eau de friendship

Behind a curtain that provided a false sense of privacy, I was plugged up to a hospital-grade breast pump. In the lactation room of Saint David’s Hospital in Austin, TX, I tried not to look. The consultants told me not to eye the bottles attached to my breasts, that I’d only decrease my milk supply by willing it to increase. Instead, I leafed through a magazine and eavesdropped.

A new mother beyond the curtain made no effort to speak in a hushed tone while on her cell phone, bragging about her milk supply and her preemie’s attachment to her, and only her. “The nurses say I spoil her,” was right up there with, “I guess my biggest flaw is that I’m a perfectionist.” I was either the saddest new mother to ever be, or at least I was the most honest. I didn’t want to be at the hospital, walking that same hallway ramp up to the NICU, winding through the same parking lot, scrubbing my hands, sanitizing, all to sit in a gliding chair beside a translucent child that could probably see right through me. I didn’t want to be there.

“These beans,” I thought of my babies, not my breasts, “prefer the nurses to me,” and worse, “I can’t even make the one thing I, and only I, should be able to provide for them: breast milk from their mother.” I didn’t cry though. Instead, I continued to flip through the provided reading materials. “Eau de Milk,” the article might have been titled. The idea was that if you were a breastfeeding woman, producing milk, that your friends were more likely to become pregnant simply by hanging out with you… and having unprotected sex, like, duh. I liked the idea that I could help get my friends knocked-up, liked the weird workings of the subliminal and evolutionary. I love, for example, the idea that women who live together begin to share the same menstrual cycle; they sync.

Fast forward six years, I’m now a mother of allergy-free children (each born under 3 lbs.), who love me more than most nurses and say “Thank You” when I pour milk into their cereal bowls. While I’m still on the hunt for new friendships in New York, I also spend my time searching for silly things, like drugstore lip gloss dupes to designer favorites, and for a new signature perfume scent, perhaps something comforting, Eau de Milk Duex. I still love my Creed Fleur de The Rose Bulgarie (and the more affordable twin which I also own and wear, Creed Fleurs de Bulgarie), but I am looking to branch out. While in Sephora, marking my arm with patches of different fragrances to expand my existing perfume wardrobe, I thought again of how similar perfume is to friendship.

“Friends, like perfume, can also suit a particular mood.  Some are dinner friends who don’t pressure you to go out afterward.  They’re spicy and sexy, yet warm.  Linen napkin friends.  There are lighter summer friends who prefer to spend time with you doing creative projects, pot-luck dinners, pottery on Sunday afternoon.  Verbena friends.  Then there are the classics, of course, the scents you could wear all day long, despite the activity or mood.  Your circle.”

Index of perfumes I own, had, or want
So, the other day, I threw the question up on Facebook, wanting to know which fragrance friends wear when they want to feel pretty. List in hand, I scoured the bottles, smelling all the suggested scents I could find. At the top of the list was a response from my friend Alexandra. Alex visited me when I lived in Texas, and again in Florida. She now lives in San Francisco during most of the year, but she also owns a summer house in the Hamptons, so we’ll play again soon enough. Alexandra’s “I feel pretty” fragrance is Chloé Eau de Parfum.

As a general rule, I want no part of wearing a popular scent. What’s the point?! You smell like everyone else, there’s no mystery. It’s like carrying the “it” bag, that everyone else is carrying. Why would you want to look like, or smell like, anyone else, when what makes you extraordinary is being the only person who does you, better than anyone else? “Because I love it, that’s why.” Sometimes, I fall beneath the weight of this truth, because although it makes no sense at all, it appeals to my senses more than all the reasons in the world tell me it shouldn’t. We want what we want.

“Okay,” I say to the Sephora associate. “I refuse to buy such a mainstream scent, but let me at least smell it.” She sprays a paper wand with Chloe parfum, fanning it to dry, floating it beneath my nose. I do not want to like what I’m about to… “Rose!” I accuse. “My weakness.” The associate nods. “Do not let me leave with this,” I say. “There’s no way I’m buying what everyone else wears. It’d be like walking out of here with Flowerbomb!”

