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Scents and sensibility

Part of my current stash...

I have recently been reading a fabulous book called ‘Perfume’, which is – surprisingly enough – all about fragrance. It was written by a male scientist (Luca Turin) and female journalist (Tania Sanchez) and provides a fascinating insight into the world of perfume. My absolute favourite part of the book is the section that lists about 1000 different scents with a simple description of what each smells like followed by a written analysis and starred rating.

I have been totally absorbed by this, looking up all the scents I have ever worn plus a range of those I am already familiar with. I’ve also made new friends in the fragrance world and spent considerable time at a local pharmacy spraying and sniffing things I would never have bothered with before. It has been fascinating to read what people who are professionals in their field think of certain perfumes and the insight into the history and creation of them.

The descriptions are perfectly succinct (‘woody lavender’, ‘metallic floral’, ‘sad vanilla’) and the paragraphs giving more in-depth information are written in a jaunty, sparkling style that manages to inform readers without dulling the tone of the text. On the whole, it reads very much like how you would talk to your friends about perfume over drinks at a girls’ night. I just love it and could not recommend it enough to anyone with even so much as a passing interest in perfume.

What has interested me most is reading someone else’s take on the fragrances I have worn over the years. When they are highly recommended I feel like punching the air with glee at my good taste; when they are rated poorly I almost take it personally defending my choice. This is because perfume is such a hugely personal thing – I rarely, if ever, buy fragrance for other people as a gift due to this fact. What smells good to you in the bottle may smell horrendous to someone else and this is only compounded when you take into account the fact that the smell changes with each individual’s body chemistry.

Like different chart songs, the scent of perfumes I have worn over the years always take me back to a particular place and time. One smell is all it takes and I’m somewhere else, remembering what I was doing when I wore that fragrance. Sometimes it might be the perfumes other people have used, like the way Dewberry perfume oil from the Body Shop will always say high school to me even though I never wore it myself.

I am a lover of perfume – I could spend hours wandering through Myer or David Jones just sampling smells and the bottom of my handbag is often littered with those small cards designed to test fragrance on. I am the kind of person who actually tears out the cards in magazines and takes them in to collect free samples. I try anything and everything from all different brands both cheap and expensive to try and find the next great thing. I’m not looking for the “perfect” fragrance or “my” ultimate perfume because I already have that. All I’m after is something lovely and unique to add to my ever-increasing library of scent.

I like perfumes that are a little bit different, that have a smell that stands out from the crowd. For that reason, I’ve never been a fan of Chanel or Estee Lauder fragrances because to me they all smell the same, like bland and indistinguishable bunches of flowers (the gorgeous EL Beyond Paradise is the one exception to this) or stuffy, musty society ladies whose fragrance has dated as poorly as they probably have after decades of long lunches filled with gin and tonics (hello Chanel No 19). I’ve also never enjoyed the idea of buying a perfume just because it’s popular or fashionable (Tommy Girl or Cool Water or god damn bloody Chanel Coco Mademoiselle) and regardless of how it suits me (Angel… though I very much wanted to love it but just couldn’t). I guess it’s because apart from the thrill of the hunt, I just want to smell like me and no one else. Maybe that’s why I’m also a fan of wearing men’s scents.

Inspired by this wonderful book, I decided to go back through my own history of perfume and catalogue what each has meant to me. Some I look back on with extreme fondness, some will definitely stay in the past and some will probably continue on with me well into the future. But all have their place and their own unique, special memories for me alone, which is just part of the magic of perfume.

To begin at the beginning as Alice said…

Australis – For a birthday (probably about my 12th) I was given a set of six of these light fragrances that I hoarded for years. In fact, I still have a couple with a few remaining drops in my drawers at my parents’ house. I remember the names of a few of them and the pictures on the front of the bottles, but I could not tell you what any of them actually smelled like.

Coty Vanilla Fields/Body Shop Vanilla Oil/Impulse Vanilla – I LOVED and still LOVE the smell of vanilla in perfume, deodorants, room sprays, you name it. Vanilla Fields is the smell of year 11 and 12 to me, going to parties, drinking bourbon and coke out of plastic bottles, driving laps around town on a Saturday night and listening to Jimmy Barnes, Kenny Rogers and the Bee Gees in my best friend’s old brown Ford. It’s a great smell, a comfortable smell, a warm smell. The Body Shop oil reminds me distinctly of a trip to Sydney in year 12 for a modern history lecture at the University of Sydney. We got about an hour to go shopping at QVB and I bolted into the Body Shop and bought this, putting it on as soon as we got on the bus. It was extremely strong and stunk out the whole bus for the rest of the trip. We then went out to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, with four of us then staying on at a hostel in Darlinghurst (I think) so we could go to a lecture for a different subject the next day. I smell the very particular vanilla of that oil and that whole trip in 1996 still flashes before my eyes.

Yves Saint Laurent Champagne/Yvresse – Ah, my first adult (ie expensive) perfume. I read a review of Champagne, as it was then known, where the scent was described as fizzing in your nose when you breathe it in, much like real champagne. One test at Grace Brothers in Belconnen and it did just that and I was hooked. I saved up $50 of my hard earned money from working at Maccas and bought a 30ml bottle of it at a pharmacy. Problem was, I was heading to uni in a couple of weeks and was supposed to be saving up so I had to tell my mum it only cost $30. I just loved it, it was so sophisticated and bubbly (pun intended). When I smell it now I’m back starting uni again, going out drinking Strongbow Whites and wearing brown lipstick. I think the perfume is far too old for me, even at 32 so especially at 18, and much better suited to an older lady. But it sure was fun while it lasted. I even kept the original container which was shaped like a mini champagne bottle with the metal trimming.

