Do you have a scent that you have worn for years; that becomes you; that truly suits you, that is you?
One that everyone you have ever known associates with you; that, if left lingering in a room conjures you up like a living, disembodied phantom?
In other words, your ‘signature’?
For perfumistas, perhaps not. Not just one. I am not sure if even I do, to be honest, as we are promiscuous, and it is difficult for us to remain faithful to only one scent when there are so many temptations out there to make us stray from our betrothed. We are compelled to play the field, sample different lovers….
I myself have been wearing scent continuously and obsessively for twenty seven years, and there have been many, many scents that have come and gone in that time: some I look back on with disdain, others I see as cherished memories, and others I still wear now. I imagine that many other fellow perfume lovers will have had similar experiences.
And yet : I think we all do have perhaps a dozen or so perfumes that more fully represent us, that have hooked us; that, if they were there, standing by the coffin, with testers and paper strips at our funerals, would partially bring us back to life….
For those who do stick to one perfume ( and I salute you! ) the associations left in people’s minds from your choice of scent will be final and incontrovertible: it will be you, bottled, and suspended in liquid.
Because some people really do wear one scent for a lifetime (after all, it was once seen as the way to go: you bought a perfume and stuck to it), and Roma, a lovely Italian sweet thing from the late eighties that was very fashionable for a while back then, is my sister encapsulated. She has been wearing it ever since she entered her teens, and of all the people I have known, Deborah has been the most faithful to her scent. Roma is her signature, and has been for almost two decades: – a genial, fresh, minty oriental with a whiff of the confectioner’s (the first time I ever smelled it I immediately thought of those cola cubes that used to be sold in big jars at the sweet shop: concentrated, deep orange-pink; and frosted with sugar). Rich and complex, Roma for me is somehow knowing and ridiculously flirtatious while remaining young, carnally innocent and very cute (or is that just a big brother talking?)
The difference between the recent Saturday night floriental wannabes and Roma however is that, like my sister, it has heart (guts as well). You would never think of Roma as overtly animalic (despite the presence of those subtle additions far down in the dry-down: they exist more at the subliminal level), yet with this perfume’s insistent, gorgeous aura, my sister has consistently had compliments from people over the years who practically want to devour her. It is most definitely a man magnet.
On a whim I once bought Deborah the original Fendi, that spicy 80′s perfume of broad-shouldered, Milanesque brocade, and she loved it, yet kept getting asked if she had just been down the pub (apparently she smelled like soaked beer mats, not something a girl wants to hear on a Monday morning at the office). It just didn’t work on her, and this only reinforces my belief that certain perfumes, do, obviously, suit some people, and others don’t, and not only in terms of temperament and atmosphere, but physically, literally. Some very good perfumes clearly smell horrendous on certain people, yet there seems to be a movement among some perfume critics which dictates that the whole ‘skin chemistry’ thing is a myth.
I can categorically state that it isn’t. If you sit me and my friend Helen down, for example, and spray us with any perfume, the differences will be immediately striking, often amusingly so. On Helen’s skin, all orientalia, all muskiness and fattiness disappears, almost immediately. What is left is flowers and leaves; something light, pure and elegant. On me it is the opposite: all is opoponax, vanilla, patchouli: flowers flown off, torn and mangled in the Sagittarian gusts.
Fendi is a great, operatic perfume, just not meant for my sister. Someone will be out there tonight at La Scala in this perfume smelling essential, fabulous, while another will be in some coffee shop stinking as though she has spent the night with her lanky hair sprawling among overturned beer barrels. And that’s just the way it is.
There is a moment when man or woman and a scent meet, and it is love at first sight. Until this point this we have made do with something that works fine, even though deep down we instinctively know that it isn’t quite what we want, that there is something either too much or not enough; that incorrigible something, that particular combination of ingredients or even a void, a lack that is somehow alien to our soul.
And then we find it: that scent that, like the lover we click with, feels so right. So natural. In whose presence we can be ourselves. A palpable, beautiful extension of our personality that reels people in, imprinting itself narcissistically on their memories….
If you have not yet had this experience then that is one of the joys of perfume; and of this and other perfume books and blogs: the persistent belief deep down inside that it is out there; that it exists, and knows you do too, but is just waiting, impatiently, to be discovered.
Deborah and Roma met some time in her early teens ( I am nine years older, and the poor girl was assailed with perfume from a very early age, not that she seemed to mind..) I can’t remember how this fateful union came to pass, whether it was me, or her and the school teenage posse, but in any case, it was love at first sight and she has worn it ever since (though in truth I am being slightly disingenuous: there have been occasional other perfumes worn over the years, a few sent by me for Christmas and birthdays, but none has ever stuck, and there always seems to be a bottle of this in her room, full, half-full, or nearing empty. Now that it is no longer available in England (but is, for example, at Amsterdam Schiphol airport – I often fly KLM from Tokyo to Birmingham), everyone on a trip to Europe is always instructed to bring back some Roma. My mum was even talking about it on the phone last night: she had had to go on Amazon to order a bottle, as ‘Deborah is low on Roma’ (as though she were a diabetic dangerously about to be out of insulin). It is a perfume that she always sprays on with abandon after her endless bathing and make-up rituals that always seems to take an eternity but which always result in a gorgeous vamp glamming up wherever she happens to be in her Debroarian splendour. And Roma just finishes it all off to perfection.
I used to live in Rome and you could find this everywhere (even the parfum, which must be very rare now), but I used to see it in various gift shops by the colosseum, where I would spend the days lying on the grass reading novels and listening to my walkman, delighting in the facts of being twenty one, and an adventure-ready, English boy in Rome. At the time, Lancôme’s Trésor was all the rage (you cannot imagine how much: I remember going to some rich girl’s house and her bathroom (I am always totally shameless in people’s bathrooms, raiding the closets and cupboards guiltlessly to see what is there), but this girl had everything: the bath foams, shower gels, body creams, deodorants, eau de toilette, parfum…and for a while on the metro it seemed that Trésor (which I do like, by the way) was being pumped from the central ventilation systems. You could practically taste it, and it seemed that almost every woman in Rome was wearing it.
My sister wasn’t. It was all about Roma: a fresh-fruity oriental, light and simultaneously licentious, that begins with a spritz of summery innocence (Sicilian bergamot, blackcurrant bud, grapefruit and, crucially, mint) over a floral heart bouquet of rose, jasmine, carnation and lily of the valley. From the very start though, you cannot elude the sensuality of the base, which is a warm, ambered accord of great complexity – patchouli, oakmoss, and a special accord known as ‘balsamo’: a whirl of North African myrrh, balsamic resins, and vanilla. On top of, or rather beneath, all this, is a trio of animalics; civet, castoreum, and Siam ambergris, which smooths out the blend into a lingering, velveteen caress. I think it is a great scent, coming from a time when perfumers still made orientals that genuinely seduce. The more recent additions to the genre, such as Dior’s cheap-thrill Addict and Calvin Klein’s Euphoria, just aren’t in the same league – hard-faced cows in comparison. An anaemic rip off of Roma (Armani White) was released in 2001 but has already disappeared. Roma is still going strong, in Europe at least. It is a scent of passion, and I’m glad my hot head of a sister found it.