Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Scents We Left Behind

Does anybody remember the perfume Charlie? I baptized myself with it in college. I loved the ads with the leggy future Charlie’s Angel, Shelley Hatch, strutting her stuff. Somehow I felt if I wore Charlie, I’d maneuver through my uptight college campus the same way. I even remember the theme song sung by Bobby Short. But really, I hated the fragrance. It was way too strong. It wasn’t me.

But there were other perfumes of yore I really miss and long to try again. Some conjure up boyfriends who are now just sepia images in my memory. One liked my Chantilly but asked me to wear more of it. He also asked for more of other things I wasn’t quite ready to give. A friend sent me a vintage Chantilly ad recently that read, “There is enough Chantilly in this innocent pink spray to shake your world”. Those words are enticing...but...

What about Sweet Honesty? I wore this Avon scent for a while. I loved the innocent, flower child-teenage girl that was photographed in the Avon brochure. Recently, I ordered a 99 cent Sweet Honesty antiperspirant. It shot me from my bathroom back to 1973. Suddenly, I saw myself in a peasant blouse and Landlubbers.

I tried in turns, Emeraude, L’Aimant, and L’Origan, Coty’s three graces. I fell in love with L’Aimant when I was summering with a friend whose great aunt wore it. It had just the right softness and sweetness my fifteen year old heart craved. The aunt gifted me her bottle, telling me I was young and beautiful and she was old and a recent widow. Sadly, she died later that year of her broken heart. I never forgot her or her kind gesture.

Perfume can draw halos around certain times in our past. The most popular girl in high school wore Shalimar. I took a page from her and wore it too for a while. It never really made me popular except with my grandfather who loved it. Smelling it now, makes me think of him and fences off that time when his life still overlapped mine.

Later, I wore Coty’s Musk, Ylang Ylang, and Patchouli which came in a large white compact with solid stripes of each fragrance. My sister and I painted them on our arms and mixed them up. The result was heady and warm until I developed a skin rash that itched like mad and can still be seen in the pictures from my Junior prom.

Did you wear Ciara? That conjures up my disco days when going out at 9:00 pm was way too early. We wore Qiana dresses and suntans. Ciara ads were everywhere in 1976 and so was the perfume. The local Rexall had plenty of it, most of it purchased by my sister and I. We loved Ciara’s spokeswoman, Lauren Hutton and her gap toothed grin.

I was at the perfume counter the day White Linen hit the selling floor. I had read about it in my Bazaar. A newly minted working girl, I wanted something crisp but pretty for work. I was devoted to it and my young man told me he could smell it on his rag sweater for days after being with me. I loved being associated with a particular scent and once I tried to enhance the connection by spraying it on his duffle bag. Whether he noticed or not was never clear but I received an engagement ring not long after.

Fragrance has always possessed me in a special way. And as the soundtrack of my life could never include just one song, there are a blend of scents that trail and waft around the people and events that were meaningful to me, like halos of windblown ribbons.


  1. OOOOOOOOOOh, this is lovely! I especially love your turn of phrase: "Perfume can draw halos..." that's so poetic and charming. Another beautifully crafted piece, Donna. Wonderful!

  2. Yes, this is a beautiful post! Scent is so evocative and immediately takes me back to moments in the past. Loved this!

  3. scents are often more powerful than visual imagery to me. I have a lot of my grandmother old items and I can still smell the chanel#5 on them... I love it. She also wore Shalimar which was and still is a popular perfume.
    One of my all time favorite's is White Shoulders which my other grandmother used to wear. Now it is sold in dime stores but I love how it rekindles my memories whenever I am around it.

  4. Such a lovely post! I love how scents can always remind you of a particular point in time...

    Melissa @ Melicious

  5. Well...I remember the Charlie ads.... ;)