Friday, July 18, 2008

When a Perfectly Good Scent is Ruined by Association

I remember Amarige like I remember physical catastrophes I have lived through or heard through the retelling of elders, almost since the dawn of time. I remember Amarige with the abject horror we reserve in the farthest pockets of terror we keep in our innermost chthonian thoughts, ripe for sowning on a hot summer's day when the pending coming of the Antichrist doesn't seem too far away. I remember Amarige like the miasma of a horde of Attila the Hun sweeping through Asia and Europe till he is abruptly stopped by his own debauchery bedding a 16-year-old.
What prompted this tirade of evil reminiscences? Simply put, a timely comment by one of our readers, Sarah G, who asked if I had any recollection of having a scent completely "ruined" by associating with someone. Do I have one!

Amarige by Givenchy is a typhoon, no doubt about it, and it has earned its fair share of detractors through the years, as much as admirers. What however irrevocably sealed its fate for me was having to smell it spritzed five times under each armpit on the otherwise pristine shirts of someone close to me. The strange ritual was founded in the received knowledge that antiperspirants based on aluminum block sweat glands and therefore discouraged by doctors, who prompted to offer an alternative suggested a mist of cologne on clothes for a refreshing feeling. Little did they know they had opened the sacks of Aeolus! Amarige must have some redeeeming quality, yet refreshing cologne it isn't, by any stretch of the most perverse imagination. But to someone who is enjoying the suffocating chemical tuberose emanations, it must have smelled like the first day of summer. Alas it was my destiny to be around and it was its destiny to lose what advantage it might have had over my epithelium. Thus Amarige has been for ever associated with doom for me...Not that I consider it a good scent. But you get my point (it could happen to anything, even my beloved Lutens or vintage Guerlains!)

The matter of association is of the utmost importance when it comes to scents: we associate our mother's smell with comfort, our dad's with security, our loved ones' with feeling appealing and alive, our enemies' with displeasure; of warm bread out of the oven with satiety and of cold steel with fear entering a doctor's office for a much dreaded medical exam; of cut hay with the promise of summer vacations and of putrid water with disgust and anihillation. Scent poses its own universe of subconscious reality from each we often cannot escape. With every breath, with every quivering of the nostrils, we catch subtle or not so subtle wafts of essences which volatilize into holograms of all too real fantasy.
And it is most disappointing when those negative associations have to do with fine fragrance, fragrance which we might have chosen for ourselves or simply enjoyed smelling in the air, if only it weren't for that tangible web of memory which ruins it for us.

So, do you have similar cases of having a fragrance ruined for you through association? Let me hear those horror stories for twisted Little Red Riding Hoods now...

Photography by Jean Baptiste Mondino, courtesy of mondino-update


  1. Noir Epices because I was sampling it the day that I found out my bf cheated on me.

  2. Private Collection worn too heavily and as the only scent on someone I knew. And I'm not crazy about the scent to begin with.

  3. That has got to be the worst scenario I have heard of in relation to fragrances ruined by associations, Billy! My belated sympathies.

    Welcome and thanks for stopping by and commenting :-)

  4. Karin,

    I can see how the Lauders would be terrible in excess, each and every one of them, no matter how good in restrained doses. I have a weird relation with Private Collection myself: I am ambivalent about it.

  5. stella polaris20:33

    The mother of my first serious boyfriend had Madame Rochas as her signature. It was nice on her, and I liked the perfume very much (kind of "narcotic" effect, I suppose that effect continually around her was part of the problem). And then, by reasons I don´t want to dig into (constituting the other part of the problem), her son gave me this perfume as a present.. then it became almost impossible for me to use it. Now I haven´t been near it for years! perhaps it is almost out of use?
    (ps: I liked the chemestry lesson regarding iris perfumes. Talk of stereoisomery and enantiomers reminded me of organic chemestry and the heavily scented lab work connected to that course. It is also a very fascinating subject how molecules and also organisms are "handed", and that the handedness actually can be smelled.. (left or right) :)
    thank you for interesting posts! (I have had a small "unconnected" holiday)

