Friday, August 24, 2012


Recently I read a marvelous book called Coming to My Senses by Alyssa Harad (my review). It traces her inadvertent journey into the world of perfume and later, that of being a bride. This was one of those reading experiences I especially enjoy—when it flows over into my real life and lasts after the final page of the book. 

It had been a long time since I’d thought about perfume. When I was younger I wore it regularly mostly because I was not allowed to wear much make-up but it has been at least a decade since I bought a bottle. Now, when and if I wear perfume it is for a special occasion and I’m still getting the last sprays out of a bottle of Elizabeth Arden Green Tea which I bought because it has a light fresh scent that I enjoy. Somehow, I find this a bit sad. What happened to the days when perfume was an extension of personality? When shopping at the perfume counter was as much fun as shopping for clothes? For me, the end came about when I moved out of a career in sales to working with software—an environment so casual people came into work in scrubs (and they were not doctors). My wardrobe was already more dressy than my colleagues so perfume seemed likely to lead to endless teasing and so I stopped. Nowadays, I have friends who are not allowed to wear perfume at work because their office is “scent-free” due to someone’s allergies. Really? How did we go hundreds of years without people having health issues caused by perfume but now things are bad enough they warrant an HR policy? 

The sense of smell is one of the strongest we have simply because it is the only one that goes straight to the memory cortex without going through other areas first. That’s why a scent can bring up a memory almost instantly. Here’s a bit of what I remember from the many many years I loved perfume.  

At the drugstore when I was a kid: Jean Nate, Love’s Baby Soft, Charlie, Jontue, Wind Song, Ciara, Jovan White Musk, and Heaven Sent. 

Teen Years: Lauren, Polo, Halston, Giorgio, L’Air du Temps 

Perfumes I wore through the years: Pavlova (loved the packaging almost as much as the scent, Farouche (by Nina Ricci who stopped making it in the U.S. My father brought me a bottle from Paris and I felt beyond chic and exclusive), Fendi, Romeo di Gigli, Calyx (by Prescriptives, no longer made), and Forever by Alfred Sung (J and I picked this one out—wore it through our engagement and for our wedding). 

Perfumes I associate with the women in my life: Oscar de la Renta (Mom); White Shoulders, Blue Grass, Chantilly (Grandmothers) 

What perfumes have been in your life? Any attached to special occasions or that you wore for years? Good memories? Bad?

Finally, I’d like to suggest that if you belong to a book club you read Coming to my Senses and have a perfume themed meeting. Everyone brings in perfumes. The book will engender reminiscences and laughter, while sharing perfume will provide a beautifully scented evening. 

But my new way of paying attention was a far calmer, simpler, more solid kind of pleasure. I wasn’t stretching out toward some idealized person or idea. It wasn’t about losing my heart or my head—it was about coming to my senses. And every sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture was a link to my place in the splendid world at hand.
--From Coming to My Senses


Laura Renshaw said...

As a teenager, I thought Poison was a fabulous scent...till my dad told me it smelled a lot like bug spray. I remember being highly offended by this and yet recently when camping and using some bug spray, I was reminded of that perfume and realized he was right!

Catherine said...

That's so funny, Laura! I don't think dads like their daughters wearing perfume. My father was always down on whatever perfume I wore.

HeatherL said...

I remember being so into perfume when I was a teen. My favorite was Love's Baby Soft and there was a vanilla scent that I loved as well but I can't remember the name. Now...I'm am into as scent-free as much as possible even to the point of laundry detergent and a move away from traditional shampoo to a baking soda wash. It's more for a desire to get rid of chemicals then it is to get rid of scents.

I wonder if they could make a fresh cut grass perfume as that is one of my favorite smells!

Catherine said...

Understood, Heather, and I agree. What's sad is that real perfume is made largely from essential oils- just the essence of the flower extracted. You should look and see if there are any artisanal perfume makers in your area- which would be very cool.

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