I think I am just hardwired to have expensive tastes.  I don’t quite know where that comes from, for growing up, I think we were probably what you would call a lower middle-class family. Maybe not even that. My mother was divorced with three children, didn’t receive adequate (or sometimes any) child support, and for most of the time I was still living at home, she did not have a job.

Our groceries, clothing, utilities, mortgage–maybe everything– was taken care of by my grandparents. Without them we might have been in a pretty bad way, but as it is, I can’t remember wanting for much of anything. We were very, very lucky in that regard, and I’m certain I’ve never properly expressed my gratitude to them–but then again, I don’t think grandchildren ever do.

I do recall constantly sneaking into my mother’s room to sniff at her perfumes and play with her lovely makeup collection. She owned some beautifully enticing products. Thinking back upon it now…for a lady with no money, she sure had a lot of Lancôme and Clinque and many other not entirely inexpensive cosmetics. I’m not one to begrudge someone their beautiful things, but that is a bit of a head-scratcher.

When it came time for me to begin painting my face, well, let’s face it. I had been spoiled. I couldn’t just buy Wet-n-Wild from Wal-greens, no way, no how! And so I would save my baby-sitting dollars (and later, my hamburger flipping monies) and spend it all on department store makeup counter treasures.

Later, as I grew into my fascination for perfumes and began to explore the myriad options presented by niche and independent perfumers, I never forgot my early loves from the Christian Dior and Clinique counters in the mall. Though they are not as fancy as say, a Serge Lutens bell jar scent or an Exclusive Collection Guerlain fragrance, they’re certainly not cheap, either. I know many people would find the thought of spending $300 on a bottle of perfume absolutely ludicrous, but no doubt there’s quite a few who would feel no less offended at the thought of a $75 dollar fragrance (the category into which most of the scents pictured above would fall.)

Aromatics Elixir is described by Clinique as an “intriguing non-conformist fragrance”, and sure, I suppose that is one way to describe it. It’s a bitter, balsamic, astringent, herbal, alien thing–not at all the sort of scent that I imagine most people are used to smelling in a perfume bottle.

Aromatic top notes are verbena, sage and chamomile, which give way to the floral notes of geranium, rose and white flowers, with oakmoss and patchouli note at the base. Described by some reviewers as “a chypre on steroids”, it somehow smells both of a different time, something quite classic, and yet also wholly strange and new.

Chandler Burr describes it as “deep” and “thoughtful” and remarks that if one were to judge it by the first hour, it would be a two-star scent. However, he says, “…judge it after it has unfolded, breathed, burned off the shadows and begun its work, and it has to be five.” It never struck me as particularly shadowy, but you know how it is, once you’ve read something and it strikes a chord, no matter how fanciful. Now it’s difficult to smell it any other way. I wore this scent when I was 19 years old,  attending community college and floundering about–it reminds me of failings and indecision and the gnawing pit in one’s stomach when one’s future is unclear, and yet somehow when I am most troubled, it is a very comforting thing to smell.

Addict by Christian Dior quite honestly reminds me of an Esquire Magazine cover, but back during the time when they featured more women and lots of cleavage on the front pages. It would have been in black and white. Eyes, heavily rimmed with kohl and smoldering. She’s probably chomping on a cigar.

Addict is an Oriental fragrance that smells like a statuesque, expensive, night blooming call girl. With notes of mandarin leaf, orange blossom, Bulgarian Rose, bourbon vanilla, Mysore sandalwood, and tonka bean, it is breathy, velvety, and narcotic. I’m not certain that this scent is, or ever was, very “me”, but I think it’s quite beautiful in the overblown erotic femininity of Anna Nicole Smith as shot by the tastefully provocative Ellen Von Unwerth sort-of-way.

I wore this when I was 28 and in transition, in the winter months while packing to move from Florida to New Jersey. It reminds me of waiting for the other shoe to drop and asking myself why did I want to be with someone when it felt like they loathed me. And maybe I despised him as well. Obviously, I don’t wear Addict very often anymore, but I will always appreciate the imagery it conjures.

Dune, also by Christian Dior, never fails to surprise me with its presence on my shelf. My mother owned and wore this scent, but I cannot remember smelling it on her. I recall stealing a small spritz here and there in my senior year of high school and thinking that it seemed a somber, yet transparent and inoffensive fragrance.

I forgot about it entirely until I purchased the marvelous Perfumes A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez (and I am not embarrassed to tell you this was perfect by-the-toilet reading for several years! Seriously, get a copy for that purpose alone.) With notes of vanilla, mandarin, and peony, Dune is officially described ” an oceanic fragrance, created in harmony with nature … radiant, fresh and subtle accord captures the landscape where the sky meets the sea in a warm, oceanic floral bouquet.” And while I suppose it may smell like driftwood and beach glass, it’s more a deserted beach on a cloudy day sort of thing.

Furthermore, if Luca Turin is to be believed, Dune is a “disenchanted, lady-like gem…unsmiling from top to bottom”.  He suggests that “true, menacing darkness” is to be found in this fragrance, and it is a strong contender for “the Bleakest Beauty in all perfumery”.  I am sure it is no surprise to you that I am dreadfully influenced by this sort of hyperbole and you can bet I had purchased a bottle for myself within seconds.  This was six or seven years ago, and I am still not entirely convinced Dune is the bleakest thing I have ever smelled (edit: I’ll be straight with you. It’s Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb), but it is rather evocative nonetheless and puts me in an interesting frame of mind when ever I wear it.

I shared the book’s description with my sister, who has also developed an appreciation for fragrance, and now every time she visits me, she sniffs at my scents and ask if she may try something.  Nine times out of ten, she will settle on smelling bleak.


Maika says

While I'm tempted to take you up on your recommendation here for by-the-toilet reading, I'll be equally honest and admit that I'd totally keep a book of your own perfume reviews/descriptions in the WC as well. Seriously. I love how you write about fragrances and I'm at least as much of a sucker as you when it comes to florid hyperbole. ♥

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