Why, as I was frantically sorting through
my perfume collection to select which bottles I would bring to Canada, did I
pull out Private Collection? Perhaps I thought it would trigger the
much-vaunted Proustian effect anybody who writes anything about scent always
ends up banging on about.
I’ve known Private Collection since
I was a kid growing up in Montreal’s West Island, nosing around the Estée
Lauder counter at the local department store -- the promise of a forbidden,
just-for-grownups world. Estée Lauder fragrances being powerhouses, you could smell
them in the mall all the way back to the fountain with a reproduction of Michelangelo’s
David in front of Canadian Tire, pungent rubber fumes blending for a while with
potent wafts of Youth Dew, long before crossing the threshold of Eaton’s.
No French perfume stood a chance (that was before the take-no-prisoners Opium
came along and gobbled up every other scent in sight).
But more than Youth Dew, the 1973 Private
Collection is one of the first fragrances that left a lasting olfactory imprint
on my memory. My mother may have gotten a mini as a gift with purchase (there
were no full perfume bottles in our house since the stuff gave my father a headache).
I vividly remember Private Collection even
as I write this: that sharpish, fresh-mown grass opening, with the darker
resinous green of galbanum and spicier floral verdancy of hyacinth whooshing in
straight behind it. Not a complex olfactory picture, and one I formed a
posteriori, since it would be a could of decades or more until I’d smelled
galbanum and hyacinths in France. Until then, I’d have had no names for
what I experienced.
The actual fragrance, I didn’t smell that
much since childhood: I’m not even sure it’s sold in France, and when I
purchased a bottle for memory’s sake in Montreal about ten years ago, the beauty
advisor pulled it out from under the counter: there were no testers.
That’s the bottle that made the trip to
Canada. I hadn’t smelled it since buying it, I’m embarrassed to say. I didn’t
smell it before packing it. I suppose I thought that because I hadn’t experienced
it often, thus overlaying my initial childhood memories with later, more
scent-literate references, my olfactory flashback would be all the more vivid.
So ? Zilch.
Nada. Rien du tout. Private
Collection has given up
the ghost. Not only does it not trigger some magical Proustian effect, but it
doesn’t even smell like my adult memory of it. Though I preserved it in optimal
conditions (in its box, away from light and heat), it’s gone off, pure and simple.
And since the stuff doesn’t seem to be sold in Canada anymore, there’s not much
chance I’ll get that flashback to my suburban childhood after all.
Loving perfume is an exercise in letting
go. Like people and memories, it changes, fades, and eventually, dies.
I’d ask the question if I thought anyone
would comment: have you ever “lost” a fragrance you were certain would bring
back vivid memories?
Illustration: White Hyacinth
18.04.-27.04.2022 by Paul Maria Schneggenburger