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Scent of a Woman: Sniffing Out My History

December 8, 2010

As another Holiday season approaches, my nearest and dearests already can cross me off the list. For I am relatively easy to shop for; I only have eyes for notebooks and Angel Perfume. But it wasn’t always so easy scentwise. It took me years to find a scent that spoke to me – in a loud, eyelash singeing voice – and today I bring you that journey. Mine is not a journey for those strong of allergy or faint of heart. Mine is for those who know and understand the decadent joys of marinating in a toxic cloud of a scent. The scent warriors whose top notes say, “hello” to a group of people long before they actually enter a room. Well, this one’s for you!

  1. Obsession for Men – 8th Grade

    Top Notes: Mandarin, Bergamot Middle Notes: Lavender, Myrrh, Sage, Clove, Nutmeg, Coriander. Base Notes: Amber, Musk, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Patchouli.

    Before I learned about fragrance notes I was an enemy of vetiver thanks largely to a male teacher who used to suit up for work every morning with a liberal basting of Guerlain’s Vetiver, which seemed to transform itself from something musky and elegant to something vaguely Aqua Velva-ish the second the fragrance was exposed to his skin. Then something beautiful happened; someone gave him Calvin Klein’s Obession for Men during the winter break of 1987 and my world was forever changed. CKO smelled great on him and when I asked him what scent he wore – something that could probably get us both burned at the stake now, but didn’t 23 years ago – he told me what it was and oh yeah, he just happened to have a couple of samples he didn’t want and would I like to have them. And have them I did. Nobody knew what I was wearing, despite my entire middle school dousing itself with a CKO, well mostly the girls!

  2. Opium – 9th Grade

    Top Notes: Mandarin orange, Bergamot, Lily of the valley Middle Notes: Jasmine, Carnation, Myrrh Base Notes: Vanilla, Patchouli, Opoponaux, Amber

    Maybe it’s just my imagination but I feel like Opium and Guelain’s Shalimar have been fighting for decades for the perfume that smells the most like mothballs once it dries down. It’s a toss up in my opinion, but because they both smell like crap on me. We’re talking mothball and musty city. Anyway, someone’s well heeled mother gave me her bottle of Opium when she realized I was far more clever and interesting a gal that she previously assumed. “You’ll need this.” she said handing me the flask-like bottle as though it were a machete and I was about to get live on a pack of zombies.

  3. Anaïs Anaïs – 11th grade
    Top Notes: Orange Blossom Middle Notes: Lily, Hyacinth, Carnation Base Notes: Sandalwood, Incense

    La Mommie wore Anais Anais for what seemed like years, and despite being more of a gourmand kind of gal, there was something wonderful about this fragrance. I loved the velvety, powdery dry down – that’s fancy perfume talk for what it smells like after your wrists dry – and it was an odd counterpunch to my decidedly gothic ways. It wouldn’t last. Nothing that delicate and beautiful ever does.

  4. Liz Claiborne Realities – first half of 12th Grade
    Top Notes: white ginger, bergamot, orchid. Middle Notes: pink peony, orange flower, cydamen. Base Notes: sandalwood, white woods, vanilla, moss musk

    Long discontinued, Liz Clairborne’s Realities was the scent I closely associated with the soon-to-be ill-fated Northridge Fashion Center on the corner of Tampa and Nordoff (the side I frequented anyway) in the magical place we call “The Valley”. While the fragrance smell nothing like Cinnabon that’s what I associated it with as I would usually swing by Robinson’s-May to get a few squirts of Realities before going to get my free Cinnabon from the dude who worked there who had a crush on me.

  5. Poison – The Goth Era

    Top Notes: orange blossom, honey, cinnamon, coriander, pepper, plum, Middle Notes: rosewood, rose, tuberose, wild berries, cistus labdanum, carnation, Base Notes: jasmine, cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, vanilla, heliotrope and opopanax.

    I have met far too many late 80s/early 90s gothy chicks whose Dior’s Poison stories sound an awful lot like being recruited and initiated into a cult. These stories always involve mimicking the scent habits of the queen goth, someone’s edgy aunt or noticing the bottle was kind of “goth” looking. With one squirt, we were done for. Everyone goth girl I knew wore them some Poison. And without a trace of irony – we goths don’t “do” irony, we’re earnest like a motherfucker – we all seemed to believe we were saying something unique about our gothic human condition. For many of us – myself included – the effects of the pricey potion could easily have been replicated at a far cheaper price point with either a can of Pledge or Raid; Poison does not play well with everyone’s body chemistry. A fact that is brought home in the most unpleasant manner as one exits a tiny goth club after six hours of non stop shadow dancing. Still, you could not rip the bottle of goth stink out of my lace glove clad hands.

