Thursday, 10 November 2011

Scents of a Woman - Life in Fragrances

When I was a girl, I would try to make perfume out of rose petals. At the time, it seemed most scientific, in reality it wasn’t.  The process of picking the petals from the large roses at the end of the garden was actually as complex as it got.  They were then mixed with water in a small cup and left to infuse. Invariably after a few days rotting on the kitchen windowsill, with a few small bugs floating inside, my mother would demand that the ‘perfume’ was thrown away.

As a child, I could spend hours at my mother’s dressing table.   Her perfume bottles enchanted me.  They were all the same brand. ‘ L’air du Temps’ by Nina Ricci, a scent she had worn ever since the days of meeting my Dad.  Each year at Christmas, my Dad would present her with a beautifully wrapped package.  Once unwrapped, we would see the box, always the same; pale yellow and cream, with its two signature white birds on the front. Often the bottle design would be different from the previous year, it always excited me to see what it would look like when she opened the box. She kept all the bottles, (even the empty ones), proudly displayed on her dressing table. I loved looking at them, touching them. They smelt like her. My favourite was the bottle in filigree gold casing. I thought it was the most ornate and beautiful thing I had ever seen.

As I grew older, I wanted my own perfume.  Choosing my own scent was a rite of passage, as I passed from girl to woman, an expression of myself, who I was, and perhaps even, who I hoped to be. My first forays into the heady world of perfumery were courtesy of The Body Shop.  I would spend hours at the perfume section, testing perfumes by twiddling long glass sticks inside glass decanters like those you might find in the science lab at school, pulling them out and inhaling them, time and time again.  White Musk and Dewberry were my favourites.  Still today, after all this time, I would know the smell of Body Shop White Musk anywhere.  I could shut my eyes, and know it instantly in a ‘smell test’. Later I moved onto Dewberry, fresh, but fruity.  A bit like I was – gaining zest. The Body Shop perfumes were great for young girls, small enough bottles, keenly priced, so that even a couple of weeks pocket money could afford them.

In time, I wanted something more adult.  I was fifteen when I got my first ‘grown up’ perfume.  Anais Anais by Cacherel.  I remember opening it on my birthday, the small white bottle, with its pastel flowers.  A delicate fragrance, it was the perfect choice for my first proper perfume.  I kept the box next to it on my bedside table. I thought it was too nice to throw away.  The Anais Anais years were the years of discovering boys, falling in love, having my heart broken and thinking the pain would never end.  

By sixth form, I had moved on. I’d wisened up, my broken heart had indeed mended and Anais Anais had been replaced with Tuscany per Donna by Aramis. Still a delicate fragrance but with slightly woody undertones.  I received this perfume as a gift for Christmas. It came in a special gift box with a free soap, the perfume nestled next to it in pink tissue paper.  The box had a woven tapestry design to it.  I still have the soap, unused and the gift box, which now stores unworn pieces of jewellery.  The Tuscany years were the years of my first proper boyfriend, great, late nights out with friends and bad hangovers after too much Malibu and Coke. (Malibu - even the smell of it makes me nauseous today!)

On arriving at university, Coco by Chanel was the perfume I placed on the shelf in my hall of residence. There’s nothing particularly subtle about Chanel perfumes, they’re commanding; you notice them.  I think I was drawn to the perfume because of its namesake, a woman with style, with a slight aura of mystery.  I romanticised I could be like her too.  At any rate, Coco did bring romance in to my life.  It was perfume that I was wearing when I met my future husband.  

 Whilst my love affair with my husband continued to endure, my affection for Coco diminished.  The last years of university and the first forays into the world of work were the Georgio Beverley Hills years.   This was the perfume my best friend wore, she always smelt divine.   In the end, I could fight it no more. I gave up my heady Chanel and followed my nose to the heavenly scent in a clean yellow and white striped box.  I don’t think she was best pleased I had aped her perfume choice.  Scent is a defining, signature thing.  One doesn’t want to smell the same as someone else; especially if it’s someone you spend time with regularly.  I soon got my comeuppance. My mother gave up her twenty year L’air du Temps habit and she too, became a Georgio convert.  I loved my mother, but at that point in my life, it just didn’t feel right to wear the same perfume as her. Alas, bye bye, Georgio.

Therein, came the perfume wilderness years.  I levied back and forth through some of my past favourites but nothing seemed quite right.  My journey through fragrance was a bit like my journey through life, I didn’t want to hark backwards, I wanted to look forward, and I wanted a new scent for the new chapters.

On a trip to New York in my mid twenties I discovered Fresh perfumes and cosmetics.  My search for my new perfume was over. Their Index range of perfumes drew me in, and kept me faithful. For many years, I wore Fresh Cucumber Baie.  So delicate, so fresh. I liked the originality of it.  If ever there was a perfume that was ‘me’, this was it.  I was wearing it when I got engaged, I wore it when I got married. For me, Cucumber Baie is the scent of happy, happy times. 

Just as consumers switch perfumes, so it seems do manufacturers. Sadly my favourite ever perfume was discontinued. But my loyalty to Fresh continued and the Pink Jasmine era began. I still wear Pink Jasmine today. It’s floral but delicate.  I always get compliments when I wear it.  As far as I know, there is only one shop you can buy it at in the UK, the Fresh store on Marylebone High Street.

I wear perfume far less nowadays than I used to. I didn’t wear it when I was pregnant, and when I first had Pip; I didn’t wear it as I worried about him inhaling it.  In fact, post pregnancy, I couldn’t stand the smell of perfume for quite a while, even the mildest scent seemed overpowering to my new mother nose.  These days, I wear it for special occasions and nights out. Once I’ve slipped on my outfit, I always enjoy the ritual sprinkling of my special scent, it’s like the final little piece of magic I need to get my inner party started. 

Do you associate any perfumes with defining moments or special people in your life?


  1. I love perfume but funnily enough I don't wear much anymore. I am very loyal to Annais Annais -love the stuff - still wear it now. My late grandma kept giving me bottles of the stuff each Christas so I was never short of supply. The scent now reminds me of her ... Evocative post!

  2. I honestly think my sense of smell changed with pregnancy. My nose is so much more sensitive now - hence why I don't wear perfume that much. And dirty nappies...I can smell one out in a room full of babies at 50 paces!

  3. Lovely post. I used to like White Musk and Dewberry from Body Shop when I was a teenager! And I tried to make perfume from rose petals when I was a child. After that, I've never really bothered much with perfume because I think I might be a bit sensitive to it. I tried Poison on three occasions and it gave me migraines each time. I have successfully worn CK One but don't wear it very often.

  4. Oh the days of simple things.. like making perfume from petals! I agree re: Poison and headaches - had exactly the same effect on me too!