Only The Nose Knows

As the gate clashed behind them, a voice cried from a window…

“Girls, girls! Have you both got nice pocket handkerchiefs?”

“Yes, yes, spandy nice, and Meg has cologne on hers,” cried Jo, adding with a laugh as they went on, “I do believe Marmee would ask that if we were all running away from an earthquake.”

“It is one of her aristocratic tastes, and quite proper, for a real lady is always known by neat boots, gloves, and handkerchief,” replied Meg, who had a good many little ‘aristocratic tastes’ of her own.

~Little Women,

Louisa May Alcott

I must have been around nine when I first read this, and at that time I really had no idea why boots and gloves and handkerchiefs were so important for a woman to be “a real lady”. Where I am from, boots were something that we saw people on TV wear, gloves were those thick woolen ones Grandma knit for us during cold winters, and handkerchief was that little white lacy thing Mom pinned to our blouses on our way to school. By the time I was sixteen, and had read Little Women for like a hundred times and some more, all I knew was I wanted to be a real lady too. Words like etiquette and grooming started sounding appealing, and while boots and gloves and kerchiefs didn’t quite fit in my scheme of things, a neatly wrapped sari here, a pretty pair of sandals there, certainly did. But most of all, I realized that the one thing in common with all the women I admired was that they always smelled nice. And that’s where my fixation with good smells started.

I am deliberately staying away from the word “perfume” because truth be told, it wasn’t until I was much older than I’d like to admit that I was officially introduced to perfumes. Until then, it was “scent” that came in glass bottles, or Mom’s deodorants that I was sometimes allowed to wear. And ascending from there to the world of eau de toilettes and eau de parfums, and of beautiful bottles that are as important as the juice they carried, has been quite a revelation.

The best thing I like about perfumes? That they are varied, just like a woman’s many roles. And even as we drift from mood to mood, one moment a mother and the very next moment a daughter, one moment all grave and somber and the very next childlike, there’s always a perfume that’ll speak just the right words to us. So, while you might read a number of things like top notes and heart notes and base notes and day wear and night wear and synthetic and natural and other perfume jargons in websites dedicated for the sheer purpose of reviewing and rating perfumes, I don’t quite relate to perfumes in that “technical” language. Because for me, a perfume is so much more than that. It was one of my luxurious dreams to have a huge collection of ridiculously expensive perfumes in their glittering bottles on my dressing table, and while I am no where near that, I do have my own small world of olfactory delights. A world where everything is nice and sunny when I want it to be, or feminine and sexy, or somber and classy when I feel like it. And while I am no perfume expert, I can sure give you a glimpse into what it is to be passionate (sometimes illogically!) about perfumes enough to want to write poetry about them. You see, I have my own way of categorizing perfumes and that might not be quite the conventional way of saying “aqua”, or “fruit-based” or “musk-sandalwood based” or whatever, but well, whatever works, eh?

My “happy-go-lucky” perfume: Now these are perfumes that yell out “sunny!” to me. And maybe only I know how much I need to hear that, specially now that I live in a place which remains gray and gloomy for the whole of the winter. These are the perfumes I wear when I am feeling particularly down, and need an instant pick-me-up. In my world, the happy-go-lucky perfume in Clarins’ Eau de Jardins. If you search for this on the net, it would probably tell you this perfume is citrusy, and has definite floral and wood notes, and that it is something to wear in the summer. I wear it in the dead middle of winter when it is wet and chilly, and then I keep sniffing my wrists over and over again to remind me that spring, after all is not far away. It lasts for a really long time in my skin, and I love the way the smell lingers inside my wardrobe!

My “I-am-sexy” perfume: Okay, here’s an honest confession. I do a lot of research on the net each time I want to buy a perfume, but in the end when I am actually in the shop, I am usually just trusting my nose to guide me to the right one. And I am telling you this because I had actually Googled “sexiest perfumes” and sniffed almost everything I could find off various lists, but nothing really worked. What did work, however (and still does) is the perfume my sister gifted me for my wedding. My brother-in-law’s exact words were, “This is the kind of smell I would love to keep sniffing on a woman”. Davidoff’s Echo might not be the out and out “sexy” perfume (most of them have heavy accents of musk, sandalwood, patchouli and the likes) but the extremely feminine and powdery feel of it does work equally well for me. Afterall, isn’t part of feeling sexy realizing that you have this magical feminine power inside you?

