The great perfumer Jean Carles once wrote that all scents are adopted, never selected. It’s a startling statement and has the resonance of truth, though I wish it didn’t.
The implication is that there’s a tremendous gap between what is habitually on our bodies and what’s on our shelves. Do we really wear the perfume that we collect or do we have it because we’ve read that it’s a masterpiece and we should therefore own a bottle, or feel that we acquire a reputation (wholly undeserved) for taste by having a Chanel something or other around, or conversely, some niche scent that marks us as cutting edge?
The trouble with all these stratagems is, if M. Carles was correct, that they don’t work. We will keep the Chanel until it goes to a niece, or a yard sale, or an estate sale if we are the procrastinating sort, but we won’t wear it. The same fate awaits the Eau de Shock that we’ve acquired. Meanwhile we continue to wear the same old Dowdy But Reliable Floral, or the Trendy Perfume that Everyone Our Age Wears, that we’ve known and loved for a decade, and that our children track our movements by.
To spare the innocent, I shall explain just how this works in my own case. I’ve been smelling perfume since forever and I do know what is “good” from what is “bad” and, more crucially, what can be worn in which situations. This seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with what I crave. My Brain when queried on this point – and my Brain is a glucose swilling reprobate admittedly but usually honest – submitted the answer: Bacon, Cotton Candy and Chalk.
Now this was not what my ego wanted to hear. The Brain when questioned further pointed out helpfully that the bacon should be crispy. In the perfume collection at the time I had a Guerlain, Attrape Coeur that my brain and my eight year old both claimed smelt like Mo’s Bacon Bar. The brain complained that actually he didn’t need all that chocolate going on as it interfered with the bacon note. The Cotton Candy was supplied by the Anne Pliska that I kept on re-applying at night just like one of Pavlov’s dogs. The chalk I simply couldn’t find anywhere in fine perfumery. (I’m still looking.)
So, all those refined and sexy animalics, nope, the elegant aldehydic florals, unh unh, the sophisticated but warm chypres, oh please, I wasn’t wearing any of them. I was wearing chocolate covered bacon and cotton candy. So go ahead, search out a tuna fish accord, or that lovely smell of mud that you’ve adored since you were four. These are the things I find that meld to our skin, and the things that we keep on reaching for when we’ve had a bad day or are trying not to empty out the chocolate drawer before dinner.
At bottom, I guess I do agree with M. Carles. We do adopt perfumes, we don’t actually select them. This leads me to another point: trying to force a union between skin and scent that wasn’t meant to be, can have disastrous results.
Do you have to give in to your baser instincts in perfume wearing? I’m afraid you do, or let me moderate my tone, I’m afraid you will, because in my experience we all do or we end up souring a great formula with our social climbing but ill adapted sweat.
Nevertheless, if you insist on wearing something because it is something, then wear it initially as a body product. You will fool yourself into thinking it’s your own odor a lot faster than if you attempt to spritz or dab it on. But I warn you that if what you’re looking for deep down is the smell of marmalade, then musk will not cut it for you. You have to let your instincts work and work with them.
By the way, has anyone found a perfume that smells like chalk?