The perfumes that remind me of people I’ve known

Your nose is physically very close to your brain, so it makes sense that your olfactory sense is closely linked to memory. That’s how I see it, anyway. Science. 

For me, the perfumes I’ve worn on my own skin have been interchangeable. I started out with Gucci Envy and now wear Black Opium; I have an attraction to rich and heady scents. But for me, perfumes have always been a dalliance and an enticement, rather than a commitment. I like to change and experiment, and while I envy those with signature scents, that’s not what works for me.

That said, in my life, there have been many people who wore very specific scents, to the exclusion of all else; people so close to me that when I walk by someone wearing the same, I’m transported back, and moved, and upset. How dare they?

My Choir Master – Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds

She was a large lady and a looming presence, a genius with a touch of the sadist, and her moods and choices dictated much of what I did for my five years of high school. She herself loathed false and sickly scents (she once threw a 14-year-old out of choir for putting on strawberry lipbalm) but moved everywhere in an almost-tangible cloud of White Diamonds. Years later, I worked in a kitchen where one of the dish-hands wore the same, and whenever I smelled it I stood up a bit straighter, arched my palette, felt a flutter of nerves. She was near, but not near.

My First Boyfriend – CK One 

There’s nothing quite like that first one, and even now when I smell CK One on a man, a tall man, a man with dark hair and white shirt, there is something that moves in my gut and sends heat racing forth. I was sixteen, seventeen, hormonally-savage, watching him from outside windows, and taking extra shifts in the restaurant to be a bit nearer, be a bit closer, convince him that the three-year age gap didn’t matter.

He brought his cologne to work and left it in the changing room, and when I saw it on the shelf, I sprayed it into my handbag, so I could smell him between shifts. OK, I was a giant creep. We dated for 11 months, and I broke up with him over the phone.

My University Friend – Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb

It’s a gut-punch of a perfume, one with the kind of sillage that stays in the room long after the wearer had left, and as someone who had never worn expensive perfume, I just thought it was her, something she did, her own warmth. Law school ties you together with long nights and long essays and doubt, and my law school, all wood and carpet and books, is laced together with that feverish floral waft. It’s a popular scent, it’s everywhere, and so I’m looking for her, almost everyday: on the tube, in the elevator, at a party.

My Mother – Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche

She’s worn it forever, as far as I know, constantly topped up by visitors passing through Duty Free from London to New Zealand, often accompanied with a nearly matched blue bottle of Bombay Sapphire. It’s a mellow, sweet scent, correctly named, and it is the smell of her neck in bed in the morning and her arms at night and everything she’s ever touched. Her wardrobe is full of it, lingering on collars and cuffs. This is one scent that I never smell anywhere else, maybe because it’s so entwined, in my mind, with her own body chemistry. Perfumes smell different on everyone, but it is only with Rive Gauche that I truly know this to be true.

I bought it for her myself this Christmas, for the first time ever, making my pilgrimage from London to New Zealand with the blue can that’s stood in her bathroom forever. I’ll go back again next year with the same.

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