Lauren by Ralph Lauren – Bittersweet Perfume

I am going out of town Monday morning to lend a hand in the packing-up of the Big Cheese´s family vacation home, which has been sold. This promises to be a bittersweet project, given that the house is my own personal Tara and has served as the backdrop for all sorts of hijinks, hilarity and heartbreak over a large slice of my life. So in the spirit of some of the scented-memory posts recently, here is a little moment of bittersweet fragrance nostalgia. If you feel comfortable doing so, I would love for you to share one of your own moments of nostalgia.

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When I was twelve, my mother took me shopping at Garfinckels, one of the old-line East Coast department stores, for my first pair of grown-up shoes in the ladies´ department. I think they were Amalfis, size 6aa. Well, Garfinckels is long gone, and those shoes, and so is my mother. And now I am mourning the passing of the last of the old-line local stores in my area, Hecht´s. I love Hecht´s. It´s unabashedly middlebrow. It´s the place I go to buy decent bath towels, a new coffee maker, reasonably-priced bras, cheap but cute house-brand tee shirts, and a box of Godiva chocolates, all in one go. It´s had that dying-dinosaur look to it for several years now, and I guess it´s been eaten by Macy´s. Macy´s has their own look, and their own merch, and maybe it´s just sour grapes but I hate their stupid stores.

Anyway, I dropped into Hecht´s to grab a few things on sale and breezed through their picked-over, pathetic fragrance department, in a fit of pure nostalgia. I wandered around forlornly looking for something to cheer me up, and there it was: Lauren by Ralph Lauren, in the little square red bottle.

I am dating myself here, but every girl who was A-list was wearing it in high school. All the girls I wanted so desperately to be and was not. Those gorgeous, blond preppy girls with plaid Pappagallo purses and perfect, shiny teeth. I loved that smell. To me it was the smell of naked envy. I was never good enough for Lauren  – not pretty, not smartly dressed, not confident and blonde and cheerful.

So I put it on the other day in Hecht’s – I didn´t even know it was still being produced, I´ve never seen it elsewhere – and it was… perfect. The perfect smell of high-school perfection, before you grow up and enter the world and begin to have some understanding of the rollercoaster that life really is. It is the bittersweet smell of High School Success, a success I never felt except academically. It is the perfume apex of a world I passed through like a ghost. I have reminded Daughters No. 1 and 2, as they struggle with friends and the social scene while still in grade school, that the big stars of the school firmament aren´t necessarily the lifelong winners of the lottery.

I am living proof that you can be an ugly duckling in high school and go on to live a rich, fulfilling life, with its own measure of success. There must be another perfume that is the smell of a Late Bloomer. But Ralph Lauren, God knows, has never been aimed at the late bloomers. Ralph Lauren is all about success and perfection, American-style.

I don´t think that perfect, square red bottle of Lauren by Ralph Lauren is for me any more, not really. I´ve moved on. But it made me happy to stand there for a minute or two, smiling, and know I´d made the cut.  

Lauren by Ralph Lauren vintage perfume samples are available at Surrender to Chance.

30 Comments

  1. Beautiful story! And I’m so glad you’ve raised the daughters to value the only right things in life, that must be damn hard in today’s world. Sorry to hear you’ve sold your Tara, it’s like saying good-bye to an entire universe of your being, I should know – I no longer live in the family home I grew up in :(. But thankfully,tomorrow IS another day and what memories you have of people, homes and trifles linger on, ready to be evoked and savoured at any given moment.
    Although one of my very first fragrances was Versace pour Homme, back in the senior elementary school (!), I don’t feel nostalgic at all around it today and that’s probably because I didn’t attach much importance to scents back then, they were just, well… there. However, an entirely new dimension opened up to me when my cousin Daniela from France came to live with us. She wore Paloma Picasso, which I thought absolutely enchanting, plus she was dressed in black head-to-toe, which helped create an aura of mystery about her. Twas actually the first time I’d associated perfume with a sentiment. Recently I smelled PP on one of my students and though it was downright rank on her (I wasn’t so brutal as to tell her that), still I caught a whiff of my childhood, a wisp of time that was carefree and new.
    Hey, be back by Thursday! 🙂

  2. Is that girls when they were just bitty? How precious. Is that the vacation house too? There really should be a law against bringing in references to Gone With the Wind, high school and cute little girls all in one post.