Expand, I tell myself. Find something that’s completely different from everything you already own. Mind you that when I look at everything I do own, I realize that they’ve probably all been best-sellers and that none are nearly as unique as I once believed. It’s the same with mothering—no, you’re not the first to feel like a failure, to feel envy, to want to brag, to feel shame. You’re one of us. And perfume tells that story; it tells all our stories. The story of our own mothers and theirs, in their smells of lotion and closet and scarves. And it tells the story of our lives. I can associate different scents I’ve worn with different men, right down to the season and an article of clothing I was wearing. We all can.

Once the Chloe dried down, I had an epiphany. You know how when you’re eating a dish at a restaurant and then, suddenly, a note hits you, and you know without exception that you are 100% right, no argument–it’s tarragon in there. You know it in your bones. It might be the slightest trace, but you’ve got it. I had such a revelation. Girly yet clean, Chloe dries down to smell like the kissing cousin of L’eau d’Issey Issey Miyake, a scent I associate with one of my best friends from college, Shira. Chloe smells nothing like it on the initial open, but once it has finally hailed its cab, it goes to that same L’eau d’Issey address.

I left the store with samples, with six fragrances covering different parts of each arm, and with a bottle of a major best-seller that everyone will be wearing, Florabotanica Cristobal Balenciaga, another rose perfume that I should really return—I am psycho! I was leaning most toward a woody scent, something outside my usual: Hermes Un Jardin en Mediterranée. I took home the sample and loved it (Phil liked it, too), but it was too subtle and seemed to wear off in an hour. Plus the woody notes floated off to the woods for good, not a trace left.

“This is so wrong of me,” I finally said to the associate. “But I kinda want to get the Chloe, just so I can feel closer to my friend in San Francisco.” And it’s true, I miss her, and wearing her pretty scent would make me feel loved and pretty, as if she were standing beside me, petting my arm, calling me her lover cookieface. Her birthday is next week. I might just have to run to Sephora, yet again, to get a dose of her (I realize this is akin to being apart and promising to drink in her honor).

In the meanwhile, I’m still on the hunt for a woody warm scent, nothing powdery, no Dior Addict smelling stuff. Or something that smells of fresh milk, a comforting smell, like Farina. But it can’t be a quiet scent, rather something you wear, where the cashier at the market has to lean over and ask, “What smells so good?” Sorry to continue at an obvious ending, but I found such a scent in Laura Mercier’s Almond Coconut bath products (this scent and these products are my favorite by far) – a Gourmand scent without the headache or cloying sweetness, but I’m afraid the perfume version wears away, floating off, to be heard of never again, save for a way too long blog entry about the power of perfume and friendship.

UPDATE: Surprise package just opened!



  1. Jo Malone Vanilla and Anise or Pomegranate Noir for winter…Lime Basil and Mandarin or Blackberry and Bay for spring / summer.

    1. Author

      I have Pomegranate Noir. I bought it but regret it. It does nothing for me. I love the brightness of Jo Malone Orange Blossom. But a signature scent it does not make. I realize her colognes are meant to be layered, but I don’t think they last long enough, or bloom enough, to the point where someone else can actually smell it on you. Am I wrong?

      1. Im a lover of Jo Malone 154. Its feels c0ozy and feminine and is a compromise when all I really want to wear is a men’s scent,Creed Irish Tweed.

        Id like to lighten up my scent for the summer…need to make a run to smell Guerlain Le Petite Robe Noire. Please keep us posted on what you decide.

        adore your words and thank you for sharing your life.

      2. Pom Noir lasts all day for me…it is all chemistry. I am not brave enough to layer. Really try the lime Basil…delicious.

