On Saturday I had a fragrance emergency. We were on our way out the door to a holiday cocktail party, and we were already late, when I realized in all the chaos that I’d neglected to apply any scent. Which in my world is akin to leaving the house and noticing I’d forgotten my pants. It just wouldn’t do. So everyone had to hang tight for one more moment while I chose a fragrance.
Notice I did not say “selected the fragrance” or “selected the perfect fragrance.” My track record on those occasions has been mixed. There are times when I know absolutely without fail that either Mitsouko parfum or vintage Femme will be perfect. (Sometimes my vintage Cinnabar parfum slips onto this list.) Other times I am not so sure. The vanillic confection is too cloying. The floriental that caught my eye at home fails to enchant.
The event we were attending was a teensy bit fraught. It was given by a friend of my late mother-in-law’s, in the lovely building she used to live in, downtown. So I knew the dress was relatively formal, and I knew I could get away with a little more drama perfume-wise, because those ladies are used to perfume, although I didn’t want to overspray and kill anyone in a crowded party, which it turned out to be.
More worrisome was the fear of attaching a mixed bag of memories to a favorite scent. I haven’t been to that building since we closed up the apartment prior to sale, and what if the whole thing made me sad? It’s possible. I loved visiting my in-laws down there. I felt like a fairy-tale princess every time we pulled into the circular driveway out front and the doorman swung the door open. The building has gargoyles. My children still call it “Grammy’s castle.” I spent countless hours there, under the eye of a woman who treated me (for better and worse) as her daughter, who did a lot of living and was no wallflower. The men would pour themselves drinks and wander off to the library to do something boring, like watch golf on TV. She and I would curl up in her yellow club chairs, under my favorite painting, a cheerful abstract thing done by an acquaintance of hers, and gossip, she with a martini and I with a glass of champagne, served in one of the small, hand-painted flutes I still treasure.
So what scent to wear? I had no idea. In the 90 seconds I had to devote to the task I realized I didn’t want to wear anything that had intimate associations for me. I wanted it to be as pretty and as free of emotion as a nice dress I’d borrow from a friend. I was utterly out of time when I ended up grabbing the small bottle of Annick Goutal Passion that someone (Louise, honey, was that you? Or perhaps Nancy?) left for me as a gift at my perfume party. It was still in the kitchen, literally in front of me, so I wouldn’t have to run upstairs. I knew I liked it, that it was sweet and frothy and acceptable, although I couldn’t quite remember what it smelled like. I wear it occasionally in similar circumstances, when I want my fragrance to be something nice and undistracting.
And so we had a fine time, and I met and talked with many interesting people, including an erotic portraitist old enough to be my daddy, who was a riot. And the evening was a bit bittersweet, if for no other reason than being there at that party, with those people, was a reminder that everyone has moved on, and I will never go to the old apartment again, butterflies in my stomach, before some fancy dinner. That part of my life is over. I peeked down their hall, but the corridor smelled different, and the wreath on the door wasn’t the one I remembered.
In its own way, Passion was perfect. It is as sweet and cheerful as a macaron at the top; it seems just right for the movie Marie Antoinette, all vivid pastels and dubious substance. But like passion itself, the fragrance is a little more complicated than it lets on initially. There is something very slightly unsettling about it, a coolness that translates as a sort of yearning to me, and in the drydown it is more animalic than I remembered. I wonder whether it was just the heat of the evening causing the fragrance to bloom on my skin. At any rate, it got me through the evening smelling nice, and I didn’t find myself having to pause and mentally give it some attention, which I do sometimes with the fragrances I find most beautiful.
I was surprised to see that my review of Passion was in August, for some reason I thought it was longer ago than that, although I didn’t intend this as a review, more of a scent moment. But I’d be curious to hear of a similar fragrance emergency — when you had to throw something on at the last second — and how it worked out for you, did you end up being pleased with or regretting your choice?