I read Patrick Süskind’s novel, Perfume, shortly after he wrote it in 1985. It was a strange, rootless time for me: I wasn’t welcome at home and I didn’t have another place I could call my home after leaving school. I found myself in different places, looking for some kind of consistency, something that at least reminded me who I was when I woke up the next day. Perhaps it was something to do with Süskind’s novel. I shall never know. I began to look for perfumes that helped me feel myself.
There had already been other scents, I noticed, that had left me feeling good; even if something about this surprised me. I loved the smell of coffee for example, even though it reminded me of my father. Or his cologne. Something about him in those smells always superseded anything he said or did to me. I still can’t smell the cologne he wore without missing him. It was the same with my mother’s hairspray and its bitterness. Perfume, I realised, was a thing of my heart. Not essential: no; but something to remind me life has to have more about it than I can imagine. It comes from someone else. Even when I buy it for myself I don’t make it. It gives me a sense of something from outside me, in me.
The first perfume I wore was Cool Water. Most of the perfumes I like I’ve chosen for myself but my favourites, I didn’t. They all mean something special to me. I wear them sometimes to remind me of who I am, and other times to tell people what kind of person I am. If I’m worried I’ll wear La Myrrhe. If I have to attend tedious meetings or training sessions I’ll possibly wear Bandit. I remember the CBT component of my clinical training was drenched in Bandit. I remember some serious business with my son and La Myrrhe. There are probably half a dozen perfumes I have waiting to wear; and several others for when I travel, or when I get bored, just to change the atmosphere.
Cool Water was a kind of a joke. My father, appropriately enough, wore Brut and I wanted something un-Brutish to stand next to his bottle in the bathroom shaving cabinet. As it turned out I loved the scent of it, especially in extremely heated situations. I don’t currently own any although I might get some for the summer, if I ever find my way back to a beach.
Farina 1709 was a gift, a very recent one, and straight away it sank its teeth into me. It’s a Romantic perfume in the sense Mozart and Swinburne, both of whom wore it, were Romantics. I think Bill Clinton wears it. Don’t wear Farina thinking you’ll radiate pleasantness. It’s a most subversively impolite and seductive scent.
La Myrrhe, was also a gift. If aliens ever arrive I assume they’ll be wearing it. La Myrrhe carries something medicinal and something sacrosanct, a kind of a cure and something inviolable. It reminds me of what I won’t give up, who I won’t give up on, and where I need to stand. Myrrh is a bitter resin and life stays true to that.
Bandit is very French. There’s no messing about with it. It’s impossible to ignore, thoroughly adult in an almost ridiculous way and never to be forgotten.
I sometimes wear Pour Homme ii, by Gucci. This is the kind of scent that perfume specialists probably turn their noses up at. It reminds me of something very beautiful that you can’t buy or even name: the actively attractive part of trashiness; something tastefulness spits out. I love it. It has with it extraordinarily happy memories.
In contrast, there’s Pour Un Homme de Caron. It’s remarkably cheap for something so classy, an anomaly which is bound to be ironed out soon, and it feels like spring. Lavender, vanilla and musk. It reminds me of the polish my mother used for our doorstep, when she spring-cleaned. I doubt if she associated that with musk.
Kouros is a throw-back. I nearly bought it instead of Cool Water, but didn’t like the adverts and didn’t feel like nose-testing it in my local branch of Boots. The suburbs are strange like that.
What else do I have? There’s Dali, and although I don’t so much admire the scent I love the bottle. It gives me something curiously synthetic to wear. It’s a little like the fabric of Ted Baker trousers, only not cut so well. Dali thought that the sense of smell was best-connected to immortality but for some reason this scent draws me in the other direction. Wear Dali once in the countryside to remember always that you need to make the most of life.
There’s Grey Flannel, which someone gave me and will always be very special. Perhaps I should wear it more often but it’s such a particular scent. If there’s rain about it really doesn’t seem to work for me. The sky needs to be blue and the air crisp.
And there’s Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers. I generally enjoy Sarah McCartney’s scents at 4160 Tuesdays … but this one is very special to me. It’s the smell of Croydon (near where I grew up) on a hot afternoon: burned rubber and slightly damp paper. Boy racers belting up and down the street, across the fly-over at night, burning rubber at the lights. I walked around a lot as a child, scared of the cars and with my school bag full of books (or the books that filled most of the bags I carried) usually getting wet in the showers that seemed to appear when you least expected them. Sarah McCartney says that this scent’s something to do with Paris and Bradley Wiggins. Don’t believe a word of it. They used to hold raffles all the time in the Methodist church hall down the road from where I lived.