The Allure of Fragrance

”Perfume is the most intense form of memory." - Jean Paul Guerlain

Much has been written about the power of perfume, and many articles are quick to mention that perfume evokes memories - often beginning with our mothers when we were children.

Memories are made of this - the shape and elegant line of a perfume bottle, the label, the stopper and the provocative ghost of fragrance... Illustration by Heather Phillips

Memories are made of this - the shape and elegant line of a perfume bottle, the label, the stopper and the provocative ghost of fragrance...
Illustration by Heather Phillips

My mother was my first Influencer in the world of beauty and grooming and because of her example, I’m never without my perfume - even if I’m just at home doing laundry.

Her elegant bureau was my first introduction to the feminine mystique.  In scented drawers were boxes containing necklaces made of crystal beads, keepsakes, sticker books of butterflies, silk scarves, tiny white testers of pink Avon lipsticks, and empty bottles of Guerlain Shailmar talc and perfume tucked in with her lingerie.

Those tiny, lightly scented lipstick samples in Mom's drawer were likely why lipstick was the first cosmetic I ever wore.  Also, her perfume and talc impressed upon me the importance of having a "good" signature scent, not to mention the added allure of a beautiful flacon.

"A woman who doesn't wear perfume has no future." - Coco Chanel

Love of fragrance is a trait that runs in the family.  My grandmother and my mother would place unwrapped bars of soap in the linen closet to make towels and sheets smell fresh.  Scent enveloped them - it was part of their whole look and being, and that really imprinted itself onto my very impressionable child mind.  It was simply a part of good grooming.  In fact, I have a memory of Grammy pressing a tiny, elegant blue bottle of Evening in Paris into my hand during a visit.  I was not much older than five years.  

Growing up with my limited budget as a young person, I tried to have the best when it came to my personal toiletries.  I was very influenced by print ads of the era so colognes such as Love's Baby Soft, Blue Jeans and Charlie were among my first fragrances.  

In junior high school I graduated to wearing L'Aire du Temps by Nina Ricci, a gift from my sister.  A spicy yet delicate scent, it was the perfect intro to the word of more complex perfume notes.

The first real quality fragrance I ever bought for myself was when I was sixteen and had just received my first pay check.  Along with a few necessities, I bought a bottle of Chanel Cristalle Eau de Toilette.  Ever influenced by magazine ads, movies, TV shows and a blossoming self-awareness, I started to pay more attention to designer names and quality.  Around the same time my sister introduced me to the Dior fragrances, namely Miss Dior and Diorissimo - lovely girlhood smells that if I were to revisit today would be more mutton dressed as lamb, I'm afraid.  

Some gone, but not forgotten - my love affair with Chanel perfumes continues.  Photo credit:  Heather Phillips

Some gone, but not forgotten - my love affair with Chanel perfumes continues.  Photo credit:  Heather Phillips

My first actual perfume was a Christmas gift from my dad, a beautiful lipstick-sized atomizer (no longer available but I still have the container) of Chanel No. 19.  A gorgeous, modern perfume.  Wearing it allowed me to peek around the corner to the exciting world of independent womanhood still to come.  A fragrance almost too heady for my limited life experience then, but one which I could wear today with confidence and knowing.  

However, one of the most memorable fragrance I discovered was Paris by YSL, which mainly consisted of rose notes.  It was amazing, and I would spend my last cent on it, keeping the empty bottles arranged on my mantle in a nod to my mother’s collection of Shalimar bottles.  My friends on campus actually referred to it as "the Heather Smell", which only proves again how we associate certain smells with our memories of friends and loved ones and all that they are.

My university years were influenced by fashion, modelling, retail, trends, romance and first love and my friends.  Finding a perfume that really suited me and made me feel unique was another stepping stone to confidence and discovering my personal style.  It completed me.  Although I also wore Perry Ellis, Lauren by Ralph Lauren and even Joy, Paris has continued to bring back memories of my twenties - with a simple spritz.

"Your fragrance is your message, your scented slogan." - Maurice Roucel  

Sadly, I have learned that although you develop signature scents during your life, there comes a time when you sometimes have to move on from a fragrance.  Although I wore Paris for years, it is simply too young for me now.  

My perfume these days is still from the Chanel family.  For many years is was Chanel Allure, and then Allure Sensuelle - warm and inviting without being overpowering, it always evoked a "you smell amazing...what is that?" from men and women alike as they would come in close for a hug.   

Two years ago, my husband and I went to Europe for the first time for a creative DNA recharge, visiting London, Paris and Rome.  I had run out of a few of my Chanel beauty essentials including my Allure Sensuelle perfume, and while in Paris I made it my mission to pay a visit to the original Chanel boutique at 31 Rue Cambon. 

Naturally while there, I tried the various perfumes exclusive to the house - all named for various significant chapters in Mademoiselle’s life, including Boy, Jersey, Beige and the enigmatic No. 22.  But the one that caught my fancy was Coromondal, named for her penchant for collecting antique Chinese lacquered screens, many of which are still upstairs in her personal apartments over the boutique.  I was drawn to its spirited, Oriental fragrance yet I could not make up my mind to buy it or my old faithful, Allure Sensuelle.  What to do…

"There are no women who do not like perfume, there are women who have not found their scent." - Marilyn Monroe

The woman helping me solved my dilemma and also brought me to tears by suggesting (in her lovely Parisian accent), “Why don’t you buy the new one and then whenever you wear it, you will always be reminded of your beautiful time in Paris.”  

I honestly was so choked up, I could barely speak.  ”Would you like a tissue?” she gently asked, and the rest is perfume history.

Since I made that very meaningful pilgrimage to Chanel in Paris I still have a few drops left of my precious Coromandel as well as a tiny sample bottle, one of the many samples given to me with my Chanel purchases that day.  I eke it out sparingly, wearing it only when I want to feel extra confident and brave - or when I want to be reminded of something special.  The rest of the time, it nestles safely among my "smalls" in my lingerie drawer.

And that lovely salesperson was right - every time I wear it, I remember my beautiful time in Paris.  

PS - my husband loves it on me.  That being said,

"A woman should wear perfume wherever she wants to be kissed." - Coco Chanel

Photo credits:  Heather Phillips