Scents & Sensibility
This post originally appeared on our old blog Born to be a Bride.
They say that scent carries the strongest ties to memory of any of our senses — I’m sure at some point you’ve found this to be true. Throughout my younger years, before beauty samples arrived on my doorstep and bottles of fancy perfume accumulated on my dresser, I’d receive a delicious scent once annually from my parents. It all started with a bottle of Lancome Tresor that my mom gave me in the early 90s. I used to dab it on my wrists and neck as I’d seen her do, then act out dramatic scenes with my Barbies as they fought over the perfect dress to wear to the ball — and the one bottle of perfume they shared.
I was gifted Bulgari Bebe later, and eventually allowed to wear GAP fragrances to school once I landed in sixth grade and everything about me was so awkward, my parents let go of their conventional rules and let me have a little fun. In high school I discovered Sephora and always had a luxury scent on my birthday or Christmas list, starting with Tommy Hilfiger Freedom and the obligatory CK One. These days, it’s incredible when a stranger passes me on the street and I catch a whiff of Chanel Coco Mademoiselle — I’m instantly transplanted back to freshman year of college, wearing woolen Abercrombie knee socks and a denim mini skirt, hair bleached and straightened, trying to be noticed by a cute boy.
When my grandmother died, I couldn’t go to the house with my mom and brother to sort the things. A true sentimentalist who holds on to every scrap of paper, I covet tangible memories like my very survival depends upon it. I now regret not going, but my tender, broken, 21-year-old heart couldn’t bear the thought of walking into that house and smelling all those familiar notes wafting in the air, only to find them both gone. Losing him was hard enough, but her, too? As they sorted through the items they found trinkets I would have treasured, much of which found its way to the trash or donation. A coaster from a 1960s nightclub on which my grandfather had scribbled a brief love note to her. Opera tickets from the 40s, dozens of pairs of designer shoes too short (size 7) and too narrow (thank you Ferragamo!) for my feet or my mom’s.
But Mom and Jacob knew to take her evening bags for me. When you open each one up, especially the gold silk satin with the intricate yellow beading, you can put your nose inside and smell a night on the town. One has a precious lipstick stain, too, and I imagine my classy grandmother discovering it, being unable to get it out, and hissing “damn it!” — but now it remains a little piece of her. And they took something else for me, too. Countless bottles of Jo Malone (an obsession Gaga developed in her later years). Flower by Kenzo. L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Mimosa Pour Moi. All these interesting and special fragrances that my elegant grandmother had used for various events and occasions, from every day to fancy dinners.
As a grownup I’ve cultivated my own little collection of signature scents. Like my Gaga I don’t believe in having just one. When I’m feeling feisty it’s Bond No. 9’s Chinatown. When I want something fresh for a spring or summer date night with Josh, I practically bathe in Prada’s Escale a Pondichery. Strangers have stopped me begging for the name of Leila Lou, and Prada Tuberose is a go-to for fancy evening affairs. But sometimes, it is raining. Or I’m thinking about my daughter-to-be and am stunned by the newly remembered realization that my grandmother won’t get to hold her.
Sometimes I lose sight of the present and am catapulted to a past that she helped to create. Dreams of what it would be like to be a lady one day, never understanding fully that she might not make it there to see. Sometimes, I miss my Gaga so much that all I can do is sit around and have a think. Think about what it would be like to hug her just once more. And it’s in those moments that I lovingly run my finger tips along the lining of her beautiful evening bags. And spray my wrists and neck like my mom showed me so long ago, and let her scent bring me to another time.