Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

A warm welcome back! to our Guest Poster, Ann!

Thank you, Mrs. K. I guess you did me a favor all those years ago. As odd as it might sound, I can give partial thanks (or blame) to a school-bus driver for my perfume addiction. It was sometime in the late ’60s and I was riding a bus on a field trip to a Native American community in Florida, near Lake Okeechobee. I think I must have been around 9 or 10. After we finished our visit, we were allowed a few minutes in the gift shop before getting back on the bus for the return trip. As I browsed, I happened upon a bin of tiny silver tins, filled with the most gloriously scented orange blossom solid perfume. I was enchanted! They tickled my fancy so that I used my lunch money to buy two of them on the spot, caring not a whit that PB&J sandwiches would be my lot for days. Little did I know that in that moment the stage was being set for a lifelong obsession.

Fast forward several months and we have a new bus driver. This woman is all-business, no-nonsense, and shows it by (horror of horrors!) assigning seats. This is not so bad in the mornings, but on the ride home, in the hot Florida afternoons (with no A/C in my ancient school), it turns disastrous for me. For my assigned seat is behind a boy, who despite being in my grade, is several years older (due to juvenile delinquent tendencies) and — he SMELLS!! Not just a little B.O., mind you, but a potpourri of unknown scents that combine to stink to high heaven. My childish nose has never experienced an assault quite like this. I lower my window as far as it will go and am just about to stick my head out like a dog, when the proverbial light bulb goes off over my head. I dig into my purse, pull out my little tin, apply liberally, and ride the rest of the way home in relative bliss with scented wrists pressed to nose. Saved by the solid perfume! Who knew a good smell could be such a life-saver?

After this fragrant epiphany, my curiosity bubbled over. I sampled my grandmother’s Evening in Paris (not too bad), and later, my mother’s Ma Griffe (whew — too something! I didn’t have the words or experience to describe it then except perhaps “bitter”), and her YSL Rive Gauche (better, but only just). And then came the fun of exploring the crop of “young” scents: Avon’s Sweet Honesty, Coty’s Sweet Earth solid perfume compacts, and Love’s Baby Soft (although I was far more partial to the rain and lemon varieties in that line). I did a lot of baby-sitting and had more than enough experience with that powdery scent on the business end of little ones’ bottoms.

Anyway, from then on, I was hooked. As my horizons broadened through high school, college and the work world, so did my perfume discoveries, which happily continue to this day. And now I’m delighted to be along on this ride with all you wonderful fellow perfumistas (unless any of you insist on wearing Alexander McQueen’s Kingdom, and then I’m finding another seat). So I would love to know, what was your perfume epiphany? When was the moment that the world of scent opened up and pulled you into its fragrant embrace?

Happy Valentine’s Day !!!!

photo: girl on stinky school bus – some rights reserved

candy photo: candyaddict.com – some rights reserved

62 Comments

  1. Ah, lovely story! I never really had a perfume epiphany per se, simply because perfume was all around me since I was born. My mom loves a good splash of perfume, particularly something strong. So my childhood days were spent smothered in a bosom of Opium and Poison and Mackie. My dad loves a good scent too, even though his idea of “a good scent” is Paco Rabanne (the classic dark green one). Being brought up in that environment made it inevitable that I would be a perfumista… or just horribly allergic (but thankfully, the former). haha :)

  2. Hi Daniela. Seems you were steeped in scent from the cradle on up. And statement scents at that — nothing wishy-washy about them. I liked them all as well. And thanks for the reminder about the Mackie; I had almost forgotten about that one.

  3. Happy Valentine’s Ann, and thank you for your story. I can’t remember what set me off on my obsession; all I know is that at the age of four I was climbing up to my great-aunt’s dressing table to unscrew her (what I now know to be) Memoire Cherie and just kept sniffing till I was discovered. And I have been led by my nose ever since. And the horror of travelling with smelly fellow passengers! I know that so well, and can still capture the awful reek of the London tube in the height of summer when you are all packed so close together you can not move, let alone lift a wrist to inhale something good.

