Because life has been challenging, I’m writing to celebrate something I adore and that brings me joy: scent. I love scent in all its forms, essential oils, natural perfumes (I only use natural products), cleaning products, meals cooking, incense. Here are some scents that changed my life, and the lessons I have learned from them.
When I was a child, my mom had a bottle of Anais, Anais. She wore it only on special occasions. At four I decided that I would never, ever go a day without smelling beautiful. Whether it is a scented bath, scented sheets, a flower in my hair, an essential oil dispersed into a room, I experience scented glory every day.
Ylang Ylang- a tropical flower from the Philippines with a sincere scent. I was in a store walking down an aisle, when a bottle of ylang leapt from the shelf and broke at my feet, releasing it’s scent. A worker looked at me and said “I saw that. You should buy a bottle.”
I did, but I totally forgot about it until I received a single note sample vial in the mail. No return address, no note and nothing else in the padded envelope. Ylang is heady, complex and striking. Ylang is used in aromatherapy as an aphrodisiac, anti-depressant, and both a relaxant and a stimulant. The flowers are strewn upon the beds of newly married couples in Indonesia.
Ylang makes me feel as if I am on a South East Asian vacation. As if I am doing yoga on a Balinese coast by firelight. It makes me feel divine and feminine. I look for it as an ingredient in scents, and use the essential oil mainly for bathing and diffusion.
Vanilla- Vanilla comes from Mexican vanilla orchids, originally and comes from the root of the plant. It has been cultivated since the time of Pre-Colombian South Americans. Currently the plants are mainly hand pollinated, which leads to vanillas high price.
I adore both orchids and vanilla. It makes me feel safe, protected, and I believe no evil can withstand its glorious presence. It has an almost universal appeal, and is used as an anti-depressant, aphrodisiac, and relaxant.
Jasmine- From the olive family, Jasmine is an intensely scented night blooming flower. I first noticed jasmine as a neighbor’s bush, When I got home from dance classes, I could smell it a block from home. Jasmine oil is very expensive, but a generous friend gave me a bottle. It doesn’t smell good in the bottle, it smells dense, heavy and oppressive. It has to be diluted to smell heavenly.
Jasmine is not distilled into an oil, its an enfleurage, meaning that flowers are repeatedly put into a base oil and strained until the desired concentration is achieved. It’s used in aromatherapy to calm the nervous system and assist in menstrual difficulties. It’s a magical process, the flowers are gathered in the late evening when they release their scents.
Jasmine is an easy scent to enjoy. It can be found in green tea, lotions, soaps and incenses.
Chanel No 5- I wanted a bottle desperately. It was the scent of Marilyn Monroe, after all. It was also the first major scent created in a lab, with aldehydes. I finally got a bottle of the parfum from a boyfriend, only to be disappointed, not by it’s classic scent, but by the fact that they still use musk from civet cats kept in Africa in horrible conditions to create it. There is artificial civet musk available, but the Chanel company won’t use it.
This was the first experience I ever had where my ideals didn’t allow me to enjoy a product.
Tabu- Tabu was the first perfume I ever wanted. All my friends were wearing these Calgon sprays and Love’s Baby Soft, but Tabu smelled like root beer and came in a beautiful violin shaped bottle. I felt so adult, so lady like and mature.
Savannah Gardens-Crabtree and Evelyn had star jasmine as it’s main note.It smelled like drinking iced tea on the set of “Steel Magnolias” at sunset. I went through a Macy’s and a salesgirl tried to convince me that whatever she was pushing was the only Star Jasmine scent on the market. It was the first time I knew that I knew more than the salesgirl. This was also the first time that a scent I adored was discontinued. I miss it like a lover.
Venus Oil, by Randy of The Sword and the Rose, San Francisco. We lost Randy, recently in a fire. He was a devotee of Asherah, and I found that gave him a clear understanding of Venus, which Asherah is associated with. I loved it more than all his other scents. I wore it each Friday for months. I’d check the rising and setting of Venus and apply it then. I adore Venusian powers and energies and will always appreciate Randy’s work.
Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal-Possets. This perfume is everything that I have ever wanted in an Oriental. There is a full bottle of it on its way to me right now. It has ylang which I mentioned earlier, and is the first scent that ever caused me to accept patchouli. It is the first perfume that caused me (briefly) to believe I could get rid of all others. I adore it. It’s everything. I could almost commit to this one.
Serengeti-Heaven and Earth Essentials. Discontinued, sadly. It has an, African orchid as its main note. Orchids are my favorite flowers, so wearing this is always a treat. This is the perfume that I have gotten the most compliments on, the most memorable of which was “You should always smell like that.” from a complete stranger. It is heavenly, unobtrusive, womanly, and unique. I really wish I could get some more.
Poison-Christian Dior- I tried to wear this because my first husband loved it. I hated it. It was medicinal, acidic, expensive, and made me feel like I was decades older than I was. I appreciated other Dior perfumes, not that I owned any, but I had tried them. The bottle was still nearly full when I left him. I left it in his medicine cabinet in case his next lover liked it.
Madame X-Possets Musky, creamy, close to the skin, I have adored Madame for years. Inspired by John Singer Sargent’s notorious painting of socialite Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau. The painting was revealed, and Sargent had painted it with the strap slipped off of her shoulder. This was so scandalous that he fixed it, and the painting we have today shows the strap in place.
Madame X is the first womanly perfume I ever owned. It wasn’t fruity or floral, it had gravitas and encouraged me to see myself differently. I feel womanly, mature, and prepared for any event whenever I wear it.
Scent is an important part of my life, it is hands down the most useful key to change my state of awareness, put me in mind of an energy or a deity, or a person. I have dozens of perfumes, dozens of essential oils, dozens of incenses. I also have a keen awareness of what to wear when or how a perfume will make me feel, as a matter of fact, I usually choose a scent by how I want to feel that way. Scent is an intimate thing, and an individual one. If you first encountered the scent of violets as you fell off your bike and broke an arm, violets probably remind you of fear and pain, whereas I associate them with idyllic tea parties in Cape Cod. Scent isn’t so easily removed, once I take my clothes off, chances are that I will still smell like a particular perfume. It is an invisible gate between you and the world. It can be a solace, a refuge- many times on public transportation I have smelled my wrist to escape a foul smell. Men have always commented that when I leave their bed, my scent remains, haunting them-for good or ill.
Scent leaves your mark. Make it count.