Does it ever happen to you to associate people with specific fragrances? Your mother’s familiar Trésor, your best friend’s airy Dragonfly, a boyfriend’s beguiling New York Intense? Do you find yourself sensing when they’ve been there, because of the trail of scent they left behind? The famous designer Andrée Putman once mentioned the power of claiming a fragrance as your very own, even if it is produced for thousands of people around the world. Shalimar counts itself among those perfumes which trail long after you have left... At home, my children know whether I have been in or out by whether there is the trail of Shalimar floating in the staircase. For that reason alone, I'm attached to it for life."

Wow, the passion, the memories, the sheer defying of transience... Scent by its own nature is ephemeral; it evaporates, it leaves very little behind. And yet tying your personality to a specific fragrance, something that dominates the air with your attitude, and expresses your thoughts better than you could yourself, is priceless. This is what is called a “signature scent”, and fashion designer Oscar de la Renta also sings the virtues of owning one, characterising you above all others. “One of the most wonderful things for a man is to walk in a room and know that that woman was here because of that lingering smell.”

The tradition of choosing a signature scent hearkens back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when fine fragrance became available to the bourgeoisie. Up until then, only royal patrons and aristocrats had access to fine custom blends, not the middle classes. The right choice therefore became a laborious occupation, as well as a rite of passage. Women chose at an early age, among tiny nuances within set parameters, unless they populated the demi-monde, the world of coquettes and mistresses who exchanged their natural gifts for rich patronages. The latter were allowed more leeway, as we can witness in the playful and nostalgic novel Chéri written by the famous French writer Colette, who knew a thing or two about signature fragrances; after all she was a pioneer, launching her own cosmetics line!

Nowadays the search for a signature scent, for men as well as for women, is a real adventure, because we’re immersed in an ocean of choice. With the avalanche of launches these days, finding "the one" gets harder and harder. So we end up sampling our way through life, never wanting to commit, just in case that perfect scent is out there. And it very well could be. A part of that flirtation is a life long quest for a heavenly smell that would make us stop looking. So how do you go about finding the right one?

The fact of the matter is simple, yet complicated at the same time. There is no one thing which can encapsulate our true self, rather we are a collection of things. We are body, soul, and spirit. We are a combination of memories, personality, likes, dislikes, choices, history, character, and genetics. Not one of these items defines us, just as we are not defined by our fingerprints, or our thoughts, or our choice of fashion. Furthermore our choices change, just as we do over time, hence as an older person, your 'signature scent' is going to be different to what it was as a younger adult. You might have felt yourself indulging in a yummy pure vanilla like Tihota being the pinnacle of delight when 25, only to find out you hanker after the more complex and nuanced gourmand of La Belle Hèléne (MDCI) when you reach 40.

One way of going about it is conjuring a happy personal memory you want to associate yourself with. Diane Ackerman wrote, "Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains". Just think back, how many among us reminisce of holidays spent on some heavenly locale? A scent which accompanied us through university, or through building a family?

Since we can't always have a signature fragrance, one can try to find smaller ways to identify perfumes with times, places, or people. If a friend associates you with Ambre Russe, for example, because this is what you wore while living together at university or working together at the same office, you might want to continue sustaining this bond. If you took care to choose a special wedding fragrance, or one you wore during dates with your spouse, wouldn’t it be wonderful to keep wearing that when together? Or you can pick something “sexy” off a list of fragrances you both love and make it your very own “play time scent” - now there’s an idea. We have here at LKNU a devoted list under Valentine’s Day fragrances, if you need some guidance.

In the end, maybe we need steadfast and true signature scent, and perhaps 3 or 4 other ones to mix in, when the mood suits us. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to find scents that we love and enjoy. After all, most of us spend a lifetime searching for who we are. So, the notion of a 'signature scent' is more wishful thinking than a symbol of the self. Define yourself first, and you will find that your signature becomes part of you, rather than the other way around.

© 2021 Helg - LKNU Parfumerie