8 Mar 2011

Hestias life...... in perfume

Excellent drain cleaner
I was tidying out the bathroom cabinet (yes, Tartarus* is home in 2 days time.  Yes, I have been spelling his pseudonym blog name wrong now for nearly a year and must rectify the situation immediately).  I uncovered a load of perfume bottles and wondered what they might say about me:

Here is my life in perfume:

The first ever bottle that I owned was in the late 60s when my gran died.  As my mum and dad cleared out her house, I was handed a tiny dark blue bottle - Evening in Paris.  It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, tiny and ultra-sophisticated. I was also handed a black moleskin jotter, with an elastic band round it - for my endless writing. As the house was emptied round about me, I picked up a pencil and began my novel:  About the ghost of a motorcyclist that haunts the heroine and they fall in love.

I think I must have been watching The Ghost and Mrs Miniver or something.  I never made it past the second page of my new moleskin lined book with that book.  A dangerous writing precedent was thus set.  Today I could write a novel called: 'My Greatest Starts To a Novel'.

The bottle had a teeny tiny midnight blue rubber stopper (maybe the original silver lid was lost?) and I recall the excitement of managing to pull the stopper out and attempting to sniff the tiny puddle of perfume inside.  I raised my tiny nose over the tiny rim...... and 'bleaurgh*! I think it may have been the first time I dry-retched too.

FACT:  Evening in Paris, probably pre-war - smells worse than haemorrhoid cream tastes.

I then moved on to the heady fragrances of the 70s - Charlie was the first proper fragrance that I was ever given.  Mercifully, I seem to have blotted out how it actually smelled, but I remember bathing myself liberally in clouds of it before going to the Countdown Disco to dance to 'Don't Blame it on The Sunshine' and drink loads of Coca-Cola.

At one of these discos, I 'scored' with a chap whom I knew from school, but I didn't really like very much - let's call him Andy.  Well, I liked him, but I didn't fancy him. I remember doing that a lot back then - being pathetically grateful for any chap's interest.  Except Iain Robertson.  He used to tease me mercilessly until I would walk home from school weeping into my blazer.  With hindsight, I think he fancied me.  But calling someone 'poxy pollock' wasn't going to get you anywhere near my M&S bra straps.  Still won't.

Many years later, I saw on the front page of our local paper that a chap with the VERY same name as Andy and the very same age, was up on paedophile charges..... If it's him, I think that might go down in history as my VERY worst boyfriend, don't you?

You can almost smell the Indian Subcontinent off me!
I moved seamlessly from Charlie to the heady (but clothes-staining) fragrance of Patchouli oil when I was at Uni.  You were nothing unless you smelled like a very old sofa that had belonged to some pot-smoking hippies.  I went through bottles of the stuff.  Even now, I only have to walk past a shop that sells it and the early 80s comes flooding back....

After uni, it was Estee Lauder's White Linen and Private Collection.  My girlfriend Seona and I used to use our mothers' perfume and it was not unheard of us to climb into the back of a taxi to the Pink Panther and the poor taxi driver had to wind down his window to breathe.

A light veil of scent was not our preferred modus operandi.  Shock and Awe was.

We slapped people around the head with it.  Flies dropped out of the sky dead, so powereful was our scent.  We aimed to render young men sufficiently unconscious to drag them back to our table where we consumed vast amounts of Tequila Sunrise and tried to have our evil way with them.

This stun and drag technique worked with a modicom of success and thus gave me a taste for strong perfume I bounced from the throat-closing heaviness of Obsession to the cloying play-dough of Poison right through to to the dark chocolate-boxy Paloma Picasso (I still have an unopened bottle in the bathroom cabinet).

My working life on the mainland was characterised by a pathetic attempt to smell like people I admired. Not celebrities, but friends.  Perfume was a way to be somebody.  To project something about yourself to others by scent. I am an advertising man's dream.  I WANT to buy into their fantasy world: 'Own this scent and you WILL be standing on the Eiffel tower with Justin Timberlake by your side'. 

I can't tell you how many times I tried Aromatics Elixir because I adored it on other people and yet, on me, it smelled....not vile....but different.  Not nice.  I've finally accepted that my body chemistry doesn't like it.  Nor does it like Angel.  I ended up smelling like a teenage boy's sports bag wearing that.  All very disappointing.

