Monday, October 25, 2010

My Secret Girly Weakness

If you know me, you may be shouting "Top Model!" or, "Pointy-toed flats!" or, "Drinking an entire bottle of white wine by yourself when you accept a new contract!" But none of those is the female vice I'm talking about today.

Some personal favorites, left to right: Armani's Mania,
Chanel's Chance, Calvin Klein's Contradiction, Origins'
Shedonism, and Demeter's Gingerale.
Today I thought I'd chat about perfume.

Rethinking my stodgy daily routines, I went on a late run today, hoping to maximize my creative morning hours and hence my word count. It worked well, incidentally. Taking that change-mindedness a step further, after I took my shower I glanced at my faithful bottle of Armani's Mania and thought, "I think I'm in the mood for something else today." And off to the secret cabinet of shame I flounced!

The shame cabinet (Ikea, $5.99) is not as shame-filled as it once was, I'd like to assert; I've pared down my erstwhile shocking collection to a half dozen tried-and-true fragrances. I used to be easily seduced by pretty bottles, but I've wised up. Nothing's more useless than a perfume whose smell you can't stand…though I do still remember vividly a gorgeous bottle of rather rancid-smelling Modern, by Banana Republic. In fact, I just Googled it and I almost wanted to buy it all over again, just looking at that nifty atomizer and textured glass. Settle, self. Yet looking at the issue from the other direction, even if I discover the best smelling perfume ever this very afternoon, I don't think I'd buy it if it came in a fugly, chintzy bottle or bore the name of a pop star.

I still remember my very first real fragrance—Heaven by the Gap. I still have a little travel bottle of it, which I frequently use, though it fades almost immediately so it's largely fallen out of my favor. But I like it still for the same reasons I liked it the very first time I got my nostrils near it: it didn't smell like flowers or powder (unlike my Romantic Rose Teen Spirit deodorant). It smelled like soap and cleanness. And it smelled like grown-upness to my fifteen-year-old self.

Today I'm wearing Contradiction, by Calvin Klein, from the very bottle I bought when I was a junior in high school. At $90 for the real-deal eau de parfum, I believe it was the most expensive singular thing I'd ever bought for myself at the time. I saved up money from several paychecks at my first job at the local record and video store, and I cherished that bottle. I've been cherishing it for about fourteen years now, so clearly it was a sound investment. It's a nifty bottle, too—the cap's got a magnet in it! Tip for perfume newbies: if you love a scent, buy the eau de parfum over the eau de toilette whenever possible, even if the price tag smacks of highway robbery. You'll use way less and it'll last longer.

One scent I've hung onto despite its lack of lingering power is Demeter's Gingerale "pick-me-up" spray. It really does smell like gingerale, and it's fabulous. Doesn't last long, but it always gets great compliments and it's unlike anything else I've found.

A scent I also like which is almost too lingery is Shedonism by Origins. A stupid name, but a wonderful fragrance, not like anything I've smelled elsewhere. I actually discovered it when I asked a woman on the subway what she was wearing. I don't usually like flower-based perfumes, but the tiare scent plus bergamot is gorgeous…if a bit potent. I can't spray it directly on myself, as the atomizer's too excitable and the oils (it's marketed as a "floral essence" as opposed to an eau de toilette) don't fade like an alcohol-based fragrance. I have to finesse the sprayer until a bead of it forms, then dab that on. Any more is just too strong.

Oh another quick tip: shop for fragrances on eBay or designer auction sites. Perfume has one of the highest mark-ups in manufacturing, but you can frequently get a great deal on an "opened, used once" bottle that someone bought or received as a gift, only to discover it wasn't for them.

Somewhat related, for a long, long time my mom has waxed nostalgic over her favorite perfume, now extinct—Hypnotique (Max Factor, 1958). So a couple of years ago I tracked a bottle down via a British thrift shop's rickety website. It was a tricky prospect…I mean they stopped making it in the eighties, so the bottle I bought was at least twenty years old. But it was my mom's sixtieth birthday so I took a chance. It paid off. She says it smells exactly how she remembers, and she wears it at least once a week.

Another personal favorite of mine is Chanel's Chance. It's pretty and complex, but I only wear it if I'm dressing up for a wedding or what passes for a classy party in my exceedingly casual circle of friends. Chance smells too…too dressed up for everyday wear. Still, it's lovely when I find an excuse to dab some on.

nilly the way I used to. The one that got me to settle down. It's a light but sexy perfume featuring, to quote the designer's blurb, "laurel, mandarin, and pink spice combined with feminine notes of lily of the valley, peony, and contemporary cedar, amber, and musk". No clue what pink spice or contemporary cedar are, but the overall effect is great, as far as my nose is concerned. One spray is exactly the right amount, and it's an eau de parfum so it lasts nicely. Pretty bottle, too.

So that's it. Anyone else got a favorite go-to scent?

For now, I'm off to indulge another girlie vice—I've just discovered that Say Yes to the Dress is on Netflix Instant Watcher. The wine in the kitchen and my dwindling afternoon hours don't stand a chance.


  1. L De Lolita Lempicka. Bitter orange is my fav top note. I've got a few perfumes (read 5 bottles of the expensive stuff & 12 or so of the cheaper brands).

    Now eye shadow... that's my crack. At last count I have 150+ individual shades.

  2. Ooh, bitter orange sounds intriguing! I'll have to take a sniff next time I'm loitering around the perfume counters. And as for eye shadow, you've surely got me beat in that race by miles. The only shade I favor is a sort of dusky taupe. Pretty bland, but not everything plays nice with my copious freckles.

  3. Kenzo Amour. Starts floral and ends with a just-slightly-spicy steamed rice rice pudding, if rice pudding were sexy. More comforting than exotic, and I admit the bottles are also just delightful to me, like little sculptures. But I think the presentation is an important part of the whole guilty-pleasure aspect. But warning, I think it smells VERY different on different people because a lot of people just find this bland and cloying on themselves.

    When I'm being a little more refined and classy, I wear Carolina Herrera.

  4. Ooh, I Googled Kenzo Amour, Del—that is a cute bottle! Very intriguing. I'll be on the lookout the next time I'm tempted to cheat on my "husband perfume".

  5. You brought back memories! My first "womanly" perfume was Dream by GAP and I thought it was awesome. As you said of Heaven, it also faded quickly. However, I recently was cleaning out things at my parents' house and came across an really old sample of Dream. Still nice!

  6. I don't wear perfume anymore. I don't know hardly anyone who wears it. BUT...I still like the scent of Rapture by Victoria's Secret.