  2. The Blackberry and Bay is really nice (clean, fresh), but I agree that the Jo Malone fragrances don’t last and feel a little flat (I layer my Orange Blossom with Black Vetyver Cafe, but that occasionally prompts questions like, “Is someone eating gingerbread?”). Have you tried any Frederic Malle, Le Labo, or Serge Lutens? I’m never comfortable in Barney’s, but it’s worth venturing in for their fragrance department. I love the Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose (though it’s rose-based, obviously) and the Serge Lutens Clair de Musc.

  3. Scent is the sense to which I can most strongly link memories. A few years ago, for Mother’s Day, I gave my Mom the answers my grandmother had given for 50 questions I asked her about her life. One of the questions was “What did your childhood smell like?” She immediately answered that her memories smell like bologna, grass and iced tea. I love imagining that.

    Anyways, I’ve been wearing Pure DKNY Verbena for a few months and I feel like a clean, stable person. It makes me smell like a person who has gotten around to setting up automatic bill pay and wakes up early enough to make green smoothies before work every day. I’m not one of those people but I enjoy smelling like one.

    1. This is a seriously wonderful comment. I may have to consider that perfume now. :)

  4. I wish I understood the set up to this story. What is the thread that connects the isolation/difficulty you had nursing to your search for a perfume?

  5. Try Cartier Déclaration d’Un Soir, it has a woodsy note, I liked it but didn’t get it for me.

  6. I never saw your question on FB about the list…I still haven’t found my one “signature” fragrance. I float around to different ones year after year. Right now I’m on Origins Ginger Essence (which is weird because I don’t really like to eat fresh ginger). It’s clean. Not too fruity. You might try that one.

    And I have Pomegranate Noir and wore it for awhile, but gave it up because I felt like it was TOO strong and too many people were commenting on it (in a way that made me self-conscious). Maybe you have skin that sloughs off parfum?! ;)

    I also Philosophy’s Amazing Grace, but it seems like it falls in the “too popular” category. When you find “the one” woody/clean scent, please share, because I’m dying to find it, too!

  7. I find most perfumes wildly offensive. Being the daughter of an asthmatic who wheezes at scented candles, I wonder why people feel the need to invade my space with their smell. I walked into an empty elevator in Columbus the other day, and the reek of someone’s perfume was so overpowering I gasped. I held my breath as the elevator went down, apologizing to the couple that got on a few floors beneath me ‘that isn’t me…it was here when I got here’. We all got off into wonderful, fresh oxygen, fanning our noses to clear the stench.

    Same with whistling. Why in god’s name should I be inflicted by someone elses’ brain noise? Like people humming along to the Nutcracker when you’re at the ballet. STOP IT already – we ALL know the music.

    1. I usually love your comments, but this one came off a bit harsh.

      I’m sure there is something you do that other people find annoying, but dealing with it is part of interacting with others.

      1. You’re absolutely right, Kimberly – I am feeling shredded at the moment and probably shouldn’t have posted. If I had a do-over I may take it down a notch, but may not. Perfume and whistling are right up there with popping gum and yelling at your dog.

        Hmmmmm….I think it’s time for a calgon take me away moment for me. Light and love all around.

        1. Actually, 3 teens’ mom, I totally agree with you. As someone who has a very strong sense of smell (if you were lost in the woods, I could find you), I really detest when someone smells strongly of perfume. Usually, I prefer your natural scent, without being all covered up by something else.

          At 14, I thought Eric was the best-smelling person I’d ever met in my life, even though he was an ass. At 31, Eric is still the best-smelling person I’ve ever met, only now he’s my husband. Food for thought :-)

          1. Angie – I think that’s so true. I have an extremely acute sense of smell (should have been a wine taster)…I can actually smell if my kids are ill (though now that they’re all in college, they’re not all that excited about me snuggling up for a big sniff). Certain smells trigger quick, awful headaches (musk for instance) – whereas others are heavenly (mom’s banana bread).

        2. No worries, perfume also makes me sick. Certain scents just get me and within minutes I have a pounding headache and nausea. I just need AIR, a couple tylenol and bed.

