On Finding a Signature Scent

Signature scents are one of those things about which American beauty writers love to write. There’s this mysterious allure of wearing the same fragrance for the whole of one’s life that appeals to those of us struggling against a culture of novelty and trends. We see it as a very European thing; it almost always comes up in discussions of so-called “French girl” beauty. But the fact is that, as with makeup, new fragrances come along all the time. And we are always tempted by the new.

I’ve spoken briefly in the past about my problems with fragrance and body products. I had a catastrophic reaction to a scented body product that left me shy of anything with any added fragrance for a long time. While I’d started looking into natural personal care items before then, that was the incident that really tipped me over the edge into true hippydom. Lately, I’ve somewhat returned and realized that not all synthetic ingredients are bad. In fact, I’ve come to realize that it was likely an irritating essential oil that caused my original reaction.

Which is lovely as I’ve always loved fragrance. I have a particularly keen sense of smell and have associated scents with memories for the most odd events. I remember the oddly floral cologne that the first boy I ever slow-danced with wore. He had blond, floppy hair and was very cute and I was amazed that a boy even noticed me at the dance where I’d become separated from my friend group. I don’t remember ever seeing him again at a dance.

My mother wore Muguet des Bois by Coty, an appropriate beginning to my lifelong affinity for old-fashioned perfumed. Muguet was launched in the 30s and was based on the scent of the lily of the valley, my mother’s favorite flower. She had a small patch of muguet on the side of the house, but my grandmother had an even bigger patch in her garden. When they were in bloom, we would have them in vases around the house, and I would bring a bouquet to my French teacher. The very first upscale perfume I ever bought was Gucci Envy, which has a strong lily of the valley note to it. I bought it at Sephora to console myself after a breakup. I ended up wearing Envy for the rest of high school until I suddenly developed migraine headaches from the scent.

As I went away to college, I decided to reinvent myself with fragrance as well. I bought a bottle of Issey Miyake’s Eau d’Issey, which I kept on a shelf in my freshman dorm room. I honestly can’t remember any other personal care product I used (although I know shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and deodorant were present), but I remember that bottle of Issey with it’s conical bottle. It was a lighter, more modern floral. I also remember that my roommate’s boyfriend was oddly attracted to the fragrance.

After Issey came a period of time when I experimented with old classics. I wanted so badly to love Shalimar but discovered that I could not stand perfumes based with vanilla. So I found that Guerlain’s Mitsouko was similar, without the vanilla. It’s a lovely heady chypre with just enough floral to keep me interested. I felt so sexy wearing that fragrance… until a boy I was mad for mentioned that it reminded him of his sister!

From there, I abandoned high-end perfume for a while. I used Bath and Body Works Night-Blooming Jasmine, which was my first introduction to the sensuality that is jasmine. I lived across the street from a shopping center with a BBW and would layer the scent mercilessly, particularly on the weekends when I would take a bubble bath, followed by body lotion. I would emerge from the bathroom pink-cheeked, very soft, and trailing a cloud of floral. A friend and occasional lover commented that I should always smell of jasmine. Sadly, BBW discontinued the scent.

As I went away to graduate school and tried to grow up, I dabbled with designer perfumes: Fendi and Tocca. But never really found something that resonated. And then I reacted and banned fragrance from my life for months. I smelled of unscented soap and the vinegar I used to rebalance my hair after washing with soap.

Thankfully, somewhere along the way, I discovered Pacifica. Pacifica is a brand that started as a fragrance company. Similar to BBW, but with the goal of using natural ingredients, they have ranges of scents, such as California Star Jasmine or Malibu Lemon Blossom. The scents are mostly inspired by sunny, warm, and exotic locations, and tend towards fruitiness. But they have a scent called Persian Rose that is my favorite scent. I’ve been wearing it pretty consistently for a few years now and I love it. It is a balanced rose scent, based around Bulgarian Rose, but lifted with fruit and anchored with violet and myrrh. It is beautiful and complex but still definitively rosy. While some may think that rose is an old-lady scent, this is anything but geriatric.

After I shower in the mornings, I apply a very lightly scented body moisturizer and then dab on Persian Rose solid perfume. I may occasionally use the end of a bottle of eau de toilette to spritz, but I generally prefer the solid perfume. It warms and deepens on my skin in a more natural way. It doesn’t spread out from me as much, but I can always bring my wrist to my nose and remind myself of the scent, which makes me so happy and relaxed.

I think that the fragrance is a manifestation of my own personal style evolution. It is not expensive or designer, but it comes from a company that tries to source the best ingredients. It is blended and well-thought-out, but not pretentious. And it blends a traditional fragrance in a modern way. I love the way it makes me feel old-fashioned without feeling frumpy, much the way much of my wardrobe does. And in a way, fragrance is the first layer of my wardrobe.

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