  6. I loved Diorissimo but I cannot wear it for it reminds me of a "user girlfriend" some years ago. I was the perfect doormat friend back then and I think when she asked me what I wore ( I was beginning to see the light,slowly) and she started to wear it I had to stop. Especially when she told me its "not that great" - like I put a gun to her head and made her buy it!When I sniff it now in a shop I just see her and how terrible she treated me.
    Yes I finally grew a backbone and got rid of her! That was about 15yrs ago!
    Maybe one day I will be able to wear it again but not yet.

  7. nbus03:50

    LJ , that wench took your perfume , you need to take it back and own it , especially since she had the sheer unmitigated cheek to cheek Diorissimo (worthy of a slap, some would say, not to mention how she treated you.

    I have baaaaad memories of Escape and Eternity for men due to the split of a marriage (the split went well , it was the last days of the marriage that stick out in my mind).... poor CK , the whole house/brand got the shove , not just those two fumes.

  8. You know Nbus - I just might buy a bottle of Diorissimo next!
    Time to move on. I did love it so.

  9. I know you love it dearly Helg, and it's no reflection on the fragrance itself, but... Opium.
    Not only did I live through the Opium-drenched heyday, but I worked in a tiny shop stuck between two escalators when I was doing my B.A. with a manager called Mlle Soucisse (change a letter and you get the French word for sausage), a heavy-set resentful woman dressed in chemical-coloured (think hot pink and mint green together) polyester.
    She tried to make my life miserable, mostly without success, except unwittingly, by bathing in Opium.
    To this day it's just not possible for me to wear it.

  10. "Gio" by Armani - a story too long and painful to go into here but I'll just say it turned out my best friend and I were seeing the same guy, and while she knew about me, I didn't know about her. Heaven knows what kind of twisted kick she was getting out of it, and as for the guy - pure scum. She used to douse herself in this and it still makes me shudder with retrospective anger when I pass someone in the street wearing it! Can I just say I LOVE your blog. Hope it's not cheeky to attach a link to a post I did a while back on a similar theme- and thanks to Titiansmodel for showing me the way here! I'll be back!

  11. Dear S,

    I can see how this would be a weird, Oedipal situation :O
    Glad you have managed to put this behind you!

    You're very welcome on the chemistry post. It's nice to see it has generated so much interest, I initially thought I'd bore you all to death! LOL
    And I agree about the right and left and opposites being so much fun contemplating! (we're nerds i guess, LOL!!!)

  12. Dear M,

    what a waste of such a pretty perfume: Diorissimo! My sympathies...This happens to all of us at some point, I figure: someone using us and it's fortunate if we cut off quickly.
    I wish you a swift buy and much pleasure in re-wearing Diorissimo ;-)

  13. Nbus,

    thanks for stopping by and stating your own story, which is very interesting: those twofrags must have been like sore thumbs, huh? I can understand, especially as they're so recognisable and quite potent in their way.
    But you got out of this mess, so kudos!

  14. Dear D,

    no need to put a disclaimer: I have met the type who marinated in Opium myself! It can become ghastly :-( Such a waste....But hey, so many fragrances out there!

    Luckily I never was in a position when such a person had control over my work or everyday existence because it would become unbearable (and -woe would be me- it would ruin Opium!!).

    Personally, I get compliments every single time I wear it and I do mean every single time ~people don't even recognise it and ask what it is or pronounce it "exquisitely floral" *rolls eyes and scratches head*: it's either the most amazing case of personal chemistry *ahem* or a very fortunate measuring of application.

