I have never had a signature scent. I’m too greedy for that: there’s always something new to sniff-spray-covet-own, and I want it all! But my friend Lea is a serial perfume monogamist. She started off her adult life wearing Givenchy Ysatis, which she describes as “harmless.” Damning with faint praise? Sure, but when I thought about it, I realized I’d dated men who fell into that category: pleasant, easy to be around, undemanding. Not a grand affair, true. But sometimes pleasant is all one needs.
After wearing Ysatis for some years, Lea found true love: Le B by Agnes B. She adored its “fresh lightness,” its ephemeral floral character with a sophisticated edge. It was perfect. It was her. Lea was certain she’d never need another perfume. The love affair was interrupted—temporarily—when she wound up working for someone who was allergic to Le B. So she wore Ysatis to work—but it was only a stand in, and when her work situation changed, she went back to sporting her beloved Le B 24/7.
Until she couldn’t find it anymore.
In 1996, Lea was informed that Le B had been discontinued. She nursed her broken heart (along with what little juice she had left). But Lea was lucky. True love struck again on a spring day in New York. As she walked down the street, she passed a woman exuding a scent so marvelous that Lea grabbed her arm and asked what it was.
“Eau d’Hadrien,” the woman told her.
It was love. Clarity! Brightness! Citrus! Woods! Annick Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien bore little resemble to Le B, but it was nonetheless perfect. Again, it was indefinably her. By the time I met Lea—long after we’d each moved from NYC to northern New England—Eau d’Hadrien had been her signature scent for a decade. For my part, I was thrilled to walk into a room in the tiny town we then lived in and discover someone wearing a brilliant, exquisite perfume that I had long adored. Eau d’Hadrien had never been my signature scent—I told you, I don’t have the heart for that—but it was in high rotation for many years. I loved hugging Lea whenever I saw her. (Because she’s a great person! But, uh, also for that bright hit of Eau d’Hadrien.) As I’m sure you all know, Eau d’Hadrien is delightful but far from long lasting. So Lea had to have lots of it on hand. She kept (literally) vats of Hadrien in her fridge. When the rest of us were sweating in the summer heat, Lea could be counted on to smell cool and fresh. When the rest of us were lost in mid-winter gloom, Lea wafted Mediterranean breezes wherever she went.
Until her love went sour.
In 2009, Lea ordered another jug-o-Hadrien and received it along with a carded sample spray of the scent. She idly sprayed the sample—and was shocked. It didn’t smell anything like Eau d’Hadrien. (I sniffed it, too; it was awful.) The juice was harsh and screeching in a way Eau d’Hadrien had never been. The good news was that her signature scent was now extremely long lasting. The bad news? “It smelled like the disinfectant they use to clean Greyhound bus toilets,” Lea said. I wasn’t totally surprised: I’m been reading online that the formulation had changed—as IFRA outlawed citrus—and not, it seemed, for the better. But Lea was devastated.
For the second time in her adult life, she began the search for a new perfume. This time she turned to the internet for help. Lea contacted the blog Now Smell This and became a subject of one of their Monday Mail posts, in which seasoned perfumistas write in to help others find the perfect scent. As a result of their suggestions, Lea tried nearly a hundred perfumes. Possible contenders ended up being Jo Malone Verbenas of Provence (but it was even more short lived than Hadrien, and not as glorious) and Parfums 06130 Yuzu Rouge, which she liked but didn’t adore. Long past the days of being happy with a “harmless” fragrance, Lea struggled through nearly two years of fragrance limbo as she rationed the vats of Eau d’Hadrien still in her fridge. By April 2011, her Hadrien supply was nothing but fumes.
On a business trip to Chicago, Lea decided she had to do something. That something? Purchase Hermes’ Un Jardin En Mediterranee. Though she didn’t love it, she liked it well enough to wear it. But on her way to the Hermes shop, she made a detour to Saks. It didn’t make sense, but she decided to give Eau d’Hadrien one last try. She just couldn’t believe Annick Goutal would abandon Eau d’Hadrien, their flagship fragrance, in its brutal post-reformulation state. So she headed to the Goutal counter and held her wrist out for a final spritz.
And it wasn’t bad.
It wasn’t the Eau d’Hadrien she’d once adored: though still lovely, it had lost a bit of its lemon bite and become a tad more powdery. But more important was what it wasn’t. It wasn’t peculiarly long lasting; it had regained its winsome ephemerality. It wasn’t blaring; it was nuanced and inviting. No other fruit scent had been added; it was still lemon, just not Lemon Pledge. It was Eau d’Hadrien Redux, and if some of the passion was now gone, Lea felt the tender joy of reuniting with a love thought lost.
She bought a bottle on the spot.
But something had happened during the two years she’d scoured the internet for Hadrien replacements. She’d gotten it into her head that somewhere, somehow, she might be able to find her first love, Le B. Maybe there was a bottle on *bay, maybe she could uncover forgotten stock at an online discount store. Eventually, she struck gold. It turned out that in 2007 Le B had been “reworked”—by Olivia Giacobetti—and relaunched in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the original Le B. According to Fragrantica, Giacobetti “created a new composition of the old notes, inspired by sun, orange tree, sand, cotton, white flowers and clean linen.” The drawback? It was only available in Paris. Fortunately, a friend was headed to France and agreed to bring back a bottle. Lea found the new version more serious, more long lasting. “The astringent side of florals,” she described it. It was like rediscovering a high school sweetheart: Lea could still spy the bright and hopeful face of her first love beneath its current sophisticated veneer. Bottom line? Yes, it was indeed Le B.
And so a perfume monogamist learned to cheat. Precisely which perfume she’s cheating on at any given time is unclear: is she cheating on Eau d’Hadrien with the revamped Le B? Or should Le B claim pride of place in her heart, rendering reformulated Hadrien the interloper? Either way, Lea now does what the rest of us have long done: she lets mood or occasion dictate her choice. Eau d’Hadrien is still her daily default, but on days when she wants something fancier, or “more grown up,” as she says, she turns to Le B.
PS: Thanks to Lea for the title!
Photo credit: Phillip Toldeano (via nymag.com)