As a baker girl/chef it is no surprise that I am seduced by scent. In addition to working with fragrance and flavors in the bakery and kitchen I also dabble in candle making, personal and custom perfumes, and hand milled soaps as well as home fashioned incense and potpourris.
Scent is as much about memory as it is a woman’s special personal signature and statement of taste. It is highly subjective and powerful – as fragrance is an incredibly indelible sense. All of us will easily and involuntarily associate scent with a time and place, a mood, a feeling, an ambience, a lover in our past - just as much as we associate it with personal being and ourselves.
It is no real surprise that we cling to one or two perfumes and say, ‘That is MY perfume’ – as if we own it. We might take a long time to fall in love with one scent but when we do, we are spoken for.
Most women are hardly fickle. We might get giddy over something at 16 years old and, despite a myriad of other identity evolutions, stay with that fragrance for 25 years! “Oh no, no…”we will protest when tempted with a new perfume, “My perfume (ours and millions of others) is Youth Dew or L’Air du Temps or Chanel No. 5. That is the only thing I wear”. To change perfumes is a minor act of courage and mild rebellion for the femme fatale without a cause.
Some of us, on the other hand, will wear whatever comes in the magazine scratch-and-inhale sample pages. Regardless whether it suits us. Regardless that everyone else is wearing it. We will wear whatever someone gives us a gift. Or that comes as a promotion with skin cream.
I have my own views and my personal perfume history (take note, this is more important than sharing my secrets to pie dough). Here is my one woman’s perfume retrospective.
In time, I abandoned all but the lilac-based perfumes, and graduated to Shalimar - which everyone was wearing at the time. No matter what people say about perfumes smelling different on each woman, Shalimar, bless Guerlain, smells like Shalimar on everyone. Which is a real pity because that sort of crowd appeal turned something extraordinary and sexy into cologne of the masses. How uncool is that? Then, blame it on the misfortune of fate, I received a sample of Ma Griffe and thought I was sophiscated (and hard edged enough) to call it mine. Heavens! So heavy, so sombre, so dark – what possessed me? It is only now (and this is in no way a sign of disrespect) I learned that Ma Griffe was created by a perfumer who had lost his sense of smell. Brilliant as deaf Beethoven, this perfumer went on to make Ma Griffe – a stunning perfume but geez – no one under 65 should wear it.
I segued to Patou’s Caline (now about impossible to find unless you are dating a Jean Patou sales rep in France) while on a brief perfume sabbatical which also included a sojourn with Chanel’s Cristalle, and Dior’s Diorissimo, which is, a lily-of-the-valley bower in a bottle.
I left the sophisticated, somewhat edgy Cristalle (what was I thinking to choose it in the first place?) and soon after accepted the fact that I was no Shalimar candidate (at least, not in this lifetime where it seems my courtesan days are not in evidence). I became addicted to Caline - I mean, if it was a guy, it would have been my soul mate, only to be truly saddened when it was retired to Jean Patou history. When perfume book authors talk about Caline, they wax lyrical. It was more than a perfume; it was an era.
Losing Caline was a real shock. It had begun as an impulsive affair in fragrance and so soon, so intensely, I wanted to move in and marry it. Of all the perfumes I have ever worn - at any age - it played on my skin like a second skin, in fact. I did not wear it; it was part of my essence. I truly pined when it disappeared. Once, after years of doing without, I did find a tiny bottle of Caline in Bergdoff’s in New York. But like a new sofa you cover in vinyl and don’t sit on, I did not use my precious Caline – I could not bring myself to use it except for special occasions. Oh but listen, it turned bad, what with exposure to light, humidity and simply non-use. Over a few months, it smelled quite rank.
One day, I was forced to concede that Diorissimo’s lily-of-the-valley was too young or too old for me – I could not decide any more than I could decide that smelling like one flower was a good or bad thing. At any rate Diorissomo met its demise in my boudoir. Ditto for Lavender. But everyone thinks they should like Lavender – it sounds so nice! But I am no lavender lass – far too English garden-ish for me and too common as it is the scent-du-jour (discounting Green Tea) and is constantly incarnated in deodorant, room spray, hand soap, and car atomizers.
Then I happened on Caron’s Infini and I thought again, I had reached Mecca, perfume-wise. A more sultry, sophisticated scent you will never find, but one, alas, that reminds me of someone about whom I cared deeply, and of a time so sweet and short but not so Infini, apparently. Which harks back to the stuff about perfume being about memory. See? You inhale an old scent and you go back in time and your heart similarly lingers. I take a wee whiff of Infini and tears can appear and a tiny, snug cinch forms around my heart. Which is a pity because I am relatively sure I am the last woman on the planet that wore Infini and now it is inevitable it will be retired.