  15. Lucy,

    thank you so much for stopping by and for your wonderful compliment on my blog!
    Also thanks for the link to your own great post which I found resonates with what many of us are afraid of (ie. to usurp someone's perfume and the fear of the betrayal looks thereafter...)Lucid Agony (cute name!) is one I don't know and should probably hunt for! LOL on the Phony Pharaoh: it's a bit much, that place, isn't it? ;-)

    So sorry about the mess with the scum-y guy and the twisted girlfriend (the scent use has shades of Single White Female, on which I am devoting a post soon! eeeek, creepy!)

    And anyone tagging something with Vincent Price's name has a place in my links :-)

  16. Helg, thanks so much for posting about this ! Of course, given my own experience, I am most sympathetic to those who have had scents ruined by terrible bitchy girls.

    Speaking of powerful associations, I stopped by the CB I Hate Perfume gallery on Wythe Avenue in Brooklyn yesterday. It was absolutely magical. I think I spent at least an hour in there, with his scents alternately making me gasp, laugh, and reminisce. I ended up purchasing "At the Beach 1966" - something about the smell of Coppertone sunscreen that I just couldn't resist :)

  17. You're very welcome, Sarah and thanks to YOU for providing the inspiration for something that was long overdue.

    Your CB pilgrimage sounds so much fun! I like the idea of a scent library and what he does with his gallery. Coppertone is a smell that has many fans! :-))

  18. "Lucid Agony" was a Sara Schwarz (spelling?) perfume - not sure if still available but it was the most amazingly dark-smelling rose with a vaguely jasmine overlay. Evening wear only I suspect!

  19. Oh, the AGONY!! You just had to go and say these things to me, did you? :P
    Off to research!

  20. I had Fleurissimo ruined for me, of all things - or I should say I ruined it for myself. I wore it a lot some years ago, and during this period I fell in love with a man who broke my heart, but only unintentionally. He just was not interested, and I had to face the fact that I would have to become a completely different person, literally, to have a chance with him. I think I cried every day for about a year when it finally hit home that it was hopeless, and I have not worn Fleurissimo since. And I did love it, a lot.

  21. Oh, Flora, this is a pity...Losing a beloved scent for someone who obviously didn't deserve it!
    On the other hand, you realised that you had to change yourself completely and this can never have a chance of success. I hope you find something else to remind you of the good things you loved about Fleurissimo without the heartache. :-)

  22. Lucy,
    oh, I have that Sara Schwartz (?not sure either..) perfume - and the two others in the series, Pure and Beauty. They are all lovely. If I recall correctly, Lucid is based on rose, Beauty on ylang and Pure on neroli. Those are my guesses anyway, I never did find out the notes.
    I have no idea if they are still available. I found them at Liberty, years ago.

    Topic? I hate Dune now, because I used to work next to a woman who marinated in it. She would respray several times a day, even when I was eating my sandwich at the next desk! All I could taste was that bloody perfume. I couldn't even eat elsewhere, as I had to man the phone!

  23. OliviaB21:06

    Love the topic!
    I also have issues with Amarige, all because of my ex-sister-in-law. We were roommates before our marriages and basically hated each other. She bathed in Amarige...to this day I can't even see a bottle on a perfume counter without my stomach turning.
    One of my biggest pet peeves is when a friend likes your perfume and adopts it as her own. It kind of ruins it for me.

  24. Tania,

    thanks for stopping by and commenting! Hope you're well and not too busy with everything ;-)

    Those Sara Schartz scents sound interesting: should probably check them out next time I am in London.

    Ghastly experience about Dune and a pity: it's such an individual scent that wrong use might "break it"; seems light to its users but packs a punch so overspritzing must have been beyond the pale...my sympathies!

  25. Olivia,

    glad you enjoyed the subject!
    Aaaaack! What an experience! I wonder how your brother took this marinating in Amarige: not well, I deduce!
    That last part is going to be the subject of a seperate post: it's worth pondering on and hearing opinions from our readers.

  26. Anonymous07:51

    YSL Rive Gauche. My Grandmother died in it. it isn't so much that i hate it -i think it's a wonderful scent- i just get reminded of the experience everytime i smell it.


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