I was spritzing on a bit of Yardley’s “English Lavender” cologne the other day when it occurred to me that my bottle of the fragrance is REALLY OLD. I thought back to when I bought it, 1973 or so, which means it’s around 40—apparently, even inexpensive cologne can last a long time. In that same time period I’ve been through at least five bottles of “White Shoulders”, a favorite since childhood, when my mom wore it only for very special occasions (I squander it almost daily), a brief stint with Georgio’s “Red” and the relatively recent “Lovely” by Sarah Jessica Parker. I’ve got a hankering to try the Jasmine fragrance Goldie Hawn was wearing on the Katie Couric show, which Katie commented on effusively, but Ms. Hawn was cadgey about the brand, saying only that she always wears jasmine.
Thinking of that old bottle of cologne reminded me of all the other old bottles of “pew-fume” (our baby name for Mom’s fragrances: “Tweed”, “Intimate”, and “White Shoulders”) I have stowed in odd places around the house. In a container under the bathroom sink, I found Jovan “Musk”, the essential oil lemongrass, and a nearly empty bottle of sandalwood oil (I’ll have to add that to my shopping list—I love that stuff!). In my jewelry box, I found a very old, ornately labeled, but empty, bottle of “Strawberry” essential oil, a newer bottle of “Strawberry Delight”, and, oh, there it is, good old reliable patchouli oil, the proven aphrodisiac of my generation!
I first captivated my husband, Chris, with the heady combination of patchouli and strawberry oil. Patchouli is one of those “you either LOVE it or HATE it” fragrances, and you know immediately when you wear it who’s in which corner. (As a production manager at the local newspaper, I nearly had to resort to a chair and bullwhip to get my employees back to their work stations when a man smelling of patchouli came into the office to place an ad. Those randy ladies followed the scent right through the building and then stood near him, sniffing and trying to appear busy! On the other hand, in my teen years, I had to put my patchouli oil on outside and then wash it off before I came home—my mother just HATED it.) It’s a sharp, aggressive, defiantly foreign scent (some say it smells like marijuana or hashish), but when coupled with a few drops of the sweet, fruity fragrance of strawberry oil, it sends out a soft, sensual purr. Chris said it was the sexiest fragrance I wore, because it always led to sex . . . however, we were in our twenties, and as I recall it, even when I wore no fragrance at all, we were headed to the bedroom at some point or another. Impetuous youth!
I’ve always loved to wear fragrance, whether it was my own “Apple Blossom” scent that came with a toy makeup kit when I was six, or the “Emeraude” I pilfered from my sister (that scent would never smell as lovely on me as it does on her—a boy in my high school English class told me it smelled like rotten lemons!!!). I’ve always been a fan of florals: “Muguet de Bois” (lily of the valley), “Straw Hat”, a fragrance of the 1960s that was only available in the spring and summer, “English Lavender”, and “Jean Nate” (another little theft from the same sister—with much better results!).
Except for the time I smelled like “rotten lemons”, I’ve worn fragrances lightly. My mother used to say “a little on the wrist, and a little behind your knee”—I added a little behind my ears because movie stars always seemed to be putting their perfume there—with wonderful results like having Cary Grant or Robert Redford nuzzle them. (My penchant for old movies has led to movie star crushes that span generations.) I have, over the years, encountered a few people who drenched themselves in their favorite fragrance, leaving the rest of us gasping wretches in their wake.
One of my most memorable bosses was a “pew-fume drencher”. We could predict her arrival in the office in two ways: her perfume always preceded her into the room and the decibel level went up at least 100 points. We never could concur on which was loudest or more bothersome, the Dior “Poison” or the nasal voice and raucous laugh; when she discovered “Giorgio” perfume, we had our answer. I found it oddly satisfying when wearing “Giorgio” was banned in several restaurants in Los Angeles. We often discussed whether there should be a single, dreadful location in hell for the boss who drenches in obnoxious perfume and then looms over your desk to loudly point out your inadequacies. I’m forthright, so I asked her once, how she applied her perfume (first referring to my mother’s advice, hoping she’d take a hint). “I spray a bunch in the air, and then I walk through it,” she answered. “Wow, that must get expensive,” I commented, to which she replied (and no hourly employee on the planet would convict me for the murderous thought that entered my head as she said it) “I can afford it.” Thus, I paraphrase Avon in my advice to all women and men who love a little fragrance in their lives “Whatever you wear . . . wear sparingly.”