Monday, October 31, 2005


My mother smelled of Tigress. It was a Faberge perfume (and maybe still is), coming in orange and brown striped bottles. The tops of the perfume bottles were plush. The fragrance was deep, sultry, a little chemical, and mingled with the smell of Lucky Strike cigarettes and sometimes martinis. A woman, said my mother seriously to my three year old self, should choose a fragrance and wear it forever. Then, whenever a man smelled the same fragrance, he would remember her, no matter how many years had passed.
My mother was born the same day and same year as Marilyn Monroe. She was stunned when Marilyn died. She cultivated a blonde, lush air, and even on her deathbed paused to flirt. Well, perhaps not really at the very end, when she was unconscious and hooked to machines, and far from her perfumes.
Contrary to her advice she switched perfumes later. She wore Opium, and Chantilly, and Shalimar. After she died my brothers gave me her perfumes.
There is nothing, nothing so evocative as scent. Although I might dress in thrift store and bag lady chic, to the despair of my daughter, I am fond of fragrances. These days I am more prone to mix essential oils--oil of lemon, or neroli, a dab of lavender.
My grandmother wore lavender. Yardley English Lavender. I loved the soap she put on her white, pedestal sink. Brown, exotic, smelling of clean fields.
My aunt passed on a little bottle of Jungle Gardenia. Candy sweet, exotic. I was 10. It was wonderful. I will still, on occassion, wear gardenia. It makes me feel safe and sultry at the same time.
My father bought perfume--or cologne anyway--for his growing teen daughter (and how we fought in those days). Heaven Sent. I hated the fragrance, but kept it. He gave it to me saying, with a sentimentality I didn't recognize or appreciate, that he was so reminded of me, his only daughter, by this scent.
My grandmother bought me a fragrance made by the folks who made 4711, a splash I loved in my college days and carried with me for its clean fragrance--it was called, I think, Directoire Floreal. A white fragrance, and sweet. I never replaced it--or missed it.
I went on to Emeraude (too powdery, I gave it to the owner of a Berlin hotel) and Bellogia (which I still like but can't find; it smells like carnations on a terrace in Italy).
Last week a friend sent me a tiny vial of scented oils called Belle Epoque. She'd gotten it from a fascinating place that creates rather mystic sounding scents, very appropriate for Halloween--Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab should take you there, if I've entered the link correctly. It was a scent she didn't like, but which somehow reminded her of the bookstore. Given that sometimes the bookstore smells of cat pee, it was reassuring to note the little vial of oil does not. On my skin it smells of amber and sandalwood and perhaps green things and flowers--I should look it up and see exactly what it is made of. Called Belle Epoque. It has a dry complexity, and I do like it. Like days dreaming in a slightly dusty library where, perhaps, your own true love might come and sit in the chair and pat the sleeping pitbull.


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