Friday, March 19, 2010

the lie of perfumes

for a good portion of my "grown up" life i have wished and wished for a signature scent. any of you who have ever picked up a fashion magazine will be all too familiar with that phrase as it's an idea that's been used to promote and push perfumes since the dawn of time... er, well, since the dawn of using magazines to market perfume anyway. the idea is this, there is a wonderful and unique scent out there for every lady and when she finds it, she will wear it every day leaving behind an ethereal scent cloud that will hypnotize men and draw the blind envy of every other lady and everyone will know she was present by the trace of lovely scents left behind. sounds awesome, right?! don't you totally want a signature scent now?! thought so.

the reality is that perfumes, for the most part, are disgusting! perhaps i have an unsophisticated nose but most perfumes- whether we're talking $10 cheapies from walgreens or $100+ decanters from posh department stores- all smell the same to me: like cloying old ladies. the alcohol base in all perfumes sizzles my nose hairs and causes immediate sinus pain which then turns into a dull headache and i don't care what notes are sworn to be in each fragrance, all i can smell is a totally pungent muddled mess that's slightly flowery, slightly soapy and close to migraine inducing. and when i say "soapy", i'm talking harsh cheap soap like irish spring or dial.

even so, every so often the marketers do their job and i think, 'oh maybe this one's different! maybe this one will be my signature scent!' most recently, i was drawn in by the charlotte gainsbourg fronted campaign for balenciaga paris. i read in vogue about how charlotte worked directly with the heads of balenciaga to create this wonderful elixir of violet and pepper notes. it sounded so rich and exotic! 'charlotte wouldn't develop and then lend her name to an inferior scent!', i delcared. i began scouring the web for info and happened upon a site that would sell me a sample for $4. i planned on buying before rushing off to an engagement. fate intervened however and i came home to my new issue of vanity fair- which upon casual flipping through, revealed a sample insert of BP! and there charlotte, looking sensual and demure all at once, worldly and smart... 'this is it', i thought, 'this is when it all changes for me!'

i opened the sample flap and rubbed that dry perfume all over my arms. was i more worldly, more chic?? i couldn't tell yet. what i could tell was that i didn't smell like violets or pepper, but like an old lady who'd be rolling around in a soapy flower garden all day. 'all hope is not lost', i thought, 'haven't i read countless times (in fashion magazines, of course) that everyone's unique body chemistry will, over time, mutate a scent into something that is their own?' yes, yes i had read that countless times! so i waited and snuck sniffs here and there and kept giving myself a pep talk, 'any time now, i'll smell lovely and will magically embody charlotte's effortless cool.' well, dear readers, it never happened. three hours later, having forgotten that i'd applied a perfume sample, i started to smell something altogether terrible and sadly realized, it was me.

in a last ditch attempt to claim BP as my signature scent, i went to my husband and instructed him to smell my arm. i thought, 'well if he likes it then it must have worked and i am just incapable of smelling my own awesomeness!' i held my breath as he sniffed and my heart sank as he reinforced what i already knew- i smelled like crappy, cheap perfume. so much so, that i pretty much immediately jumped into the shower right then and there to remove the offending odor. 'ce qui vous ont fait, charlotte?', i cried as i scrubbed.

so even though they don't come in iconic bottles to grace your bureau and impress house party looky-loos and aren't backed by reassuring marketing campaigns led by french it-girls, i think i'll stick to perfume oils as they actually smell like what they're supposed to smell like and can go on as lightly or heavily as one wishes. and most importantly, don't sizzle nostril hairs and induce head pains.

some of my favorite perfume oils can be found at sage jewelry (and honestly their vanity bottles ARE pretty lovely) and black phoenix alchemy lab.

sage jewelry roll on oil in 'onyx' - my signature scent for once and all

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