    • Hi Jillie, happy Valentine’s Day to you too! Thank you for your memories (and thankful, too, that you didn’t spill any of her perfume — that would not have gone over well). Yikes! I can only imagine the packed Tube in summer when you just can’t wait to get off and into the fresh air.

  4. hi there
    happy love day :)

    I am from the same place in Florida…never had the same ‘scent-sory’ experiences, though.

    My earliest memories of scent are my mother’s Diorissimo, and my grandmother’s (father’s mother) foyer. Her foyer smelled of drying eucalyptus and ‘her’. My aunt’s house smells similarly, and I get wistful when I visit said aunt’s house.

    I have always been smell/scent sensitive, but can’t remember when I began being interested in perfume. Quite late, maybe at 26, after spending time in Paris and realizing how important perfume is there.

    • Happy Heart Day, DJ! Nice to hear from a fellow former Floridian. What part did you hail from? Nice scent memories to have, and especially the original Diorissimo. Ahhh …

      • I was raised in West Palm Beach, but I don’t even live in the USA anymore…

        The Diorissimo memory is a good one and the more I have gotten into perfume, the more I realize how special it is. My grandmother had a bottle of Cinnabar but rarely wore it. That just came back to me now! (also, memory of the gift bags my mom would get from fundraising luncheons–usually Estee Lauder and full of perfume samples)

        I want to be able to get my mom the Van Cleef muget, but it is too spendy for me :(

        where are you from in Florida?

        • Yep, Cinnabar was quite the scent back then. And I agree — the Van Cleef Muguet is so lovely, but rough on the wallet. Maybe you could get her a pretty decanted bottle for now to see how she likes it, and then maybe one day …
          I’m from up around Vero Beach. In fact, when I was growing up, if you wanted a nice shopping experience, you headed down your way, either to the Palm Beach Mall that was right beside I-95, or over to Worth Avenue, to go really ritzy. Thanks for some great memories …

  5. I was wondering if anyone else remembered those solid scent compacts from Coty. I think there were three scents in a compact, but I can only recall honeysuckle and ylang ylang. I too as a young teenager was a bigger fan of Love’s Fresh Lemon than Baby Soft and then graduated to the dry woodiness of Cachet by Prince Matchabelli. Mere stepping stones for Aromatics Elixir, Diorella and Cristalle.

    • Lindaloo,

      I loved those little compacts too! My best friend and I in the fifth grade used to collect those. I remember the florals, the spices–or was it herbs–sage was one, I think, grasses, as Ann remembers, and woods, patchouli, sandalwood, and one more. I think there may have been more than one floral compact because I thought there was a tuberose. TPC has a number of vintage Sweet Earth fragrances.

      • Hey, Sherri, I think you are right about the compacts, they did branch out pretty quickly. What a great blast from the past — my nose is happily twitching! Thanks!

        • I remember Price Matchabelli bath scents! I had some and thought I was *so cool*…yikes.

          • Yes, me too. And the bottles had those fancy crowns on them, which added to their appeal. :)

  6. Hi Lindaloo! I loved those compacts. I think the third one in that flower trio was hyacinth. The only other one I remember wearing was the grasses one, with hay, clover and gingergrass. Can you imagine the allergy attacks that might provoke today?

    • And boy, do I remember Cachet (and Wind Song, too, with its little jingle: “Your Wind Song stays on my mind …”).

  7. Great post, Ann! I guess my earliest perfume memories are when my mother would go for a day-long shopping trip to Charlotte (seemed like all-day to me), and would bring me a perfume sample. The first one I remember was Diorissimo, and I still have the tiny sample bottle. And I still love Diorissimo. Wish I had kept some of the others.

    • Hi, Pam and happy Valentine’s Day to you! What a great first perfume to have, and even better that you still have it. Wow!
      I know what you mean; wish I had kept some of my early ones, too.

      • those ‘if I knew then what I know now’ moments. :((

        I used to scent my sheets with Vacances! Truly I did!! In those days, the idea of perfumes being discontinued meant nothing….who knew?