During those heady days of working with a slew of mad but wonderful veterinary surgeons and nurses, I tried Green Tea, Caleche, and Clarin's Eau Dynamisante before settling on Chanel No: 5.  This was, I concluded, a real perfume.  I have owned it as EDT and Parfum and it has been an abslolute star in my perfume stable. Nothing makes me feel quite as in control of myself as a bottle of Chanel's masterpiece standing on my dressing table.  It is my grown up talisman.

But sometimes a girl can weary of a fragrance, just as she can a kind but boring lover, and I have had flirtations and the odd overnight in a hotel with Origins Ginger Essence and even some Jo Malone (Pomegranate Noir).

One of the most enjoyable hours I have spent was in Penhaligons in Glasgow (now defunct) where I was escorted through lots of perfumes based on my former scent-loves.  We were not allowed to see the boxes but just to go on the scents themselves.  At the end, I settled for one that I thought was me - Mahalabra and, while I don't wear it every day, I am reminded of the wonderful fun I had choosing it every time I scoot it into the air and walk under it.  If they still do these escorted wanders through their perfumes, I'd strongly recommend it.  But don't look at the boxes - you will be amazed at how the design and colours of scent boxes can push and pull you!

These days I am drawn to things that smell of white flowers or freshness - Origin's Ginger Essence and, yes, Eau Dynamisante.  Almost back to the beginning.

But never, EVER Evening in Paris.
What about you?

*Tartarus = the deepest, darkest pit of hell ;-)


  1. Oh God did that make me laugh.
    My mum had that evening in Paris perfume too and Charlie was MY first perfume, and I used(and still do at times) patchouli at uni.
    I have a wardrobe of perfumes now to suit mood and occasion and I never ever buy something either for the name or for the associations but entirely on how it smells on me.
    I am slowly writing a book of guidd meditations using fragrances, even everyday ones like bread or coffee as well as more exotic ones, because fragrance is so powerfully evocative.
    thanks for the giggle and the memories

  2. Loved the trip back in time, especially a teenage boy's sports bag!! very descript and hilarious.
    I was bought a bottle of Gucci something or other & still attempt to wear it on an annual basis, it smells like a cats pee in a litter tray on me :(
    My first real perfume was Rive Gauche oooh YSL sophistication in chrome & royal blue packaging. And Safari was the ultimate grown up glamour, I thought I would look as gorgeous as the models promoting them ha ha.
    My fav perfume memory though was a Panache versus Tweed fight that me & best friend at the time had. We squirted each other until the house smelt like an old biddies handbag Gross.
    oooh also reminded me of Anais Anais and Lulu ha ha ha xxx

  3. I have lost my perfume sense in the same way that others lose their fashion sense (I can't lose that cos I never had it in the first place).

    My first perfume was Aqua Manda as I remember it there was a vague Christmassy mandarin type smell about it.

    That was followed (or maybe preceded by Avon's Pretty Peach).

    I went through the musk phase too, that and Patchouli. It makes me feel kind of sick and bubbly-excited at the same time now. I think that was how early sexual attraction felt but I can't swear to it.

    The end of the seventies was Dioressence, which I still love. A really sort of powdery smell and I still have an ancient bottle of it but it just smells like alcohol now. I must get myself some if it's still available.

    The eighties was Poison; no wonder I suffered from severe migraine. I gave my last unopened bottle away - couldn't even bear to look at it.

    I've flirted with enJoy, a little sister to 'the most expensive perfume in the world,' as well as L'heure Exquise by Annick Goutal (which is rather gorgeous but not me).

    For the purposes of this response I've just counted the perfume bottles on my bathroom shelf - their are over 50 of them. All that money and none of them is 'the' perfume :-(

    Have I reached the grand old age where it's Tweed (do they even still make it?)

  4. My Mum wore Femme (Rochas), which I haven't smelled in years but I believe you can still get. My first perfume was Masumi, discontinued now I believe, then I flirted briefly with Poison (by flirted I mean that I would blag a squirt from the tester bottle now and again) but it's brutality put even me off. Then I wore Japanese Musk from the Body Shop for ages, but being a perfume oil it had a tendency to melt plastic, not to mention staining clothes and skin.
    My current standby is (Lagerfeld) Sun, Moon and Stars and Gaultier for special occasions.
    I absolutely hate Angel, it's nauseatingly sickly.

  5. Ooh, Butterfly, I'd forgotten about Panache - I used to wear that too :D

  6. Ali -

    As has already been said here, this is a hysterical post! Evening In Paris was my very first perfume - loved the beautiful bottle,loved the scent. That it could be purchased at Woolworth's should say something! ;-)

    In my twenties I discovered Chanel #5 and L'Air du Temp, both of which I still wear. I also wear St. John, Nordstrom's signature perfume.