Guerlain Champs Elysees – This is my second year at university. It smells like nights out at the uni bar, black stretch pants and cotton button down shirts, vodka in the common room and listening to Shania Twain. I think it’s a great young lady scent for a particular time. I was devastated to read in The Book that one of the author’s thought this fragrance was the greatest disaster in the long history of Guerlain’s perfumes and they should put the public out of its misery by discontinuing it. Slander! Lies! Outrage! I went back and smelled it again thinking I may have gotten it wrong a decade ago but I hadn’t. I still like it, even though I would never wear it again.

Gucci Rush – Hello Natalie and hello good times. I have worn this perfume since 1999 on 99.9 per cent of the big nights out I have had. Every Christmas party, every girls night, every planned drinks after work, every time alcohol has been involved, Gucci Rush has been there. It is a fragrance that is impossible to describe, smells like absolutely nothing else, comes in a bottle like no other and I would be lost if they ever stopped making it. This smells like me. I even get jealous when I smell it on other people. Because I have worn it exclusively on nights out – Gucci Rush belongs only when the sun goes down, she is far too strong for daylight hours – when I smell it, it smells like a good time. Like a party ready to happen. Funnily enough, it particularly reminds me of when I worked in a bar – probably because there were a LOT of nights out there at that time. By the way, The Book gives Rush a page of its own and a five star rating. Ha!

Diesel Plus Plus – I used to wear this to work at a function centre bar and it smelled just like milk and honey (and nothing else available at the time or probably even since). It was clean and delicious, even if a co-worker told me they didn’t like it.

Stella McCartney Stella – This is a lovely, sweet rose scent but because I wore it at  a relatively unhappy time for me, I don’t smell that perfume now with any great fondness. It’s almost like the scent of bitter-sweet melancholy to me (oh how poetic).

Dolce & Gabbana Sicily – What a great perfume. It’s a really strong, rich floral that smells like dusk in summer at somewhere incredible by the Mediterranean like Italy, Greece or Spain. It had a great ad campaign too, with Monica Bellucci (I think) chopping ripe tomatoes in a low-cut black tank top. I wore it during one of the best summer holidays I ever had in about 2003 and as soon as I smell this I’m back at the Lakeview Hotel drinking beers in a hot pink and white striped one-shouldered top.

J-Lo Glow Miami Sunset – To smell this reminds me of my first summer in Melbourne, particularly wearing a white cotton sundress to the tennis and cricket on scorching hot days with clear blue skies. It’s a wonderful light day summer scent, like a ripe fruit cocktail or something. I’d easily go back to wearing it but it was the perfect fragrance for just the right time.

DKNY Be Delicious –A friend brought this back for me from Hawaii in four tiny, apple-shaped bottles nestled inside a wooden box. It smells like delicious green apples and is a great day scent – I wore it to work and it took me seemingly forever to get through those bottles. Whenever I smell it now, I’m immediately parked outside in the car park at about 6.30am in the middle of winter with the fog still about. I’m putting my perfume on as I run in the door, having already done my makeup on the drive over. PS I say “about 6.30am” which is really more like 6.50am.

For the day I’m currently wearing Salvatore Ferragamo’s cherry-ish Subtil which was a blind inexpensive purchase from StrawberryNET. One thing I do is make sure I use my work perfume only at work, regardless of what day it is. I often work weekends so when I’m wearing that perfume then I know that I’m at work. Similarly, when I’m wearing Rush I know I’m getting ready for a good time!

I judge books by covers

When I was home over Christmas, my dad forced me to watch this show on the Comedy Channel that he thought was really really good and said the girl reminded him of me. Hmmm. However the show was Chelsea Lately, meaning it was nothing short of a compliment even though I think the similarities stop at us both being tall and funny. Unless Chelsea too has rolled a dodgem car.

It’s a clever and irreverent program filled with just my type of humour – highly inappropriate. Chelsea gets great guests, takes the piss out of them and I love the panel of comedians. The guy with the high pitched female voice is absolute gold.

I had been looking around for Chelsea’s books and lo and behold, one of them popped up at one of my regular op shops for $2. What I really really loved was the retro cover on this edition (UK version) and the cover quotes from two of my favourite people/things – Grazia and Belle de Jour. It’s a seriously classy and feminine cover for a seriously funny book.

Chelsea Handler's book is a total crack up - highly recommended.

I’m always a sucker for a good cover and it can totally sell an ordinary book to me. I generally shy away from movie release covers (bor-ring!) and prefer a really clever illustration. The Vintage series tends to have great covers including the brilliant Alice Through the Looking Glass with black and white stripy tights and a pair of mary janes. There’s also a great postcard set featuring Penguin covers that I would love – they’d look great in mini frames in a small room.

But back to Chelsea. Are You There Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea is a great read. It moves at a fast pace and the stories are laugh out loud funny. I love Chelsea’s turn of phrase and the very odd lines you can see her delivering in her deadpan sarcastic style. If you’re after a good fun rollicking read then you could do no worse than this. Definitely lives up to its cover.