        Like a lot of commenters here, I cannot fix the time or place – I was in the middle of it before I knew. But my refocus on it was much like others – I had a Proustian moment with Nina Ricci Bigarade….and that led me here. The rest is pure-d rabbit hole!

        Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope you are having a wonderful celebration with both of your men!

        xoxo >-)

        • Oh, sweetie, those were the days! Vacances on your sheets? Wowza! I know you wish you could just rewind time and have that bottle back.
          I could kick myself for all the times in the ’80s and ’90s that I walked past the case in Saks full of my beloved Cartier Musts and didn’t snatch a bunch up. Hope you, too, have a very happy Heart Day and get lots of wonderful sunshine!

        • Oh Musette, Nina Ricci’s Bigarade was wonderful, but existed so briefly. I encountered it as a travel set of mini bottles of eau de toilette, body splash, oil and a tiny soap. After it disappeared I moved on to Eau de Rochas for summer cologne.

  8. I grew up in Florida and fondly remember the orange blossom perfume from the grove shops. There are very few such shops left, but when I pass one, I always think about that. Of course, when my own tree is in bloom, I get that blossom smell for weeks.

    • Hi Mrs. Honey, thanks for stopping by. I haven’t been back to my neck of Florida in many, many years but am sorry to hear that those stores are becoming rare. They were once such a big part of the Florida experience.
      I wonder if one I remember in particular, Hale Groves, is still around? And lucky you, to have your own lovely tree!

      • Hi Ann,

        Hale Groves is still around! My sister sends me oranges and grapefruits from there every Christmas, and they are the best!!!

        Loved your post…such a great story. I can’t remember the exact moment when the world of scent opened up for me when I was a girl, but I can remember that a necklace with a frosted flacon filled with Heaven Sent cologne attached to it was the first sent I owned…and oh, it was a good scent! I’d love to smell it again.

        • Hooray! A little piece of old Florida is still intact! I remember Heaven Sent as being a great fragrance and I know that flacon/necklace was just beautiful. Don’t you wish you still had it?
          Hope you and your hubby have a lovely Valentine’s Day!

          • OMGawd with the Heaven Sent. I loved that. I wore that. I wore that a lot. A wore A LOT OF THAT a lot.

            I was 14 or so. That’s my only excuse for wearing so blasted MUCH of it. I’m thinking folks on Pluto could smell me coming, lightyears away!

            To all my middle school peeps from way in the wayback? My most abject apologies. I hope your sinuses have recovered.

            xo >-)

            • Hey Musette, back in the day, they were probably wearing so much of their scent that yours didn’t faze them. :)

      • Hale still exists, as they advertise citrus to be sent as gifts. I am in Tampa Bay, so the grove I pass is in Pasco County and the ones I remember from my youth are in Sarasota and Manatee.

  9. I wish I had such great scent memories like so many others. About the only scent memory I have is smelling Youth Dew as a child which meant my parents were going out for the evening and I would be stuck with a sitter. And I remember using Lemon Up shampoo as a teen. That’s about it.

    My allergies kept me from scents for years but one day I came to the conclusion there HAD to be something I could wear. Turns out there is plenty I can wear!

    • Tiara, so glad you have found some scents that you can enjoy. I remember a bumper sticker I saw a while back: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” So we’ll just re-word it: “It’s never too late to be happily perfumed.” And thanks for the heads-up on the Lemon Up shampoo. I can still see that tall bottle with the bright lemon cap. :)

  10. Hello Ann,
    As a child I was what people called then “a pain in the ..”
    I always smelled ,heard or felt something that simply didn’t bother others.
    Nowadays people call it High Sensitive Personality (not a gift I swear) and it’s supposed to be a good thing.
    My mother often placed her hand on my mouth when I replied to things that were whispered on the other side of the room.
    I warned people that something in the kitchen was burning before anyone else noticed.

