Perfume should be a classified substance – it’s the most lethally evocative liquid in existence. Sprayed or unstoppered, it can trigger more unedited recollections than a bad cop who’s exceptionally good at their job. These fragrances make up an olfactory photo album of all my triumphs and disasters.
Tommy Girl, December 1997
I am grown up. Well, twelve, but still totally grown up! Tommy Girl smells like nothing and makes me feel capable of everything. Capable of flirting, capable of kissing, capable of walking down a street with my branded miniature kangaroo zip backpack hanging off one shoulder and having everyone say “Wow! She’s wearing a fragrance that cost £25 from Boots! She’s so cool.” Unfortunately I am still wearing velvet Alice bands, which ruins everything.
I use so much Tommy Girl that I go through my Christmas bottle and require replenishments for my birthday at the start of March. I use so much Tommy Girl that my Great Auntie Audrey takes a fancy to it, and obtains some in time for her next cruise, in order to facilitate maximum cabin boy harassment.
Tommy Girl makes me excited for the future, when I will live in North London and drink four Starbucks lattes a day and go to Babylon Zoo gigs in my long black leather coat. I also have the matching moisturiser and shower gel, which are used before very important occasions, like school discos and the time we had to go on the church coach trip to Plymouth with the nuns. The toiletries don’t smell anything like the perfume. They smell like washing up liquid. It must be a grown up thing.
Aqua di Gio, March 2000
The girl in the advert looks a bit like Phoebe Cates in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, which works well with my slightly sexier, soon to be boyfriend having, fifteen year old persona. I’m not eating, which sometimes makes me feel as if I’m flying. I spray this on my wrists and clavicles, admiring their jut and snap. I’m made of willpower and bone.
But then it’s summer, and the scent warms on my skin and blooms voluptuously, and I’m eating ice cream and being caught climbing out of windows with bottles of tequila and taking my bra off and letting people see my nipples on the lower deck of a cross channel ferry. And my Gap zero candy pink jeans don’t do up any more and I’m not sad, I’m glad, I’m glad.
Paul Smith Rose, July 2007
I am twenty two, and I have never felt less grown up in my life. My pale grey suede court shoes are sinking into the grass, muddying the cream leather bows at the ankle. Someone, maybe Holly, maybe Beth, is forcing us all to stand in front of Heslington Hall – the only Brideshead-y, Oxbridgey building on campus. The only one that looks like it wasn’t built by an angry, colour blind Communist.
“And one, two, three, THROW!” We force our faces into whimsical grins, and toss our mortarboards into the air. I can’t have been the only one worrying about getting the wrong hat at the end, and facing the wrath of the hire people. But the hat already smells of me – uncertain, quicksilver, hope shot through with fear. I smell expensive. I should smell bloody expensive. My parents have invested several thousand pounds in this moment. Tomorrow, I shall return to my horrible graduate PR job, where my horrible boss smells of CK One. I smile gamely, toss harder, and plan to get very drunk.
Bulgari Jasmine Noir, December 2011
I am wearing this for a man who doesn’t care what I smell like, because he smokes approximately 60 cigarettes a day and probably wouldn’t notice if I shit the bed. I turn up, oiled, shaved, waxed and scented, to listen to what it’s like to be married and divorced and busy and successful and distracted. I am the most empathetic person to ever wear a suspender belt. I shower carefully before I see him. He showers carefully after he sees me.
I smell like a mistress, and I wasn’t built for that.
This perfume is bad magic. It has delivered me from the arms of someone who doesn’t care about me, and put me in the path of someone who cares even less about me. The bottle is shaped like an evil amulet – if I hurled it at my reflection, it would smash, and I’d disappear among billows of bitter smoke and shattered glass. I am sinking, I am disappearing, and I will leave nothing but a tiny pile of silk and lace behind me.
Dior Forever and Ever, March 2012
Being, to all intents and purposes, a single girl, I have rituals. I buy myself flowers. I cook myself steak. I am undoing the damage that the one before the last one did by flinging money at the problem. Money I don’t have, but it seems to be working. I can tenderise a rib eye like no other. I don’t wake up crying in the night any more. And I really want to fall in love.
So I find a bottle of something that smells like falling in love – fearless love. Roses on a misty morning, roses still dark green and growing, roses that don’t know scissors and buckets and pollution from passing cars. Its sweetness comes from its freshness – it is without artifice. Careless hope that is not tempered by the anxiety that comes from youth and London living. And I buy it, as a birthday present to myself.
The very next day, I meet someone. And fiercely, fearlessly, we start to fall in love with each other.