What happens when your scent soulmate changes every few years? A life punctuated by perfumes, each one a time machine, says Olivia Phillips
Wearing Chanel Nº5 to bed seems a bit of a waste, but I like where Marilyn’s head was at

HAVING ALWAYS CLOSELY SYMPATHISED WITH COCO CHANEL’S oft-quoted maxim: “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future,” I’ve had a particularly rich and varied fragrance history. And by that, I mean everything from a brief spell wearing Céline Dion Sensational, having to hide the indignity of the bottle whenever anyone popped over, to my ex and I making a scene in the New York branch of Le Labo, essentially fighting a custody battle over which of us got to claim Neroli as their own. I won, obviously. I just shouted louder.

What started as a flirtation – compulsively dousing myself with Impulse over a polyester school uniform in an attempt to mask the scent of Eau de Marlboro Light – has now graduated to a full-blown love affair, very rarely leaving the house without having pranced into some mist or other. Usually too much mist, I must admit. I am a chronic overspritzer. And while some might feel naked without a full KKW-style contour, I thank my lucky stars that my essential beauty hack is a heck of a lot more low-maintenance, and serves the handy purpose of affording me an extra half an hour in bed. Plus I get to seduce myself on the reg by simply sniffing my own wrist. Tell me who’s not a winner in this situation.

So, as you can see, to me, perfume is powerful stuff. It can, and does, drive me to irrational behaviour, with my quest for the perfect alchemy taking me from buying sordid celebrity scents in Argos, leaving in dark glasses with my spoils in a brown paper bag, to embarrassing myself in public, all in the name of pheromones. In that same vein, this is how I shamefully discovered three of my faves: stalking unsuspecting women in bars, down Oxford Street, even into the office loo, sniffing the air in the manner of the Child Catcher, and then getting all Single White Female on them, refusing to leave until they’ve told me their most intimate olfactory secrets. The new girl at work learnt this the hard way and now walks the other route round my desk, lest I do a Pied Piper and follow her to the kitchen with weird demands again.

But I can’t be the only one who comes over all feral, eyes rolling back in their head when they smell something amazing, necessitating this kind of excessive nasal treasure hunt. In a bit of a cack-handed way, I think this is what old Coco was trying to get at with all her “no future” chat – that fragrance wields so much power, that to not wear it does you a bit of a disservice. You can very well knock people out with your tremendous, sexy brain, but imagine the damage you could do if you smelled like Byredo Gypsy Water, too! A double-pronged attack on the senses that would take no prisoners whatsoever.

There’s also the question of memory, of course. In lieu of a tricked-out DeLorean, scent is one of the most effective time machines we have. It punctuates our journeys, marking every moment with a potency that can only ever be matched by a really good song; instantly transporting us across seas, across time, and sometimes all the way to what feels like another life entirely, enabling us to live it again, if only for a second. A whiff of Stella McCartney, for instance, conjures up my first summer of freedom after uni, a huge, exquisite adventure I had in Buenos Aires, and my inaugural London Fashion Week as an MA student, spent crashing shows and grabbing abandoned goodie bags. The perfume was far classier than I was, evidently. When I interviewed Stella years later, I told her that her fragrance was the backdrop to me first falling in love. I left out the bit about all the stealing.

I’ve dabbled with L’Eau d’Issey (GCSEs, Garage Nation, getting up to no good in south London parks), Gwen Stefani L.A.M.B (the buzz of my first ever magazine job), and Hermès Eau des Merveilles, a fragrance that has underscored my life for nearly a decade after I first discovered it right here in Dubai. It struck a chord deeper than most, and I consider it my scent soulmate.

I’ve had other fragrance flings, of course. It got pretty serious with Escentric Molecules 02 for a while, but sadly it just doesn’t work on my stupid pores like it does on other people’s. It will always be the one that got away. I also had a slightly dangerous affair with the pretty primal Frederic Malle Carnal Flower. It remains one I use sparingly, with all my wits about me, and in the interim it stays locked away in the manner of Panther from Anchorman. Its release always wreaks havoc on the neighbourhood. It’s the tuberose, you see. It can’t be tamed.

It’s Hermès that I always come back to time and again, though. Forever exciting, only better over the years, and – most importantly – infused with countless happy memories. True love. Just bottled.

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