • I have totally been tempted to eat perfume before—or lotion, oh my gosh there are some lotions that smell like candy, and then they look all creamy and you can almost pretend their frosting, haha, that’s actually really gross, but true!

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