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.
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.