“Know yourself, oh woman wildly smitten by too many perfumes, and who buzzes to one after another like a drunken bee.”
(Colette, loosely translated).
French writer, performer and perfume enthusiast Colette (1873-1954) loved freely, but promoted fidelity when it came to perfume. Drawn to the mystery and tenacity of white flowers, she described her go-to scent as rich in the pulpy, fragrant-by-night, lightly fetid-by-day lushness of jasmine. Colette announced her presence and marked her territory in signature scent.
Signature scents are a thing of the past for the intrepid perfumista partial to the promise of olfactive philandering. Yet the notion of asserting a fragrant identity through perfume still appeals to me. I used to be a serial perfume monogamist. I was faithful to Scherrer 2 for many years. A friend whom I was not able to visit often enough, once asked me to Scherrer-spritz the lampshade of her guest room before I left, to leave the illusion of my presence. And I should mention that I nearly asphyxiated myself, two friends and an innocent driver when I over-sprayed before sardining into a NYC taxi one New Year’s Eve. Men and women often complimented me when I wore it (just about daily in fall and winter), and asked where they could find it. I would spell the name slowly, scribble it on business cards, cocktail napkins, matchbooks—but Scherrer 2 is not a household name in these parts, so it remained my own, special perfume. I remember, in the days before internet shopping, ordering my bottles by phone from a place near Washington, D.C., or waiting to buy them in France. A few years into my signature phase, I discovered that a fellow graduate student was having her own affair with Scherrer 2. We had bonded over John Waters films and Lynda Barry comics before realizing our lasting friendship was destined by a fragrance preference that did not exactly harmonize with our earthier and more iconoclastic proclivities.
It burst my bubble at first to learn that Scherrer 2 smells like the perfume disconcertingly named Youth Dew (a title with a certain John-Waters flair, come to think of it). In the interest of science, I marched over to a department store one day, right wrist doused in Scherrer 2, left wrist Youth-Dew ready. I could tell immediately why the two were often seen as Doppelgängers. They share a similar vibe, strength, mood. But I detect cinnamon and patchouli in Youth Dew, two notes I don’t associate the softly honeyed Scherrer 2. DH, who is not especially tuned into perfume (but who can always identify Scherrer 2—we met in those signature days), found Youth Dew “spicier and stronger.” A week after this little experiment, my coat sleeve still smelled of that tenacious Estée Lauder brew. It just wasn’t for me.
I think of Scherrer 2 as elegant, spicy, neither sharp nor gourmand; feminine by traditional perfume standards, but not sweet; a bit floral, but not powdery; strong and lasting, but not aggressive. The Chrysler-building-esque bottle captures its character. Nevertheless, this type of scent is out of date, but not yet retro (and I’m not sure “retro” perfume will ever catch on the way retro clothing or furniture can). It’s not for everyone, not even for me right now, although the fall weather makes me reconsider.
Not to be confused with its older sibling, the equally gorgeous, equally out-of-style green chypre, Jean Louis Scherrer.
Scent fidelity is a thing of the past for me, but I do tend to perfume-tag people in my mind –not only those I know well, but passing acquaintances, and even a few perfumistas whose sillage remains virtual to me. I realize that not a one of them is loyal to a fragrance. But there is something comforting about running through my scent-memory roster: Alicia-Ormonde Woman; Anne-Wonderstruck; Chris-Jo Malone Grapefruit Cologne; Claire-W; Craig-Infusion d’Homme; David-Pi; Debbie-Anaïs Anaïs; Deborah-Infusion d’iris; Dolly-Cristalle; Elise-Opium; Eve-Trussardi; Heidi-Kenneth Cole New York; Gabi-Ubar; Jackie-Hiris; Janet-Samsara; Karen-Giorgio; Kari-Narcisse Noir; Karie-Sunflower; Lorrie-L’Air du temps; Madeline-L’Air de rien; Patricia-Shalimar; Priscilla-Voyage; Stacie-Juicy Couture; Stephanie-Knowing; Susan-Songes; Suzy-L’Eau d’Hadrien; Tim-Vétiver extraordinaire…
Go ahead–tag yourself! I won’t hold you to it.