My grandmother had a theory about perfume. (If you knew my grandmother, you wouldn’t be surprised: my grandmother had theories about a lot of things.) Every woman had a scent—the kind you could buy in a bottle—that captured her true nature. And if she was very lucky, she would find it in time.
(If this puts you in mind of Mary Poppins and the kites—from the book, not the movie: yes, me too.)
I never heard my grandmother quote Christian Dior, but she would have loved his quip: “A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting.” My grandmother would have vigorously agreed: she thought one’s handwriting spoke volumes about oneself, so you can deduce what she thought about your perfume.
I was always intrigued by my grandmother’s theories, and I loved playing with her perfumes as a young girl. (How wretched I must have smelled afterwards, after spritzing them on with the heavy hand of the young! My poor mother.)
But I never took to perfume myself—at least not any one scent. For a long time I wore pleasant neutrals, or this light floral. I enjoyed exploring, yet I never found one that felt like me, one that I wanted to wear every day, for ages.
As much as I loved the idea of wearing a signature scent, my grandmother’s theory seemed more like fiction—at least for me.
But then, I found it: an unobtrusive addition to a sampler pack (I’m a sucker for a good cosmetics sampler) called Dear Polly. From the first spritz I had a thought I’d never had before: I could wear this every day. Had I not been instantly sold, the perfume’s description would soon seal the deal: TEA FOR TWO IN THE MORNING, the header read, describing it like so: The scent of black tea, brewed just how she likes it, and the crispiness of morning light, slowly easing away the night that still clings to the senses.
A bit of clever marketing? Absolutely—and one I was happy to be hooked by.
I told my husband Will I could recommend an excellent gift if he wanted an idea. Christmas came before my sampler ran out; I’ve been wearing it ever since. This bottle is going to last me years, and when it runs out, I’m buying another one.
My signature scent is unlikely to be yours, but if you’re interested: Anthropologie sells it online, or you can assemble your own three-scent sampler here. I bought (er, Will bought) mine at Liberty of London. I’ve given this Vilhelm Parfumerie Discovery Set, which includes Dear Polly (and Morning Chess, which I also quite like) to a few friends.
I wear Dear Polly 95% of the time, and finding it must have swelled my perfume confidence because not long after I met up with a friend who was wearing a subtle scent so unusual and intriguing—woodsy, smoky, not a typical women’s scent—I had to ask. She laughed and told me that she bought it for its intriguing description: it promised to convey a “sexy sense of quiet.” (Now if that doesn’t put an aspirational spin on my own true nature, I don’t know what does!)
I looked it up, and sure enough the full description reads: This is a scent of cypress smoke, snow, and a sexy sense of quiet. Resins of red cedar and labdanum spike a mix of cypress root, frankincense, clove-leaf oil, and helichrysum flower for a perfume that evokes a crackling fire, a cypress grove by the sea, and the centuries-old floorboards of an ancient European chapel.
Dear Reader, I bought it. I was surprised at the source, and made my first-ever Goop purchase to buy Edition 01 Church. I reach for it often on crisp fall days and occasionally in dreary winter weather. I have to be very, very careful putting it on—a little goes a long way and it’s easy for it to become cloying. But the teensiest spritz smells delightfully of smoke and floorboards and yes, that sexy sense of quiet.
All these years later, I wish I could share my finds with my grandmother and compare our signature scents of choice. Now that I’m grown and she’s gone, how I wish I could know what scent she chose to wear, the one she believed captured her true nature! My next best option is this: to remember her here, and to ask you about your scents of choice.
Do you have a signature scent? We’d love to hear what it’s like and how you found it in comments!