My grandmother wore Lily of the Valley. When she didn't have the fancy stuff (I'm not sure of the name or the manufacturer, it came from France) she used Miguet du Bois. On her, either one was - well, "heavenly" is the only way I can describe it. Fresh, light, airy, everything you would expect Lily of the Valley to smell like.
My first lesson in individual body chemistry occurred at an early age, when I put some on myself. It smelled like a sour washrag.
I remember my mother and aunts coming in to kiss me good-night on their way to this or that event, looking like princesses in their full-skirted gowns, enveloping me in hugs and clouds of tulle and organza, My Sin and Arpege.
My mother's "signature fragrance," however, the one she used every day in "layers" of soap, body lotion, talc, cologne, was Yardley's English Lavender. This was a long time ago, back when Yardley used to actually put some lavender in the product. A few years after her death, in a fit of nostalgia, I bought a bar of the soap, but instead of the clean, crisp memory I longed for, it smelled mostly of soap, with a barely perceptible hint of fragrance.
As a teenager I discovered that the perfumes that worked best on me were frequently Guerlain ones, and today I still use them, Shalimar, of course, Mitsouko, and my favorite, L'Heure Bleue, which few 16 year olds can carry off, but I was, and still am, somewhat strange.
It was around that time that I realized that Mysore sandalwood soap beat out even the costliest and most fashionable bars hands down, and that the essential oil worked great doing double duty as both fragrance and moisturizer for arms and legs, and I continued that practice for forty years, even long after I was fully aware that this was a barbaric practice, so I accept full responsibility for using up all the sandalwood in India and driving the price of that essential oil into the stratosphere.
My other big fragrance love was oud (agarswood), used only occasionally by my aunts, as even then it was costly, but for years I was able to get my oud on thanks to the Ajmal company, who produced a body lotion with enough of the scent to work just fine as a perfume, and a big $8 pump bottle of the stuff lasted for years.
Recently, when I noticed that I was down to my last big pump bottle, I could find it in only one store, in England, for $12, but they wanted $20 to ship it. A couple of others were offering Ajmal body lotion in their "NEW! light floral" scent. I am sure it is lovely, and I understand that the price of agarswood makes Mysore sandalwood look like canola oil, but my nose and I want our oud, and I don't know how we are going to get it. I don't even know how we are going to get our sandalwood.
In fact, all the essential oils and absolutes on which I had come to depend in my lifelong quest for Smelling Good for Less have gone through the roof. Jasmine, Bulgarian rose, even lavender and whatever it is they do at Liberty Naturals, my usual supplier, to get some kind of gardenia essence.
At least I still have my traditional summer fragrance, Vetiver, from the Hove company in New Orleans, and a small stash of pre-restriction (and accompanying fragrance reduction) Mysore sandalwood soap.
As a perfume barbarian, I am seldom taken with the popular, expensive perfumes one receives as gifts. I tend to use them only when I will be in the company of the loved one who so generouly presented them, and the rest of the time sort of cobble together whatever combination of my little stock of favorite essential oils (and Ajmal oud lotion) I am in the mood for. Sometimes I mix them with a small amount of no-name unscented cream or lotion or liquid soap, other times I dab them on straight.
I realize now that my habits have to change, even though my budget has not, and the frenzied googling brought on by the Fragrance Crisis of '08 has also made me aware that I am profoundly fragrance-ignorant, that I am a perfume barbarian, probably too old to be completely civilized, but possibly not too old to become even more aware of the immensity of my ignorance, and this looks like a good place to sit, listen and do that.