My “I-am-chic” perfume: This one really has much more significance now that I am a married woman than it had before. Calvin Klein’s In2U For Her is probably a very famous name, and is one of the perfumes I had bought without actually sniffing it (more like asked my then fiancé to get it for me). Given how this perfume is actually targeted for the “techno-sexual generation”, it actually does make me want to walk with a little spring in my step, just as it boosts the flippant side of me. Even though I used to wear it all the time as a single woman, I wear it now to remind myself I can still feel carefree and cheeky if I want to! The smell has its own way of registering itself inside your mind, and while my husband thinks it smells a bit like an AC market which sells oranges, for me it is the smell of long walks through waist high grass wearing a long frilly skirt that trails behind me and a large hat that I toss off to feel the sun on my face. So what if I have never done this? I am quite sure the day I do is I will wear this perfume only!

My “Meh-it’s-a-Monday” perfume: While some women have one distinct perfume that they love to wear, kind of like a “signature”, most of us like to have an array of perfumes we can choose from. And yet there are days when picking and choosing can get quite arduous, given how we take so many factors into consideration. My go-to perfume for those days is Playboy’s Play It Lovely, which I had very impulsively picked up from the Singapore airport because it was the cheapest perfume in the duty-free shop. I later discovered the entire range: Play it Sexy, Play it Spicy and Play it Lovely is available in any decent department store and not necessarily from a perfume shop, and yet it didn’t change the fact that for me it is quite special. And it is special because of its versatility. The scent is supposed to appease the flirty side of a woman, but I have worn it on dates and shopping sprees with equal gusto. There is fruit accents and floral accents and a deep seated patchouli and amber accent, all combined in the perfume, and maybe that’s one reason why I don’t associate it with just one mood. And just in case Play it Lovely doesn’t quite make the mark, I have a small bottle of Burberry Brit Sheer sitting on my shelf. This perfume is quite “optimistic” without being overpowering, and I love the sheer humility with which it accepts itself as a part of the skin and not as a separate entity. At the end of a long day, all that remains of this perfume on my skin is a subtle reminder of it, even though it still makes me feel good to sniff it off my wrists.

My “I-love-being-a-woman” perfume: While until a few months back this was Revlon’s Love Her Madly, what with its amazingly beautiful powdery pink scents (are you thinking Pond’s Dreamflower too?) now it is hands down Mont Blanc’s Souls and Senses. I’ve had this gorgeous thing with me for quite many years now, and I still never get over how instantly the perfume changes the way I feel about myself! Souls and Senses is all about the clean and the crisp and the fresh, which I somehow associate with my idea of a perfectly groomed woman. One who never perspires, but only “glows”. One who never has a single strand of hair out of place from her neat bun. One whose kohl never smudges. And even though I have clammy hands all summer, every day is a bad hair day for me, and I end each day looking like a raccoon (does smudge-proof kohl even exist?) Souls and Senses is my illusion of being a perfect woman.

My “I-am-dying-to-chill-out” perfume: This one’s a recent addition, really. And one that couldn’t have made an entry in my life at a better time. Elizabeth Arden’s 5th Avenue After Five is quite self explanatory really, and yet I like to wear it during my long days of teacher training when I am far from chilling out. I can’t seem to keep up with any of my perfume’s expectation, really. If I am supposed to wear it in the summer, I wear it in the winter. If I am supposed to wear it in the evening, I wear it during the day to remind myself of the evening. And now that a week seems to last forever and the weekend couldn’t come any faster, After Five is my way of escaping into Saturday evening dates and brightly lit streets and a romantic walk on our way back home.

So well, just like the same woman plays different roles in her life, the same perfume can mean so many different things to different people! Goes to show you can never know until your nose knows, eh? I am kind of disregarding the fact that this kind of makes my lengthy rambling pointless as well, but before you can figure it out, I leave you to discover your own scents. Let your nose guide you, because you see, only the nose knows!

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