You know those typical perfume-feature clichés? The ones about what my mother smelled of, as she was tucking me into bed at night, before she went out on the tiles. Or the fragrant memory of that sunny holiday with my first love. Well, this has nothing to do with any of that. It has to do with friends – my girlfriends.
For, as much I love it – and that’s a lot – my signature perfume has been chosen as much (if not more) by my friends as by me. I wear it mostly because of the reaction they have to it.
The truth is, I can’t even smell my signature perfume any more. As so often happens, I’ve become nose blind to it – it’s that familiarity-breeds-contempt notion. Except that I’m not contemptuous towards it, I’ve simply grown nasally accustomed to it – I take it for granted. I capture a quick whiff as I first spray it on but, after that, it’s essentially dead to me for the rest of the day.
At this point, I should probably introduce you: meet Cartier’s La Panthere. It’s an elegantly intoxicating fusion of gardenia and musk in what is described as a “feline floral” – which doesn’t make me feel like a flowery cat but a sophisticated woman. I could intellectualise for hours about why it resonates with me, but the simple truth is that it was love at first whiff. And that’s what my friends most love on me.
They tell me all the time – how much it suits me, that they can’t imagine me wearing anything else. I see the recognition of it bring a smile to their faces as soon as they smell it; they won’t have seen me in the room yet, but they know I’m there. It cements us somehow – reinforces our connection at the most primal level. The perfume is synonymous with me in their minds and so it has become the same for me. Often, even when I might feel more like reaching for something else, I’ll plump for my panther because their sanctioning of it makes it feel more emphatically me and also reminds me of our binding ties of friendship. If I know I have a tough day ahead, I’ll wear an extra spritz or two – that way, my girlfriends travel with me, lending their support, and I, in turn, feel that much more confident and secure in my own skin.
I’ve had signature perfumes before. For years, I wore Diva by Ungaro. My big brother would always buy me a bottle for Christmas. And my mother loved it on me. She knew the smell of my scalp as a baby, yet this perfume, she said, was the smell of me to her. I can’t remember now why I somehow left it behind. Perhaps it was simply a marker of making my own way in the world, of shrugging off those assumptive clothes of family and seeing what else fits. I haven’t smelled it in years, but perhaps the time has come to find a bottle and take a sniff of the old – younger – me.
My other signature partnering was a body lotion: Clarins Moisture Rich Body Lotion. At £31 a bottle, it was never a daily skincare option – that is until I had a brief but rather fabulous office fling (trust me, you haven’t kissed until you’ve stolen an illicit kiss in a fashion cupboard) and he loved the smell of it on me. Henceforth, I slathered it on every morning as an additional seduction technique, though I vehemently denied this when he asked me one day. I still wear it (not daily) and still think of him of when I take that first bottle-opening inhale.
So, if you’re looking to find your own signature perfume, I have this advice: it’s all trial and error. Try many and find a few you love. But, ultimately, the chances are that your final choice will have very little to do with you.
5 of the best new fragrances to buy now
The modern Classic: Chanel Coco Madamoiselle Intense
If you like the original Chanel Coco Madamoiselle, you'll love the new Intense version. With the same delicious mix of citrus, rose and patchouli, it's been amped up by even more patchouli, added tonka bean and vanilla absolute for a richer, headier take on the original.
the Floral one: Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori
A sweet, fresh floral that smells of white flowers with a lush, leafy undertone. It smells like springtime, first thing in the morning when the grass is still a bit dewy. And, if you're swayed by bottles, this one is beautiful.
The sophisticated one: Chloé Nomade
A floral chypré, this has sweet top notes of freesia and plum, with a warm, dry oak moss base, which, together, smells clean, grown-up and sophisticated.
The creamy one: Elie Saab In White
This perfume's name, In White, comes from the fact that it's blended with some of perfume's prettiest white notes – jasmine, orange blossom, peony, ylang ylang and pear, grounded on a chiffony-light base of vanilla and white musk. If suncream and perfume were to collide (and smell expensive), this is what it would smell like.
The one to know:
If you haven't heard of Floral Street, they're well worth a visit for delicious modern florals. Their signature scents come in the form of body creams, body washes or their gorgeous perfumes (which also come in handy handbag sizes). Wild Vanilla Orchid is a rich, creamy, oriental scent that lasts beautifully on skin.