Do you choose your Fragrance, or does it choose You?
Marit Darrow is a New Yorker, writer, and friend of Su. Much of her life can be articulated in words and feelings, but also, as she's come to realize, in smells. Is this true for you? Read on and find out.
Growing up, I never really gave perfume a second thought. Make-up I was mildly interested in, but perfume? Wasn’t even a blip on my radar! Perhaps this was because I didn’t really know anything about perfume (I still don’t) or maybe it was that I had no clue where to start. How can you possibly narrow down one scent –your scent—from the crazy number of perfumes on the market? I still don’t know much, but since high school I’ve found three perfumes that have left a mark on my life. Or, rather...they found me.
Chloé Eau de Parfum
Notes: Peony, Rose, Honey, Cedarwood
Chloé is fresh. That’s the first thing I noticed as it lingered in my nose. When I first experienced Chloé, I had no idea where it was coming from, but I was very aware of its presence. Turns out it was the chosen perfume of my brother’s then-girlfriend. I had met her before, of course, but didn’t know much about her. She was very intriguing to me, particularly because she seemed super-adult; which is weird considering I am writing this at an older age than she was.
This scent though. I knew I needed to find a way to learn what it was, but I didn’t know how to investigate smells. At first, I thought it was her shampoo, so I looked in the bathroom—nothing.
Maybe, deodorant? Nope.
Once I realized it was her perfume, I thought of casual ways to find out its name, but as I said earlier, a perfume aficionado I am not. So I resorted to the only thing I could think of—rummaging through her makeup bag. I ventured into my brother’s room and hastily searched her bag before I got caught.
But! I found the name - Chloe! - and this prize quickly outweighed the guilt of violating her space.
I was a senior in high school at the time and was, of course, overindulging in almost every aspect of my life. I purchased a trusty rollerball of the scent to carry around with me and when I say I went overboard in its application, I’m not exaggerating. As my friends and I were running around the city from party to party (oh, high school) I would frantically apply more and more perfume as the night went on. While my nose had gotten used to the smell, I’m sure the ever-increasing layers were not welcome to anyone else. You live and you learn, right?
The end of high school was rough for me—I wasn’t excited for new things to come, but Chloé’s fresh scent really marked a change in me. In a lot of ways, I was trying desperately to prove I was an adult, and with each layer of perfume I swiped across my skin, I thought I was covering up the fact that I felt anything but. It was really just masking this doubt I had in myself. I could rest comfortably behind the layers of perfume—I felt secure.
My mask was made of more than just perfume, of course, but at the time that’s how it manifested. I didn’t know who I wanted to be. Does anyone when they graduate high school? I did however, think that being a woman who wore perfume was, what, mature? Sophisticated? Confident? All things I didn’t believe fit me, but maybe with perfume, I could grow a little closer to.
For a while after high school, I couldn’t wear Chloé; it made me feel sick. This is not to say that it wasn’t (and isn’t) a beautiful scent, but that— like most things in my life at the time — I relied on it too much and needed to separate myself for a bit before returning back.
L’EAU D’ISSEY // Issey Miyake
Lotus, Freesia, Cyclamen, Rose Water, Fresh Peonies, Carnation, White Lilies, Precious Woods, Osmanthus, Tuberose, Amberseed, Musk.
There has always been one particular scent that, on occasion, I'd catch a whiff of as I moved through the city. Whenever I found it, I would instantly be transported back to the first grade and my teacher, who wore it. It was an extremely comforting smell because it brought me back to a simpler time. I would feel that sense of calm, and yearn for it, before it left me along with the person who was wearing it. But I’ll get to that later.
After high school ended, I wound up in treatment for an eating disorder. Not only was I thrust from the comfort of home; I was torn from a sense of security I had in life. I was so desperately scared during my time in residential. I was in a program in Philadelphia where I stayed for five weeks. The comforts of my home, my friends and of my eating disorder were suddenly gone, and I didn’t know where to turn. But as things always do, my time in residential came to an end and I returned home. Things were drastically different. For the better, mostly, but it was still extremely uncomfortable. It was like learning how to live my life from the beginning...I was re-teaching myself how to eat and, frankly, it felt like I didn’t know how to exist anymore.