Goodbye Infini and hello Ma Griffe and Calandre – savvy scents but far too dark, heavy, and bold for me. Totally out of character. I flirted with Anais Anais and wished I could love it because it seems so nice but frankly, it smells acidic on me.
One day, in a perfume funk, I serendipitously discovered the mysterious Arrogance and that is still a favorite. Why mysterious? Because, Arrogance launches a new version each year of its same-named perfume. Oddly but happily, I like each version. It is flowery, a touch sweet, and exotic. It is, in a word, very me.
Truth? It is no Caline but it is a charmer. I am entirely comfortable with this perfume. Which is more than I can say for Princess de Marina Borghese. I wish I Iiked it – it wafts mango and vanilla and is so fruity and pungent that you almost want to drink, rather than wear it. Plus, the aging, Continental fellow who insisted I buy it also said I would be married within a week of purchasing in. As it turns out, I am still footloose and fancy free and consequently, for that and other reasons, I am not sporting that perfume anymore. I still read my horoscope; I just don’t buy perfumes (nor call a wedding planner) according to horoscopes or insistent salesmen anymore.
Well, despite this seemingly winding trail of my scent history that might make you think I danced with many scents. The fact is that I too, was once in that loyal-to-one-or two perfumes category of women. I wore the same perfume for years. I had maybe two scents at any given time that I called ‘mine’. I was steadfast. I was ….ah, well, boring. Perfume is a leap of faith. We change – we go from girls to wenches, to women, and goddesses and sages. I’m of that belief that our perfumes, like our taste in clothes, should journey with us, and evolve, as we are ourselves. Otherwise, you will be a 40 something still wearing Yardley’s Oh De London and Jovan’s Musk or whining at The Body Shop that they resurrect the now defunct Dewberry and not realize, you have by-passed your own scent.
About 6 years go, much like Rip Van Winkle’s wake up call after a long slumber; I similarly ‘woke up’. With a jolt, I realized – the world had a veritable bouquet of other scent possibilities. I could widen my field of fragrance. Suddenly, with that realization, I wanted to inhale the world! Ever since that moment, for the last five springs or so, my birthday-and-scent-changing season, I adopt a new scent. That’s right, every spring, it is New Perfume Time on my calendar. No, not a time to tell a current man-in-my-life what to get me. Scent is personal. It is part of the femme fatale/goddess arsenal. It is girlie girl time. It is a date with myself. That being the case, I start my research early. I go out on the hunt the beginning of March. I see what is new, what is classic, and what beckons me.
By mid March, most of the perfume stores, and cosmetic counter ladies know me by name. We exchange chitchat about the kids. My pockets bulge with glass vials of samples; my coat pockets smell like sweet soaps; my car is littered with white, demure, cards saying this perfume or another. By mid April, I hone in on 2-3 possibilities. But come May, in time for my birthday, and to mark the occasion, it is time to commit. And I do. By summer, the new scent and I are engaged.
So, where am I now, scent-wise? The mood is light, the season is fresh. I go by mood and season, and occasion. There is a perfume for them all. I am still a lilac girl and by all accounts of polled tango partners, that still is a good choice. I also make my own potion of clementines, mango, vanilla, and strawberry and pack it in vials to carry with me. I wear cucumber oil that I combine with vanilla or musk or tea rose oil. I am a recent but total fan of Annick Goutal but I am not saying which ones (alright, I cave: Petite Cherie and Grand Amour – both heaven).
I still adore Patou’s Caline and would trade my soul or at least my secret to better biscuits if someone could fine me at least one wee bottle (and not from Ebay – those Calines were all opened, used bottles, no thanks.)
The other day, I surrended to the New Scent. I adopted something special. It is soft, sweet, flowery but in an oriental way. It is warm and apricoty, sultry and soft spoken, understated femininity in each drop of its precious 1.25 ounce bottle. This particular scent makes me feel absolutely pretty – a perfume litmus test of the first order. It is a perfume that makes men stop in elevators and smile at me. It makes my son Ben linger when I say good night.
So, what is the new scent? Ah, girlfriends, that would be telling. Once you have found your new scent, you hush. It is your secret. Some things, we don’t share, like the secret to better pie dough, men, and perfume.
Marcy Goldman is a scent creator and consultant. A pastry chef and writer, a Washington Post contributor, she also recently launched A Passion for Baking (Oxmoor House 2007) and hosts Scent of a Baker, at www.BetterBaking.com, since 1997. She resides in Montreal, Canada where she is working on A Passion for Scent.