Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Thoughts of a Perfume Collector

December 3, 2009:

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The other day, under the influence of a tantalizing holiday sale, I ordered a new perfume that I had decided months ago I wasn’t going to purchase. Not because I couldn’t afford it, but because my perfume collection has reached a number that sometimes bothers me, mostly because it’s a number that begs the question, am I being selfish?

And the answer, of course, is yes, absolutely I am. Lord knows I have enough perfume to last two or three lifetimes.

But after turning this question over some, I feel I can truthfully say that my most selfish expressions have precious little to do with my perfume hobby. I would even go so far to say that wandering down the perfumista path has opened me up to being a better person, as cornball as that sounds.

Call me Pollyanna if you will, but when I began smelling fragrances that reminded me of people and places I once cherished (some of whom I can only return to in memory); when I began reading perfume blogs and getting caught up in the thoughts, feelings and stories of fellow travelers on this scented path; and when I realized that sharing a favorite perfume with other people is more enjoyable than keeping it to myself, I became far more connected to others. And by way of those connections, more generous, too.

Back at the start of this decade I was wearing only one fragrance. I won’t disclose the name, for it is sure to elicit groans and make you question whether you should continue reading me, but suffice it to say that I had a steady thing with this fragrance and thought of it as my scent, though it could be easily had at any department store. Even when I was working at Penn State University in the mid-'90s (the heydey for this fragrance) amid the many polished and professional offices of “Old Main,” I never came across another woman who wore this perfume, so it really felt like it was my signature scent.

Or it did until the day my sister asked me what I was wearing and decided she wanted some of that action. And she being, well, Heather—as lovely and perfect-sounding as her name—blessed with the kind of skin that defied all manner of zit when we were teenagers, and which the perfume gods smiled upon as well—started getting perfume compliments from practically everyone in town. Her eye doctor (same one as mine) asked her for the name of it so he could purchase a bottle for his wife. Her dentist liked it too. Friends, co-workers, strangers at the mall…they all wanted to know what she was wearing.

I must insert here that Heather is as sweet as a kitten; in fact, she is saintly in many ways. She gets up at 4:30 every morning to help out with the chores on her husband’s family farm before heading out to her real job, which is pretty demanding. (She’s the chief financial officer for a non-profit organization that helps troubled youths—not to mention the mother of two teenage daughters.)  I should have felt nothing except honored to share the same fragrance with her. But of course, that’s never the way, is it?

It agitated me that we could walk into the same room together wearing the identical scent, and someone would always come up to her and say, “Wow, you smell good!” while they simply nodded hello to me. At some level, I was probably aware that the compliments she received were only tangentially related to fragrance, but that level was buried beneath insecurities that go back to adolescence and to which, sadly, age hasn’t made me entirely immune. It didn’t matter that I was in my late thirties then and should have been embarrassed to be playing the beauty card: I read every perfume compliment that she received (and I didn’t) as acknowledgement that she was and always would be “the pretty one”—even in terms of scent.

Then along came the Internet, like a knight on a white horse, to rescue me. It offered the promise of helping me find a fragrance that would be more exclusively mine—with the accent on “exclusive.”  Something prohibitively expensive and difficult to find, something perhaps even more challenging to wear (as in Jicky parfum). And indeed, the Internet delivered on that promise so well that I don’t have to say more—except to make my point that here is where I think it really did rescue me, to some degree, from myself.

Certainly the Internet encourages self-indulgence, and while that can have tragic circumstances, it can have the opposite effect too. Somehow when I went looking for an exclusive fragrance, I stumbled upon a host of wonderful things: not just fragrances, but a community of fragrance lovers, a body of knowledge to explore, gorgeous perfume writings from every corner of the globe, and an infectious air of enthusiasm that, like all of these other things, flies in the face of exclusivity. Why?  Because these are things that beg to be shared. Not only with other enthusiasts, but also with sisters, moms, husbands, friends and complete strangers.

Perfume collecting has given me the kind of decadent experience that has been costly, true, but has resulted in a largesse of spirit. I don’t look at my favorite perfumes as ‘mine’ anymore—and now that I no longer feel the territorial need to own a signature scent, I’ve stopped being miserly in many ways, most of which have nothing to do with money.


Image: "Perfume Bottles on Display in Suq, Dubai, United Arab Emirates" by Phil Weymouth is from Art.com.