You’re wearing Issey Miyake, aren’t you? I can smell it as you walk past. I sniff it in an empty elevator. I can tell when and where anyone puts it on – behind your knees this morning, on your wrists this afternoon. The scent of the original Issey Miyake is gorgeous – I used to wear it myself – but to me it has one flaw: it smells the same on everyone. Whether that’s by design, I’m not sure and I don’t really want to know. Even though scent is supposed to mellow on a person, the fact that to me Miyake smells exactly the same on a person as it does in the bottle could be its strength. It’s galvanised against personal change. If you’re a stinky person, you’ll smell great no matter what. It’s downright transformational, Issey Miyake. Here, splash on some more.
The lore and lure of scent is part of becoming civilised. It is a part of sophistication and of wealth: yes, you can finally afford that perfume you always admired. The necessity of smelling a certain way is drummed into you when you’re learning to be alluring. As a girl, I’d read that you could hypnotise a man if you wore the right scent: if you put it on your wrists and behind your ears, he’d be mesmerised and follow you home, begging for marriage. Along with learning to listen, keeping fit, using soap and water and twirling your hair and laughing at the right time, scent – or perfume, as it is generically called stateside – is one of the tools in the arsenal of attraction. That’s what we’re told anyway.
When I was working two jobs, I actually treated myself to a very expensive bottle or two of the perfume Bal à Versailles. Not only did I have to learn how to say it properly – Bahl ah ver-say-yeh – but it didn’t dawn on me until later why I liked it: it smelled like root beer
My mother’d retch at the quite popular scent Youth Dew, saying it smelled like formaldehyde. She’d wear scent carelessly, hardly at all. In contrast to her, I wanted to leave a heavy trail of “I’m here!” everywhere I went. As a teen, I wore the heaviest, darkest, most stomach-churning scents I could find, ending up with a cheap-as-chips number made of gasoline. And no, the boys didn’t follow me home – not even the car mechanics. When I was working two jobs, I actually treated myself to a very expensive bottle or two of the perfume Bal à Versailles. Not only did I have to learn how to say it properly – Bahl ah ver-say-yeh – but it didn’t dawn on me until later why I liked it: it smelled like root beer.
It was really only at university that I discovered men smelled good. Scratch that, men smelled absolutely bloody marvellous. And as I couldn’t be a man, I thought the next best thing was to smell like one. So I went from aftershave to cologne, back and forth, with Hermès, Fahrenheit and others too numerous to recall. I wanted to capture that bearded, gruff, sweet, tobacco-y, slightly whiffy appeal that men had. What I was probably smelling was their pheromones, but no matter. I sniffed and tested every manly scent I could get my mitts on, comforting myself in the idea that if I didn’t have a boyfriend, I could certainly smell like the man of my dreams. I could go to sleep in, and wake up with, a cloud of manly waft.
Not long after this discovery, men played a new role in my life. I had boyfriends (at last!) and they’d buy me scent. Personally, I think this is the worst thing a new boyfriend can do. First off, it means the woman has no choice but to wear whatever the hell she’s been given. Secondly, the man usually overspends hugely on a scent whose working title was probably Alley Cat. Each time I have been given fragrance by men, it has been a nasal disaster. When I was a girl, a charming scientist bought me L’ Air du Temps – I think that means “the spirit of time”? – which was, for me, hideously sweet and cloying, though I know many women adore it. Secondly, a smart banker bought me Samsara, which is deliciously heavy but really not suitable for a blonde (I am a genuine blonde and don’t let my roots mislead you). Thirdly, an adorable filmmaker bought me the same scent as the one he bought his sister. Now, I love him and she’s wonderful… but the scent? Sweet, invasive, mighty and concocted to take over small countries. I leave the bottle in the bathroom now and use it as air freshener. Yes, it is the cab drivers’ Magic Tree of personal fragrance.
I go to Paris, where the lady behind the counter becomes alert when I try more than three scents, “Non non non,” she tuts, “c’est trop.”
As time goes on, choosing a scent to wear is growing more and more difficult. I go to Paris, where the lady behind the counter becomes alert when I try more than three scents, “Non non non,” she tuts, “c’est trop.” I wait for the scent to settle. And it does, then disappears. I smell things on my friends and it’s great on them but not on me. I try the classics like Chanel No. 5, which does nothing for me but attract wasps – and I do mean the insects. I was bored by department store scents, customised scents and boutique fragrances. So, I gave up until a friend moved to Munich and opened an online boutique. As he used to sell me Czech and Speake scent, he was interested to know what I wore now. “Nothing,” I said with a sigh. “I can’t find anything I like.”
In the post came a small package containing nine different scent samples. The one I chose – Cardinal – is redolent of Catholic church, wood, fresh air and the sky before dawn. Or something. Not to be picky, but it took a German man whom I met in London who moved to Munich to help me find the right scent, made by a Brit who lives in Paris. But finding Cardinal by Heeley has been one of the best smelling moves I’ve ever done. And guess what? It also blots out the accidental spillage of white spirit in my new washing machine… but that’s another story.
Karen Krizanovich is a writer, radio and TV broadcaster and movie script editor. She is also a trained voice-over artist, specialising in chocolate voices, robot/Vulcan, American regional accents and anything throaty.