Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Perfumed Past


I was working on tomorrow's post about Samsara when I started to think of my perfumed past. See, when Samsara came out in 1989 my teenage self didn't like it one bit. Guerlain, in general, was not really on my radar. I knew Shalimar, of course, but my general impression of it was of a heavy vanilla. I could also recognize L'Heure Bleue when I smelled it, but never bothered even to learn how to spell its name. I think I considered it buttery and weird.

Perfume has always been around, and I was interested in it just as I was in makeup and anything pretty and feminine. Adult around me wore things like Charlie, Aromatics Elixir, Chanel No.5, and of course, my mother wore Chloe exclusively for decades. There was also the very distinct scent of Maja, a dusty bottle of 4711 (I'm not sure I knew it was actually a perfume. It was more of  a general household solution, and something that my mother inexplicably applied to mosquito bites).

As a tween and a very young teenager I remember having an  innocent violet cologne someone brought as a gift from Italy, and a drugstore perfume oil with a pink cap and a label that said Cleo. There were also tiny vials of pure rose oil that Bulgarian relatives brought on rare visits. But the first proper perfume I was given was Le Jardin by Max Factor. I didn't really like it, but still went through one bottle after another, simply because it was deemed the right perfume for a 12-13 year old. About the same time my sister and I received gift sets of two German perfumes: My Melody Flowers and My Melody Dreams. Somehow I ended up with the pink one, because my sister's signature color used to be blue (nowadays we both prefer red). Thankfully, I no longer remember what they smelled like. It was later  replaced by the beautiful Anais Anais, which I think we had to share.

Friends around me wore Jontue, Enjoli, and Ultima II. My father alternated between bottles of Polo and Drakkar Noir. My mom kept wearing Chloe and cleaned the light switches with  Fidji, Azzaro 9, and O de Lancome. By high school I was wearing Tamango (Leonard) and Creation by Ted Lapidus, while my most sophisticated friend wore Beautiful. By senior year of high school I was officially very much into perfume and always had a few bottles on my dresser. It made me feel grown up and I loved that moment of choosing which perfume to wear for the day.  My mom bought me a gift set of Colors de Benetton which I wore with abandon (and then some). It became so deeply associated for me with my first serious boyfriend that I could no longer bare to smell it (or even look at the bottle) after we broke up. I cried hysterically when my well-meaning mother bought me a new bottle, so she quickly returned it, and instead gave me a bottle of YSL Paris. I tried to love it and wore the perfume and the matching lotion on various first dates that year. It didn't work. Neither the guys nor Paris were a good match, no matter how much I wanted to have a new boyfriend and to smell pretty and rosy. Everyone else I knew was wearing Giorgio.

By the time I was 19 I had enough. I bought a bottle of Paloma Picasso with my own money, had a bunch of new friends and a new attitude. A new boyfriend followed quickly, but ironically the guy had absolutely no interest in scent. It didn't stop me from adding more perfumes to my collection: Valentino, White Linen, Eau de Soir, Lauren, and believe it or not-- Red Door (which mostly sat there untouched. It reminded me of Giorgio).  Paloma Picasso was still my favorite. I went through at least four bottles in eighteen months and considered it my signature. I had a taste for chypres and green perfumes, and mostly detested vanilla.

By the time I shed the unscented boyfriend and met the man you know as The Blond I was building a perfume wardrobe. I bought bottles of Eternity, Tiffany, Safari, and who knows what else during those first months. I bought him a bottle of Minotaure for the first birthday we were together (and also started to make over his wardrobe). Obsession joined my collection not long after that, and was the first proper amber-vanilla perfume I liked. Pantehre de Cartier will forever remind me of the time we got engaged. By the late 1990s I discovered Annick Goutal and reveled in how French the perfumes and I smelled. I rediscovered Guerlain, developed a taste for oriental perfumes, and my dresser could no longer hold my entire collection. The Husband and I were already living in NJ, and the close proximity to countless perfume stores and counters was the beginning of the process that lead me here.

There you have it: From Le Jardin to Ferme tes Yeux in six paragraphs. And I still owe you that review of Samsara.

18 comments:

  1. I am your age too and have always loved perfumes. In high school I mainly remember wearing Prescriptives Calyx, Lauren, Safari, Chloe, and Chanel No 5 (I started young with Chanel and I still wear it), In college I wore Eternity, Dior Poison, Dior Dune, Opium, and a variety of my mom's Estee Lauder perfumes. I loved Samsara when it came out and my boyfriend bought it for me, but oddly it is the only perfume that gave me a rash and I wound up giving it away sadly.

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  2. Omg, I cannot believe someone said "Charlie" LOLOLOL!! I still remember the horribly cheesy ad from South African tv during the 70's. Thankfully I don't think I ever smelled it. "Beautiful" was my best friend's fragrance when we were teens too; I chose the in my eyes more sophisticated "Knowing" ;). I also owned Paloma Picasso at some stage. Furthermore, since I had neither exotic/travelling family members nor access to niche brands (or moneypots), my early perfume experiences ran the gamut of the department store hall (Nina Ricci L'Air du Temps, all the Estee Lauders, Joy by Jean Patou, Anais Anais (I was going to call the daughter I've never had Anais, teehee, but after the writer), and a couple of Diors. Almost without exception, all of those perfumes are now associated with tragic love stories, too. In my mid 20's I started travelling a lot, and went to live in England for a while. let'sjust say i branched out! I enjoyed this interlude, I think especially since we are the same age!

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  3. Thank you Gaia, that was such fun to read. I would never have thought you started with chypre and came late to the orientals. Looking forward to the samsara review.

