Sunday, February 16, 2020

A Perfume Snob Goes Full Circle

Old friends, Oscar and Cantata
For my 16th birthday a friend gave me a big bottle of Charlie. That was the young and cheap(ish) choice for teenagers just starting on their perfume journey in the 1970s.

At 20 I returned from my gap year and started college. My more sophisticated friends explained that you needed to have a signature scent that you always used. People would know you by it. It was the sophisticated thing to do.

So I experimented with some of the light, fresh, citrus scents. namely O de Lancome and another one that I can't remember. Very soon I was drawn into the wonderful hype world of perfume and O wasn't exclusive enough.

This is when I became a perfume snob. I searched for weeks. My signature perfume had to have a pleasing, sleek bottle. It had to smell wonderful obviously. I was drawn to vanilla scents and repelled by whiffs of pungent pheromones (Opium). Anything that said SEX was out (Obsession), and so was anything too aggressive (Poison). I didn't want a girl's name (Chloe) as that would be Chloe's not mine. And I avoided any perfumes directly connected to a particular celebrity - I wanted to live my best life, not contribute to theirs (Elizabeth Taylor, for example and now Sarah Jessica Parker, et al). I didn't want to advertise a shop or a business (Ralph Lauren or Giorgio, Beverly Hills). Chanel No 19 was a cliche and No 5 was out of my league. I was very picky,       

I eventually found Oscar by Oscar de la Renta. It was slim and sophisticated, it smelled of vanilla, it was expensive, exclusive, and Oscar de la Renta was one of the sexiest men on the planet. (I happen to like bald men, ok, I have slightly weird taste.)

For years I wore Oscar. If a friend smelled Oscar on anyone else, and it very rarely happened, they'd say, "oh, she smells like Rachel," Or, more flatteringly, "Oh, she's wearing Rachel's perfume." I had indeed established a signature scent.

I was single and carefree at the time. A married friend with four young children would ask me to get her a bottle of White Musk from The Body Shop when I was in the UK. Hahaha, poor thing, I felt sorry for her. Well not exactly sorry. More like superior.

Then a couple of things changed. 1. I acquired a mortgage and a few years after that, a baby. And 2. the price of perfume shot through the roof. The gap between my disposable income and the cost of Oscar was too wide.

I downsized to a similar (to my nose) scent with Burberry Brit. It had that pleasing country house tartan on the bottle. But this was short lived as things got financially dicey for a few years and Burberry suddenly had ideas above its station. Now even Burberry was out of my price range.

About 30 years ago, a friend came back from Paris with a gift. A small tin of scented vaseline (for want of a better word). It was Cantata by Yves Rocher. I loved it. It was warm vanilla. The next time I was in London I went looking for it. Apparently, Yves Rocher is only found in Yves Rocher shops. And they're not in the UK. Only in Europe.

Fast forward 20 years and I was in Prague on a mini-break. Lo and behold I came across an Yves Rocher store (it was a shop but it was so chic it warrants being called a store, iykwim). I was overjoyed. My joy was premature and short lived. Cantata had been discontinued.

At this point I gave up on perfume. I hardly had time to brush my hair in the mornings let alone worry about perfume. Although I kept that Cantata tin for years after the perfume was [almost] used up. There was a part of me that still wanted to be the sophisticate with her signature scent.

Last September I was in the local high street near my mum and I wandered into a cheap toiletries shop. I can't remember what it's called but it's like Poundland for toiletries and cleaning stuff. I picked up a vanilla spray for DD as she'd got something similar as a gift and enjoyed spritzing herself. I went to pay and saw a stock of Oscar de la Renta's Oscar behind the counter. It was only £20! It's over £80 in the duty free and in Selfridges! I couldn't believe it. Obviously I snapped it up.

To say it was too good to be true would be accurate. I don't know how old this stock of Oscar was, or how it had been stored, but it was decidedly off. I tried it more than once just to make sure but it didn't get any better. Whilst decluttering last week, I took a photo of the spoiled Oscar and the 30 year old Cantata tin, thanked them for their promise of magic and binned them both. Then I went into DD's bedroom and tried a spritz of her vanilla spray which cost 99p. It's lovely.

Body Shop, here I come.


  1. I used to love Nina Ricci's L'Air de Temps - nice and light and didn't set me off sneezing! Went through that heavy, sexy, pungent stage but those scents would give me an instant headache these days as I've developed some allergies.
    When I can afford it I will treat myself to Chanel #5 Cologne and just use a tiny drop. I miss being able to use all different scents.

    1. Oh yes, I remember Nina Ricci and L'air du Temps. I wish I could remember the other lemony scent that I liked as well as the O (with the ^ of course).

  2. What a great post to read, it took me right back, to first wearing Charlie (Red) and then Obsession, then Eternity, then Paris and then finally J'adore and Dune. Dune is the perfume i love bets but at £100 a bottle, I can't justify it. So now I'm back to Eternity, but Eternity summer and I can get it for about £30 a bottle, so that's where I'm at now!

    1. Every woman has a Perfume journey. I went googling to see if I could find that other citrus scent and came across old memories like Anais Anais - very popular with many of my friends in the 1980s.