When I was a little girl, I loved empty bottles: medicine bottles, wine bottles, perfume bottles, even broken bottles. Each spring my family planted a garden in the back of a vacant yard where Miss Annie Cunningham’s house had once stood. Miss Annie must have had an epic garbage dump on the spot where we planted our garden because year after year that newly plowed plot was a treasure trove of bottles and jars.
In addition to digging for buried treasures, I also begged older relatives to save their empty medicine bottles for me. Even the customers at Daddy’s store knew to save me their cobalt blue Milk of Magnesia, Vick’s Salve, and Noxzema bottles and jars.
When I was a little more sophisticated, I discovered that many ladies – such as my Aunt Lillian and my great Aunt Evelyn – would give me their beautiful empty perfume bottles. My own mama didn’t wear make-up or perfume, so a whole new world opened up to me the first time I took the glass stopper from an empty Chanel No. 5 bottle and smelled the lingering scent. (Jungle Gardenia by Tuvache didn’t seduce me till later, but I remember the exact moment — I was fourteen — that I picked up a sample sheet saturated in the luscious smell of gardenias while standing at the counter at the Rexall waiting for a vanilla coke.)
Last week, more than fifty years since I first smelled Chanel No. 5, I came across an Internet blog on which someone asked if “anybody out there” knew the recipe for Chanel No. 5. About five bloggers wrote back to the effect that the girl who asked the question must be stupid if she thought that information was available. They said she might as well ask the formula for Coca-Cola or KFC. Of course, I found the blog in the first place because I was looking for the recipe for Chanel No. 5, so I was grateful that a courtly sort named Starbuck modestly answered her with this simple message:
Top Notes: Aldehydes, grasse jasmine, neroli
Heart Notes: rose, ylang-ylang, iris, and lily of the valley
Base Notes: amber, patchouli, vanilla
A gentleman with real information instead of a smart Alec with a comeback is something
to value, as is a wonderful scent. The Chanel No. 5 web page confirms that Starbuck
was correct. It describes the scent this way:
“Launches with bewitching notes of Ylang-Ylang and Neroli, then unfolds with Grasse Jasmine and May Rose. Sandalwood and Vanilla round out the fabled composition with unforgettable woody notes.”
Reading that recipe I realize that over the years my favorite fragrances — ylang-ylang, patchouli, amber, neroli, and even vanilla — were most likely influenced by that first empty bottle of Chanel No. 5 that Aunt Lillian or Aunt Evelyn gave me for my bottle collection, that my interest today in scents and essential oils probably started there, too. Those vessels weren’t empty after all.
copyright, Marian Carcache, 2010