    I think I also started using perfume very early just to block out al kinds of smells that really bugged me ; bad breaths,unaired rooms, unwashed clothes of classmates and so on. In the mid- seventies when I was thirteen perfumes were really strong and everyone sprayed in abundance ; Charlie, Eau Jeune, Cachet,Tosca,..
    As I grew older my taste evolved but I always had a few perfumes at hand. As my budget grew larger, the collection did also.

    Nowadays it’s not merely a smell-blocker but deep love for nuances that makes that I “need” many.

  11. Happy Valentine’s Day, Ann! Great post. The rabbit hole opened up and grabbed me when my uncle, a career army officer, sent me a coffret from France with a variety of French perfumes. I tumbled headlong down that hole with one sniff of Je Reviens in extrait. I was all of twelve at the time!

    • Thanks, and Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too! You started early, too, and went straight for the good stuff!

  12. Hi Illdone, I hear you. My son has some similar tendencies as well, and I’m happy that he enjoys and appreciates my perfume.
    I think fragrance not only gives us immense personal pleasure, but, as you also noted, can help create a fragrant barrier to help ward off some of life’s more unpleasant moments.

  13. Hi Ann! Thanks for your lovely story. I love the idea of you spending your lunch money on perfume! :)

    I have always loved perfume – my grandmother and mother were into fragrance so it is ingrained in all of my childhood memories. My mom always wore Opium, KL, Aviance Night Musk, Norell or Paloma Picasso and my grandmother favoured No.5, Arpege, My Sin, Magie Noire and Ma Griffe. Even my dad was in on it with Chanel Pour Monsieur and Polo. I guess it is no surprise why I love the kinds of fragrances I do! Chaos led me down the rabbit hole to all of you lovely people and boy am I happy it did.:x

    • Hi M. Sounds like you were steeped in scent from the get-go and there was no way you couldn’t have fallen down the rabbit hole — and we’re so glad you did!
      Aviance, Norell, etc., all those bring back so many memories — what fun! Hope you and your family have a wonderful Valentine’s Day.

  14. How nice to hear from everyone – especially my fellow Floridians! (I love Dallas where I am now but still miss osme aspects of my “home” state). I don’t remember when I first started llving scents, because I think I always did. i wore Windsong and Sweet Honesty, and Herbal Essence scents as a teen, graduating to passionate love affairs with Aliage as a college student and Je Reviens as a new graduate. It seems that I just always knew that something that smelled good was worth the cost, whatever it was – and I still think that way! Thanks for the lovely post.

    • How right you are, maggiecat! Great scents make us smell and feel terrific and are worth every penny. I, too, enjoyed the scents you mentioned, especially Aliage, and Herbal Essence (my favorite shampoo). Thanks for sharing …

  15. Welcome back, Ann! What a fun post.

    I started with Joy when I was three, wore all the usual suspects as a young girl (Love’s, Windsong, Jontue, Sweet Honesty, etc) went between Opium and Lauren as a young woman….but the actual Rabbit Hole journey began when I found the perfume blogs a few years ago.

    Discovering all the niche/indie scents has been amazing, but it’s the old vintage fragrances I have fallen the hardest for.

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

    • Thanks, Tammy, and Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too. I’m of the same mind on the rabbit hole and the blogs — they definitely stoked the fire. And I’m finding a new appreciation for the vintage as well.

  16. My first fragrance lemming was Exclamation (boy, that dates me, eh?). I loved its black and white bottle and fun ads, and the bold, bold scent. Oh, I so badly wanted a bottle of the more-than-I-could-pay-for “statement without saying a word”. I always sprayed it on whenever I went into a Shopko (actually went straight for that aisle).

    I went from there to the original Liz Claiborne, Eternity, and others. Shesiedo Feminite du Bois was my entrance to the rabbit hole, shall we say…

    I guess you could say I’ve had several fragrant ephiphanies, but one of my most interesting is that the smell of someone I’m into is more important than their clothing.

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Geordan

    • Geordan, I loved Exclamation and its lively personality as well. I remember making forays into my local Eckerd’s drugstore and spending many a happy hour perusing the fragrance aisle and wearing out the testers. Hope you have a great Valentine’s Day!

