“Two things make the woman unforgettable, their tears and their perfume.” Sacha Guitry
No, I’m not crying. And I don’t have a cold. But thanks for asking. It’s much worse, actually. I’m afraid I’m about to have to search for a new perfume, again. Which can be very traumatic, especially if you’re trying to replace a ‘signature’ fragrance, like I am.
My love affair with perfume began long ago when, as a very little girl, I’d spray myself with my mother’s. All of them at the same time, usually. Liberally. Too liberally. So liberally, it would take more than several scrubbings before I stopped reeking. At sixteen I discovered Miss Dior. Its light, citrus, floral scent was perfect for a young woman.
At eighteen I fell in love with Caleche, by Hermes. Although it had many of the same qualities as Miss Dior it was more sophisticated, more womanly, more worldy. It was the first fragrance that I considered ‘mine’, and I wore it for years.
It was so important to me, that when my purse was stolen while I was visiting a friend in New York one weekend, the only thing I replaced was the bottle of perfume that had been in it. Never mind about the cash and the credit cards and even the make-up. Or my I.D., which I needed to get back across the border to Canada. Or the handbag, itself, for that matter. All I wanted was my ‘parfum‘.
That’s what made ‘me‘, feel like ‘me‘. Even to myself, let alone to others.
I remained loyal until many years later, when a fashion designer I worked with, Leo Chevalier, created a fragrance. I still remember the day I arrived at the office and he gave me three different bottles to ‘test’. They were all really lovely, but one just captured my imagination, and my soul, immediately. It was interesting, because that same fragrance had the exact same effect on every woman who tried it, over the next few days and weeks.
We were all diabolically different. Different ages, different colouring, different personal styles, different ‘looks’, different nationalities, different backgrounds, different interests, different educations. Yet we were all united in our love for this perfume. And never before, or since, have I ever had the reactions I had, when I wore that perfume. Regrettably.
Taxi drivers asked me what perfume I was wearing. Men stopped me on the street, and in elevators. Men of all ages, and persuasions. They’d come right up to me and smell my neck, or lift my hand and hold my wrist up to their noses. Total strangers. Women wanted to know. Once, a woman followed me for four blocks, before she finally had the courage to ask me what I was wearing, when I was stopped at a red light.
It contained all pure fragrances and natural oils, which is what made it so special. It also made it impossibly expensive to produce and, eventually, Leo had to give it up. His wife and I, and a few of his other associates and friends, divvied up the remains; and that was that. The end. We were all devastated, especially Leo, who had lost a ton of his own money.
But I felt like I had lost my identity. Which, in fact, I had. People used to tell me that they knew I was arriving, before I physically walked into a room, because my scent preceded me. How the hell do you replace that??
Not easy. It took a while. And I had to try a lot of dogs, before I found something I could live with: YSL’s Opium. Spicy and exotic, it can be quite oppressive on many women, but it was fabulous on me. Then one day, when I was replenishing my stock, the sales associate suggested that I try another, new YSL fragrance, called Champagne. She said it was lighter, younger, and much better for the summer. She sprayed the air, she sprayed a tester, and then she sprayed me. It was very different, but I loved it. So did my mother and my aunt, who were with me.
Do I have to tell you what happened next?
Exactly. Months and months and months passed. I loved, loved, loved this new me. Whereas Opium was very ‘femme fatale’, Champagne was flirty and bubbly. Effervescent. And, because I was running out, and never wanted to be caught without, I found myself at the perfume counter once again. To my horror, I was told it was no longer available. Discontinued. Why? The French government decided that France was already known for ‘champagne’. The drinkable kind. And they insisted that St. Laurent change the name. He decided to stop production, instead.
“No”, I wailed. But sadly, “oui”, I was told.
So what could I do? Once again, I turned to Opium. And it didn’t let me down. Our love affair was rekindled and, once again, wherever I went both men and women sniffed the air, and me, appreciatively. Once again, wherever I went, both men and women told me they loved my perfume. Once again, wherever I went both men and women recognized me by my scent.
Beginning to see a pattern here? That would be because there is one.
I rolled merrily along, for years. Years and years and years, actually. Then one day I was close to the end of the bottle. Off I went to the store. Out I came with a fresh bottle. The first time I used it, I made myself nauseous. Then the first three women I encountered all held their noses and asked: “What the hell are you wearing?” I returned it, for a full refund. No questions asked. The sales associate told me that Gucci, who owned the YSL fragrances, had sold that part of the company to L’Oreal. Who killed it. Woe is me!!
Immediately I bought every bottle of the old fragrance I could find. I was like a maniac, running from store to store. But, alas, my stash would last for only so long.
A friend, who had been living through this drama with me, insisted I join her one Saturday, at her favourite fragrance boutique. “I guarantee you will find something you absolutely love”, she promised. The woman who owned the store (Noor) is a ‘nose’ (an expert, who develops new blends). And in her shop she carried nothing you’d find elsewhere. Her perfumes were all distinct and unique. One of a kind. None of the usual brand names. We spent hours there, and I must say it was tremendous fun.
And very interesting. First she looked up all the properties in Opium, so she would know all the important ‘notes’. Then we played. We sniffed. We cleansed our nasal ‘palate’ by sniffing coffee beans. Back to the fragrances. Back to the coffee beans. And all the while she was giving me the ‘story’, the history, the ‘romance’ of each fragrance.
Fabulous!! There were three I liked very much. But one, ‘followed’ me wherever I moved in the store. Acqua di Colonia, the officina profumo, Maria Novella, Firenze 1612. Also known as “The Queen’s Cologne”, it was reputably created for Catherine de Medici. The vague notes are bergamot, citrus, white flowers (patchouli) and spices.
Not unlike Opium but, still, vastly different. More mysterious. More unfamiliar. And, therefore, so much more interesting. It had ‘something’. But what? You just can’t put your finger on it.
All good. Very, very good. Until the landlord broke the owner’s lease, because the building where her shop was located, is being turned into condos. She promised she’d re-open sometime this past summer (our little shopping adventure was in early Spring). Still no word from her. I’m half way through my last bottle. Honestly, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. How many true ‘signature’ fragrances can a girl lay claim to?
But, then, on the other hand, there’s always Florence. There are worse hardships than living in glorious Firenze, don’t you think? Ciao …