Your first time – What did that look like? What did that feel like? The first perfume you smelled that gave you that “ohmy” moment?
My aunt let me do my internship with her at the end of college – she was in the same profession. She lived in a clifftop house outside of Aptos, California. Well, she didn’t live there most of the time. She lived on their boat in Santa Cruz because they were thinking of selling the house and taking off on their boat for a year or ten.
She was impossibly sophisticated to me – smart, witty, married three times, drove her Mercedes like a madwoman (some mental driving game about never hitting the brakes until she got to San Jose) over the mountain every workday morning – and I wanted to be just like her, minus the Pond’s Cold Cream she put on her face every night – that wasn’t something i wanted to do at all. She introduced me to artichokes and fresh shrimp scampi sauteed in butter and garlic.
While I loved scent, all the aromas that came from my mom’s kitchen and the farm – hay, timothy hay, the air after a rain or a lightning storm – I’d only had one perfume, the one my BFF who worked at the drugstore bought and convinced me I needed. Stephen B was a serious musk bomb, which I really didn’t know until March sent me some a few years ago when I talked about wanting to smell it again. Sultry? Maybe. Slutty? Probably. Transcendent? Not for me.
Aunt Nelda liked her perfume, but just one at a time, she wasn’t a perfume slut or anything horrible like that! She told me it was this wonderful perfume, not sold just anywhere, Estee Lauder’s Private Collection, and it was her signature scent. This was 1979, and EL Private Collection had been introduced in 1973. She brought out the magic bottle to a little farmgirl who had never been in a department store bigger than J.C. Penney, and let me sniff.
It was my first time, and it was magic. While I knew about perfume in theory, everything I had smelled up until then was drugstore stuff – it either smelled good or didn’t – and I just didn’t get why I’d want to spend my money on it. This – now, this was special, wasn’t it? It smelled like nothing else I had known in my short little life. It was rich, sharp, a little weird and completely grown up. Classified as a green floral, it had notes of honeysuckle, jasmine, lime blossom (linden), orange blossom, green notes, chrysanthemum, mignonette, rose, ylang, coriander, amber, musk, heliotrope, sandalwood.wood.
I knew nothing about notes or classifications, and I didn’t care. I wanted that perfume because I knew the moment I put it on, I wouldn’t be 19 anymore. I’d be grown and witty and smart and marriedthreetimes with a Mercedes and a great job and a house overlooking the ocean and maybe even have written a book like Aunt Nelda did. Because if I could smell like that, how could you not be all of those things?
Of course I had no idea where I could buy this exclusive and rare perfume. This was pre-Google, and embarrassment prevented me from asking her, and proper upbringing stopped me from trying to get a little to take home with me. My parents would have skinned me alive if they knew I’d ever asked anyone to give me something. Wonder why that is? I still carry it through my life, never asking for anything. I guess because we were poor and proud, they didn’t want us little scrawny urchins embarrassing them by begging for things we couldn’t afford. Well, that’s a whole other post or therapy session.
About two years later, after graduation and my first year on a job in a teeny town, I moved to a
city? well, big town. But it had a Macy’s and cosmetics counters and Estee Lauder! I almost threw myself at that counter, my eyes scanning for that perfume. I didn’t see it. Private Collection, do you suppose that meant it was locked up somewhere in the back, only for women who passed some test of being worthy? The salesperson finally noted my shy, but pleading eye rolling and asked if she could help me. I told her what I wanted, she bent over and reached into some magic place in the cabinet and pulled out the little 1 ounce bottle.
Oh, yeah!!! Spending a day’s wages (maybe two?) on a perfume wasn’t the smart thing to do, but it was essential if I was going to reach my personal goal of wittysmartmarriedthreetimesmercedesgreatjobhouseoverlookingocean&author.
Private Collection was so not me at 21 years old, and I never really grew into it, but it still holds a soft spot in my heart because it was The First Time. The first time a perfume spoke to me about who I dreamed about being, wafting by on expensive, luxurious and smart tendrils. That was magic, and I got it – I knew why women wore perfume and would spend their last bit of mad money or even grocery money for a scent. Once I knew it was possible for a smell inside a bottle to bring out a facet of who I was or wanted to be, the love affair was on and never ended.
Aunt Nelda died in the 1990s. She had juvenile diabetes, was on dialysis for the last few years of her life, and I never stopped adoring her. She did sell the house overlooking the ocean, and they sailed for maybe a year before an unfortunate robbery in the Truk Islands spooked them bad enough to sell the boat and come back home.
I’m not sure I will ever be as witty, brave or smart as her, but I have been married three times, I do drive a Mercedes, but I’m still missing my house overlooking the ocean (Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica is where I’m thinking that should be!), and a couple of other things.
This morning I put on Private Collection and the magic of scent brought her back to me. Just a little.
What was your first time? When did the magic grab you? Giveaway (posting last week’s winners in a separate post, so look for that) is Cb I Hate Perfume 7 Billion Hearts sample. Just drop a comment to be entered!