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Perfume is such a special gift, so special in fact that they recommend not purchasing it as a gift for just anyone. It’s reserved for the very dearest to our hearts, a privilege to know the intimate scent that rests on the nape of our neck. Unless of course, it’s Chanel No. 5, then it’s always appropriate. The very elusiveness of fragrance isn’t in the marketing, it’s the product itself. It’s arguably, the most difficult thing for any beauty editor to write about, probably because it rests on the olfactory sense alone and each bottle is created to be fiercely unique. Comparatively, a dish at even the most experimental restaurant will tap on something we all understand – acidity, umami, sweetness, saltiness and bitterness. So, even something deemed elitist such as wine is easier to convey to someone with no prior knowledge than the pretty glass vessel that sits on our bathroom counter.
Rifle through my perfume collection and my favourites are clear: oud, rose and occasionally, a summery fragrance that reminds you of the sea. I wouldn’t say that my taste in fragrance has changed but perhaps the motivation has. To me, oud sparks memories of weekends in Harrods, following my mother and her friends flitting from concessions like butterflies with Prada bags. It was an uncomplicated and frivolous world that a part of me resents ever so slightly. But it also represents a sense of assurance that I miss as an adult. Rose was something I fell in love with as ‘grown up’, when I moved back to London after three incredibly long years away. It made me realise I’m a traditionalist at heart, even with scents. I like that a humble rose can grow in a relatively diverse climate (Turkey, Bulgaria, Morocco and France) and can be found organically in Britain. And the beachy scent… well who doesn’t love a bit of escapism in the daily grind of life?
These are uncertain times where the ferocious odour of hand sanitiser and surface cleaner reigns. In the UK, it’s week three of isolation and many of us are adjusting to the new normal, while contemplating our lives before. Perhaps we are asking ourselves what we most look forward to returning to – and which parts aren’t worth revisiting. Without sociability, exploring new parts of the city or planning trips abroad, I am surprised that I don’t reach for my usual oud/rose combinations that give me a sense of identity. Now, it’s a treat for me alone to experience every time I dash across the living room to investigate a crash or attend to my very vocal dishwasher. Something that feels like warmth on my chest every time I inhale, as I scrape my four day old hair back into a ponytail.
Now there is no one to impress. No chance of an individual commenting on my unique scent that signals not just taste but knowledge and even status. Wearing perfume for myself has been a personal revelation to understand who I am, not who I need to show to others. If anything, a spritz while I’m getting ready (albeit at midday) has a reviving, inspiring effect where before, it felt similar to putting on makeup, a friendly defence.
This change in intention makes me think that wearing perfume is not only another layer of expression but performance. Something that we cling to for comfort in our previous lives as we face rejection, battle social anxiety and find kinship, before unwinding at home. It makes me wonder if I’d like to show others who this private person really is, when the world finally recovers.