My first proper boyfriend wore Boss, £45 and the smell can still stop me in the street. He was kind – super romantic, affectionate and respectful, with a home life that meant he had to grow up too soon. When all the other boys wore Lynx, he smelled adult, and this fragrance reminds me how lucky I was to not spend my teens with a wanker. He helped my self-esteem, self-worth and happiness. This smells like young love.
One of my favourite scent memories is being at my grandparents' flat. My gran was one of the most caring and kind of people. I remember going into the bathroom for a pee, and seeing, on the sink, a bottle of Poison by Dior, £43.50, in a bottle the colour of Willy Wonka's coat. And then picking off the lid, inhaling its sweet, corrupting smell that reminded me of Wrigley's juicy fruit with added venom. I couldn't reconcile the gap between her personality and this wicked fairytale scent. That she, this benevolent figure in our lives was putting on poison. How could this be? Was she a Disney villain in diguise? Of course, I was making a fuss about nothing, my young, preachy moralising self. But that memory continues to remind me why perfume is such a joy. We can be us. We can be someone else. We can put on whatever we please without it needing to make any sense.
Perfume has been the backdrop to all my life’s most significant events: childhood and adulthood, love and heartbreak, exams and job interviews, my mother’s death and my niece’s birth. In scent, I have my memories.
One of my favourites is shown in this photograph: my niece receiving her first Guerlain bee bottle on her second birthday. Even at one, Issy refused to leave the house without dabbing her throat with perfume, a gesture she picked up from my mother. She had worn lesser fragrances, but this was her first Guerlain: Petit Guerlain, in fact, its fragile floral for infant noses. It marks a moment of love and becoming: a rite of passage, making her one of us.
The original Petit Guerlain was launched in 1994, created by Jean-Paul Guerlain and Olivia Giacobetti, both coruscating perfumers. It smelt clean, soapy, of spiced milk and powdered babies’ bottoms; lemon, mimosa, rose, and tonka bean. Today, there is a new version by house perfumer Thierry Wasser, blending mimosa with orange blossom, pistachio, and honey.
I was thinking that scent is about self-care and individuality for me. Your question made me think about my Mam and my aunties – her four sisters, and my Dad's sisters too. They each had a different signature perfume. Auntie Louise wore Lou Lou, £14.99 (obviously). My Mam wore Dior (Dune, £31.20 for a while). My Dad's baby sister wore Chanel no19, £68. They all seemed impossibly grown-up and glamorous and perfume seemed synonymous with that. I came of age during the grunge era and wore CK One, £18.50 back in the day...at present I am obsessed with the Beautiful Mind Series, £95 of perfumes.
No surprise that my first memory of perfume is my Mum. She wore Issey Miyake’s L’Eau D’Issey, £75 – a clean, woody smell that I completely didn’t get. Too subtle, too sophisticated. She’d spray it on before going to work, hair curled, lipstick on.
It wasn’t until I was fourteen that I was allowed my first proper bottle of perfume (before then it was Impulse body spay, Ginger Spice flavour) and was lured by the sweet, sticky smell of Thierry Mugler’s Angel, £68. The star shaped bottle swinging around my school bag, there for liberal lunchtime top ups in the girls loos. The height of sophistication. A gateway to adulthood and glamour. The surefire way to make Alex Jones in year 16 fancy me.
Of course it stank – it was far too sweet and I was yet to learn the true meaning of less is more. But perfume has always represented a world of dressing tables, lipstick and rollers. A world of possibilities where the boy might just like you back.
I’m too forgetful to wear perfume everyday, but when I do remember it’s Marni Spice, £69. A warm spicy smell that makes me feel at once comforted and a bit sassy.
Growing up, I remember the strange, zesty scent of Jo Malone’s Lime, Basil and Mandarin, £42, that would trail behind my mum (usually spritzed on for special occasions). At the time, I wasn’t on board. I don’t know why. It was so unusual and completely unlike the saccharine candy floss scents that as a schoolgirl I blindly gravitated towards. But as time’s gone on and my nose has changed, whenever a scent infused with Lime passes me by, I’m instantly reminded of my mum (who still wears it today) and it’s grown to become one of my favourite fragrances. When I’d come home from uni, I’d sneak into her room and douse myself in it so that I was able to take the smell back with me, then when I left for the city, I did the same. The White Company recently introduced a new Lime and Bay fragrance into their home range and now their reed diffuser, £25, sits on the windowsill behind my bed. With its familiar light citrus notes, the scent takes me back home every morning when I wake up in my room in London.
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