    My youngest was making fun of the drama dorks last week, and I asked him why he was making fun of the dorks when he was one. He goes, “No, mom, we’re GEEKS, not dorks.”

    I was just pretty shy in high school until my senior year, then I went a little nuts and turned into one of those blonde girls you probably wouldn’t have liked very much. Hell, I didn’t like me very much. I have an old picture that I should try and scan in. The smell I remember most in high school was beer and whiskey. 🙂

  3. What a lovely post, March. I’m sorry you have to say goodbye to your Tara. It looks like a wonderful place.

    The most bittersweet perfume to me is White Shoulders. It was my late (maternal) grandmother’s signature scent/HG. Now and then a buttinski-control-freak aunt (in-law), who loathed WS, would on occasion convince my grandmother to wear something else, like Halston. It was strange to be around my grandmother wearing Halston. She just didn’t smell like she was supposed to! I keep a bottle of WS on hand, just to sniff on occasion. It brings back memories. And tears.

    BTW, I can relate in many ways to your h.s. experience, March. Academics were also my saving grace. I intensely disliked my h.s. years and found it such a relief to go to college where being an invisible misfit wasn’t a big deal.

    Thanks for the evocative post. Hope it all went well for you and your family. Take care!

  4. Ah, I so miss Garfinkels!!

    The A list fragrance at my high school was Halston, if I remember correctly.

    Hope the week goes well and is not too bittersweet for you…

  5. I’d been away at college so I just recieved the Frederic Malles and other samples. Thank you so much! I had such a fun weekend trying on as many as I could.

  6. Hi March & Patty,

    March,

    Loved your post. I used to wear Lauren when I was at Oxford for a year abroad. Makes me feel nostalgic too. Lately, I had thought about this scent and wanted to re-visit it. I probably will.

    When I was in high-school in France, I’d say the A-List would wear Guerlain fragrances.

  7. March – great post. Yes, Ralph Lauren was the “it” perfume for all the girls who had that thick, shiny hair that feathered perfectly. On *both* sides.

    And don’t get me started on Macy’s.

    One of my fondest childhood memories is riding the “L” down to the city with grandma, exiting at the Marshall Fields’ subway stop, spending the morning shopping at the larger than life State Street store culminating with lunch at the Walnut Room. A sleepy subway ride back. My grandma wore white gloves. This memory is a fond one for me. For the time being, at least. It is soon to be bittersweet.

    Perhaps you have heard of what Macy’s now plans to do with our venerable Chicago institution known as Marshall Fields?

    Like I said, don’t get me started on Macy’s.

  8. March,
    Best of luck in your packing trek–I can relate to the bittersweet nature of the task.
    Ah yes, Lauren. You brought back memories with that one. Does anyone remember Heaven Sent or Love? Talk about dating oneself.
    Take care.

  9. March,

    Thank you so much for the sharing your beautiful bitter-sweet memory. Amazing how perfumes and our scent memory are such powerful triggers for evoking the past and recalling us to the present. I remember Lauren as well. My much more chic elder sister gave me a bottle one Christmas and it was so cherished, sitting on my lumpy self’s dorm-room bureau.

    Late bloomer? Same here. No gorgeous little ones like you have – but hopefully the start of something new today as a piece of short fiction I wrote was just picked up for publication in an e-zine…a first for me

    Must go tell my sister, she will be pleased.

  10. I picked this up in an ULTA recently, and couldn’t remember it at all. I had it in the eighties and remember it as brisk and efficient and very tailored. Now it seemed sweeter than I recalled and maybe greener also. Everything I tried in ULTA seemed different. Emeraude, Royal Secret, Lauren, etc.

  11. Oddly enough, I received my very first bottle of Lauren in the mail today. I was a high school student in the mid-90s when girls wore fruity B&BW fragrances, so I’d never actually smelled Lauren (or even heard of it) before a few months ago, when a fellow MUAer was nice enough to include a sample in a swap. I think I’ll reach for it when I feel like something fresh but nondescript.

  12. 😡 Great story March! I loved your description of bittersweet high-school years. I was also one of those kids who was invisible in high-school and only got satisfaction from academics. My fragrance in high-school was Anais Anais. I tried it again recently and it just wasn’t “me” anymore, but it did bring back some pleasant memories of the past.

