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“A Woman Who Doesn’t Wear Perfume Has No Future” – Coco Chanel

I don’t know where I pick up some of my habits. I suppose many of them are pop-culture parasites left in my skull like ticks under a sock. Others I consciously borrowed from my parents, heroes, cool kids. I even got a favored phrase, “Who, I?!” from Petticoat Junction.

Just goes to show.

One habit I’ve never been able to trace is one that has also been the subject of many conversations. Each time I get serious about a man I’m seeing, I buy a new perfume. The idea is to have a scent associated exclusively with him (and by proxy, that period in my life). I’ve done this as long as I can recall. It seems strange to many people, but to me, it’s a way of consciously setting myself up to remember.

Occasionally I take the fellow with me to choose the perfume. And actually, to be honest, sometimes it’s a lotion or a scented soap. Once I chose a wax balm. (Wouldn’t recommend it. The fragrance didn’t linger, and neither did he.)

I can feel you starting to judge me. You see this as some kind of bizarre reliance on a man, a sort of nasal-born separation anxiety. It isn’t. But I admit finding a perfume when I’m single is a bit trickier. I never know whether I should buy the one that smells like me or the one that smells like the person I want to be.

Walking into the perfume section of department stores must feel something like what Kipling experienced in his first boat ride down some jungle river. The sights, the noises, the smells, the ticking and chugging of the brain suddenly palpable… the scene overwhelms. And I assure you, no tribe of hostile natives could be ever more intimidating than an army of shiny-shoed Bloomingdale’s sales clerks, all bent on wringing your last dollar from you. And, as they expected, you will spend it lustily on a bottle of Vitamin C Pre-Liner Primer Tonic for the Eyelids.

I went on scent mission today, looking for a solid perfume for several upcoming trips. Solid perfumes come in small jars with screw tops, and they’re great for taking on airplanes. They feel like a thicker version of honey, and as I was instructed, all you have to do is dab a dot onto your “pulse points,” wherever they are. (I stared at my particular sales clerk, thinking I must have left mine at home today…)

After an hour standing at a white counter with Janis (who does not appreciate Joplin and does not know any song lyrics and does not want to talk about it), I was convinced that choosing between 30 different scents would throw anyone into an identity crisis. I liked tuberose, but it reminded me of the word tuberous. Wild orange smelled like cider on winter nights, but also like a grandmother. My neck hurt from craning to sniff. I kept dropping the thousands of white paper strips that Janis handed me after spraying them with something I just had to try. Dazed and blurry, I clutched the counter for support. Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here? And more importantly, what smell expresses me?

I settled on a beautiful round jar comprised of bergamot, gardenia, iris and white musk. Still not sure exactly what that says about my personality, but I’m fully convinced that any man would be lucky to catch a whiff.


  • Briggsie

    January 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    One item of information for the future. All males in your father’s line are allergic to perfume.

  • Thursday

    March 24, 2010 at 10:21 am

    What is white musk. I have missed learning these sorts of things.

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