          Thankfully I work for a company with a no perfume/perfumed products policy or I would be going home sick very frequently!

  8. I, too, find most perfumes offensive. Perhaps not the perfume so much as they way they are applied. Most give me a whopper of a headache. I’ve only been able to wear Guerlain’s Shalimar (as did my grandmother and mother) and Diptyque’s Rue 34. Thus far, I’ve never smelled either on anyone else.

    1. Shalimar is/was the only perfume my mother ever wore. I know it’s smell like I know my own name, and I’ve never smelled it on anyone else either :)

  9. I totally bought & wore Chanel Allure solely because my BFF (on another contintent) wore it. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to want to be close to the memory of a friend via scent!

  10. Hermes Eau des Mervailles – like a summer night in the woods near the ocean. Like my childhood on Long Island I wonder if you can smell the same thing…

  11. How do you feel about the Fresh line? Violette Eau de Parfum was my fave but I can only find it on eBay now.
    • Top Notes: Bergamot, mandarin, and cypress.
    • Heart Notes: Violet, freesia, and rose.
    • Base Notes: Patchouli, sandalwood, and amber.

  12. 1)I LOVE the preening posts
    2)On a related note, would kill for a video on stretching out curls with a curling iron for second day hair
    3)I just bought Tokyo Milk Dark and while I fear it might last a minute or two, it is pretty intoxicating
    4)Come for a NYC playdate anytime!

  13. Fresh (Sugar) smells so good but I am afraid too cloying on me at least. Sad, as my husband proudly got me a bottle and remembered I wanted it but after a few uses I was over it. That happens a lot to me- I get a perfume, use it a week and am done.

    I totally adore Creed stuff , especially Irish Tweed. A few perfumes are permanently on my ‘no fly’ list due to overuse by classmates, friends, etc: Lancome ‘Tresor’; CK ONE or ‘Escape’ (90s!) ; Clinique ‘Happy’; Prescriptives’ ‘Calyx’; Calvin Klein’s ‘Obsession’ (does anyone still wear these?:) and that LAgerfeld’s ‘Sun, Moon, Stars’. Some of these I wore (the shit out of…) and I feel like I outgrew them, got sick of the smell forever or it reminds me of someone or something I don’t like. I hate when that happens. Some ex boyfriends have ruined songs/groups I used to like b/c we listened to them all the time together. Same with the perfume. It’s good to get new stuff into rotation to cover your bases! Some women are so brand loyal (not me) and will wear one scent, year round end of story. And some women are fickle like me, looking for the new and different scent. So funny. I combed through comments on here so will try to get some perfume samples soon. Good suggestions!

  14. I came in to say Jo Malone and lo, looks like there’s a tribe of us out there. I love all her scents but Blackberry and Bay … wow. You have to give it a try at least. I guess I like that buzz that I get when I put it on and don’t necessarily care if the scent endures throughout the day. If someone hugs me, they’ll smell it on me! What a beautiful post by the way and love the visual of your perfume bottles. Tres jolie!

  15. Have you looked into any of the Serge Lutens scents? In NY, I think you can buy them at Barneys or Bergdorfs, and they’re utterly delicious.

    I love Serge Lutens Datura Noir. The fragrance features coconut, tuberose, tonka bean, almond, lemon blossom, mandarin orange, musk, chinese osmanthus, heliotrope, myrrh, vanilla and apricot.

    Like I said, delicious.

  16. Perfume, cologne, and other strongly scented products make me very ill. It’s not that I don’t like how they smell (although often I don’t), it’s just that they make me sick: headache, nauseous, phlegmy, congested and sore throat.

    I often become ill after taking public transit, riding in an elevator or just sitting in a meeting with a heavily perfumed/cologned individual.

    Sorry to be such a debbie downer, but I really wish people would not wear it. At least not not on the bus/at work etc. Wear it out on your date or at home. I know that many others suffer from sensitivity to the chemicals in scented products… so tired of suffering silently!

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