I ended up taking a gap year and staying home to attend day treatment, a usual step post-residential. I was terrified, naturally, and didn’t know what to expect. On my first day at the new program, however, a woman walked in and I caught the familiar scent of comfort.
Without really thinking, I blurted out: “What perfume are you wearing?”
At the exact time I needed it most, comfort found me, in the form of a perfume.
Again, I went out and bought a rollerball and this beautiful L’eau de parfum is probably my most favorite scent of the bunch. Like Chloé, it’s extremely clean and feminine, but feels more refined. Chloé is so beautiful, but Issey Miyake has a certain maturity that I didn’t have in high school. I wasn’t ignorant to the thought that these two perfumes seemed to mirror my life at the times they found me.
I spent that year working to get better, and for the first time I truly felt happy…like a real, functioning person. It was a fresh start after high school, and with a comforting but sophisticated smell, I felt confident with Mr. Miyake along for the ride.
Black Opium // Yves Saint Laurent
Coffee Accord, Orange Blossom, Cedarwood Essence, Patchouli Essense.
Fast forward three years and I was planning to study abroad—something I didn’t think would be possible as I was still relying on my treatment team for support. Somehow, I had gotten to a point in my life where I felt capable of branching out and leaving my comfort zone—literally—by moving to Australia. As I prepped for my time on the other side of the world, I felt a sense of pride and ownership over my life. For years, after pushing all of my problems into the arms of others, I was not only owning them, but gaining control over them as well.
I had an internship the spring before I left for Australia, at a magazine that really felt like a Devil Wears Prada situation. I loved it, but it involved a lot of running around the city picking up garment bags and props for photo shoots— it was exhausting.
One day on the subway, a smell overcame me. It was strong, sexy and frankly…delicious. The scent was undoubtedly coming from a woman sitting a few seats down for me. Sheepish, I looked over and tapped her on the shoulder.
“May I ask what perfume you’re wearing?” I asked.
“Black Opium,” she said. Even the name sounded intense.
As always, I wound up in Sephora and picked it up.
This scent is unlike anything I’ve ever smelled. The way I described it to friends was “sexy marshmallow” which doesn’t make any sense because 1. What even is a sexy marshmallow and 2. Why on earth would you want to smell like one? But I stand by it. On Sephora’s website, they describe the scent as: Floral, Energetic and Addictive.
That spring, I was probably the happiest I had ever been. I had a certain confidence that I’d never felt before, and Black Opium undoubtedly helped. I had spent years hating my body and while I wouldn’t say I’d grown to love it yet (baby steps guys!), I’d definitely started to appreciate what it was. After years of work, I felt empowered by my body, however imperfect I perceived it to be.
This perfume is downright sexy. And when I wore it, I too, felt downright sexy (like a sexy marshmallow, to be exact!).
This was also right before I met my first serious boyfriend, and the perfume couldn’t have come into my life at a more apt time. While my relationship didn’t last, the perfume did. I had to take a break from wearing it after my break-up - because the scent reminded me of him - but after a while I went back to it. I needed to separate the smell from my memory of him, and start associating it with happier things.
All in all, I still know very little about the technicalities of perfumes. What goes into the making of them? How do you determine what scents go well together? What REALLY is a note?! I have, however, grown to understand the power of perfume, period. How in college, for instance, a specific smell could bring me back to 1st grade. How a smell I once loved could remind me of an ex-lover, but also how I could teach myself to associate it with different things, newer happier memories. Never underestimate the power of a scent.
What I know for sure, as Oprah has been known to say, is that these perfumes not only came into my life at poignant times, but their smells reflected those times as well. It’s an odd thing, but not something I’m going to fight. These perfumes found me, and I am truly happy they did.
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