I’m passionate about plenty of things. Gavin and Stacey, tea, cheese, The Office, books, education, Adrian Mole, Santorini, photos, wine. Ricky Gervais, James Corden, Sue Townsend. Reading – I’m hugely passionate about reading. And writing – but that’s a bit obvious. And travel – I’m tremendously passionate about travel. Oh and tennis – the big slams make me giddy with excitement.
And I’m passionate about perfume. Sounds odd, I know. I suppose, generally speaking, I’m passionate about scent, but perfume is perhaps easier to explain. I own around eighty fragrances – at one point I owned over one hundred. I ask people what they’re wearing (including strangers on the street) and am more than happy to share what I am wearing when people ask, including a spritz if I happen to have it in my bag. If you gave me $500 to spend right now, chances are I’d head to Fragrance Heaven and raid their rare collection.
People often ask me, ‘why do you love perfume so much?’ ‘How can you write about perfume all the time?’ ‘What’s there to say?’ Or, if they’re really funny, they might quip something along the lines of, ‘what do you write? It smells … good?’
The thing about fragrance is, when you’re talking about it (or writing about it) you’re not just describing how it smells. Sure that’s a large part of it – the notes, the family it belongs to, the composition, how it develops, how it changes, how it settles. But more than that, when I talk about perfume, I’m talking about an idea. I’m talking about a feeling, a memory, an evocation. I’m not saying ‘it smells like roses’, I’m saying ‘it smells like roses because (insert marvelously romantic idea) and this is the effect it has.’
Perfume, contrary to popular, superficial belief, is not simply something to dab on so you ‘smell nice’ and anyone who thinks that’s the case is fooling themselves (and the significance of our sense of smell). Fragrance is fantasy, possibility and nostalgia all in the one, potent moment it takes to leave the bottle and settle on our skin.
When we talk about fragrance, most often in very romantic terms – ‘My Grandmother’s perfume’, ‘my mother’s moisturiser’, ‘the first freesias of Spring’ – what we’re really talking about, are memories. Memories and ideas – sometimes one or the other, sometimes both at the same time. All fragrances are built on an idea. Crafted around a premise. Island escape, urban sophistication, freedom, strength, youth, sex, luxury, femininity, romance, a Mediterranean holiday. Wearing these fragrances is both an act of buying into a myth that we identify with, or fantasise about, and an act of aligning ourselves with something that we believe reflects something about us.
It’s difficult to explain why I’m so passionate about perfume – the simple (more romantic) answer would be ‘I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember’, which would be an embarrassing line to whip out every time the questions crops up. But, like perfumes themselves, each a beautifully complex work of art, there really is no simple explanation (or is that justification?). For me, fragrance is tied up in so many things – emotion, creativity, nostalgia and fantasy. And it doesn’t get more potent than that.
Main image by misteraitch on Flickr