Beauty IRL: I Want A Signature Scent, Dammit

I don’t really wear perfume, though I have been meaning to pick it up, like learning how to crochet or getting into Tumblr. I notice it everywhere I go, and I know that scent is an evocative, powerful thing. Having a signature scent seems so very adult, like something that listicles tell you to acquire by the time you’re a certain age, but it’s something that I just haven’t done yet. I haven’t figured out who I want to be, let alone who I want to smell like. I’m not quite ready.

I don’t eschew perfume. A favorite after-work activity is ducking into a Sephora and spritzing myself liberally with a litany of scents, ending only when I smell like a perfume counter or a particularly confused field of flowers. I’ll walk to the train with the scent lingering on my collar, taking great big whiffs of my wrist. If it’s something that I really like, I’ll think about it long and hard. What does it say about me if I walk into a room smelling like “white florals” and leather? Will people think I do yoga or have an affinity for scented candles? Will they assume I’m something different because of the way my scent announces itself when I walk into a room?

More than any of the other beauty things we willingly enslave ourselves to, perfume is aspirational. It’s sexier than beach hair, more alluring than lipstick and more intimate than a giant row of false lashes will ever be. You dab perfume in the places that a person interested in sleeping with you will be putting their face: the crook of your neck, between your breasts, behind your ears. It’s an invitation for someone to get closer. Because it reacts with your body’s chemistry, fragrance smells differently depending on the person. Sometimes, when my sister leaves the house, I’ll stop her on the way out and demand to know what perfume she’s wearing. Later, when she’s left, I’ll sneak a spritz and be disappointed. It’s not her, it’s me.

Scent is such a powerful sense that, even if you don’t wear perfume right now, you are keenly aware of what you do and don’t like. One of my many high school crushes wore Acqua di Gio, which felt sophisticated and sexy and cool in 1999. It’s citrus-y and green, with a hint of musk at the finish. It smells like high school. It hits me like a punch in the gut every time I catch a whiff on some faceless stranger in the crush of my morning commute.

I want to have a signature scent, because it feels like another tiny brick in the wall of being adult. I paid my goddamn taxes today, I have a 401(k) somewhere, and I wash the dishes pretty much immediately after I eat. I’m grown as hell. I should have a scent that announces I’ve arrived when I enter a room — an olfactory version of the gong I’ve jokingly longed for. I want to leave an impression other than the stale scent of cigarettes and that one very strong-smelling lip balm that I love. I want to find a signature scent for me.

I’ve flirted with a few over the years. The first real perfume that I bought is the one that I love the most. Kiehl’s Original Musk is relatively inexpensive and smells like a cool art teacher with a Sunday routine of reading Tarot and dusting her succulents, musky, dusty and rich. I wore it during my last very long winter in Boston before graduating from college, and promptly forgot about it for years until I recognized it on someone walking past me on the street. A roommate in San Francisco who proved herself to be the most passive aggressive person I’ve ever known gave me a bottle of Stella by Stella McCartney for my birthday one year, a gift that still feels extravagant.  I wore it into the ground, in big, excessive sprays, and kept the bottle around for a while after it was empty. It’s a big, emphatic rose scent, impossible to miss like an especially sparkly engagement ring. It’s not quite me, but I liked it just the same.

When I moved to New York, the scent of Chloe — clean, powdery, like the best kind of chemical-y clean detergent from the laundromat — hit me in the face like a down comforter at every turn. I catch a hint of it once a day, coming off the girl with sausage curled hair and ankle boots, or the woman at the bank calmly processing a cashier’s check for me to pay my monthly rent. Its ubiquity makes it repellent. Besides, I’m not powdery, delicate or talented with a curling wand. I still love the way it smells, but to wear it every day would feel like wearing any shade of pink that wasn’t fuchsia on my lips — wrong.

My search soldiers on, though I’m pretty sure I’ve found my holy grail. Cannabis Rose by Fresh smells like a dirty, wet rose, trampled and earthy. There is nothing cloying about it. It’s a slutty rose, the older, wiser sister to Stella’s twinkly optimism. It’s good for where I’m at in life. I think it might be me.