The first perfume I bought with my baby-sitting money was Fabergé Tigress, for no better reason than that faux tiger-fur cap and the ad that went “Because men are such animals”, an assertion I couldn’t possibly verify in an all-girl Catholic school at the age of 13. I’d gone to get it after a lunch of greasy brown fries doused in vinegar purchased from a trailer on the parking lot next to Woolworth’s. My enabler was Sylvie, who I’d befriended because we were both ostracized by the other girls, me for being a bookworm with the unfortunate habit of correcting their grammatical mistakes (my parents did it with me but never indicated I should refrain from correcting my classmates), her for having grown an unwieldy set of breasts that got her branded as a slut. Makeup was our only bond, and we discussed it endlessly over copies of Seventeen or Mademoiselle.
Recently, Angela from Now Smell This was sweet enough to send me a decant of vintage Tigress, which I wanted to revisit in a bid to track the growth of my olfactory obsession. I dunked a strip into the vial expecting to experience the kind of Proustian flashback you’re supposed to get when you catch a smell that’s part of your past. A memory of a sleepover giggles. Of choosing a training bra. Of babysitting those obnoxious twins who wouldn’t let me leaf through their mom’s Cosmos (their big brother did turn out to be an animal, by the way).
Instead, Tigress conjured about half the history of perfumery: aldehydic top notes, a cheap Lux soap-type rose, hot with cloves on a vanilla-less balsamic base, with a lash of moss and quite a bit of patchouli. An aldehydic-fougère-oriental hybrid that brought to mind L’Origan, Youth Dew, Tabu and Opium; a decent drugstore scent caught in the limbo of serial, and ever cheaper reformulations. Not even close to the type of carnal white florals, fruity chypres or woods, iris leathers and smoky notes I tend to favor today.
And nowhere near anything I remember having worn.
Either the formula in Angie’s bottle is not the one I bought back in the day. Or I bought it and never actually wore it. Or I wanted to buy it, and got something else instead.
Or my original memory has been entirely and irretrievably crushed by the similar, but more distinctive fragrances I’ve worn and/or analyzed since then.
Still, “tigress” isn’t half-bad a definition for me.
On to you: Have you ever revisited a scent from your very early youth, and what happened? Proust or bust?
Illustration: Ad for Tigress featuring the singer and actress Lola Falana, shamelessly lifted from Okadi.