My earliest encounter with perfume was the bottle of Lentheric Tweed which resided on my mother’s dressing table alongside the matching talcum powder in its distinctive tin. Google tells me that the top notes were bergamot, cinnamon and geranium, with middle notes of ylang-ylang, jasmine, lavender and orange flower. To me it simply smelt of my mother going out for the evening. Elizabeth Arden’s Blue Grass and Helena Rubenstein’s Apple Blossom (how cheap the pink plastic squeezy bottle of hand cream now looks – hardly the image that a major cosmetician, who became one of the world’s richest women in her day, would wish to cultivate nowadays!) were great favourite’s too.
Occasionally, as a treat, I was allowed a tiny dab on my wrist or behind my ear. Thus began my love affair with perfume. I would probably need no more than the fingers of my two hands to count the number of days in my entire adult life that I have not worn perfume of some kind. But forget pulse points: for many years, I have not let it come into contact with my skin. I only ever spray it onto my clothes.
The first perfume (I use the word loosely – I expect it was a much watered down eau de cologne) I can ever remember having specifically as my own was Avon Pretty Peach. I’m sure many women my age will know of this. Launched in 1964 when I was eight years old, I can still remember the joyous surprise of finding the full range in my Christmas stocking: cream perfume, bath foam, talcum powder and soap on a rope. I suspect that my mother had ordered it bit by bit from the Avon lady who called regularly with her booklet from which Mum would order items that would be delivered a few weeks later. My second perfume was purchased in the same way. I presume that I had by then decided that I was too old for ‘little girl’ products! Honeysuckle cream perfume cost 10/6 (55p) for a little hexagonal pot. Why on earth do I remember that? A little later (c1970) I rather liked Charisma which came in an elegant dark red bottle and seemed terribly sophisticated.
Around the same time I discovered Goya’s Aqua Manda. I used that for a while, and also flirted briefly with Hobigant’s Quelque fleurs and Lanvin’s Arpege. And then in 1973 came Revlon’s Charlie. Nowadays it comes in various varieties and I’ve not smelt any of them but I loved that original one in it’s marbled blue box and wore it for several years. Whilst at college I had a Christmas job in Boots, and joy of joys, I was allocated to the perfume counter. A special edition of Charlie was produced – twice the normal size and we were encouraged to offer it to anyone interested in the smaller size. The rep promised a gift to each of us (four girls) if we sold out. We did and each received a small bottle just after Christmas. One memorable day I served a man to two of the large bottles. “One for the wife, one for the mistress,” said my boss.
My mother had by now moved onto Je Reviens by Worth, and we both used Cacharel’s Anais Anais for a time. I tried a sample of this recently and it smelt too sickly sweet. Mum also liked Estée Lauder Youth Dew – a popular fragrance but one which I have never liked, much preferring the less popular, and now discontinued, Private Collection which Lauder had initially developed for her own use. This, along with Coriandre by Jean Couturier made it onto my dressing table during my late teens and early twenties. There were many others of which maybe one bottle was bought and enjoyed but I still had no scent that was really ‘me’.
And then in 1990 it happened! I fell in love with the perfume that I still use to this day: Giorgio Beverly Hills. The first luxury boutique of its kind to open on Beverley Hill’s Rodeo Drive, the perfume was launched as its signature scent in 1981. It came to prominence in the UK some years later where it was reputedly banned in some establishments due to its intensity. In those days I reckon I paid more for it than I do today! Somewhat out of vogue, it can now be bought very reasonably and although I use several other perfumes (some of which I really love like Chanel Allure, Dior’s J’adore and Estée Lauder’s Pleasures), I am never without a bottle of Giorgio in use and at least one spare. It remains my all-time favourite and is my signature scent.
My most recent discovery is Swarovski’s Aura, one of the most unusual scents. Interestingly Next produce a perfume called Eau de Nude which is not dissimilar. I keep a bottle in my drawer at work – useful for an emergency scent-spray! Just one other perfume is going to make it into my hall of fame – Tommy Girl by Tommy Hilfiger. My daughter used this as a teenager and the upstairs of the house always seemed to smell of it. She always sprayed it a little too heavily as we are wont to do before we realise that ‘less is more’. Happy memories.