Marie (not her real name) is a 44-year-old history professor in Virginia, married, and a mom of two boys, aged nine and five. So far, she sounds like a lot of us.
Her perfume history sounds familiar, too. Her first perfume was a sample of Nina Ricci Nina she sent away for in a magazine when she was 10. As an adult, she dabbled in the 1980s “Holy Trinity” of Calvin Klein Eternity, Christian Dior Poison, and Giorgio.
Where Marie diverges from many perfumistas is in how she stores fragrance, and, more interesting, her awareness of why she enjoys perfume.
For storage, instead of shutting her perfume away in a cabinet, she keeps it out of light by heaping teddy bears on her bottles (see below). “I like teddy bears, and my sons give them to me.” (Her sons enjoy their own fragrances, Batman and Spiderman colognes. Batman is “quite nice — musky, earthy, and fresh. Spiderman is icy, watery.”)
But the main thing that impressed me was why fragrance fascinates Marie. “I think I love all perfume,” she says. “I can find the positive or evocative in any perfume and create a vivid image and backstory about it. However, would I wear them on me is another question.” An online perfume quiz pegged her for orientals, florientals, and chypres, and she does love just about any fragrance with rose — Estée Lauder Knowing is a favorite — but it seems to be the memories, dreams, and stories she attaches to perfume that provide their chief allure.
She says, “My collection of perfumes really are my equivalent to memories and photographs. I have a lot of perfumes that I have no intention of wearing again (Flowerbomb), some that I have bought because a friend or neighbor or colleague was wearing it (Ralph Lauren), some that I have even ‘hate bought’ like SJP Covet and Claude Montana's Claude Montana. (Although, I may like Claude Montana now after dusting it off for this article. To me it smells like cold gin. Not gin over ice, which can give it a diluted, watery smell. But gin poured out of a metal container in an air-conditioned room.)”
Here, in her own words, is an example of a perfume in her collection and its meaning to her:
Guerlain Champs-Elysées – The first time I went to France, I dropped my bags at the hotel and immediately went for a walk. I knew I had to buy the first perfume I saw and this was it. It was effervescent, bright, and pleasant enough. But it was rather boring, so I could have happily left it. Yet, it reminds me of the first time I went to Paris and the coffee shop where I had fizzy water on the side with my café and sandwich. By myself. All alone. In the ultimate city. Realizing a dream I’d had since I was 10 years old – to be in Paris.
Creed Jasmin Impératrice Eugénie – Very heady jasmine floral bomb. I feel I was too young when I wore it (26). I could have worn it a lot better now at 44. But I very recently realized that I always gravitated to this scent because it reminded me of Ciara that my mother wore while I was growing up.
Marilyn Miglin Pheromone – This is a green classic, a hallmark of 70s perfumery. I always associate it with living in my apartment in grad school in Chicago. I didn’t have a car, did not know how to navigate the metro, and would watch home shopping channels when I came home from class. I bought this from the TV on a blind buy and wore it a few days. I invited my now husband to dinner at my apartment and I remember thinking that this is the only perfume that does not interfere with the smells of the foods. So I wear this perfume when I am cooking and am reminded of good times at my apartment in Kenwood Street.
Talking with Marie made me look at my own perfume collection and think about how much of my attachment to each bottle is the smell of the perfume and how much is the stories and history each bottle has for me.
What about you? How much is your love of a scent connected to your stories surrounding it?