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You Smell Nice
updated: Apr 30, 2009, 12:00 AM
You Smell Nice
by Nicole Freire
I think my first foray into perfume was Jean Nate. I have a vague memory of telling my mom I wanted to wear perfume and her taking me to the drugstore and buying me a bottle of Jean Nate. I don't remember much beyond that. I know that bottle was yellow and that I didn't like it. Something vaguely old lady that, at the ripe old age of 11 or 12, I already knew that's not how I wanted to smell.
Next up was Love's Baby Soft. Now this one I liked, despite the ultra sticky sweet aroma. It came in a pink bottle and it was what my friends wore. Peer pressure is a hard thing to escape. And did I mention that it was pink? My favorite color? And if you're a woman approaching 40, don't tell me you didn't also have a bottle of Love's Baby Soft, right next to your collection of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers.
There was a brief time in the early 80's when body sprays came into vogue. I cannot remember for the life of me what the trade name was, only that they came in a dozen or so smells. I wore one that smelled good (I thought) until one day after gym class someone said, "Who is wearing boy's cologne?" That was the end of that.
And then one Christmas I received a box set of Anais Anais. I think it had a candle, a bottle of Anais Anais perfume and maybe some body powder or lotion? It was quite possibly the coolest gift I received that year. I loved the ultra-feminine bottle with its soft focus pink (again with the pink) flowers and frosted glass cover. Actually, it was probably frosted plastic, but I like to think it was glass because that would be more grown up.
Around these adolescent years I did a lot of babysitting - a ton of it. It was a way to make my own money and a peek into how other people lived in their houses. That's because I'm curious, not snoopy. There were the good families who told you to eat whatever you could find in the kitchen or who had ordered pizza for the kids and me. There were families that had matching couches and little tables with damask tablecloths with glass tops, the better to display a dozen or so pictures of the family in matching frames. There were also families that forgot that you might get hungry after chasing their children around for five hours and I'd have to resort to eating the leftover sausage rolls that came in those big baskets full of weird cheeses and petit fours and sausage wrapped in plastic.
But I digressed there about my babysitting gigs. The best one of all was a family where the mother wore Opium perfume - and not just the Opium cologne. No, she had the real deal - a big beautiful Asian-inspired jar of real perfume, the oil kind, the expensive kind. It might have had a tassel tied around the top. And every night I babysat for this family
I would sneak into their bathroom and put just a dab of Opium perfume behind my ears.
I can't imagine that they didn't notice the fact that every time they came home their babysitter smelled like a very expensive French salon. Opium is a pretty strong perfume and I think it's silly now that I thought I was getting away with it. The mother never said anything to me and maybe it was because she knew I was sneaking a bit of her perfume and was wearing it because I thought it was glamorous. I thought the mother was glamorous, and by wearing a bit of her perfume, maybe some of that glamour, imagined or not, would rub off on me.
I do remember my mother's perfume, Chanel No. 5. A classic. She might have had others on her bathroom counter, but number 5 is what I remember best.
My paternal grandmother wore L'air du Temps, which had the distinction of being the most feminine perfume bottle of all time. The top of the bottle was two doves entwined together, in frosted glass or maybe plastic. Whichever it was, she only wore it on special occasions. It sat on her mirrored dressing table tray, along with her watch and an Estee Lauder lipstick.
My aunt wore Shalimar and only Shalimar. I think of her every time I smell it. A college friend of my aunt and my mother wears Joy perfume. Joy used to be advertised as "the world's most expensive perfume". I don't know how much it costs, but every time I see this family friend, she does smell awfully good.
I don't remember what my maternal grandmother wore. It may have been Chanel No.5 too; maybe that's where my mom started wearing it.
In college I dilly-dallied with Calyx perfume, only because I had to travel downtown by bus to Macy's to buy it. It was one of those 'green' perfumes, which had nothing to do with recycling and everything to do with some sort of advertising hook.
When I did a semester abroad, I discovered a whole new world of perfume. Boucheron was first introduced in 1988 (quick, do some math!) and I loved the bottle and it's recommendation on the box that it only be worn in the evening. The bottle was shaped like a ring and looked so much nicer in my tiny dorm room than anything else. When I returned from the states I was bitterly disappointed that Boucheron was nowhere to be found in the States. It would have to be special ordered from Europe and the cost was prohibitive for a college student.
Up next was Samsara. God, did I love that perfume. I wore it all the time and it never failed to elicit compliments from women and men. But I started noticing that I was getting compliments from men on my perfume while I was with other men, men I dated, men I thought I was in love with. Dinner with this guy named Ed? Three men asked me what I was wearing. Samsara, of course. Ed didn't even blink an eye. Standing in line for a burrito with my then-husband? The man in front of us and the guy in back of us, both asked me what I was wearing. Samsara. I looked at my then husband, who was clearly too busy debating his salsa choices to even notice that I was wearing perfume.
After this happened enough times to start making me feel uncomfortable I stopped wearing it. Clearly whatever pheromones Samsara contained was sending the wrong signals to men. Actually maybe it was sending the right signals, like "stop dating these losers who don't notice your perfume" and "don't you think your husband might be gay?"
(Which he totally was, but that's a whole other column, a long one.)
I got married again and started wearing Coco by Chanel. Not sure why, I may have picked up a sample at a department store. I loved it. It smelled good, it made me feel ultra feminine and my boyfriend (soon to be my next husband) at the time, loved it.
"It just smells like you," he would say. And so it became my only perfume, my signature smell.
(I so want to fit a Steve Martin reference here, the line where he says, "Not to smell like any other guy! I want to have my own individual ODOR. That's why I wear tuna fish sandwich!")
When I found out I was pregnant with my first child I decided that I would permanently wear Coco, because I wanted my son or daughter to always associate the smell of Coco with me, their mother. No more playing around with other perfumes, perfumes that came and went out of style, no 'green' smells, no perfume that appealed to everyone else. Just one, Coco.
And it worked. Both my daughters like to tell me that I smell good. And when I ask why I smell so good, they just smile and say, it smells like you. Pretty. Can I wear some?
My husband still loves the way it smells on me and when I get compliments on my perfume, they're not weird ones, just a simple, "Oh, that's nice!"
Best of all, this makes Christmas shopping extremely easy for my father. By some family quirk, my mother still wears Chanel No. 5, my sister wears Chanel No. 19, and I still wear Coco. All my dad has to do around the holidays is belly up to the Chanel counter and say, "I'd like some number 5, some number 19, and some Coco.
Sometimes it is perfume, sometimes it is the lighter cologne version and sometimes it's body powder that comes with a puffball applicator the size of a small bunny and makes you feel really decadent. And since it's Chanel, it's already gift wrapped for him. I like to think we just do it to make his shopping life easier but I know that my mother, my sister, and I all have really good taste. Or is it that we taste good?
Dr. Weil, that health guru who wants people to eat more legumes says, "Scents have an uncanny ability to trigger memories because they are the only sense that directly connects to the part of the brain that stores emotional memories".
So tell me Edhat readers, what are you wearing right now? What did your mother wear? Your grandmother? What does it make you think of? And how good do you smell?
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Nicole Freire is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara.
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