No elegance is possible without perfume. It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory. Coco Chanel

Chatting over dinner last Sunday evening, I thanked Mr. Smith again for my marvelous new perfume gift set.  Then I corrected myself.  Not perfume, cologne.  He responded indignantly, “It’s not cologne!” This set off quite the conversation and a little internet research.  I didn’t receive cologne, I received eau de parfum.  When shopping for fragrance you can choose perfume, eau de parfum, eau de toilette or eau de cologne. But what is the difference?  It depends on the concentration of essences or aromatic oils, and the higher the concentration the pricier the bottle.  While most data points to the origin of perfume belonging to the Egyptians, being a true Francophile, I associate it with France and the great perfume houses of Paris. Today in Paris more scent is purchased at Sephora than at the beautiful Guerlain House on the Champs-Elysees.  Wistfully, gone are the days it was commonplace for a mother to take her daughter to a perfume house to have a scent created specifically for her as a rite of passage.  I don’t let that stop me from daydreaming about attending a fragrance workshop and having my personalized scent created and presented to me in a beautiful crystal bottle engraved with my name.

I don’t totally agree with Coco that elegance isn’t possible without perfume, but I do know that I have always been fascinated by its allure, from a beautiful glass bottle with an atomizer to the Avon spray bottles on my mom’s dresser top years ago. My sister Jeanne is 13 years older than me and my sister Suzi is 10 years older than me.  As a little girl, they were the epitome of sophistication and glamour to me.  The tops of their bedroom dressers were awash with fascinating bottles of makeup, nail polish and perfume.  I was sure that once I was old enough to use these coveted items, I too would obtain their worldly elegance. I couldn’t wait to put my hair up in a “beehive”, wear full skirts over petticoats and be picked up for dates on Saturday night.

By the time I was 15 and dating, no one was wearing their hair in a bouffant and the full skirt had given way to bell bottoms, but makeup, nail polish and perfume still held their appeal to me.  My family lived in small-town Indiana, devoid of any department stores with lovely fragrance counters. I’m sure that’s the reason I distinctly remember the first time I walked into Marshall Fields on State Street in Chicago, directly into a sea of perfume counters.  It was as if I had arrived at the height of elegance!  Feeling a bit (a lot) intimidated, I didn’t make a purchase that day, but still smile at the memory. 

 In my high school years, I thought I was tres sophitiquewhen I wore Jovan Musk. I was obsessed with what I thought were the exotic scents of musk and patchouli and spent many an hour at the fragrance counter of our closest drug store.  Love’s Baby Soft debuted in 1974 with the tag line “Because innocence is sexier than you think” along with a photo of a Lolita-style girl. Despite the rebirth of feminism in the 60s, it’s obvious Madison Avenue was going to stick to the mantra “sex sells” as long as they could get away with it. When I look at those ads today, I cringe and am amazed how naïve a midwestern teenager I was.

Not depending on sex to sell its product, Revlon released Charlie in 1973, marketing it to the young working woman.  They ran an ad campaign featuring several models, including Naomi Sims, the first African American woman in history featured in a cosmetic company’s advertising.  At the time, I was dating a man named Charlie and received many bottles of Charlie.  Luckily, I did like it!

The first Christmas Mr. Smith and I were married, one of his gifts for me under the tree was a gift set of Anais, Anais by Cacharel.  In addition to the eau de parfum, there was body lotion and a small container of bubble bath.  He explained to me that the saleswoman told him women like to “layer” their scents and that I would want the additional items!  Whether this was an astute saleswoman who figured she could upsell a new husband or she was just being helpful, I was delighted to receive my gift.

You know how when you find just the right shade of lipstick, it gets discontinued?  Well, that happened to me with fragrance.  My eternal favorite is Givenchy’s Indecence. Sadly, it is no longer available, and I still mourn its loss.  You can buy a distant cousin, Organza Indecence, but it’s just not the same.  

We are now living where perfume is banned in many offices. Not only are there scent allergies, but often we are assaulted with either too much or an “unpleasant” fragrance from a nearby co-worker.  As much as I enjoy spritzing on my scent when I prepare to go out, I do consider where I’m going and whether I could cause others discomfort.

Fortunately, there are still many occasions when a lovely scent is welcomed.  At this moment my scent is Flowerbomb by Viktor & Rolf. The name was chosen to denote a floral explosion, a profusion of flowers.  It’s a combination of many notes including tea, bergamot, freesia and my old friend patchouli!   One thing that has bothered me over time is all the packaging involved with fragrance, more items for the landfill.  I was thrilled to learn that Flowerbomb now comes in a refillable bottle.  I won’t save the earth having my bottle refilled, but I’ll show it a little love.  And I’ll smell lovely while doing it.

C’est la vie.

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