I’ve heard that your olfactory system, which is just fancy for your “sense of smell,” is the part of your sensory system most closely tied to vivid emotions and memories. And that is completely true for me! Enter perfume: A bottled essence so strong, I have a million and one memories, emotions, even sicknesses tied to MY past perfumes. But also, internal reactions and memories attached to the scents of friends, coworkers, family members, and even ex-boyfriends (anyone else’s high school fling wear Aqua Di Gio?)
My first (remembered) experience with perfume was when I was nine years old. My older sister had adopted the famed ’90s fragrance “Tommy Girl,” by Tommy Hilfiger, as her signature scent— and since she was the coolest person I knew (and still is) I thought it should be mine as well. I did this by sneaking into her drawer after she’d left for the day and spritzing WAY TOO MUCH Tommy Girl all over the “perfume spots” I’d seen people use in real life and in movies (neck, wrists, behind hair, chest, etc.) Then I’d do a second pass, making sure I REALLY got that aroma attached. And I’d casually leave to my elementary school smelling like one of those over-perfumed public nuisances, very likely giving everyone in my path a smell-induced migraine.
As what happens to most good things in life, it became too much of a good thing, and I got sick (the vomit kind) when wearing my sister’s perfume. One spell of nausea can ruin a scent forever, so I’ve never touched Tommy Girl again— Additionally, I can pick it out of a crowd blindfolded, because the scent still induces nausea. Bummer, Tommy.
My adolescence brought with it new smells borrowed from junior high and high school friends. These smells were usually excessively fruity, or sugary—or both sugary and fruity, at the same time. I remember a distinct period when I clung to any perfume that smelled (sickeningly) of cotton candy. There were a, surprising, lot of these cotton candy perfumes in my teenage perfume reserve— they usually had glitter in them or were packaged in a bottle with a faux fur topped lid. I’m now offering up a public apology to anyone who had to smell me at this time. I’m sorry for the headaches you got. I’m sorry if you never want to eat cotton candy again. She didn’t know any better— Bless her heart.
But I’d like to say that now, being well into my twenties, I do know better. Or at least a little better— because perfume choosing/wearing skills can always be finessed. Part of my perfume education came when I read the book How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits. It’s an enchanting and charismatic read (an EASY page turner), written by a foursome — some of the chicest women in Paris — Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas. And it’s essentially a Cool Girl Guide for all of us who are still trying to nail down what makes Parisian women so darn captivating. This book maps out an explanation for the French “je ne sais quai.” Giving bits of advice on everything from what you will NOT find in a Parisian’s closet, “Three inch heels—why live life halfway. Blingy jeans with embroidery and holes in them. They belong to Bollywood. UGG boots. Enough said. Logos. You are not a billboard…” To advice on being trendy, “Don’t follow trends (they follow you).” And coaching on how to carry yourself throughout life, “Always look as if you are gazing at the sunset. Even during rush hour in the Metro. Even when picking up frozen pizza from the supermarket.” Genius, this book. Genius.
But as aforementioned, one of my favorite lessons contained in the book is on the art of perfume. Parisians believe in high quality perfumes. Always high quality. They trust the classics — because CLASSICS are classic for a reason (Chanel No. 5, Yves Saint Laurent Opium, Guerlain Shalimar). But they also venture into more modern scent-muses (Kenzo Flower, Le Labo Ambrette 9 Eau de Parfum, Aerin Beauty Rose De Grasse).
They never leave the home without perfume—it’s akin to leaving the house stark naked. They put perfume “Wherever you want to be kissed,” which was famously said by Coco Chanel. The book suggests you put your scent behind your ear and at the nape of your neck. But wherever you put it, apply in a place that makes you feel confident—spritz in places that both you and those around you will notice. Perfume is a luxury for both you and those coming in contact with you!
My last favorite rule of perfume, is to “Find your perfume before you turn thirty. Wear it for the next thirty years.” Only cheating on your signature scent “on cold days.” Parisians have a signature scent, and they stay faithful to it for large spans of their lives — 30 years! This Parisian rule seems to encapsulate the enigma of the Cool French Girl. They know what works for them, and they stay faithful to it confidently— never doubting themselves.
I have a few good years of perfume exploration before I pick my 30th birthday scent—that is, if I strive to be a wannabe Parisian, which I do. Because I love the idea of owning a scent— of people recognizing my perfume and associating it with me. I love the idea of my (very future) children knowing my smell and remembering me after I’m dead and gone, by my specific smell— Because, you know, we already talked about smells being so closely attached to memories. You get it.
So how do you pick your signature smell? I think for the most part, a scent will pick YOU. Different notes and undertones in perfumes will speak to you. You know which scents you absolutely adore, once you smell them. So take the time to explore perfumes. Try a wide range—and I mean TRY. Try them on. Because what smells amazing on your coworker won’t smell quite the same on you. Perfumes mix with you own body’s chemistry, which can alter the scent. So instead of buying large bottles of perfumes you’re still undecided on— opt for going to high end stores and getting a small sample bottles. Wear it for as long as it takes for you to make up your mind. How to you feel wearing the smell? Confident and pretty? Sick and stifled? How do others around you treat you when wearing the perfume. I often know I’ve found a winner perfume, when I love it AND everyone around me loves it and asks me about it, as well.
So what do you think of this Parisian rule? Do you believe in one signature scent? Or do you have a large perfume arsenal atop your bathroom vanity? If you do have a signature scent, as always, I’d love to hear what yours is! If you love to change up your scent, tell me why!
Until next time, XOXO