Here’s one story: a woman I once worked with heard about my love of perfume and said, “I’ve always wanted to find a signature perfume. Will you help me?” I brought her handfuls of samples, talked passionately about Guerlain and Serge and Dior, and accompanied her to the perfume counter at Nordstrom. She was determined to find a perfume she liked, but somehow I knew she just didn’t get it. Her comments about the perfume she tried were along the lines of “this smells pretty”, “I can tell this is quality” (this polite comment was about Caron Narcisse Noir parfum, which I should have been smart enough to keep from a scent neophyte), and “I don’t know, nothing seems right.” The stories, the nuances, the power of perfume were lost on her. I think she ended up with a bottle of Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely.
Here’s another story: a year later, a coworker said that she wanted to buy a bottle of perfume for her birthday and couldn’t decide between the new Chloe, Calvin Klein Euphoria, and another perfume I’ve forgotten now. I told her she might want to try real scent rather than just sniffing the fragrance strips in magazines, and I brought her a few samples. Since I’d been burned before, I kept the selection small: some L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzing!, Annick Goutal Songes, and Jean Patou Joy. Over the next few months this woman plunged headlong into perfume. She told me how Songes reminded her of her grandmother’s garden, and she bought a bottle to wear when the evenings are warm. When she took a vacation to Disneyland, she passed up the mouse ears and bought Chanel Coco Mademoiselle as a souvenir instead. One morning she even trotted excitedly into my office and said, “I’ve tried my first scrubber!”
Lots of people like perfume, but only a few people really love it. My theory is that people who love perfume tend also to love food and art more than the average person. Perfume lovers adore a story, too, and see their lives as movies in which they’re the star. I also think a perfume lover has a hint of the nerd. Perfume lovers want to try all sorts of perfumes, categorize them by nose or note, and love to talk about them. Is there such a thing as a sensualist geek? If so, lots of perfume lovers qualify.
As an example, someone who merely likes perfume might enjoy a light application of Dior Diorissimo, calling it “fresh and spring-like”. On the other hand, when someone who loves perfume wears Diorissimo she thinks of Christian Dior’s coffin piled high with lilies of the valley. She thinks of perfumer Edmond Roudnitska tending his transplanted lilies of the valley as he slowly pieced together the perfume’s formula. She’ll reach for Champagne over a gin and tonic when she’s wearing it (gin and tonics are so much better with Frédéric Malle Angéliques Sous La Pluie) and might even have a cotton dressing gown sprigged with flowers that she likes to wear on Diorissimo mornings.
If you’re reading this, chances are that you love — not just like — perfume. Why do you think that is? What makes us different from people content with a bottle or two of Christmas present perfume?