Updated: Mar 31, 2022
Perfume is powerful, emotive and something most of us will wear our entire lives. So do we ever truly grow out of a fragrance when they hold so many memories for us - both good and bad?
Are you the kind of woman who wears perfume every day, even if you're not leaving the house? I am - and I say that as someone who these days rarely leaves the house other than to browse John Lewis for things I can't afford and have no space for even if I could afford them. I've worked from home since 2001 when I first became ill, and I've always been the type to get up, shower, apply make-up and put actual clothes on to write rather than slob around in my pyjamas and bed socks all day with my hair on end just because I can (well, I can if I want to get divorced).
Perfume completes me, the same as lipstick does. If I go out having forgotten to spritz any I'll duck into a department store and put some on. It's bordering obsessive, I know, but it's better than being obsessive about putting all the jars in the fridge the right way round. I think. I've been wearing perfume - of a sort - like most women since I was a teenager. First it was the red can of Impulse at 13, which I can still smell to this day if I close my eyes and remember Friday night at the youth club dancing (awkwardly) to The Beastie Boys. After Impulse, when I was 15, came The Body Shop's White Musk, a cult classic among young girls in the eighties. If you didn't go through a bottle of that every month and wear Rimmel's Heather Shimmer I don't know what you were doing. I went off White Musk quite suddenly after - brace yourselves - being quite violently sexually assaulted a year later whilst on holiday with my family. Everything I wore that night I never wore again, and I didn't set foot in The Body Shop for many years after that because that's the only thing I could ever smell and it would floor me when I did. Perfume has the ability like nothing else to evoke sharp, sudden memories, some good, some not so good. Memories of our own adventures and mishaps, memories of ex-boyfriends, old friends, mothers and grandmothers. It makes us sentimental, emotional and plays a huge part in our lives, and yet many of us switch our fragrance so often without ever finding our signature scent. Sometimes we will catch a whiff of a perfume we wore 20 years ago and suddenly feel the urge to go and buy it again.
There's the idea that wearing the same perfume as a loved one wore will keep their memory alive; my grandmother wore Chanel No. 5 and when she died - I was only nine at the time, my mum 36 - the bottle she had been using sat on my mum's dressing table for years, but she could never bear to open it and for fear of triggering an outpouring of emotion she wasn't sure she could cope with. Years later I bought my first bottle, but hated how it smelled on me. I gave it to my mum, and she actually began wearing it. To me, my nanny Marge will be synonymous with Oil of Ulay. Missing her terribly, I bought it - the beautifully classic pink and black bottle that originated in 1952 - to remind me of her and used it every day in my early twenties. I never noticed perfume on her when I was a child, just the comforting, gentle fragrance of Olay on her skin as I snuggled on her lap eating hot, buttered slabs of toast. I guarantee that if you wrote down all the perfumes you've ever worn, you will remember the places, the people and the emotions you felt at that time. I've gone through so many I never thought I'd remember them all but over a day, without thinking too hard, I did. There was Coco by Chanel, bought for me for my sixteenth birthday from my mum's 'fancy' friend and around the same time, Poison. On that note, what were we thinking? It's about as subtle as a kick in the teeth from a coke-fuelled Katie Price. At 18 I was wearing Opium and clearing crowds quicker than you could say, 'Big fireball right behind you!' Calvin Klein's Eternity followed suit, then Trésor by Lancome. I've loved Dolce & Gabbana's 'Woman', Lolita Lempicka's signature sickly sweet fragrance which I went back to last year, Jean Paul Gaultier was a favourite for many years - I'm now wondering why I'm not wearing it today - and then I tried Chanel No.19 and didn't really like it. I fell in love with Christian Dior's Miss Dior and have stuck with that for the past 15 years or so; yes, it's sweet, and probably meant for someone half my age (let's be honest, it's not called Mrs Dior, is it?) and then on a trip to New York with my parents in 2015 I discovered Guerlain's L'Instant and was utterly hooked. That has to be my number one of all time, period. Black Opium was purchased on a plane to Portugal as it came in a tiny bottle which was great for taking on holiday. My husband f*cking hates it and goes a bit mental if he's caught behind me in the slipstream. I've resisted Chanel's Coco Noir for a while, because I think I have enough bottles on the go, quite frankly. I bought Benefit's Maybe Baby on a whim at Christmas, and my French mother-in-law sent me Clarins' Eau Dynamatise at Christmas; a bold move - I would never attempt to buy perfume for somebody unless I knew what they wore. It's a fragrance I wore for three weeks when I was 19 then decided was 'too lemony'. All these years later I actually like it, so am wearing it again. I may well smell like washing up liquid to everyone else, though. When we wear perfume we're making memories. We're creating a narrative for that moment, that day, that week, that year. We're giving ourselves something to hold on to, something to come back to, something that defines us, and completes us. I'd love to know what perfume you wear, and why. And does everyone STILL hate Opium? Only I was actually thinking of giving it another go to commemorate 30 years since I last dared to... #opium #chanel #chanelno5 #perfume #scent #jeanpaulgaultier #poison #benefitcosmetics #clarins #thebodyshop #bodyshopwhitemusk #christiandior #missdior #guerlain #dolceandgabbana #lolitalempicka #oilofolay #johnlewis #impulse #fragrance #memories #lancome