  17. Hmmm…I don’t remember the trigger event, though it may have been when my father returned from a business trip with a perfume for me and one for my sister. He gave my sister a large bottle of L’Air du Temps (spray). I remember it in a cylindrical bottle with a gold dome top. Don’t remember the cap. He gave me what I could have sworn was a men’s fragrance. And I have no memory of the name. It was a cylindrical bottle with a brown cap, and I think there was a thin red/brown ribbon around bottle. No idea what that fragrance was, but both of these scents are etched in my memory.

    At some point along the way (probably early teens), I discovered Cachet, Enjoli, Babe, Ritz, Aviance, Anais Anais, and the rest of the drugstore clan. My sister became obsessed, too, but we couldn’t wear the same perfumes (oh, the horror!). I remember she had Charlie and Jontue and Chloe. In high school, her signature scent was Lauren. I wore Cristalle.

    Then in college, a friend had a collection of parfums on her dresser, all displayed in their boxes. Wow. One she had was Rive Gauche. I immediately fell in love. I mark Rive Gauche as the first scent I truly fell for.

    • Hey Karin — gotta love all those oldies you mentioned — and who could forget Enjoli and Babe and their great ad campaigns.
      My mom wore Rive Gauche, as I mentioned above, and I’m rediscovering that myself (thanks!). That’s too funny about you and your sister — heaven forbid you have the same scent on! I’m glad you got Cristalle, though, one of my college faves.

  18. Well, I love Kingdom. :d And all things sweaty. But I have a special place in my heart for Love’s Baby Soft, which makes me think of 8th grade. Thanks for the great post.

    • Hi March, thanks for stopping by. Yes, you are our Cumin Queen and we bow to you. You can sit NEAR me on the bus, just not in the same seat, OK?
      Hope you guys are having a great Valentine’s Day!

  19. My perfume story is quite a bit different than many others I hear about in the perfume community. My mother is a beautiful woman, very stunning. I look nothing like her, which didn’t help in my very awkward, uber-geeky teenage years. She had several fragrances that she would choose from for special nights out, and she’d always smelled fantastic in them. They smelled horrible on me, though. In fact, it seemed most of the fragrances that were popular in my teens and 20’s never smelled as nice on me as they did on others. My sister smells fantastic in Amarige: me, not so much. My difficulty in finding perfume in those painful years just seemed to be more evidence that I wasn’t feminine, wasn’t beautiful. I gave up trying to find something.

    Fast-forward about 20 years, to the Cancun airport. I’m vacationing with my parents, siblings and their spouses, and all the women are killing time in the duty-free perfume shop, spraying and commenting on their favorites. The selection was overwhelming to me, and I recognized nothing. That familiar pang of feeling left out of some secret female society welled up again, and I went home determined to find *something* – dagnabit, surely there existed one perfume for me, right? I went into research mode, and started visiting the local Shopper’s Drug Mart every second day. But more fortuitously, I went on the internet…
    I’m sure you see where this is going. My very first sample order was the Tauer line, about a year ago.

    Perfume is more than a hobby with me. It has healed something inside to find out that I can smell beautiful, or intellectual or damn sexy if I want. It also appeals to my “geek” side, which I’m far more at peace with these days (As John Green quips, “geek” is not much of an insult. It’s like telling someone, “Wow. You like stuff.”). Who knew there was so much that is intellectual about perfume: it’s got history, biology, chemistry, feminism, cultural studies, economics wrapped up in it. What a fascinating subject.

    Perfume appeals to my mind, my emotions and my senses. It triggered my renaissance: I’m taking care of myself more these days, both in health and appearance. I feel like I’m finally coming into my own.

    • Dionne, you go, girl!! I am so very happy for you that perfume is part
      of changing your life and helping you to realize the wonderful person that you are. When we feel good about ourselves, I believe
      it opens us up and allows others to see our unique beauty.
      I always knew fragrance was powerful but your story
      really brings it home. You are an inspiration — thanks for sharing!

