What makes for a romantic perfume? Is it some secret common thread which runs through fragrances making them able to commuovere? Or is it the added subtext we add to them through experience? Every one of us can tell a different tale, but since this is my post let me today recount some of the perfumes which have marked some romantic moments in my life. Come along and share your own in the comments!
The German have a wonderful word, Habseligkeiten, literally the paltry belongings of the almost penniless, but poetically also adjusted to children's prized items. The fascination that simple things, inexpensive things exert upon the impressionable mind of child elevates them to the level of treasures. I was 6, the strange mix of hyper-dynamism in the package of a girly girl, and all the world was a stage. My favorite props were small vials and flacons of scented liquids and pomades. A friend of my mother's had an interesting collection of the latter, all tiled up on the bathroom shelf stacked like alphabetized tins in a 1950s grocery shop. One little roll-on applicator, inviting like a lip gloss (but rather conversely to appearances horribly tasting) hid a small time wonder, Timeless by Avon. Such was my rapture to the contents that the item was deemed suitable to be gifted to my little demanding hands. Timeless is as timeless a scent as its name implies, a friendly yet grown up chypre fragrance, and it was the soundtrack of my elementary school flirting, as smooth and as polished as a woman much senior of me, but somehow it didn't seem too incongruent on a child; it was the discarded experiment (one among many) of an older woman handed down to a kid who obviously prized them and thus rendered them beautiful and rare, rendered them habseligkeiten.
Although Anais Anais was my first "proper" perfume, the one I was gifted with because I actually asked for it, I don't consider it particularly romantic, because it was something of a "me too" moment in time (Knowing me even slightly, you'd surely guess this was a phase of pre-adolecense since the bulk of my teenager years were spent trying to do everything opposite to everyone else and everyone popular, no doubt in a passive-agressive way to mark my own territory and carve out my identity). Rather Opium by YSL, which I got with my pocket money after being impressed with it at the time-frame when only Timeless remnants could be given to me freely without fear of wasting expensive perfume, served as the "me" fingerprint. This made it romantic enough, in a Nietzschean sort of way. It also served as a flirtatious throw of the glove. Indeed it made a statement and was highly complimented.
Other fragrances came and went. Some remained. Molinard by Molinard, long before it became a "niche" novelty was the love letter of a particularly charismatic guy who captured my heart. Sure, it's a floral (with aldehydic, green and fruity accents to boot) and can one be any more romantic than offering a bouquet of flowers, even if they come in the form of essences captured in a fancy bottle like shiny May beetles caught in a glass jar? It also had a lyrically beautiful bottle: Lalique's design of nude nymphs dancing.
Chanel No.19's drydown has been likened to my naked skin (this followed a romp in the hay). That made it extremely romantic… Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue in the elusive parfum de toilette concentration marked a summer spent rummaging through the city centre for book quotes on a paper I was preparing for Byzantine icons for the university. Its Parisian "blue hour" wistfulness became my own lieder of sunlit mornings, naked feet in gladiator sandals and roomy flowing calico skirts in ivory. It's funny but there was nothing Parisian, nor "blue hour" about it, my tiny miniature lasting as long as the completion of the paper, but filling me with memories of an innocent time, a time when everything seemed possible; that has to be romantic, right? (If you don't shy away from this idea, try also Etro's Messe de Minuit in a similarly incongruent context).
I have many other fragrances in my arsenal. Some have erotic overtones, from the nuzzling soft (Narciso Musc for Her oil parfum in the original version) to the soiled clothes & disheveled hair of intense lovemaking (Musc Koublai Khan, L'Air de Rien, Dzing!) via the rubber-and-talc of a pervert vanilla (Bvlgari Black, VIP Room, Hypnotic Poison). Some have intellectual associations which by way of reflection (and lots of wishful thinking on my part) earn a badge of "borrowed romanticism": Guerlain Mitsouko, which was the scent that tied Anais Nin to her Sapphic love. Doblis by Hermes because it embodies the apex of elegance and soft effortless sensuality; I only wish I were such a smooth operator. Eau d'Hermes is how I'd like to present myself to the world; I share that wish with a famous perfumer, I'm told.
Others still just remind me of times spent with loving company enjoying the new things, the new experiences: Serge Lutens's La Myrrhe (my first bell jar when it launched), Grand Amour and Passion by Annick Goutal, Ramon Monegal Mon Patchouly and Mon Cuir, Malle's Lys Mediterranee….surely there are more.
Whatever the bond that ties everything together (and whether it truly exists or is a figment of my fevered imagination is a moot point) the implication of a romantic perfume weaves a powerful web which entangles us and influences us long after the remnants on our or our beloved's skin have all but evaporated.