Monday, March 16, 2015


"She adds a dab of cologne — an understated scent, floral, nostalgic — then she blots it off, leaving a mere whiff. It's a mistake to overdo it: though elderly noses aren't as keen as they may once have been, it's best to allow for allergies. A sneezing man is not an attentive man." Margaret Atwood, Stone Mattresses.

As Celeste wandered around the perfume counters, she thought about her French Aunt Addie, who wore the Guerlain classic perfume "Jicky" throughout  her life. "I blush every time I open the bottle." Addie would admit, "My men always adored it."

When she was finally away from home for the first time, at college, with Aunt Addie's blushes on her mind, she'd experimented with drugstore perfumes attempting to create her own signature scent. Eventually she discovered by layering two classics: Shalimar and Drakkar Noir, over a cheap drugstore musk she had the perfect scent for her. The Shalimar she dabbed on her neck and wrists; the musk was rubbed into her elbows and navel; the Drakkar Noir on her ankles and the small of her back: Ying and yang; male and female; musky and floral. When she removed her clothes, most men were stunned, not because of how she looked, but how she smelled. She could see the effect in the hooded eyelids, flaring nostrils, and drool. Yes, drool. Unable to articulate the sensations they were experiencing, they'd pull her to them and breathe her hair, her breasts, her stomach. One of her lovers would hold her face to face and quickly turn her around, burying his face in her neck. Celeste guessed it was the whisper of Drakkar Noir that drove him into her back. 

Before a date, she'd spray the Shalimar around her face and on the front of her neck, but not a full spray - only small bursts. Three quick squeezes of the bulb. The exploding opening notes of Bergamot would jolt her brain and never failed to take her breath away. As her heartbeat gradually slowed, the core of the perfume, a trio of feminine florals - Iris, Jasmine, Rose would settle in, curling into her hair and drifting along her shoulders. As the perfume dried, the heavy base notes would dominate and endure. She could sense them for hours: amber, vanilla, cedarwood, and musk. Opopomax and tong bean distillates lingered too, so exotic and heady when warmed with human sweat. She'd sit quietly and wait for the man of the evening, her own pheromones mixing with the perfume like an aging wine in oak casks.  Unique to Celeste, these scents would never smell the same on other's skin, in another's hair. 

The sensuousness of the combination seemed to be lost on women. "You smell like cotton candy," was something she often heard from her girlfriends.

Margaret Atwood was right. You had to consider your audience. With her female friends, she usually wore straight-up Shalimar. Somebody always noticed it, "Is that Shalimar?", but it wasn't taken too seriously. Just the effect she wanted. 

The Shalimar garden in Lahore. Wikipedia

Every time she went to the department store, she'd meander through the fragrance section to view the latest salvos in the scent wars: Row after row of fancy bottles lined up on mirrored trays with celebrity names and outrageous price tags. 

She laughed out loud as she passed the stand with Le Labo's display of that little rose scent. Rose number something.....who cares if the rose petals are "hand picked" she thought....they're all pounded together into a pulp and distilled to create the attar. 

She knew, as a perfume hobbyist, that all of them, no matter the marketing mystique, were basically $2.00 mixtures consisting of distilled water, alcohol and the "flavors". All those celebrities endorsing scents would collect about $8.00 a bottle; the bottle and packaging and marketing could cost another $8.00 - $10.00 and the rest was all profit for the manufacturer and retailer. The Le Labo people dated the perfume and sold it in the "lab" bottles somehow conveying the impression that the scent was more scientific, more genuine and therefore more valuable than those in the "circus" bottles. A smart marketing move. Celeste had learned the details of the business when she considered making and selling her signature perfume. But that was long ago, when she was married to Ramon and they had money to burn. 

She noticed Le Labo also had a clothing line. Schlumpy looking dress for $1200.00. The headless sophisticate. She never had that much money to burn. 

She stopped and tested a new scent, spraying it on a strip of litmus paper and waving it in front of her nose to see what other noses, on other faces, would detect as she passed by. Between samples, she buried her nose in the small vial of coffee beans provided to re-set her olfactory system, which suffered after two or three sniffs, from adaptation. Coffee Beans. Ha! She chuckled at this little marketing gimmick. She knew that a sniff or two of her own bare skin, unperfumed, would do the re-set far better.

Now for the best part....checking out the Shalimar. After wearing the scent for 40 years, she could detect even the smallest changes in the formula. She picked up the sample bottle and was just about to spray it when she heard a man's voice from behind her. "Celeste? "

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:23 PM

    I loved the story. Did you have to do a lot of research for all those perfume details? I love the chemist type perfume bottle. very clever marketing. I'd buy that one even if I didn't like the scent. Unless of course it was way too expensive, which you said it was. I've never noticed a change in Shalimar over the years. Maybe my nose isn't good enough to tell the difference.
    I love the Shalimar gardens. Wow do I ever want to go to India.