  6. Rapture – The Post Goth Auntie Mame Era

    Top notes: mainly citrus, orange blossom. Middle notes: freesia, jasmine, rose. Base notes: amber, vanilla, musk.

    When I hung up my gothing clothes and shoes I also mercifully retired Poison. During this time I flirted with a host of drugstore concoctions and essential oils, but I was always looking for my scent. Nothing I’d worn previously felt like home. Then during a holiday season I sauntered into Victoria’s Secret to buy a present for a friend and exited with no present and a new fragrance. If I had really wanted to evoke Auntie Mame then Guerlain’s Shalimar would have been more appropriate and probably a lot less cloying. I’ve often heard the claim that Rapture – a woodsy, brassy amber musk of a scent – is hooker-in-a-bottle, which is an insult to hookers and bottles everywhere. Rapture is Peggy Hill in a bottle. It is a haughty, know-it-all of a scent whose default state is scoffing. Every squirt of this scent – akin to rat poison – scoffs at whomever is in proximity to its cloud; I loved it. In fact, I still love this scent, though I achieve a less obnoxious result by getting something call Sensual Amber by Bath and Body Works.

  7. Angel – Now and forever
    Top notes: dewberry, helional, and honey. Middle notes: chocolate, caramel, coumarin, Bergamot. Base notes: vanilla, sandalwood, and patchouli, fresh citrus, melons, peaches, and plums.

    All along there she was waiting for me! If I could roll around in vats of Angel believe me I would. Everything in my house smells like Angel. I am not above sacrificing a little bit on a card and then putting the card in the dryer. Angel is a polarizing scent. There’s nothing delicate about it. It’s known to give migraines and skin rashes and the occasional allergy attack. It’s sickeningly sweet to the point of being gag inducing. It’s vanilla and chocolate and carmel and amber and hippie stink and something note I can never remember. Starts with a B. It’s like the kind of chem experiment that blows up the lab, in a bottle. For every person who says, “Omg, you smell soooo good.” There are three people who wince and then pass out. But more importantly, it is my signature scent. It’s my girl. It is a weird thing to find what you’re looking for and then subsequently stop looking. So often we’re taught platitudes about favoring the journey rather than the destination, which is fine if you’re into latch hook rug logic, but sometimes it is about the destination, the discovery and the overwhelming feeling that this is where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be marinating yourself in each day.

  8. Prada – A gift that keeps on giving

    Top Notes: Bergamot, Bitter Orange, Mandarin, Mimosa Absolute. Middle Notes: Rose absolute, Indonesian Patchouli, Patchouli Absolute. Base Notes: Labdanum, Tonka Bean, Vanilla, Indian Sandalwood, Benzoin Resinoide

    An ex boyfriend gave me a bottle of Prada because he hated the smell of Angel. No he wasn’t allergic to it, he just didn’t like it. Nevermind he was still rocking 8th grade dance cologne otherwise known as Drakkar Noir, which on his skin smelled more like Hai Karate than Hai Karate ever did. This was not a good thing. Anyway, this bottle sits, virtually untouched in its box, which is in another box in my hallway closet. Contrary to popular belief it doesn’t evoke a more thoughtful take on Angel’s more polarizing notes. In fact, it flat out stinks to me.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 12:20 pm

    sometimes it is about the destination, the discovery and the overwhelming feeling that this is where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be marinating yourself in each day

    word life.

  2. December 8, 2010 12:30 pm

    I’ve often heard the claim that Rapture – a woodsy, brassy amber musk of a scent – is hooker-in-a-bottle, which is an insult to hookers and bottles everywhere.


    I’ve toyed with a few male scents over the years, the longest being Pierre Cardin, which as I recall made me smell a bit like a fruit salad. Ultimately I decided I’d rather not compete with the scent of the woman I’m with. Angel’s a fabulous scent, and I enjoy shopping for it. The lady at Macy’s is always thrilled to refill me, and generous with the samples.

  3. December 8, 2010 6:18 pm

    The only fragrance I’ve worn with any regularity that doesn’t give me migraines is Channel No. 19, and it’s all but absent from perfume counters these days. It’s not exactly light — a number of people think it smells like nail polish remover — and it’s sort of hard; cold. But on me it takes on a preppy, vaguely outdoorsy scent. (Which is odd because I am neither.)

    I wish I could wear Angel. I actually like the smell right out of the bottle, but it’s way too sickeningly sweet on my skin.

  4. December 8, 2010 6:20 pm

    Make that Chanel, not Channel.

  5. December 9, 2010 3:24 pm

    Etat Libre d’Orange Rossy de Palma. Yesterday, today and forever.

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