At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge on the first day of December, I’ve decided to write about how little perfume excites me. It’s a product that baffles me year round, but it’s especially inescapable in the run-up to Christmas. To all those of you who are expecting or purchasing perfume for Christmas, I can only apologise. I’m happy smelly water brings you pleasure – it just does nothing for me.
Most people’s first impressions of perfume are related to their mum getting ready to go out for the night; my mum, however, has very sensitive skin, so perfume never featured in my childhood memories, and as such I still find most of them overpowering. The only times that I have worn perfume regularly, I’ve managed to link it to such dubious memories that when I’m caught off-guard by a hit of the same scent in another context, it makes me feel nauseous. For example, at uni, I spent a year wearing Paul Smith’s Rose eau de parfum, which I bought on impulse in duty free when the dollars with which I’d returned from my holidays were burning a hole in my pocket. I would leave the house in a cloud of ‘Rose’, feeling my best, only to wake up the next day nursing a hangover with the stench of stale roses – and regret – engulfing me.
To be honest, I’ve never found a perfume that smells any good on me – I’ll tell a friend that she smells gorgeous, she’ll spritz me with whatever she’s wearing, and the same product that makes her turn heads will effectively curdle on my skin and make me feel enormously self-conscious until I can make it to a bathroom and scrub it off.
It’s at this time of year that perfume enjoys the highest profile. From November to Boxing Day, you can be sure that within a couple of minutes of turning on the TV you’ll be assailed by a grandiose and completely unintelligible perfume ad. I always watch them with utter bewilderment: usually, a woman will stride around, a series of seemingly portentous but improbable and quite unrelated events will occur, and then we will see a well-lit bottle of perfume whose name is announced breathily and reverentially. Or else the woman will be shown entwined with a hunky man, and she’ll then turn to us to tell us the name of the perfume that helped her ensnare him. Give me a cleverly subversive ad whose makers have used a bit of originality to get me to part with my money any day of the week.
Sometimes I feel like I am alone in feeling completely ambivalent about this commodity. Increasingly, magazines are dedicating whole sections of their beauty sections to perfume, with actual editorial features about new releases, scents created by celebrities (yawn) and other important perfume-related news. I don’t remember flicking past this sort of coverage in my twenties, so perhaps perfume is actually a subject that fascinates other people (although I am inclined to think its increased presence in magazines is probably due to more commercial reasons that that).
It’s not that I don’t like to smell nice. In fact, now that I’m 30+, I get far more excited about smellies than I did in my early teens, when a basket of Dewberry products was the default gift, and familiarity bred contempt. Nowadays, a lovely scented moisturiser, a posh shower gel, or anything beauty-related that I wouldn’t think to buy for myself makes me very happy indeed.
Trouble is, perfume is one of those gifts that is well-suited to Christmas: it’s expensive enough to impress, impersonal enough to gift to distant relations/new girlfriends/grown-up grand-daughters, and it’s always nicely packaged. But there are other options. So if you know someone who feels the same as me, then here are some equally suitable alternative gift ideas: a posh scented body lotion such as this one by Jo Malone; some luxe nightwear like this lust-worthy nightie from The White Company; a gorgeous diary like this stunner from Smythson (swoon…); a classic lippie like this show-stopper by Chanel; or, of course, a spoil-yourself beauty treatment such as a manicure or a massage (you know how I love massages…)
Do you have a signature scent that you feel naked without? Or would you secretly prefer one of my alternative gift ideas?