Chanel No. 5
Whenever my mother dressed up to go out, she always wore Chanel No. 5. Even then it was a classic scent, not too sweet, enticing, and just a touch mysterious. To this day, whenever I catch a whiff of that perfume, I think of my mom, spritzing herself with her black-topped bottle of Chanel.
I remember her party dresses and tubes of red lipstick, her high-heeled shoes strewn all over the bedroom carpet. In those ‘Mad Men’ days, ladies wore curve-hugging sheath dresses or full skirts, gloves and heels and clouds of perfume. Lips were red, hair was teased into a bouffant or a beehive or an ‘updo,’ and women dressed to impress, even to go shopping.
Muguet des Bois
When I was thirteen, I got my first bottle of Muguet des Bois. I loved it. Its lily of the valley scent was sweetly floral with grassy green overtones, and it remained my favorite all through junior high…until I discovered something new.
Love’s Baby Soft
Ali MacGraw wore it in magazine ads; she starred with Ryan O’Neal as Jenny Cavalleri in Love Story; therefore, I had to wear it, too. I still like the fresh, powdery scent. It makes me think of sitting in my room, flicking through Seventeen magazine, dreamily eyeing the posters of David Cassidy and David Soul taped to the back of my bedroom door.
Revlon’s Charlie arrived a couple of years later. Brash, bright, insouciant – Charlie was modern and fun. I had a crush on a guy named Charlie, too – so wearing a scent with his name was perfect, my own little secret. The problem was, everyone else liked Charlie, too (the cologne and the guy, alas). When my grandmother started to wear it, it was time to move on to something else.
Ah, innocence. I lost mine at some point in my (very) late teens, and so, sophisticated creature that I imagined myself to be at nineteen, I wanted a sophisticated scent. Cinnabar was it. It was sexy, intense, with vague hints of the Orient. When I tired of Cinnabar, I abandoned it for the wildly popular Poison. But over time, the perfume in the deep purple bottle proved a little too heavy, plus everyone else was wearing it, too. I wanted something different. Something lighter. Something more…me.
A couple of years into my first job, I became an Estee Lauder fan. White Linen was the one I reached for most often – it had a crisp, fresh, roses-and-vetiver scent that wasn’t too heavy or overly sweet. It made me think of the Raffles hotel…
…I sat alone at a table, nursing my drink as the blades of a ceiling fan languorously stirred the air, and I watched, my heart quickening, as a man in a white suit and a fedora smiled a slow, sexy smile and ambled my way…
(What can I say? I had a very good imagination, even then.)
When Calvin Klein’s CK One arrived, I was ready. It was the first unisex perfume. In the nineties, the concept of a perfume that could be worn by a man or a woman was revolutionary. I loved CK for its clean, just-out-of-the-shower scent. I still wear it today.
A couple of years ago, I was flipping through a fashion magazine when I saw an ad for Prada Infusion d’Iris perfume.
Hmph, I thought dismissively, those Italian clothes are a bit weird and arty-farty, so I probably won’t like it.
I slid open the scented flap without much in the way of expectation and gave it a sniff…and I was transported… …to a field of irises, wafting in a gentle Provençal breeze. To a French gîte. To the lush, swirling brushstrokes of a Van Gogh painting…
…to my wallet, to grab my credit card and buy a bottle, whatever the cost (Natalie Dashwood would’ve been been proud).
Chanel No. 5
A few years ago, Nicole Kidman advertised the splashy return of a classic, Chanel No. 5. Like an old friend, Chanel is reliable and true. I haven’t missed the irony of wearing something my mother wore all those years ago, something I long ago left behind. But it’s a classic for a reason. It still smells heavenly, and like nothing else. After all…if it was good enough for my mom, it’s good enough for me.
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