My first perfume scent was Jean Naté. I wasn’t old enough to wear perfume. Because it begins with perfume, then make up and red nail polish, and suddenly you’re shaving legs and pits and then you’re kissing, which leads to dating, which leads to sex. Perfume was outlawed, but scented powders, bath soap, and lotions were permitted.
I imagine Jean Naté smells of lemon curd or tart vagina. I wore the scent, not because I liked it, but because wearing it made me feel older and sophisticated, like an oak-fermented Chardonnay.
My father has no sense of smell, so my mother never bothered with her bottle of JOY. I’d sniff at it but was never impressed. Mom smelled of blow-dryer, Keri Lotion and Aveda lipstick—like gingersnap cookies, too heavy on the cloves. I played with her vanity mirror, eating her lipstick off my lips, feeling like a woman. Mostly, she smelled of sweet facial lotion that could easily be mistaken for milk. At night, she’d coat her waterproof eyes with globs of Vaseline. Black streaks of mascara would coat balls of toilet paper. Then she’d tape the area between her eyes to prevent involuntary wrinkles in her sleep.
Eric Fink, the boy I lost my virginity to, wore Dior’s Fahrenheit cologne. In the Roosevelt Field Mall, I doused a leaflet in the shape of the bottle, which resembled a b-52 drink. At home, I slid the scented paper in a scrapbook, under a thin glassine flap. When I missed him, I’d slide the paper from it’s home and rub it over his green Livingston soccer jersey. I rolled in his shirt, hugging it to me in fists, whiffing him as if I could will him beside me.
I moved quickly beyond the Naté to Perry Ellis’ 360º. The girls in high school wore too much Anis Anis to go with their long-stapped Carlos Fachi and Il Bisante handbags. To this day Shalimar brings to mind a brunette Jewish woman named Phyllis, a party planner who talked in a whine and was always scowling. My best friend in high school, Hillary Cohen wore Lu Lu until it was discontinued. Lu Lu was a heavy provocative scent; it smelled red. I used to borrow hers, and when I wore it, people would say, “Ooooh, you smell like Hills.” And I loved her, so it made me smile.
In college, I switched to L’Eau D’Issey by Issey Miyake. I still love it. It’s clean, feminine, and quite beautiful. I wore it because my close college friend Shira did, and I loved her like I loved Hillary. Sharing a scent makes you feel closer, like beaded friendship pins. With time, after reading that vanilla, licorice, and pumpkin pie scents increase penile blood flow, I dabbed vanilla oil from Paris behind my ears, on my wrists, on the insides of my elbows, and behind my knees. Then I’d let some oil drip in my décolleté, cause it doesn’t get more French than décolleté.
I imagine my ex-boyfriend will always think of me as Issey Miyake and vanilla, despite my coming home wearing the very expensive Quelques Fleurs. When I arrived home smelling of the chic scent, he remarked, “Oh my god, that’s delicious.” That’s when I knew one of his ex-girlfriends must have worn it. I saw the nostalgia in his eyes. I never wore it again.
I’m currently without scent. I stole Creed’s Fleur de The Rose Bulgarie from Erin, and now Jen wears it, too. And now also the other Jen, too. I’ve received more compliments on the Creed than anything else in my life. Okay, tie with my hair. But part of wearing perfume is how it makes you feel. Spicy, heady scents are very brunette; they make you want to go the night without panties. Clean citrus notes are like French manicures, white terry robes, and clean moisturized feet in white pom-pom socks. Some scents, Gucci Rush or anything by Versace, are obvious one-night-stand tramps. They aren’t special; they’re bottled blondes. Like a redhead, a good scent is complex and makes you work for it. I’ve been wearing the Creed so long, I can no longer smell it. I can’t do the Chanel Chance or Madamoiselle, and forget the J. Lo. Anything of-the-moment kills the mystery. And forget the Demeter scents like Angel Food Cake, Laundry, and Graham Crackers; she wears an orangy red lipstick and over plucks her brows.
I can no longer tolerate grapefruit or verbena scents. Even a sophisticated pachoulli number evokes white girls with manufactured dreads, warn-thin Dead shirts, and jingly anklets. I need something grown up, and when I find it, if someone asks, “Mmm, what’s that smell?” I’ll say, “me” and just smile.