The Scent and the Fury: Part 1

If I can speak for most of us, I will make the assertion that our scent has preoccupied most of us consciously at least since we were young teens, and not so consciously since birth. My mother wore Cacherel's Anais, Anais in her early 20's, when she was pregnant with me and later, in the united states, an expatriate, for a few years, for the sake of nostalgia, hungering for her country. When I was around the same age as she was when she was pregnant with me, I was taking a leisurely break from college by living in Madrid, her home city, and I remember being drawn into the palatial marble halls of El Corte Ingles, the Spanish answer to Macy's, in the Sol district. It was winter, and I would venture into the fragrant and warm department store to linger amongst the glass counters whilst their smartly-suited tenders with their hair in tight, high chignons and their sharp, definite noses, scrupulously ignored me.

It was there that I first sprayed Anais, Anais on my white wrists, clammily rubbing them together, taking discreet little snuffs. The scent didn't appeal to me directly, but it unleashed overwhelming feelings in me, confoundedly private while streams of shoppers hustled by me. Anais was and is cloyingly floral, with a strong lilac power that I found inescapably wrong for me, but I couldn't ignore the indistinct nostalgia it evoked in me. Quite simply, it smelled like my mother, but not the one I knew then and now, but the one that lived in our white stucco houses in Miami, amongst the heat and humidity and melancholy. I bought it, not to wear it myself, but because I needed to own this piece of history. Its squat white bottle, wrapped in a pastel band and curling, elusive letters, still sits on my wood vanity table at home in Virginia. Whenever I'm home, I revisit it by spraying it in the air, to be consumed in the private essence of a mother whose youth I never knew, walking through her layers, always marking the scent as one irretrievably sad and lost.

Other scents enter into my early years: the smell of wet mold, cigar smoke, grandmother's cool, mineral-smelling tiles in her kitchen, mingling with cumin and citrus, sunscreen, the heady rich of olive oil, flowering jasmine from the garden of my fenced backyard.

It wasn't until I was 12 or 13 that I reinterpreted scent as important in my self-image; in middle school, suddenly, how you smelled became another element of social paranoia. My scent became public, instead of exclusively personal and self-defined. Partially, it came to signify the greater importance of presentation to others and the myriad repercussions tagging along; another important facet was the fear of being found "unclean" in the early years of becoming a woman, with a woman's smells. A persistent fear came to seize me when I was 13, in public high school, of smelling primal, animalic, and thus, dirty, embarrassing, ill-adept at keeping my body under control at such a crucial time, when the thoughtlessness of childhood had transferred into a painfully heightened consciousness of every aspect of being, transferring into levels of acceptability for others. Visiting my friend Tia's house around that time, I remember being shocked by an odor that pervaded the home, one I could only describe as a combination of raw meat and fusty camphor; ever after, I could smell the faint waft of it on her clothes and it became a secret renewed whenever in her presence, even though I'm sure she wasn't aware of how wierd she smelled to me.

My teenage years' scent history can also be found in the bottles that I saved for and bought in the mall, that important locus of teenage identity. Most of them still remain in variously used states in my bedroom in Virginia. I've never been able to discard them, these unlovely anthropological artifacts of my insecurity. First in my memory is Lancome's Tresor, which strictly, didn't belong to me but my mother and was re-appropriated for my use around 12 years old. It was a very musky, adult scent for a girl, one that I didn't like much then but have grown to enjoy more when I revisited it recently. I cringe a bit thinking about the liberal sprays I enjoyed in the mornings before heading off to middle school, and how I must have stuck out like a sore, old thumb amongst the chemtrails of Tommy Girl perfume my peers seemed to bathe in.

My first real bottle of perfume came later, and somewhat randomly, in that I can't remember how or why I came to it: for 2 years, or 2 bottles, I became enchanted by citrus dominated Ô Oui de Lancôme, with its pretty cut-glass square bottle and the light sparkly florals it evokes. It's definitely a summer fragrance, but I wore it year round. 15 year olds of my milieu all swore to live and die by Clinique Happys and Love's Baby Soft perfume, the latter's appeal understandable: it was sweet, nonthreatening, comforting, it could be bought at the drugstore and its little metal spray bottle could be thrown in a backpack to be accessed throughout the day if your baby powder scent faded. Later came Prescriptives Calyx, which strikes me, again, as a scent whose appeal to me at that age is somewhat mysterious, given what a serious scent it is, though also, like my O, a very green, citrusy one, albeit far stronger and more complex. Later, my senior year, I found Gucci Rush, in its weird red plastic box imaginably supposed to seem futuristic and slick. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I still like the way this smells, though it never fails to remind me of a mall, through no fault of its own. I find the jasmine, vanilla, and base notes of patchouli and vetiver to be an appealingly accessible Oriental, one that I might not buy for myself today, but seeming to get closer to the scents I found through trial and error to form my current perfume identity (more on that in Part 2).

What perfume(s) did you wear as a teenager? Would you still wear them today?


  1. Oh you sneaky thing! I love this post so much for a multitude of reasons! Such smart, warm writing! I went through a Clinique Happy phase for a short while in high school, but mostly that perfume reminds me of my friend Emily, who still wears it to this day. It's too sweet for my tastes now. I wore Ralph Lauren Style for a big chunk of college and then MJ's Daisy after that. Both were just... nice and forgettable and little more. I'm struggling to remember what came between Happy and Style. Oh wait. Oh wait. I remember. I wore Demeter's Honeysuckle and Gap's Pink body spray too. I'm sure there were others, but mostly just temporary bottles thoughtlessly borrowed from my sisters. Anything light and clean and fresh was acceptable.

  2. Isn't it funny how our first perfumes seem to be borrowed from others? I've never smelled Ralph Lauren's Style, though I can imagine it's clean and sporty and all cotton and hayrides. Your mention of Gap's Pink suddenly brought my high school infatuation with their Dream scent to the fore. Oh how I loved that long matte blue bottle with the little cloud on it. I even had the candle. I understand the appeal of Clinique's Happy, too, from the outside, but it was far too chipper for my taste even back when I was trying to fit in scent-wise HOWEVER the happy for men? I loved that cologne but never bought it because I wasn't as 'enlightened' as I am now about wearing cologne "for men".But now, to the important question: WHAT ARE YOU WEARING TODAY?