dimanche 26 février 2023

Private Collection gives up the ghost


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


6 commentaires:

  1. Hello, Denyse -- I sense a note of sadness in saying that you'd ask the question if you thought anyone would answer -- sadly, I do not have a thoughtful answer to your question (yet).

    But as an old lurker on your blog and a new reader of your book, The Perfume Lover, I just wanted to drop a line to say that you have such a gift for writing and insight. I am enjoying the book very much, and I hope that you continue to write on your blog! As someone who grew up in the late 90s and early aughts, your deep knowledge of perfume history and the various worlds cultural/historical worlds it encompasses has been very instructive to me. Many thanks! -Lauren

    1. Thank you Lauren for your kind words! I'm so happy you're enjoying the book. It's lovely to know it keeps on finding readers a decade after coming out!
      I said I wasn't sure anyone would answer because the blog has been dormant for so long its readers have long dispersed. And it seems the conversation has now shifted to other platforms.

  2. Musc ravageur is a perfume I lost to reformulation. despite the current version being quite lovely I just don’t get that jolt of recognition when I smell it. It was one of my early niche loves, a perfume I associate with a more adventurous period of my life. There’s something about the opening that just isn’t quite the same anymore, that association of cloves and lavender with the amber musk that made the sweetness in it always a suggestion rather than the center.

    1. The ambery* musk

    2. I know what you mean about Musc Ravageur, it doesn't feel the same to me either. I have a new bottle but I hasn't made the trip to Canada because every time I sprayed it on something felt off... It was never my favorite Malle but it was one of the first I bought and you're right, it feels more cloying than it used to.

  3. Dear Denyse, for so many years I checked your blog until I got distracted from perfume in general. I can't believe I missed your return. I hope you are well and will search further to to see what you are writing. Wishing you the best for 2024!