perfume memories: 15 posts

My Perfume Story : Andy

Andy, whose perfume reviews and tea articles we have been enjoying on these pages, shares a story of how he fell in love with scents.

Like so many others, I didn’t enter the world of fragrance in a contemplative tiptoe. Without plan, and against my better sensibilities, I plummeted into this universe in a headlong nosedive.

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Fully explaining my fragrance journey up to now is to tell a true love story though, which is to say that along with incredible serendipity and bliss, has not been without occasional doubt and darkness. Unforgettable is the exhilaration I felt when I first tentatively tested some perfumes, finding myself feeling at once both helplessly surrendered to and strangely in control of my own sense of pleasure. On the other hand, it’s hard to forget the misgivings that initially led me to look deeper into perfume in the first place.

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Where Jasmine Forest Blooms

Like bits of colored glass inside a kaleidoscope, the scent constellations shift constantly around you. You can go about your day without much thought to anything but the affairs at hand, when suddenly the right combination of talcum powder, hot asphalt and cut grass whisks you out of your routine and into the scene years ago, when you grazed your knee running too fast after an ice-cream truck and were soothed by an extra portion of chocolate sauce. Some scents mark you indelibly; they form the core of your memories, and time and again they return to haunt, delight or move you.

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Much of my scent vocabulary comes from Poltava, a town in central Ukraine where I spent all summers for the first 15 years of my life. I was born in the capital city of Kyiv, but Poltava, or rather a small hamlet in the town’s suburbs, is our family nest. My mother’s line can trace its roots to this region as far back as the 17th century, and although in its complex and tumultuous history four centuries are hardly ancient, this land exhorts an inexorable pull on me.  I can describe without much effort how many trees are in the orchard and which of the peeling grey shutters has a difficult to use hook, but I also can recall the exact scent inside the water tank, the damp warmth of the tool shed, and the bitter, raspy odor of dandelion flowers on the compost pile.

You, my readers, have breathed in these scents along with me, because this is the place, where Bois de Jasmin, my jasmine forest, got its first tender shoots. When describing the fragrance of carnations, roses or antique wood, I thought not of the fantasy blooms that inspired Caron’s Bellodgia or Guerlain’s Nahéma, but my great-grandmother’s carnation patch, rose garden, and termite marked chests of drawers. It’s about time I took you to very place that inspired Bois de Jasmin, to my great-grandparents’ house in Poltava. My grandmother still lives there, and she loves guests.

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Trading Senses

Can poor eyesight be compensated by a sharp sense of smell? Our guest writer Jillie shares her story of struggling with poor vision and falling in love with perfume.

Sometimes I believe that when I was born the Bad Fairy cursed me with bad sight, while the Good Fairy gave me a keen nose. I know that it sounds fanciful, but I am convinced that my poor vision is compensated for by a sharp sense of smell. Perhaps, if I hadn’t suffered with severe myopia, I may never have developed into the scent obsessive that I am now.

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I was nine when I realized that I couldn’t see as well as other children, but by then my nose had already been working as hard as Samantha’s in Bewitched. As a toddler, it would lead me around the garden and I would plunge into banks of honey-scented alyssum, drifts of lavender and into the lush red roses climbing up the wall.

Good smells were usually associated with food in my early years , especially my mum’s apple and blackberry pie and my dad’s roast dinners. Christmas would be a feast of aromas: the sunny citrus tang of tangerine peel (a fruit we only saw in the holiday season), the creaminess of chocolate buttons, the licorice darkness of the Christmas pudding, the delicate bitterness of marzipan, the vanilla sweetness of my grand-dad’s pipe tobacco and the boozy tang of port and whisky, which were only ever drunk on special occasions. Add a note of fir tree, and you have my ultimate festive perfume. (I’ll skip the ever present funk of cigarette smoke, one of my least favorite smells.)

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In The Mind’s Nose : Olfactory Imagination

Courtney reflects on one of the best side effects of the perfume hobby–the ability to imagine scents.

I was sitting on the meditation cushion, feet tucked under my thighs, hands in my lap, back straining to keep from falling into its familiar bend. It was quiet in the airy meditation hall in Cambridge, save for the occasional rustles and shuffles of fellow meditators shifting position to keep a foot from falling asleep.

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I had been to this center several times over the past few years, but I was not a dedicated practitioner. Some people mistakenly believe that meditation is relaxing (usually those who haven’t meditated much). In fact, meditation is tough. You try to keep your mind focused on your breath or some other object of attention, only to have it drift into thoughts, worries, and daydreams. Part of the meditation practice is learning to reckon with the random thoughts that pop into your head, the detritus of an over-busy mind.

But today, something new came into my mind—not a thought, but a smell. A very specific smell: Diptyque Eau de Lierre. I wasn’t wearing perfume because of the no-scent policy, yet here it was as if the smell was actually drifting into my nose. It had a distinct shape and character, a blend of watery green and sharp pepper. It was like the image of a person’s face.

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Around the World in Scents : Japan

Today Lauren explores attitudes towards perfume in Japan and invites us to experience its various scents.

It was a rare night for us young English teachers in rural Japan.  We were escaping our hot, stuffy apartments amid the tea fields for a glitzy night out in the bright lights of Tokyo.  I greeted my friend Mayumi in the parking lot.  Her skin was creamy and flawless, as always, but as I hugged her hello I noticed something different.

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“Mm!” I said.  “You smell so nice!”

“Thank you,” replied Mayumi timidly, smiling as she put a finger to her lips.  “I’m wearing it for our big night out in Tokyo.”  Her eyes pleaded with me to keep the secret.  Our friend Jun was picking us up shortly, and she didn’t want to discuss perfume in front of him.

Though I’d been living in Japan for several months, it was the first time I smelled a fragrance on anyone with whom I’d come into contact.  The light, gently tumbling cloud of lilies, vanilla and sparkling orange was enough to make me thirst for big doses of perfume.  I was a vampire who’d caught a whiff of blood. Cultural differences in Japan meant that wearing personal fragrance was generally considered rude.  In a country that is so crowded with people and so limited on space, extending your personhood via a bubble of perfume – however pleasant – is considered intrusive and inconsiderate.

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