My husband’s grandmother Nina was a pioneer. She was unfailingly chic long before Anna Wintour had been born to make the rest of us feel fat and blowsy, she was anorexic in the days before that disorder had been recognized, and she was a perfectionist long before the rest of us had developed OCD. She was also a killer raconteur, a dresser of effortless style, and briefly, a concert pianist. If you could come up with a word to sum up Nina, it probably was “impeccable”. Her perfume was Arpege, of course.
Why of course? Well, back in the day there were perfumes that smelt cheap and that smelt expensive and Arpege was one of the ones that unfailingly smelled expensive, that is, on the right person. If you’re reading perfume blogs there’s an excellent chance you already know Arpege well from one or another of its incarnations, and therefore are already acquainted, if so, disregard the description.In the 1930’s, Arpege was an amber/floral bouquet with an aldehydic overture. It was delicate and always appropriate, and it certainly wasn’t something that the help might put on of an evening off. (This stands in stark contrast to my Mom’s favorite Tabu which, of course, in the fifties, the help could, and did, put on.) The fifties were the days in which the advertising for Arpege in magazines was along the lines of “Mommy loves Arpege” scrawled in chalk on a sidewalk, or the more alluring: “Promise her anything, but give her Arpege.”
No matter what her husband had promised her, Nina was in fact faithful to Arpege, for decades. There was only one impediment to this longstanding union. Arpege smelled – awful – on Nina. Not defcon 5 , but defcon 2 or 3 for sure, the dirty gym socks, or you-haven’t-taken-a shower-in-three-days sort of alarm, that level of olfactory distress.
Now this gets me into the choppy waters of skin chemistry. Industry experts have been known to say that it doesn’t exist as a problem, while at the same time employing skin models to detect how well various perfumes perform on human skin. I (for one) am a believer and partially because of the experiences of Nina, or at any rate, Nina’s near and dear.
This whole story was repeated to me because I had tried to wear Arpege soon after my honeymoon and Guts, usually the soul of tolerance, said, “Please, no more Arpege.”
So I gave up the Arpege. It was too sophisticated for me anyway, and assumed that my husband found the memory of the lovely scent he associated with his deceased grandmother too melancholy to smell on his wife. Well, one part of this assumption was correct. He did find it painful, but not because it reminded him of his grandmother. It was the combination of his grandmother’s skin and Arpege that was painful and any echo of Arpege replayed the whole unpleasant tune for him.
My husband’s aunt filled me in finally. She said that Nina had always worn Arpege, and when I asked why the memory wasn’t a good one since, after all, isn’t Arpege always beautiful? She rocked back on her heels, her hands in her pockets, and said, “Not. On. Her!”
So I suppose the moral of this story is that skin chemistry does in fact exist,and it pays to recognize the fact. If you think that a lovely formula that smelled wonderful on your sister in law or friend does not smell so nice on you, you are probably correct and furthermore you should NOT use it.
The nose never lies. It can for brief periods of time be misled to be sure, but on average your nose will always tell you the truth. Don’t blame it, the truthfulness of your nose has saved you from eating spoiled food, and buying that house with the mold in the basement. Your nose is far more honest than any girlfriend, employer, in-law or lover you will ever know. If your nose tells you to stay away from a perfume, do so. Nina’s tragedy was that whether because of smoking, or prejudice, she felt information coming her way from such a source as a mere nose was unreliable. It was a low, vulgar organ, occupying valuable real estate in the middle of her face and frankly, what did it know about fine French perfume?
Everything, it turns out.
All stories have two sides, and I should have run this one by my mother-in-law before writing it out. She says not a bit of it, Arpege smelled just fine on Nina, and that the aunt’s notions were perhaps thrown off a bit by her own excessive smoking. There could be something to that. Said aunt was, I now recall, incapable of standing any perfume, so it is hardly surprising that this prejudice should extend to Arpege.
Still not sure what my husband’s problem with it is….