Scientists are just starting to unravel the mystery of how human beings perceive smells. It's a complicated process we understand only incompletely. However, one thing is clear.
Smells can evoke distant, even nearly forgotten memories. All of us know what it is like to catch a whiff of a certain smell and be instantly transported back in time to another place and situation. Smells can be emotional, too. The great French writer Marcel Proust wrote a multi-volume novel called Remembrance of Things Past about the vast panorama of a long life, all brought on by the unexpected smell of a French pastry emerging fresh and hot from an oven. A woman of a certain age has probably had lots of different favorite perfumes over the course of her life.
Fragrance is a lot like fashion in that, on the surface, both seem to be dominated by fads, but, in fact, some enduring classics emerge. In fragrance, there are still a few timeless scents. I like to put Chanel No. 5 in that category. First introduced in 1923, this venerable perfume is still well liked even by modern celebrities. The newest celebrity spokesperson for the line is Nicole Kidman.
Youth Dew, which came out in the 1950s, is still a classic but it tends to be regarded as more "dated." It's a rich, powerful, Oriental scent that is-as an overall style-a bit heavy for today's tastes which favor light, fruity, on-the-go kind of fragrances. In the world of perfume, even surviving a decade can put you in the near-classic category like Tresor by Lancome (1990), Obsession and Eternity by Calvin Klein, and Happy by Clinique. When buying perfume for Mother's Day, you can try to go for a new scent (if your mom is fashion forward or happens to like a certain new scent) or you can try to get one of her favorites. From time to time, a beloved fragrance is discontinued. A good case study for this phenomenon involves a perfume called Evening in Paris.
Created by Ernst Breaux (the "nose" behind Chanel No. 5), this was a wildly popular fragrance in a zippy blue bottle available in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. Its fragrance resembles Chanel No.
5: it's a sparkling adelhyde type floral. By the 1990s, Evening in Paris was gone. Then it came back. It's available in the most unusual of locations: The Vermont Country Store (http://www.
vermontcountrystore.com). This catalog typically features country and New England items, not fine fragrance.
But this particular retro-scent had a large and vocal fan base and enough requests came in that the company started to track it down. It turns out Evening in Paris is still manufactured, but in France. They imported it and it's back. The Vermont Country Store also offers other nostalgic fragrances including Tigress and Tweed and some Yardley products. It gets more difficult when a retro-scent is no longer manufactured.
In those cases, you can't even turn to hoarders because perfume (unlike wine) tends to decay with age. So how do you find a retro-scent that your mom liked way-back-when? When searching for anything nowadays, your first step is the obvious one: Google the perfume name (and possibly some variations) to see if anyone has it. There are many large warehouse type perfume sites that have a little bit of everything. More obscure fragrances may be available on their own site. Not every story has a happy ending. Some fragrances truly are gone forever.
If that's the case, you can go to a perfume website or blog (check out the links at www.theperfume-reporter.com) and ask other perfume lovers. If a scent is no longer available but people know about it, you can get a description. From that description, a knowledgeable sales clerk or perfume friend (go to the websites) can recommend similar type scents. For instance, if you know your mom's favorite scent was what they call a woody floral, you can get an updated version (Safari by Ralph Lauren comes to mind).
Remember, perfume is much more than perfume today. You can buy a wide range of scent products today including body creams, lotions, shower gels, soaps, and other products for the bath. If your mom has always worn spray-on fragrance, stick to an eau-de-parfum or cologne (the eau-de-parfum is stronger and will cost more). If your mom is getting more streamlined these days, a shower gel and fragrant lotion may fit the bill better. Emollient creams and lotions are good for dry skin. In fact, spray-on fragrance doesn't last long at all on dry skin so a cream plus a spray-on is a good deal.
Copyright (c) 2007 Joanna McLaughlin.
Joanna McLaughlin can be read at http://www.theperfume-reporter.com .