Suzanne's Perfume Journal

I’ve been on a fragrance fast for over a week now.  On Labor Day weekend, I was outside in my yard writing with my lawn chair hiked up close to the cherry tomato plants so that I could reach out and pluck a tomato to snack on whenever I came to a pause in the work.  As the morning wore on, I felt a prickly hot sensation developing across my chest, so eventually I ran into the house, tore off my sweatshirt, and discovered an intensely itchy rash was wreaking havoc on my modest bosom, threatening to expand it in a way that makes me think that God truly does have a sense of humor but that the joke is usually on me.  Numerous applications of hydrocortisone cream later—as well as some desperate home remedies involving either vinegar or hydrogen peroxide—the rash raged on,

September 8, 2008:

flaring up into big red welts whenever I did a workout, took a walk, or even just sat in the sun.  I thought about going to the doctor, but consoled myself with the observation that the rash hadn’t spread but remained localized to my chest (probably heat rash or insect bites from something on the tomato plants).  Anyway, suffice it to say, I had no desire to wear fragrance last week—and what I found myself craving in the absence of perfume was dusting powder.  Just a whisper of something fragranced, and the silky soft comfort of something petal-smooth and dry against my skin.

I decided I could not make do with baby powder or anything in a shake bottle: I required the comforts of a fluffy, old-fashioned powder puff and fine talcum housed in a grandmotherly-looking box of yore.  But what’s more, I desired immediacy too.  In need of comfort, I didn’t feel like dealing with sales assistants and sales pitches and a numbing amount of choices at the fragrance counter at the mall.  I decided to get myself to the drugstore instead, where I discovered my choices were limited to one: Chantilly Dusting Powder, the one in the über-grandmotherly-looking pink box.  It’s the only fine talcum powder our local Eckerd drugstore carries, and they keep it behind one of the locked glass cabinets because, umm…maybe it’s a hot item among the shoplifting-granny crowd?  At $17.75, I suppose it is one of the more costly cosmetic items at Eckerd, but since I can’t imagine someone stuffing a sizeable square box of dusting powder up one’s shirt and absconding with it, there must be another reason.  Perhaps keeping the Chantilly under a locked cabinet lends it a certain cachet?  I have no idea, but when the male manager of the store unlocked the cabinet, asking, “This is what you want?”—twice—while  looking at me as if I had sprouted a third eye, I felt a measure of relief.  Apparently, I don’t yet look matronly enough to be making such a purchase.

Even so, it was the perfect purchase for me.  I got it home and wondered why I had never bought dusting powder before (well, not quite true: I decided a long time ago that I didn’t like the messy way it blew around and left a coating on the bathroom counter and floor, especially since I’m the one who has to clean said counter and floor).  I had forgotten the way Chantilly fragrance smelled when I wore it as a teenager, but the Chantilly powder brought a little of it back to me—just a trace amount, or, in other words, just the right amount.  When I first put it on I was a bit disappointed, as there was hardly a smell at all, but once the heat of my body activated it I became familiar again with the smell of mossy florals.  If memory serves, the Chantilly fragrance is rather ambery, but I can assuredly say that the powder is not so much: the mossy quality reigns, though in talcum form it is more airy than dense, a true pleasure to wear.  The smell of it reminds me of older Estee Lauder fragrances, and of the women in my childhood who seemed sophisticated and handsome in a sturdy way—the kind of women who were once called “broads” and who knew how to handle their men, their checkbooks, and their lives without ever resorting to the “dumb blonde” role-playing games that I’ve seen so many other women play, not only in that time period but, oddly enough, especially in the present day.

While the fragrance of this Chantilly powder is ideal—just a nuance of sophisticated scent, nothing froufrou or sweet about it—I have to admit that the pink-plastic powder box is more dated looking than vintagely charming.  I keep it in the linen closet of my bathroom rather than display it.  Wearing the powder makes me a little curious to smell a bottle of the fragrance again (currently produced by the Dana company, Chantilly was first launched in 1941 by Houbigant Perfumes, and includes top notes of neroli, bergamot and lemon; middle notes of spices, carnation, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose and orange blossom; and base notes of leather, tonka bean, musk, benzoin, oakmoss, vanilla and sandalwood), but since my drugstore also keeps the fragrance in the locked glass cabinet, I’ll probably wait until I run out of the dusting powder before I make any future runs at the Chantilly again.

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In Praise of Old-Fashioned Comfort: Chantilly Dusting Powder