Since starting a quest to find a ‘signature’ scent, I’ve been probing those close to me about the perfumes they wear and why they wear them, trying to get at what it is that connects someone with a particular scent so decisively.
While I’ve been desperately trying to find some systematic way of finding ‘the one’ – looking to ‘best-of’ lists from the doyennes of perfume criticism, casting around for a ‘genre’ that might gel, trying to nut out which ‘notes’ offend or enchant – I’ve realised that for many (most?) all these things are immaterial and the connection is much more visceral.
Take my sister for example. She has been a committed Chanel No. 5 wearer for some years now. Chanel No. 5 is the scent my mother used to wear when we were kids but my mother and my sister are by no means cut of the same cloth and so I was intrigued as to why she had connected with this perfume. Surely there wasn’t a sentimental attachment?
My sister quickly set me straight. She explained that Chanel No. 5 was a buffer against the daily slings and arrows she encountered in her work as a teacher and some-time security guard. She described how she kept her No. 5 in her glove box and would spritz herself before going in to school. A whiff of No. 5 helped her get through parent-teacher conversations such as the one with the Bandido biker-gang parent who called to complain about his 13-year-old daughter’s classroom tiffs. “Mr. F,” she said elegantly “if you can’t stop yelling expletives, I’m going to have to hang up on you.” With her wrist to her nose and Chanel No. 5 wafting upwards her feet were in Tempe but her head was firmly in Paris. The same technique helped her brave all manner of insults from drunken Saturday-night crowds determined to get past her as she worked security at busy Sydney pubs. It was a little touch of class, she explained, in an otherwise brash and bumpy world.
My sister-in-law, conversely, had a more traditionally sentimental attachment to a scent. On the eve of her mother’s funeral, a friend had called to talk and asked about the perfumes her mother had worn regularly. On the day of the funeral, the friend turned up with a large bottle of Marc Jacobs’ Lola, one of her mother’s favourites, so that my sister-in-law could always have a little sense of her mother close by. Similarly, Portia has a very strong connection to Shalimar, his mother’s favourite. Even as he aims to sample and love every perfume ever released, he will no doubt always come back to Shalimar.
And so, as I continue to work on the world’s most anally-retentive method of finding a signature scent, I live in hope that some defining moment may one day choose it for me. Here’s hoping you all have suitably lovely and distinctive moments in your perfume closets. I would love to hear about them if you feel inclined. Evie C.