    And yes - I too tend to be a bit heavy on the scent.

    Our perfume preferences certainly do tell our stories!


  7. Hilarious, Ali!!
    My Grandma had that Evening In Paris perfume, it smelt vile but it did come in a limited edition cellophane presentation pack with a plush covered black cat with diamonte eyes which more than made up for the smell.
    Charlie was my first perfume too, I even had a limited edition Charlie boucle tracksuit as a bonus Xmas pressie on year.
    I'm still on the Patchouli love, Lush do a brilliant solid stick perfume which I love.
    Love that picture of you, your hair is fabulous. xxx

  8. Oh the heady thrill of youth and the ability to wear vast amounts of scented things and feel beautiful. What a great post!
    Most things work terribly with my body chemistry I feel which is why I really question my sister-in-laws desire to buy me expensive bottles of perfume for me. Or why they all seem to be a musk based scent.... I am a one perfume type of girl and we've been very happy for almost a decade now. I'll cry when they stop making it.

  9. aaw what a brilliant subject :)

    I too dabbled with Patchouli and still love it, but my scent de jour at college was Cannabis...the perfume you understand! It came in a little square bottle and probably still does...I bet there's one lurking somewhere near by box of 20-odd year old incense from that time.

    My perfume staple is Opium (hmmm a recurring theme here perhaps?) My Mum wears it and Ive always loved it... so it became "mine". Chanel I adore in the bottle, but its just cat's pee on my skin.

    I love Isse Myake [sp?] for the summer, and have a square bottle of Avon Lavender from primary school that still sits on a shelf (long story that one).

    I dabble too...having a hubby who manages a pharmacy can be an awful incentive to try new perfumes.

  10. Ahh, Patchouli, now that takes me back a few years.
    My first try at aftershave came from my dad's old spice. I followed the ad and splashed it on all over, and instantly regretted it. I wouldn't have been more surprised if I had used sulphuric acid. I can remember going out with a face as red as a well slapped arse. People could smell me before they could see me.
    Happy Daze

  11. I'm such an unadventurous soul when it comes to perfume.

    I did the typical 90's teenager thing of CK One, Cool Water and Ghost, then discovered Armani She and never looked back. It's been years since I've worn anything except that and Soap & Glory (which is gorgeous and only cost £15 a bottle, bargain!). Oh and a little tin of Lush's Honey I Washed The Kids solid perfume in my makeup bag for emergencies. I like the sweet smelling ones, clearly.

    The overpowering smell from my teenage years is Vanilla Kisses bodyspray by Impulse. Bleurghhhh!! The PE changing rooms used to honk of it.

  12. hm, over the last decade my body's become seriously sensitive to artificial scents, so i'm on a strict essential oil only olfactory diet including, dare i say it, the dreaded patchouli.

    my perfume journey began in the late 80's with all of the usual suspects (obsession, CK eternity, poison etc). i lost my cherry to a man wearing CK eternity for men and for a long time i got all tingly when i smelled it.

    i had chanel no.5 (given to me by a married lover) which i tried to like on account of its cultural cachet but failed because it just smelled like old soap on me, moved on to estee lauder pleasures and then wore alfred sung's pure for a while.

    i loved estee lauder's "beautiful" but on me it smelled like rotting corpse. i was also once attacked by a salesgirl and liberally doused with tresor which i hated but which resulted in random strangers in the street stopping me to tell me how nicely i smelled.

    i finally found my heart's own fragrance in st. john's white camellia, but by then my body's growing revulsion with artificial scent had reached epic proportions and i had to give away the quarter bottle that remained.

    and now it's all organic natural hairy-armpit kind of stuff, but that's ok. i wear patchouli, cardamom, bergamot, clary sage and geranium and i enjoy the fact that i am not nauseated and ill by the end of the day.

    also, i am so thankful that the days of bathing oneself in perfume are over.

  13. Does anyone remember Stevie b? it was the same era as Charlie - after both of those I went for patchouli, then japanese musk, then a Gaultier one. I blogged recently about trying to find a "new" perfume - I still haven't found "the one!"

  14. my Grandma used to wear a heady brew of Jean Patou's Joy, cigarettes and whiskey..... while for me Joseph's Parfum du Jour is the scent of my youth....that an lashings of Ambre Solaire suntan 0il......hitting the big-haired-shoulder's-padded 80s drenched in Opium quickly followed by Chanel's Coco.....the scent still makes me think I'm a movie stars.... and finally I found Jo Malone's Pomegranate Noir.... in which I still happily splash!!

  15. Dear Alison, Between assisting with homework, making dinner, cleaning out tiny turtles' tank and reading to small child in bed I have been reading your blog. I was drawn to it by your brilliant comment on Ms FF's blog the other day and now it is 2:47am and I have to be up at 6:30am to ensure my little girls get up and get to school with breakfast and a packed lunch. So why do I keep saying to myself: just one more post?

    Madame Rochas evokes my mother in all the elegance of the 1970s. I remember L'Air du Temps at Uni and then I also flirted with White Linen - I can remember it now. It made me feel crisp and professional. I loved Diorella but sadly Dior don't make it anymore. Now, it is Miss Dior Cherie. I do like a fresh citrusy Spring fragrance. Must must go to bed. Lindaxxx

  16. Dearest Ali, great post! The "stun and drag technique" had me laughing out loud.

    I've gone from musk to patchouli, to Chanel No. 5, to Opium to Obsession to Jean Paul Gaultier for Men to Must de Cartier and finally Le Labo's another 13 which has synthetic animal musk in it (sounds horrible but it isn't). I still love them all but Cartier is the one. Everyone asks me what I'm wearing when I wear that or Le Labo. I shall spray you with them when you come to London. Good luck with the tidying. I'm around for the next few days if you fancy a chat. Love C xx

  17. Hi Ali, I did the same post a few month's back - and there are some uncanny similarities - didn't get many comments though. I had the same hair as you too - Crystal Tips - I did love it at the time, but these days the required amount of serums is costing me a fortune. Weird the Aromatics Elixir thing, my mum wore it and smelled lovely, but it was just old ladyish on me x

  18. Hey you, love this post, nothing prods the memory like a waft of perfume you or someone close to you used to wear.

    I started my perfume adventure with Miss Selfridges Soft Talk, followed by a brief flirtation with my Mothers YSL Rive Gauche, then graduated to Cacharel, Anais Anais (very annoying the sqirty thing always malfunctioned) a brief phase with aftershave namely Paco Rabanne and Davidoff cool Water, then a couple of years with Calvin Kleins Eternity alternated with YSL Paris. my dressing table is now littered with different perfumes I still have not found THE ONE, these days I alternate between Eau Dynamisante, Chanel Cristalle and Sisley Eau de Soir. I favour more citrus, chypre fragrances as anything too cloying or flowery gives me a headache.

    I spent a fabulous sniffing hour in Penhaligons in London last May choosing an aftershave for MG, I settled on Endymion, the lovely shop assistant told me afterwards it's the most popular fragrance chosen by women for men!

  19. My mum wore Cote L'Aimant, Estee Lauder Youth Dew, and occasionally Chanel NO. 5. I Still have her bottles of them, though I don't wear them - Those were the first perfumes I tried.

    As a teenager, I was an Avon lady, so you can imagine the range of smells radiating off of me throughout my teenage years! Far Away anyone? I was also a big fan of Charlie Red (which i still like the smell of).

    Toward the end of my teenage years, I developed a taste for Angel, which I also still wear very occasionally, and I have Clinique Happy for day time.

    The very best 'me' perfume I have found so far is Coco Madamoiselle.

    As the husband is allergic to all things fragranced though, I am limited to what can be gotten naturally, so I mostly smell or either rosewater or lavender.

  20. What brilliant responses you left for me! I have sat here knotting myself with laughter and recognition! I feel that I know some of you even better than I did before! So, thank you!!

    Linda in Chile - thank you so much for swinging by the blog. I can't seem to get access to your account details to see what your own blog might be?

    zenandtheartoftightropewalking - you too, thank you for coming here and taking the time to comment.

    I love it when people leave comments (even if they're just to tell me I'm talking out my ass)

    I hope you'll both chip in with comments again.

    Ali xxxx

  21. I hope your great perfume post takes your mind of your inner physiological gravel formation. Some of those names took be back. Especially the Patchouli. For some reason it's tied inextricably in my mind to Cheesecloth blouses and Indian headbands. I also agree about the Channel No 5. It's the only perfume I feel safe buying for my beloved.

  22. Ooh, another one I almost forgot and indeed still have in a drawer is Oscar de la Renta. That one was bought in Paris and was so "special occasion" I kept forgetting I had it :D


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