It was somewhat inevitable that the first perfume I should buy while back on holiday to my homeland and hometown should be something rich, delectable and full of amber. My first ever perfume love, and it was more than love, was Obsession For Men, and its delectably suffocating progenitor, Obsession. I was seventeen or eighteen, eager to smell as many perfumes as I could get my hands on, and had never smelled anything like them. Up until then, all had been crisp fresh citrus with mossy undertones like Chanel Pour Monsieur or Armani Pour Homme: scents I enjoyed and which suited me, but which were nothing like the full on coup de foudre of discovering an oriental that made me swoon with pleasure and which did, quite literally, obsess me.
Both Obsession and Obsession For Men have been reformulated, obviously, and they now have none of their original creme brûlée, skin hugging gorgeousness. Both are also quite vilified by perfumistas: The Perfume Dandy once did the most hysterical and vicious review you can imagine – which I loved actually – and I understand perfectly why he would find these perfumes cheap and nasty, cloying, and unpleasant to the nose.
To me though, they were anything but. A girl would enter a taxi on a night out, the mandarin orange top notes of the perfume soaring viscously up through the spiced amber and vanilla and I wanted to consume her, just start drinking from her neck like a crazed vampire I found the perfume so heady and dizzying and gladdening; at that time, the scent was perfect, and to me, something entirely, entirely new. And then I was given a reprieve from dressing like a ‘monsieur’ when Calvin Klein then released a quite similar perfume, just more oakmoss and cinnamon, for the men’s market, meaning I didn’t have to feel embarrassed buying it, that it was sanctioned, and that no one would judge me for spending all my hard earned money from part time jobs on the eau de toilette, the deodorant stick, the talc, the soap, and the liquid body talc, which was a marvellous creation that I would just stand naked in the afternoon light of my university room and pour all over my body like a sun god.
I was quite literally famous for that perfume. You could smell it four floors down as you entered the college staircases, apparently, the lingering powder motes of Obsession gracing the stairwell and announcing my ridiculously operatic presence if you walked up the four flights of stairs. I would be mummified in the perfume as a bonbon: perfume and dusted, delectable smelling and smothering; I suppose in a way this was my coming out, in more ways than one, a liberation in many ways that I celebrated in scent and which presaged my love of orientals such as Shalimar, Vol De Nuit (which I consider a predecessor of Obsession – no, really, while that sublime creation is naturally more noble and mysterious, there is still a green tinge and oakmossy aspect to both perfumes that marks them as relatives), and the beautiful Heritage eau de parfum, which has one of the most skin suckable dry downs I have ever personally experienced.
And this Lumiere D’Ambre, by Laura Mercier, a purveyor of some of the most sickly sweet perfumes ever made (many of her confectionary concoctions just go way too far in the diabetically bulimic sphere of scent for me: all cakes and ice creams and candy bars that make you want to clutch your front teeth), is a glorious remembrance of all the ambers of my youth. It is Obsession and Heritage rolled into one; a black pepper top note that renders it androgynous, and then all that mandariny loveliness melting into dense, sensual amber but with enough lightness (hence the name) – provided by jasmine and orchid – to never make the scent feel asphyxiating the way that some of the heavier ambers can. No, this dances on the skin, or eiderdowns itself into my clothes like a protecting wall of familiarly oriental goodness. I don’t know why, but some of the perfumes that I have bought with me in my suitcase just feel wrong. I am not in the mood for aloofness or perfumes that are scary: the poignant emotions stirred up by seeing all my relatives and walking around all my old stomping grounds; the park where I would walk on the way to school, the coming in late at night and treading quietly on the carpet so as not to wake up my parents, it is all like being submerged back into my past in a way I find emotional and simultaneously troubling (as if your current existence had been semi-erased and you were plunging back into your childhood and adolescence.) And so somehow I feel protected from the more piercing memories by wearing a new scent that is different enough to feel like a stimulating new purchase, a scent that is right up my street with its simplicity and lack of pretentiousness, but which still, undeniably, takes me back to those virulent first days of my perfume obsession, when I first truly understood the glorious power that a scent – one that overwhelmed my young soul and thrilled me to the core – could have over me.