A few weeks ago I was at the grocery store, and my checker was a sweet, indie-rocker type with blond, shaggy hair, a fully-tattooed forearm, and a pierced eyebrow. As she moved her arms to load my grocery bag, a waft of Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue drifted over. My heart leapt. I’m not a huge fan of Light Blue, but I loved smelling perfume in public. “You smell great!” I said. “It’s not too much?” the cashier asked.
I live in a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon with probably the most vegans and biodiesel-fueled cars per capita anywhere in the world. Running through the neo-hippie is a strong vein of rocker, too, leading to dread-locked white girls with scarlet lipstick, lunchboxes as purses, and bottles of kombucha. The older generation of Portlanders has a higher portion of ex-Grateful Dead followers supplemented by more financially secure Portlanders driving Priuses, designing gardens of native plants, and adopting babies from China. Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t live anywhere else. It’s just that most of these people don’t care about perfume — or worse, they actively dislike it.
Whenever I’m in public, I have to be careful about wearing anything but the most subtle perfume. (Fortunately one of my best friends wears Shalimar, so I wear whatever I want when I’m with her.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned my love of perfume and faced a blank or even disapproving stare. Sometimes I’ll hear a story like this one: “I used to wear L’Interdit, my father brought it back to my from Paris and I really loved it, but I just don’t wear perfume anymore.” Or I might see a dusty bottle of Eau d’Issey on someone’s dresser but that’s it.
I do have a few friends who like perfume and buy a bottle now and then, but they aren’t as crazed about it as I am. “Germaine Cellier” means nothing, and they aren’t ready to rhapsodize about Vol de Nuit or Femme — not that they’d ever heard these names. Chypres are too musty, vintage scents too “old lady-ish”, and florals too powdery for them. Other friends rely on essential oils. (Vetiver and a blend called China Rain are popular here.) They’re probably fed up with me thrusting my wrist under their noses, or insisting that they pause the DVD player while I shout, “Look! Is that Arpège on her vanity?”
Blogs like Now Smell This tell me that I’m not alone. All of you who comment, whom I only know by your blog names and can only imagine in person, are a comfort to this lonely perfumista. I love it that I can comment on Bois de Jasmin that I like Chant d’Arômes and get the reply that Chant d’Arômes was much better before its reformulation 14 years ago. I love it that I can say I like the clary sage in Miss Dior and you will know what I mean. I love it that I can ponder the merits of Parfum de Therèse versus Diorella and someone will have an opinion.
And the cashier wearing Light Blue? Next time I stop by that store I’m bringing a sample of Fracas. I have a feeling she’ll really like it.