Perfume

The thing that got me started with perfumes was a book. I’d never been interested in perfumes till 2007. Before that, I’d just spritz Body Shop’s Oceanus when I really wanted to feel a bit special. I went perfume-less the rest of the time – which was most of the time.

Then I found Patrick Suskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. I read with fascination about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an unloved French boy born amidst fish entrails in a market. He produced no odour of his own, but had the finest nose in Paris, and found the natural smell of humanity grotesque, “like rancid fat and rotting fish”. People found his nature and his lack of normal odour disturbing, and rejected him.

One evening, when he was a young man, JB smelt an enchanting scent “like a piece of thin, shimmering silk… like pastry soaked in honey-sweet milk”, and traced its origin to a young girl, whom he killed in order to appreciate her smell better. Avoiding capture, he let his gift lead him naturally to the art of perfumery, and learnt how to extract and preserve the scents of flowers.

To me, this is where the magic of the book lies. For the first time, I read about effleurage, cold-pressing, and distillation, and saw vividly in my mind’s eye the tons of roses, tuberoses, narcissi and orange blossoms giving up their perfumes to oils and essences. That was how my fascination with perfume began.

Oh, and the rest of the book tells of how JB murdered twenty-five virgin girls to capture their scents using his new skills, in order to construct the ultimate perfume that would make people love him for once. He made his perfume, but was also caught and tried for the murders. However, on the day of his scheduled execution, he released his perfume, intoxicating the whole town and creating an mass orgy, and was pardoned for his crimes.

He still came to a sad end. Realizing that he had nothing else to be loved for, he doused himself with his perfume in front of a crowd of criminals, inciting them to tear him to pieces before devouring him in a frenzy borne of olfactory manipulation.

Who’d have thought that perfume could fuel such violence?

This book led me to my first sojourn amid perfume counters. After some happy and very ignorant browsing, I decided that I was in love with Versace Bright Crystal, a brilliant pink confection under a stopper as large as the rest of the bottle. It’s a fruity-floral that’s very youthful and, erm, bright, but exceedingly sweet as well, which I’ve come to realize may not always be a good thing.

My new craze led me to sniff out perfume blogs, which occupied many a happy hour and gave me a crash course on olfactory indulgences. Poor Mr. Manx really put up with quite a lot. I poked around Sasa and Beauty Language and their overseas equivalents when I went on holiday, testing his patience and nasal cells to their limit. I carried the skill of mis-aiming perfume jets to new heights, distances and angles, and he quickly learnt that the safest place for him to be during my sampling sessions was another aisle, preferably in another mall.

I buy a fair amount of perfume, but I make sure that I really like them first. My favourite lines are Annick Goutal, L’Artisan Parfumeur and Serge Lutens. I prefer Dior to Chanel. I enjoy Hermes. My most recent Preciousessss are Frederic Malle Une Rose (love, love and love) and Robert Piguet Fracas (lust, lust and lust), which are absolutely unavailable in Singapore, and which I insisted on hunting down during a recent trip to Tokyo. My most self-indulgent Preciousssss is my bottle of L’Artisan Fleur de Narcisse, which was my gift-to-self after passing Part 1 of my specialist examination. I still get a delicious shudder from knowing that I possess one of just 3000 numbered bottles in the world.

Now there’s rarely a day that I don’t start by applying perfume. It’s part of dressing as much as clothes are. It sets the mood and cheers me up during the course of the day. It’s lovely to wear a scarf sometimes and smell the ghost of a scent on it at the end of the day. It smells the same and it smells different. It smells of me and the day that I had. It becomes a fleeting souvenir of time past. It’s like an allegory of life coming full circle.

“A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting.” – Christian Dior

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Purplejake  |  June 28, 2009 at 22:17

    Have you tried Badgley Mischka? I found it at Changi on my way to Australia last year and love it. Light, classy and elegant. The bottle is also a beautiful design , all art deco… Apparently the designers were aiming to recapture the glamour and elegance of the 1940’s. You can buy it in London but it’s not available in mainland Europe, where I live. It makes it seem all the more exclusive when you don’t know anyone else who has it but now I’m on my last bottle…

    Reply
    • 2. Katie  |  June 30, 2009 at 12:14

      You know what – I’ve heard of BM but don’t remember seeing it. I must do something about that blind spot. I know exactly what you mean about the exclusivity. It’s strange, but perfume is a really good area to strut that kind of stuff. For something that’s branded and very personal, it’s actually affordable enough to be worn every day, until the bottle runs dry. I think that’s why I love my Annick Goutals and Serge Lutens – besides being elegant and unique scents, they appeal to the scent snob in me. :)

      Reply

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