  20. Unlike many others here, I did not grow up around perfumes. My father wouldn’t have touched the stuff with a ten foot pole and my mother was a product of women’s lib. No perfume for her either. However, as a military brat I traveled all over the world when I was young and I do remember enjoying the scents peculiar to the different places I traveled. The warm, spicy, overripe smell of the Bahraini souq sticks with me in particular. Fast forwarding several years, I started reading beauty blogs and was especially intrigued by the discussions of perfumes. I decided that I was going to discover some perfumes I liked. My first loves were Patricia Nicolai’s Vanille Intense and Francis Kurkdjian’s Lumiere Noire.

    • Kit, it sounds like you have some terrific scent memories from your travels, and now you are making more with your chosen perfumes.
      I, too, am a fan of Vanille Intense and Lumiere Noire — those are great first loves. What else are you enjoying now?

      • My most recent affair is with Absolue pour le Soir, also by Francis Kurkdjian. For some reason the barnyard skanky smell that so many have mentioned lasts only a little while on me and then it settles into this beautiful warmth that is edged with honey. It’s gorgeous.

        • Oh yes ma’am, I lurrrve me some of that Absolue!! It does the same thing (that beautiful warmth you mentioned) on me, too, thankfully, as I usually amplify cumin, etc., something fierce. So glad you found something else to love — enjoy!!

  21. Late to the party here, but being older (ahem) I grew up surrounded by all those marvels many of us yearn for today. My mother’s scent was Je Reviens, brought back from WWII by my father before they were married. My aunt was that rare thing in the UK in the 50s: a single career girl and I remember the fabulous Guerlain and Dior bottles on her dressing table. Another Aunt gave me my first serious bottle of scent when I was really far too young for it: Jolie Madame!

    My father always smelt absolutely wonderful and was immaculate at all times, despite having no money. Those were the days…..

    And here I am now, having worn scent for as long as I can remember, still loving it all but with a special place in my heart for the wonderful vintages of my childhood.

    Thanks you for a lovely post.

    • Hi lady, how lovely to hear about your childhood, awash in the great perfumes. What a neat experience, one for which I’m sure many perfume lovers
      envy you, me included.
      As for age, what was it Mark Twain said? “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

  22. A lovely neighbor of mine gave me a bottle of Chantilly perfume for my high school graduation. in 1967!. Loved it and then found Casaque, Charlie, and Jontue.

    • Ah, yes, Jen … Chantilly and that lovely shade of pink. Who could forget? And of course, Charlie and Jontue. Unfortunately though, I have not had the pleasure of trying Casaque, but it has many fans.

  23. I grew up thinking we were poor. It was a shock in high school to realize that my dad specifically didn’t think it worthwhile to spend money on his family, but instead put half his salary into investments. Mum managed occasionally to scrape together housekeeping money for a scented Avon product.

    I feel a bit like Dionne that having beauty and luxury in my life now seems to have a retrospective healing effect of what was in my case a dingy childhood. I am happy to be a grownup with a salary, and happy to spend some of it on money-is-no-object perfume.

    • Annie, I’m glad that perfume is helping to make you feel healed and whole. I had a rough childhood, as well, and find that I really appreciate beautiful things of all kinds, with perfume near the top of the list. As I mentioned in a roundabout way to another poster, I believe that it’s never too late to live a happy, perfumed life!

  24. I was about 6 years old and got into my grandmother’s dressing table where I discovered Chanel No 5…. It has been a life long love affair with No 5 ever since and it is still my all time favourite
    I also remember my mother’s Diorissimo – today’s version is so sad in comparison to that gorgeous, rich, lily of the valley she wore!!
    In high school I went for Magie Noire and Opium and fell in love with Paloma – no shrinking violet perfumes for me!!
    My palate has expanded rapidly in the past few years and it was Perfume Posse that got me started so thank you to all!

    • Hi, Kim. You’re one of the young perfume “explorers” that we’ve had on here so far. Very happy that Grandma had a classic waiting there for you to discover. You found what you liked early on and didn’t waste any time — great fragrances all! And yes, the Posse has gotten quite a few of us addicted. Thanks so much for sharing!

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