My first memory of perfume comes from when I was about four years old. My grandmother had a set of miniature perfume bottles, probably ordered from the Sears catalogue, and when they emptied she filled them with water and gave them to me to play with. My grandparents lived in a snow belt in the Cascade Mountains in northern California near the Pit River Indian reservation. I sat in her cool bedroom and copied my grandmother’s motions by dabbing the faintly scented water behind my ears while my grandmother went to the back porch to ring the triangle, calling my uncles in for dinner.
My grandmother had four sons but thirsted for a daughter. Later, she told me that she cried after her third son was born because she wanted a daughter so much. (When I asked her what she did after her fourth son was born six years later, she said she didn’t care whether she had a son or daughter, she was just happy to have another baby after so long.) Then she had a grandson, then, at last, a granddaughter, me. My grandmother was eager to teach me the craft of womanhood, including perfume. Her signature scent was Revlon Moondrops.
When I started to earn my own money, the first bottle of perfume I bought was Babe. I must have been about twelve years old. I went to the Longs Drugs in town, and after perusing the aisles and passing up Love’s Baby Soft I settled on Babe’s vaguely art nouveau bottle with its gold-tone top. I can’t even remember what it smelled like now, but for me it was the ticket to sophistication. My next bottle, three years later or so, was Chanel No. 22 bath oil.
Thinking about my first experiences with perfume, I asked my friends about their first perfumes. Meredith’s first perfume was Love’s Baby Soft, but the Rain scent, not the regular baby-girly scent. Now Meredith wears Carthusia Uno, Serge Lutens Gris Clair and Chergui, Annick Goutal Eau du Sud, and the occasional spritz of her husband’s Comme des Garcons 2. Aili’s first exposure to perfume was the mostly empty bottle of 4711 that her grandmother gave her. She graduated to tea rose scented oil in high school and now is ruminating over her samples of Valentino and Stella Sheer trying to decide what she likes. I secretly believe she’ll settle on a bottle of Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely. Liz, a bombshell even in her teens, wore Guerlain Samsara in high school. Now she’s a fragrance magpie. Last time I saw her she was wearing L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzing!. Surprisingly, I can’t find anyone I know now who wore Avon Sweet Honesty, although my grade school stank of it.
What is your first memory of perfume? Many of you might remember your mother’s scent, but I want to know about the perfume that you first loved as your own. Do you still wear it? Can you even remember what it smelled like? Did someone introduce you to perfume, or did you discover it on your own?