    Is the house being sold the one pictured in your photos? If so I can understand why packing up would be hard – it looks lovely. What two adorable little girls you have : )

  13. Hi March…First of all, interesting post! Nice to see you’re another high school survivor. Good luck with the packing. It is always sadder and more draining than I think it will be. I can’t imagine how hard it will be in a house so full of wonderful memories. Keep your strength up!
    I was so far off the beaten track in high school, I couldn’t even tell you what was popular w/ regard to scents… I seem to recall Charlie being popular, though. I started wearing Aviance Night Musk (arrgh!) freshman year at college, and dropped it like a hot rock when I broke up w/ the boyfriend associated with it. My sister-in-law used (maybe still does) Lauren, and it’s very light and nondescript on her.
    I got the package yesterday!
    I’ll email you…Mitsouko was all over me yesterday!

  14. Dusan — thank you for your evocative memory… it’s funny how different a fragrance can smell on different people, isn’t it?

    PS How do you feel about Versace’s Dreamer? I just adore it…

  15. P — great story — what the heck is the diff between a geek and a dork?

    Yep, those are pics of Things One and Two maybe 6 years ago.

    I dunno, I bet you were a riot in H.S.

  16. Pam, moving your grandmother from White Shoulders to Halston is just … wrong.:o

    But what a wonderful way to be able to conjure her up now.@};-

  17. Robin — I just heard that cheesy Billy Joel song on the radio:

    All (something something) in her Halston dress
    And her rich Park Avenue clothes
    She’s (something something something)
    With some Dom Perignon in her hand and a spoon up her nose….

    Those were the days, eh?;)

  18. Rachael — glad you’re enjoying the Malles!\:d/

  19. Mimi — I gotta get by and see your website.

    Guerlain in H.S.! Although it is France… probably the equivalent of wearing RL over here.

  20. Gingele — yes, that was just ANOTHER thing wrong with me, my hair would only feather right on one side.

    Oh, no — going to Chicago next month, what diabolical thing is Macy’s doing to Marshall Fields?

    Can’t wait for my Frango mints.

  21. CindyN — I remember a couple different iterations of Love’s Baby Soft — Love’s Fresh Lemon, OMG I looooooved that.

  22. Lisa — congrats on the publication!

    There’s room for the late bloomers too. I’m sorta regretting not buying a bottle of that Lauren now, though.

  23. Patty — I wonder whether everything IS sweeter, or whether I just like things less sweet now? I had the same reaction recently when I smelled YSL Paris, and Chanel Coco, both of which seemed MUCH sweeter than I remembered.

  24. Amy — “fresh but nondescript” is probably a perfect description of Lauren! It is quite pleasing somehow. I’m probably completely incapable of any objective opinion.

  25. Cheez — Anais Anais! Oh, everyone wore that! I have to revisit that one of these days.

    Yes, that is Chateau Fromage, although the pic is several years old. The girls are now much too busy to stand around cooperatively and let me snap photos.

  26. Sybil — I smelled Charlie a couple of weeks ago, and I STILL hate it. You’re right, though, it was just huge.

    Can’t wait to hear what you thought of your goodies.:-ss

    Mitsouko — thumbs up? Or down?

  27. M, great to see you back!
    When I first smelled The Dreamer, way back in 199?, there was something something in it that made my nose turn up (tobacco?juniper?) and I hated myself for not being more appreciative of such a Perfect, buttery Dry Down (iris, I presume)! I now smoke (bah!), and am way more patient with frags, so it’s no wonder that I’ve come to ADORE The Dreamer!
    Love iris, got Dior Homme as well, any other iris must-haves I should try?

  28. Dusan — I am so glad to hear you love the Dreamer! One of the first bottles I poached on eBay… I forget about it and then go, oh! There are some winter days it’s just the perfect thing for. Re the iris: you are asking the wrong gal, Hiris is the only one I really love. But The Posse says you have to try: The Different Co. Bois de Iris; and Serge Lutens ISM. Both of which smell like crap on me, BTW, but I am clearly the exception. The raves I have heard for those two could fill a book.@};-

  29. M, muchas gracias re irises, I’ll check them out! As for skin chemistry, wouldn’t it be a great idea if they started putting out fragrances suited for specific skin types ;-)? Hell, we’ve got dry/greasy/combination skin creams, shampoos, conditioners… so why not perfume as well; imagine the names YOUTH DEW AMBER NUDE COMBINATION SKIN :-)) or 212 SEXY FOR OILY SKIN? Nah, better not!

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