January 1, 2010
As a new year begins in which I will turn 56 years old, I realize something I have never known about myself. I have never thought of myself as a person who cares much for cosmetic counter perfumes. Many of them change scent on me. Most make me sneeze. Since Patchouli days, I have preferred essential oils. But a series of events over the last days of 2009 has caused me to rethink my history with perfumes.
On New Year’s Eve night, my friends Bob and Gail Langley picked me up to ride with them to Jimmy and Joanne Camp’s party. The second I got in the car, Gail asked if I smelled her. I answered, “why, yes, but I thought it was my lapel.”
New Year’s Eve is also Bob and Gail’s 26th wedding anniversary and Gail had asked for a bottle of J’Adore Perfume by Christian Dior, a “radiant, sensual, sophisticated … fragrance that celebrates the renaissance of extreme femininity and the power of spontaneous emotion with a brilliant bouquet of orchids, the velvet touch of Damascus plum, and the mellowness of amaranth wood.” ☺ Gail continues to surprise me. I never pegged her as a girl who would ask for perfume, but she sure did smell good.
Just as Gail surprised me in asking for perfume as an anniversary gift –she and Bob had exchanged cremations for Christmas after all — I surprise myself in realizing that the luxury I have indulged in during my Christmas break from teaching has been to stop in at the mall several times a week to spray myself with Chanel No. 5, alternating of course between the tester at Dillard’s and the one at Belk. I cannot in good conscience pay nearly $100 for a bottle of perfume when there are homeless creatures in the world who need money more than the Chanel empire does, but for some reason, it has given me comfort this Christmas season to smell that scent that so many women from my childhood wore
I’ve written before about my early “love affair” with Jungle Gardenia by Tuvache. How melodic even its formulas is: “top notes of sage, clary oil, bitter orange oil, cyclamen, heliotrope. Middle notes of gardenia, tuberose, tarragon, ylang-ylang, violet leaves, jasmine, lily of the valley. Dry down notes of oak moss, musk, sandalwood and benzoin.”
As a junior high school girl, I could never afford my own bottle of Jungle Gardenia, but I snuck to the Rexall back then the way I am sneaking to the department stores now for Chanel No. 5, almost as if I am slipping away to a romantic interlude. And I never forgot Jungle Gardenia, the way we never forget our first love. Even when I was an awkward adolescent, it transported me to another reality. It appears that Elizabeth Taylor felt much the same way about it, and even developed her own Gardenia perfume a few years back. When Irma Shorrel bought the formula and started making what is supposed to be the original scent again, I bought a bottle. It smells very similar, but somehow not quite the same as it did in the Rexall when it was forbidden and I had to face the disapproving eye of the matron behind the counter when I tested it over and over. All she saw was a junior high school girl using up the tester with no ability to buy. She couldn’t see that I transformed into Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn, or Princess Grace with a couple of sprays of that magical elixir.
During the 1960s, I rendezvoused with Yardley’s Oh! De London. Sporting long straight hair and bangs, mini-skirts and white boots, a couple of sprays of Yardley turned me into Jean Shrimpton, Olivia Hussey, Jane Asher, Patti Boyd. Sadly, O! De London was gone by the 1970s. There were also brief interludes with Tabu, Ambush, Tigress, and Kiku, — and my Wind Song surely stayed on somebody’s mind. I could never forget Charlie, or the brief dalliance with Forever Krystle during the heyday of Linda Evans, John Forsythe, and Dynasty.
In the 1980s, my friend, Nadya, introduced me to Pheromone by Marilyn Mignon. When she changed to Jessica McLintock, she gave me most of a boxed set of Pheromone, and I continued to wear that fragrance into the 1990s. Pheromone not only smells exotic and wonderful but also comes with a story worth repeating. The Mignon website relates that “in her search for a scent unlike any other, Marilyn Miglin traveled the four corners of the world visiting the place where perfume were held in higher esteem than gold. Egypt. There, she examined unearthed jars, which once contained cherished essences and found that traces of fragrance remained after 5,000 years. From a search of carved temple reliefs and ancient hieroglyphs, she uncovered astonishingly complex and unforgettable formulations. Upon translation, ancient secrets for compounding and blending were unlocked from recorded time.”
Not only that. To make Pheromone, “Jasmine blossoms in full bloom during the night must be gathered before dawn when their scent reaches its highest level. Tonka extract come from a rare tree in Venezuela. Its tiny Ambrette seeds require precise soaking in rum before they are dried in the sun and ready for extrusion.”
The recipe for Pheromone sounds as exotic as the silks and dyes in that handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona that was a gift from a gypsy lady to his mother, its silk having coming from hallowed silk worms and its color from the blood of mummies.
So I have surprised myself: not a perfume girl I thought. For years, I have claimed interest only in pure essential oils and have turned up my nose at “store bought” perfumes, but a little retrospection has unveiled a truth about myself that until now I have not embraced. So I welcome a new year with the thought that in the last days of 2009, a few weeks before turning 56, I know myself a little better. What might I discover in 2010? Not sure, but I will be smelling good when the epiphany comes!