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  4. Never liked Shalimar (my uber-strict maternal grandmother's scent) until I was in my thirties. My great-aunt's go-to was Samsara and I liked it even less until I came back to it after a very recent post about it (thanks, btw). As a teen, I liked Paris I know, I know), Ysatis, and every single scent my ultra-chic paternal grandmother had on her dresser (none of which I can recall). I'd spend hours at her dresser and in her closet. And here's a weird one: Obsession was my college ferret's favorite scent (and my roommate's). He'd roll around with glee whenever I applied it (daily).

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    1. I've read that zoos use perfume to stimulate the animals and encourage them to explore their environments. One article indicated that Obsession was the tigers' favorite perfume! nozknoz

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    2. So cool! Tigers, too! Had no idea. (And I'm a veterinarian.)

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  5. Anais Anais, Ciara, and Je Reviens were my teenage staples. I think Tresor crept in somewhere along the line as it was a frequent GWP in makeup sets.

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  6. Isn't it interesting to look back and see how our perfumed lives developed? I loved reading this Gaia, thank you for sharing. I loved Colors and wore it frequently through college, it brings back good memories.

    I remember loving and wearing Eau de Patou by Patou and Cristalle eau de toilette by Chanel but receiving Forever Crystal from my mom one birthday year. Even as a teen, I had decided opinions as to what scents I wore. Without wanting to hurt mom's feelings, Forever Crystal was relegated for use as a room spray so at least it got used up. :)

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  7. What a wonderful story of your perfume 'journey.' I, too, loved Paloma Picasso way back when, tho I have to admit I was also one of the Giorgio wearers (and since I was a poor college student, I often wore its Designer Imposter version, Primo! I know, so sad).

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  8. Did 4711 really work on mosquito bites? It's funny that your mother used it for that, but please let us Southerners know. Mosquitos are big enough down here to carry off small pets. Great article though. I'm a child of the seventies, so my earlier perfumes were different...still fun to remember.

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  9. I always love reading about people's perfume journeys. Thanks for sharing. PS- i smelled Samsara a while ago so I'm looking forward to your review tomorrow.

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  10. Thanks for this! Always enjoy reading about people's perfume histories and how their tastes evolve. Ferme tes Yeux is such a fantastic place to end up and I think I've worn most of the other ones you mentioned. PalomaPicasso, Eau de Soir and Tiffany are still in my regular rotation. And I *love* the fact that your mother used perfumes for cleaning - brilliant and it completely cracks me up, especially since I've happily worn all three that you mentioned. I started out at a very, very early age being gifted with totally age inappropriate perfumes from my father (neither of my parents ever expected to have children and simply refused to believe that I was not just a short adult). The perfumes he gave me and which we shopped for together were his favorite classic chypres and floral aldehydes and I adored them because his enthusiasm for them was so contagious and, honestly, I loved anything my father loved. But when I was 11 I fell profoundly, eternally (not) in love with another 11 year old and, instinctively, I knew the classics weren't going to be his thing, so I bought my first non father approved perfume and it was one of the Coty solid perfume compacts - fell hard for the amber and sandalwood from the Woods compact. I still wore and loved my father's favorites, but started to wear more contemporary perfumes from department stores as well. Eventually fell down the niche/independent rabbit hole and my final frontier has been the world of natural perfumes - am a huge fan now, but it took me a long, long time to truly appreciate them. There's not a single memory I have that I don't associate some scent with - they are the one constant in my life. Look forward to your Samsara review.
    Anna

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  11. Great reading! IA favorite memory- I thought I hit the jackpot when I had a boyfriend who loved wearing Valentino just as much as I did. You reminded me of how Annick Goutal was also my entree into niche perfumery. I have to laugh at how I used to think the Caron's my father bought for my mother back in the 70's were dowdy, but now I look back at them fondly and remember them with such clarity.

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  12. I really enjoyed reading about your perfumed past. Thank you.

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  13. I really enjoyed your post and love the story about your mom's cleaning with perfumes!

    My first fragrances were Jean Nate, in the huge splash bottle, and Elizabeth Arden's Blue Grass, a scent I don't particularly like but was plentiful in the house from when my grandfather worked at EA. In the 80s I finally had some spending money from a few jobs while in school and spent it on the powerhouses - Giorgio, Poison ( oh the hype for that release, and finally smelling it, like nothing before), and some sadly discontinued perfumes - Germaine Monteil's Champagne, Jean Marc Sinan's über romantic perfume too, although I don't know if I could wear either now. I was a Chanel cosmetics freak, and felt proudly different in my preference for Chanel 22, 19 and Cristalle, while everyone else wore 5. In the late 80s I found a lasting signature scent - Samsara, which is super comforting, special and something I can reach for some 25 years later and still love. I gravitated to Hermes during my early career days, but nothing really satisfied except for 24 Faubourg. I went back to Chanel. I was surprised to find a nearly empty big bottle of Coco in my stash - I must have worn that a ton. Now that I've gotten interested in both niche and vintage I have bottles and samples all over the house and have a great time deciding on what to wear. Although if left up to my fiancé, I would be wearing Agent Provocateur every day.

    Thanks for letting me revisit my perfumed past!

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  14. Thank you for reminding us that we all have a perfumed past!

    Just LOVE that photograph. Don't you wish you could reach in and touch those bottles? Do I spy with my little eye a Chanel No. 5 and a Jacques Fath? Maybe even a Bellodgia or a Patou?

    Ok, time to dab on a bit of that Samsara before retiring. Perfumed dreams, everyone!

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  15. Love your perfume journey.
    I've used quite a bit of different fragances in my life, but I remeber my first perfume (I was 14 at the time), Eau Neuve de Lubin. I loved it, loved it, wore it two years and then disapear from Madrid stores.

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