On the Scent of a Woman


Quick. What's that make you think of? Can you smell it?

Shalimar on cold fur, whispering against my mother’s skin as she came to tuck me in after an evening out at a fancy ball.

Shalimar means Temple of Love in Sanskrit. And really, isn’t that why we use perfume and cologne? To attract? To comfort. To leave behind a memory? I am fascinated by what people choose to dab themselves in. It’s so much more than smelling pretty, really, it’s more about who you are. Your scent says a lot about you. So don't laugh when I say this is probably the most intimate post I've ever done.

I don’t wear much perfume these days. Instead, I’m a dedicated fan of La Vanilla, which is a rollerball delivered essential oil of vanilla. It is yummy. Delicious. When I wear it my husband tells me I smell good. That’s good enough for me.

But I’ve tried my hand at a number of perfumes over the years.

I started out with the age-old classic, Love’s Baby Soft.

I remember how special I felt when I graduated to White Shoulders.

Then on to Charlie, which I always felt vaguely silly wearing.

Anäis Anäis, my first teenager girl perfume.

Tresor, my second teenage girl perfume.

Joy, which trumped all of the above and was without a doubt my signature scent from about fifteen to thirty.

Chanel no. 5, which they’ve sadly just changed the formula on.

Gio, which, to my utter horror, was discontinued and parades now as Aqua di Gio, a pale imitation of its scrumptious predecessor.

Arpege, which I still wear on occasion, but has a tendency to make drunk men corner me by the bathrooms and tell me I smell pretty.

Philosophy Love Me Tender, which I do still wear. Mostly in my hair, at the beach, for some reason.

Despite that list, I’m incredibly picky when it comes to scent. Patchouli makes me sneeze.Red Door gives me an immediate migraine. Obsession was just so, well, obsessive. Most perfumes seem too loud, too forward. And when it comes to men’s scents – forget about it.

My man wears this great subtle cologne that no one can smell but me, because you can’t smell it unless your nose is literally up against the skin. (He’s going to kill me for that. I foresee Randy being sniffed at close range at the next conference bar…)

But I’ve dated them all.

Polo – Sorry, boys, but GAG ME WITH A SPOON. Granted, Polo used with a modicum of discretion probably wouldn’t be bad, but for some reason, men loved to drown themselves in it. There was one guy in high school who you could literally smell coming from two halls away.

Royal Copenhagen – okay, that’s more like it. A subtle, powdery scent.

Davidoff Cool Water – I am so not going there… but I do still have the clear glass heart Christmas ornament he gave me. Shhh....

Drakkar Noir – It sounded so freaking cool – I wear Drakkar – but the guys who did were utter Guidos or on the wrestling team. I always wondered how that felt, being pinned to the mat by a guy wearing Drakkar. Well, how it felt for the guys. Ahem.

My Dad was an Aqua Velva Guy. I am immediately sent into his arms any time I smell it. Same with Old Spice and my grandfather.

But Shalimar… wow. A classic. We were watching MAD MEN the other night, the first season, and Joan’s roommate asks her is she’s wearing Shalimar, and I was thrust back in time, to the mirrored perfume tray on my dresser, chock full of lovely glass bottles. To the feeling of being a woman, fresh from the shower, dabbing perfume in my pressure spots – inside the wrist, inside the elbow, behind the knee, behind the ear, between the breasts. Seeing my olfactory palate change as I matured.

There’s something so indefinable, yet so concrete, about how a woman smells. And no matter what, those smells are attached to memories. Good memories, bad memories, indifferent memories. Memories that make us laugh, or cry, or feel vaguely ashamed.

Think of the pheromones we put off naturally, the undetectable aromas that attract a mate. Think of how we spent so many years disguising them, drowning out our natural scent in favor of smelling like a flower. To what end? Attracting bumblebees?

Well damn. That just makes me think about Spanish Fly.

I thought I’d drag you down memory lane with me. Tell me about your favorite scent, your favorite cologne, from now, or then. A scent that evokes a memory. Something that you love, or hate. That makes you tingle inside, or draw back in disgust.

Ready? Go!