Sunday, March 11, 2012

Everybody parfum tonight. I have a stupid habit of reading perfume reviews on the internet. It is ridiculous because obviously I have no way to judge what the perfume actually smells like. They are more ways to tell me if there is a critical mass around certain perfumes: if they are populist, or cult favourites, or acquired tastes, etc.

Basically my theory about perfumes is that there are a number of ways we choose them:

1. You were given the perfume as a gift, then keep buying it for yourself or getting more similar gifts.
2. Perfume was suggested to you by an authoritative source, including books, magazines, websites, retail staff.
3. Perfume has accumulated glamour of a pretty bottle and packaging, beautiful advertising, celebrity association, and/or a famous, storied history.
4. Perfume holds good memories, whether of a friend, lover or relative who wore it, or an association with a pleasant time in your own past.

My first perfume was Dewberry by the Body Shop, which for me is still sentimental. I got through an entire bottle of the essential oil, which came with a little plastic spatula in the lid to smear on your skin. I still have a bottle of the eau de toilette, which has surprising staying power, and I wear it to '90s theme parties as my 'method perfume'.

I used to believe strongly in the notion of a 'signature scent' because I strongly associate particular scents with particular people and enjoy the idea that people might recognise me by my own perfume. (I often wonder what I must smell like to other people, and worry that I smell bad.) But now I like the idea of having several different perfumes and changing them depending on my mood and the occasion.

My current taste in perfume tends towards the old-fashioned, and is also heavily shaped by the perfumes my mother wore in my childhood (especially when going on date nights). Sometimes I worry that I smell like a grandma. But I'm cool with that if the alternative is smelling like a cupcake, a bowl of fruit or a beaker of acrid, nostril-sizzling synthetic fluid (eg Thierry Mugler's Angel).

I am in no way an authority on perfume but my online research has led me to associate the perfumes I like with the descriptions "floral", "aldehyde", "powdery" and "chypre". What I tend to respond to is a sense of complexity: that it's not a single punchy, identifiable scent but something mysterious that's hard to associate with any one odour; instead it's perfectly itself. 

That said, I am fascinated by rose perfumes and always try them out when I come across them. Two that are trumpeted on the internet are Rose Essentielle by Bvlgari and Stella by Stella McCartney, but I found the former too sweet and cloying, and the second too synthetic and cheap-smelling. 

Here are the perfumes I wear:

Chanel No.5 Eau de Toilette: The eau de parfum is actually my favourite iteration of this, but the EDT smells delicious too. My favourite French teacher at school, Mrs Watson, wore this, and I love its warm, complex scent. I also like its weight of cultural history – I feel as though I'm part of a continuum of women who've loved this perfume over almost a century. I also have No.5 Eau Premiere, which I got for my last birthday, but I haven't even opened that yet. I should.

L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci: I think of this as my 'summer' perfume. Around 2006-7 it was my 'boost of confidence in social situations' perfume but I tend to use No.5 for that now. For me it smells very fresh and light, almost melony or soapy (see what I mean about the ridiculousness of trying to describe perfume?), but with a complexity you don't tend to find in recent perfumes (this was first released in 1948).

Estée by Estée Lauder: I came across this by accident in a perfume shop while buying a bottle of L'Air du Temps. To me it smelled like a sweeter, more powdery version of No.5. I wore it as my primary perfume throughout 2009-10 and got a lot of compliments on it. I've almost gone through the bottle, but I don't wear it much at the moment.

Tea Rose by Perfumer's Workshop: This is as cheap as chips – it's less than $20 from the chemist – but it has sentimental associations with my mother, who used to wear it back in the '80s. Unlike lots of sweet, vanilla-tinged rose perfumes, what I like about Tea Rose is that it smells fresh, almost green, as though it includes the smell of the rose leaves and stems as well as the blossoms. This is embarrassing to admit, but I tend to wear it with pink outfits. A little goes a long way and I worry that it can be an olfactory assault.

Lately I have been thinking I want to get another perfume, something spicier and more oriental than anything I already have. The frontrunners are Givenchy's Ysatis, Arpège by Lanvin and Shalimar by Guerlain. They are all very well-known perfumes and like a dirty hipster I can't help wishing I could stumble across some perfect but obscure perfume. 

I probably won't take the plunge, but it occupies my time pleasantly to browse perfume reviews on the internet and when I have a spare hour or so, to haunt department-store perfume counters.

I do this too.
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