There, I line up three or four different options that I've been mulling over, and ask them to smell each one. I'll then encourage them to take a few things into account before making any calls:
1) Summer is within reach, so the scent mustn't be too heavy.
2) It must be unique. I don't want to be stopped on the street by "OH EM GEE! Are you wearing (*insert top categorical high-school sellers here*)!?"
3) And finally, it must be long lasting – both on my skin, and in your memory.
By the end, most of my shopping companions have a headache (from a combination of both too many smells, and too much pressure) and I leave again empty handed. Yesterday, after yet another unsuccessful trip to the store, I ate dinner with a friend. Despite some of the more serous things to discuss, like where I am going to live, and what I am going to do with my life (all hot questions this month), we began to talk toilettes.
"I don't understand why no one can help me make up my mind?"
"Like I've said to you about all choices in your life," she answered in her signature breathy voice, "you need to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks, and do what makes you happy."
What makes me happy. If anyone knew what would make them happy, and I mean really and truly satisfied, then there would be no need to make decisions, no need to bring out the old moral compass, and advice, both given and received, would be a thing of the past. It sounds ridiculous, I know, to compare fragrance shopping to the ultimate arrangement and preparation of my future, present, and past, but it somehow inimitably applies.
"My family makes me happy. My dog. My friends. Uh, Michael Jackson... Seafood...This wine is good... I like to watch Jeopardy…" All of the answers came surprisingly quick, and although playing P.Y.T. at an ungodly decibel won't bring me answers to all of my problems, it's certainly a start.
So today, I went back to the store - alone - in search of a scent that not only smells good, but sparks something (greater than a compliment) within me. I lined up my select favourites and smelled each one again. The first one, Bvalgari Jasmin Noir, smells dark, and warm, and then minutes later, like baby powder and brandy. It reminded me of the types of thick, nearly syrupy scents my mother used to wear when I was young. The ones I used to absolutely hate. The ones I thought smelled like permanent white board markers. The ones that would linger in the house after she'd left with my dad on weekends, while I'd sit, arms crossed, and resent the babysitter.
Then, I smelled Prada Milano. It was light, and fresh and smelled like what you'd imagine a tall pine to smell like… after it took a shower. It reminded me of my summers at camp, and no matter how awful 'free swim' hour was, how the combination of best friendships and the smell of air and grass and trees (cheesy, I know) kept me coming back every single year, until I stopped. Until I grew out of camp, and all of its lightness and freshness (but luckily not friendships).
Finally, I smelled Perles De Lalique, a perfume that I had nearly written off a few weeks ago due to its distinctive, if not odd bouquet. I picked it up and sprayed it on my wrist. It smelled patently like something. It smelled so much like something, and yet I couldn't quite pin what it was. So I stood there, eyes closed, in the middle of Sephora, amidst young girls buying bronzer and liquid eyeliner at forty bucks a pop, and smelled it again.
A cedar closet. My bubbie's cedar closet; filled with her old furs and expensive silk dresses, and lined along the top with sombreros, and other tokens of her travels with my zaida. As a kid, I used to spend hours in there, falling into the side racks and wrapping myself in her aged treasures, fingering the details on every cuff, every hem, every single stitch, dreaming of a day when I'd be big enough to try them all on. I didn’t know then that I would far outgrow my grandmother's 5 foot tall stature, and never be able to dawn a single garment without substantial alterations.
That closet, although containing riches I will never be able to wear myself, was a place where I felt happy, unequivocally. Thinking on it, if I could live in that closet, next to her fragile, material mementos, collapsing in her buttery yellow wedding dress and bristly mink coats, and I would never be plagued with the question of what makes me happy again.
And so, $96.50 (and free gift with purchase) later, my decision had been made.
If only everything were this easy.