Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thoughts on Scentscapes & Chanel No. 5

Walking into work Thursday, I passed by a woman in her late 20s wearing business casual pastels in the hallway. In her wake I smelled something sweetly candied and familiar. After a moment's reflection, I had it. Prada Infusion d'Iris.  It's a funny thing, to realize that you've improved your sense of the scentscape in the world around you.  Whether your nose actually gets better, or just your understanding of what your encountering around you improves, it seems as though you can suddenly smell more things.  It's a lovely notion, that even in the middle of life we can learn to use and be aware of our bodies in new and different ways.  Not to rediscover things we could do as children, but to literally learn to be aware of things we never were before.  It reminds me of all that I have left to see and do in the world. 

I didn't go to work on Friday.  I had a commitment three months in the making that preceded my new job.  And, without violating any confidentiality, let me say this -- I got dressed up in my fancy suit, and I went to a small county courthouse, and I sat there as a spectator and support person in the life of someone else and prayed for the law to do the right thing, to do justice.  And, remarkably, it did.  When I was getting dressed on Friday, I stood in my heels and gazed into my perfume cabinet and considered: what scent would work?  What scent seemed to embody the confidence and strength and restraint required for the trial? And what scent would possibly embody the prayer in my heart, that the system might vindicate my hope that my faith in it was not misplaced and that a woman wronged would get what she deserved?

I ultimately choose...

...Chanel No. 5 EdT.

No. 5 is good for so many things.  It's mostly sold through romantic fairy tales featuring exquisite actresses of significant renown.  But really, No. 5 has the ability to be so much more.  You can rely on it for those days when the somber circumstances demand a conservative black dress and tearful goodbye.  It can get you through meeting your significant other's parents for the first time.  It's prefect for that rare refined night on the town -- the ballet, the symphony, the orchestra.  It's appropriate for the close quarters of a holy Mass, like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday.  And, as it turns out, it works well for a very important court date. All morning long, as I would stretch my back or swing my hair or uncross and recross my legs, that light, lovely remarkable fragrance would waft gently toward me.  It was there at the beginning when I helped her breath slowly and there at the end, when she hugged me in stunned relief. 

I've been working on notes for a piece comparing the No. 5 EdT, EdP, and parfum for a while now.  They are all beautiful and distinct, and everyone I think prefers one over the others even if you don't love the scent.  But whichever one you prefer, the fact is that No. 5 has an incredibly rich history and cultural significance and its status as an icon is well-deserved.  Because it's not the reputation that made me reach for it Friday morning.  It was that the actual scent is this subtle, refined scent that demands you take it seriously.  It's a serious perfume for serious moments, fervent prayers, sincere efforts. No. 5 is a classic for a reason. 

I can't imagine not having it in the arsenal.

19 comments:

Pille said...

Your website is a rainbow of joy!
Congratulations and best wishes from an Estonian knitter living in North-Italy :)

Diana said...

Thanks, Pille! Your knitting is so impressive. I've never been able to learn despite my best efforts. I can crochet well enough, but knitting continues to elude me so you have my deep respect. