Fragrance shares significant moments of our lives. It’s with us when we get married, we spray it on for our first dance, we are fascinated by the pretty bottles that live on our mother’s dressing table.
As we grow up so do our fragrance choices. When I think back to some of the key moments of my life, I remember the scent I was wearing at the time. From my early forays into Avon’s Love’s Baby Soft to my first whiff of the legendary Chanel No. 5, fragrance evokes many emotional memories for me.
As a child, my introduction to perfume came from my mother. Traces of Chantilly by Houbigant would drift through the house as she got dressed in the morning. Whenever I smell Chantilly I think of clean, powdery summer mornings and my beautiful mother. She never wore any other perfume her whole life.
I thought that was the way it worked. Just as there is supposed to be your one perfect mate somewhere in the world, so too, were you supposed to discover that one ideal fragrance. Being a romantic child, I began my search for my signature scent at a very early age. Of course, my tastes have changed over time and grown with me.
In grade school, Love’s Baby Soft by Avon was all the rage. It came in many different kinds of limited-edition collectible bottles. That was part of the attraction. My favorite was a green cut-glass Christmas stocking with a gold cap. It was sweet and young and age appropriate. It was the perfect fragrance for selling Girl Scout cookies door to door. Then the teenage years set in.
Trying to prove I was sophisticated as I started high school, I switched to Halston. It came in a chic, teardrop-shaped bottle and made me feel like I was wearing one of Roy Halston’s sexy red halter dresses. Although it was a fruity floral, it had a rich, smoky, dark undertone. I thought it was so exotic. Surely, Studio 54 must have smelled like this. I remember my sister-in-law also wore Halston. And whenever my baby nephew wanted to take a nap, he sought out my shoulder because I smelled safe like his mother.
Then the 1980s came to town and Halston wasn’t flashy enough for me. I switched to Niki de Saint Phalle, because I fell in love with the artistic bottle with two wildly painted coiled snakes. It was a chypre floral scent, lighter than Halston but much more complex and elusive. It conjured up images of sophisticated modern art galleries.
During my high school years, a local TV station aired silent movies at midnight on the weekends and I discovered Louise Brooks. Her image was so striking and her bobbed hair still so modern decades later. I don’t know what perfume she wore, but I remember a TV ad for Lou Lou by Cacharel that was inspired by her look. It came in an art deco turquoise bottle with a red stopper. It was a spicy amber floral with an intimate feel.
On My Own
On a trip to New York when I was a freshman in college, I bought an Italian perfume called Donna. I can’t remember who made it. But I bought it in NYC and that was all I cared about. I also bought a copy of an Italian fashion magazine called Donna at the same time on an actual New York newsstand. It was about two inches thick, cost me $14.00, was in Italian, and I couldn’t read a word of it. But I thought I was on the inside track to the glamorous fashion world. Donna was a vivid spicy fragrance that made me feel like one of the Bright Young Things making their way in the big city.
One snowy day at college I was stuck in the school library and came across a huge oversized biography of Coco Chanel. It was full of pictures of her little black dresses and ladylike suits and, of course, the woman herself. I fell in love. When developing her first perfume, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel said she wanted a scent that reminded her of Arctic moonlight. I immediately had to have Chanel No. 5. To me it’s cultured, modest and gentle but heat it up a little and it gets very seductive. It’s been my signature scent ever since. I stray once in a while to mix it up but I always return to No. 5.
Over the years I have liked other perfumes: Poeme by Lancome, L’Heure Bleu by Guerlain, Fleurissimo by Creed. I’ve even tried some of the other Chanels, but nothing has ever suited my personality, lifestyle and dreams like No. 5. I think it is the most perfect fragrance in the world. It’s what a woman should smell like.
Creating My Own Scent
As a hobby I started experimenting with perfume-making at home. After investigating the fragrance notes in my favorite perfumes, I started to discover similarities. Most of them contained rose, jasmine, peach, ylang ylang and amber among other notes individual to each perfume.
I set out to make my own and bought a book on the art of making perfume. The author suggested using jojoba oil as a base because it is odorless and does not degrade over time. Jojoba oil is actually a liquid wax. I bought essential oils of rose and jasmine and many others and worked by trial and error. I used 3/4 of an ounce of jojoba oil and 10-15 drops of a combination of essential oils. After many iterations I came up with a fragrance that I adore. It’s not quite Chanel No. 5 but nothing ever will be. But it’s made by my own hand. Maybe someday I’ll try to market it, but for now I’m content to have it be mine alone.
So after years of searching, I have Chanel No. 5 as my signature scent and my own special concoction for days when I want something that no one else in the world can own.
Do you have a signature scent? What is your perfume history?