One of the things I love most about scent is how evocative it is. The faintest whiff of a scent from your past can bring back memories and feelings even more vividly than a picture or a piece of music. Very often I'll come across something that smells like.....and I can't quite put my finger on it, just a strong sense of time and place. I love those moments, even though it drives me crazy not remembering exactly what it was that smelled that way.
Two of my absolute favourite commercial perfumes are special to me, not just because of the way they smell, but because they are wrapped up in associations and memories that I cherish.
Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden. I bought it when it came out. I loved it then and I love it now. Flowery, melonny and bright. And I do love melon scents. It debuted while I was in art school, which was the happiest time of my life. For some reason, when I smell it, I remember the cold, wet day I had to drive out to Kent to get a particular type of photography paper, as all the stores here were sold out. It was sometime in mid-March, and as I was driving past, I noticed that the local A&W Root Beer stand was open. Around here, that is one of the first signs of spring, and something I (and probably many others) look forwards to. I was so excited, I cut across two lanes of traffic and swerved wildly into the parking lot for the sheer bliss of the First Root Beer of Spring (and cheese sticks). Mmmmmm. Sunflowers, for me, will always be an olfactory record of that funny day, and that perfect year.
Opium by YSL. Not any of the variants that have come out since the original, nor the reformulation (which I have read about, but not smelled), but good old- fashioned Opium. I love this scent, it's powdery, floral, spicy, woody - a wonderful melange. I've always loved it. Yes, it's so 80's, but I don't care. It's one of the best fragrances of all time. Plus, back in the day I had a dear, dear friend, Christina, who wore it all the time. She lived in an apartment near another friend, who always remarked that she could tell when her cat had been out visiting Christina, because he'd come home smelling like Opium. "She'd come [over] wearing my cat Fred around her neck. I could always tell when Fred had been with Chris by smelling him".
I remember a night in Youngstown, outside The Cedars Lounge, where she and I explored and old, abandoned movie theatre. It had been built sometime around 1930, and was thoroughly decrepit and wonderful. We spent hours wandering through it in the semi-darkness, full of beautiful old rooms and fittings. A lost treasure about to be destroyed, we were probably the last people to wander in and appreciate its faded beauty.
Sadly, she left this world suddenly and unexpectedly just a year or two after this picture was taken. Even though that was many, many years ago, when I smell Opium, I remember Christina, her smell, her smile and the sound of her voice, silent for far too long. Until we meet again, dear friend, I will wear it in your honour.