Friday, July 27, 2007

The Perfume Myth

Many of you were suspiciously quiet after my Demi Jour post, wherein I asked you, dear readers, to cop to an old perfume love that either disappointed you or reawakened your perfume interest. I’m guessing one of two things has occurred: Either you were so aghast that I actually ever wore Demi Jour by Houbigant (and admitted it right here on a perfume blog!) that you decided you could no longer be one of my readers, or you are terribly afraid to share. You fear exposure. You have a secret past with Liz Claiborne (you had that triangle shaped bottle in red, blue, and yellow!), and you still love it. But you’ll never, ever tell a soul. We all know that as perfume lovers, we’re snobs—to varying degrees, of course, but still snobs. But we didn’t all start out that way. No. But dare we admit it?

I liken this to the same effect that writing classes have on aspiring writers. At some point during the semester (or the writing program, if she’s hard core), the writer realizes she needs an Identity. This is what I call The Writing Myth: She’s been writing since she was three; she read Kafka at seven, Carver at twelve (the year after she left rehab, having faced a steadily worsening problem with the bottle since age nine), all of Sexton the year she turned thirteen; she started sending stories to The New Yorker at fifteen; she translated Borges at seventeen; she’s given up fiction now and she’s working on a screenplay, written in verse…You get the picture. No writer wants to create her myth based on the following dreadful reality: She started reading at five (beginning with the Berenstein Bears Ĺ“uvre), dutifully studied all the Cliff Notes for every book assigned through junior high and high school, never wrote a word until she got into a writing class because she still needed three credit hours to graduate and the only other choice was something in linguistics, read and secretly enjoyed Nancy Drew way past an acceptable age, and would tell the world that Rona Jaffe and Susan Isaacs were her favorite writers up to the point she said so in writing class and was mocked relentlessly by everyone, including the professor. (Nope. Neither one is me. I took my first writing class because one of my best friends told me I was a writer, and I was dumb enough to believe her. Before that, it was me, the French, and the Russians.)

The Perfume Myth takes hold soon after one falls in with other perfume lovers and is subtly chided for having announced that something like Babe was her first “real” perfume. And so she sets out to create her Identity. It goes something like this: Before birth, she was held inside an amniotic sac full of not…uh, “water,” but Mistuoko. Her mother, grandmother, and various other female relatives all wore Chanel No. 43 (Unbelievably rare! Even Coco didn't know the formula--or who created it!), or Dior Madame (Dior wore it himself, when he was got up secretly in his own New Look), or Patou 17 (only 17 bottles were made). Her first real perfume (at fifteen) was 24 Faubourg, given to her by an older French suitor, a friend of the family. At twenty-one she went to Paris and bought everything Serge Lutens had to offer…her means for this purchase—shady. Over the years, she’s fallen for and then dismissed bergamot, neroli, saffron, oakmoss, leather, iris, violet, geranium, jasmine, amber, lavender, and civet…oh really, the list is so long! She’s consistently bored and disappointed by new releases.

And the reality? Well, for some people (some who are very dear), a life close to the myth might be the truth. But for most of the women I know (and I’m extrapolating here), reality went something like this: At four, she ate part of a solid perfume for children from Avon, given to her by a family friend (from Paris, Texas, not Paris, France). At six, she begged for her first “real” bottle of perfume, which was also from Avon and had the main attraction of a bottle in the shape of a wiener dog. From the age of seven, she routinely dug through her mother’s purse and stole any perfume samples she could find and applied them all at the same time. (At least she was showing an interest!) At age twelve, she received a bottle of Bluegrass, which she unknowingly over-applied on a daily basis. At thirteen, she had a stint with over-applying any of the following: Love's Baby Soft, Babe, Le Jardin, Exclamation!, any of the Jovan musks, Bonne Bell Skin Musk, Wind Song, or certain imposter “designer” fragrances. At fourteen, she started bathing herself in her mother’s Giorgio. At sixteen, she bathed in Obsession. At twenty, she bathed in Christian Dior’s Poison (or YSL Opium, depending on chemistry, because by now she’d discovered that not everything worked for her “chemistry”). She stopped wearing perfume altogether for a while after the cute boy she sat next to every day in psychology class made a remark about the her constant cloud of perfume. And at some point, wandering through the maze of department store cosmetic counters one day, lonely and bereft of scent, she discovered Chanel No. 22. And that was the real beginning. (Nope, still not me...except for the over-applying, maybe. Gulp. And we know where my story begins--with this blog!)

Happy Friday, Everyone!