Perfume Pandemonium

Chanel no. 5, inherited from my amazingly stylish Great Grandmother

My mother is constantly reminding me how odd my ideas about the world are, one such idea being my fondness for scents. For the past five years or so I’ve developed a complete obsession with scents. For me, scents are always connected to a feeling, a situation, or more specifically, a look. Over the past five years I’ve been dedicated to expanding my personal set of scents, and as a result I’ve acquired an overwhelming number of perfumes from the last five birthdays and Christmases.

My first grown up perfume, Hermes Concentre D’Orange Vert

Regardless of my mother’s rambling, I secretly don’t think I’m that peculiar. I have more fondness for the idea of a feeling than for a real object, like a handbag or a pair of shoes. My vintage Chanel No. 5 will forever be the hugs of my great grandmother, even though she has been dead and gone for two years now. She wore that scent in life, and she lives through it now.

Chance by Chanel, for vintage-inspired outfits and long bike rides in the park

Coco Chanel once said, “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.” Not to side with Chanel and condemn you no-scent-zone folk, but perfume is a huge part of my daily life. Not only do I express myself through the scent I choose to wear each day, I can even sniff out olfactory characteristics on those around me, and when I have a fond memory, it’s always laced with the scent of the moment. My scent habits have become so concrete that those who know me well can decipher my mood on any given day.

Burberry Beat is specifically reserved for my lazy thug type days

My various perfumes compliment very specific looks in my wardrobe, and accidentally spraying the wrong scent has the ability to throw off a whole morning. Since my early high school days Dior Pure Poison has been setting the tone for crazy nights out, but if that scent is accidentally applied in the morning before school, the whole tone of my day is backwards, and I’m likely to find myself trudging down the hall with a handful of books in a very revealing black dress with cut out panels and platform heels. One friend has even told me whenever she catches a whiff of Pure Poison she instantly feels drunk.

The scent of nights I’ll never remember; Dior Pure Poison

My summer dress scent hasn’t been nailed down yet; it’s currently alternating between Betsey Johnson, a scent I primarily limit to pairing with floral, and Chance by Chanel for more minimalistic, fresh dresses. If I’m lucky enough to receive the next perfume I’ve got my eye on, Kate Spade’s Twirl, It will fill the spot of my dress-only perfume, and I’ll have to re-allocate the other two.

Betsey Johnson is worn the least in my collection only because when the perfume is gone I’ll have no reason to keep displaying the adorable bottle!

I’m especially powerless to perfumes when they’re strong masculine or unisex scents, which I interpret as a subconscious reaction to the lack of any masculinity in my life. My first real perfume (not the cheap drugstore kind that’s probably just rosewater and chemicals) was Hermes Concentre D’Orange Vert, a men’s scent I found at Holt Renfrew and insisted I needed, regardless of the fact that I was 12. I still have that proud green bottle; I limit Hermes to my more simple, elegant outfits, and every time I wear it my mother wrinkles up her nose and tells me I smell like a grandpa.

The first Bond no. 9 I was able to bully my parents into getting me for Christmas. Named for Lexington Avenue and covered in tiny Andy Warhol shoes, it will forever remain a prized possession.

My most worn scents of the moment are Karl Lagerfeld’s Floriental and Bond no. 9‘s Saks Fifth Avenue, both of which have heavy masculine influences with floral accents. Both of these perfumes compliment my current style of minimal, layered dressing with a hint of femininity when least expected.

I justified Bond no. 9′s Saks Fifth Avenue to myself as a traveler’s souvenir from my latest trip to NYC, but secretly I just wanted to own it. Don’t tell.

The power of the scent is an underrated fashion statement. A scent has the power to give someone an idea before you’ve even opened your mouth, and speaks worlds about your personal style without an actual garment. Perfumes provide me with a sort of organizational system for dressing; although I love to switch up my look and experiment, everyone needs consistency, and my consistency is the old familiar feeling of trying on a scent and instantly embodying that specific aroma.

Lagerfeld’s Floriental. The name is almost as amazing as the scent itself.

It’s just the way things in my life work. Call me crazy – my mom already does.

text by Alyssa Garrison
photography by Erika Neilly

11 thoughts on “Perfume Pandemonium

  1. Hey – get out of my head!

    I don’t think this is crazy at all. What I don’t understand is why everyone doesn’t take advantage of them. The can change your mood, or enhance it, or compliment it – and it’s so simple! (Plus, nothing beats grabbing a scarf or a sweater or opening a purse and finding the lingering base notes of some lovely scent wafting up to greet you. It’s so very Grown Up Lady.)

    I have thick, cozy perfumes for sweater days, and honey scents for heatwaves. I save one classic for days when I need to be imposing and another when I need to feel grounded. I have one that smells like heavy incense and candy and I wear it with black eyeliner and a snarl. I even have a bottle of Charlie for that 1970s career girl vibe. I keep a bottle Jovan Musk Oil (at your local drugstore) when I’m going to be around kids, or when I am sad. It was the perfume my mom wore most and I will always think it is the warmest, friendliest, most comforting scent in the world.


    ps – I like the Bond line, have you tried the Kilian set? And I LOVE the VanCleef and Arpels luxury series they put out last year…

  2. I hear you. Scent evokes a time and place like no other sense. The bottles are beautiful artifacts which also mark the mood of the year or the decade the perfume was developed.

    However, as someone who gets a persistent nauseous headache when I encounter a scent my body is sensitive to, I would like to suggest that your perfume not be strong enough to hit someone before you open your mouth. Make them lean in a little please to encounter the mystery.

  3. What I like about your collection is that you get to cultivate your sense of smell, but also, in the end, you remain with an awesome collection of perfume bottles!

  4. Alyssa, you’ve just made me re-write my christmas wish list. While I have a few perfume bottles lingering around my dresser, I rarely touch them, only on those odd days in which they catch my eye. But now I feel like I’m missing out on all the ‘getting ready’ fun. This was such a lovely post!


  5. Interesting post. I have a weak sense of smell and very seldomly associate people or places with scents, unless it is something really strong like too much axe bodyspray. I don’t think I’ve worn perfume in two years, and the concept of associating smell with an emotion or experience is completly foreign to me, so it’s intresting to hear from people who find smell important for a reason other than being able to smell and taste food.

  6. @G- You get out of my head! I LOVE VANCLEEF AND ARPELS! Both their jewelry and scents enchant me to no end… Kilian I haven’t gotten too into yet, but I always love the names in their collection so I’ll make sure to spray some on next time I’m at Holts!

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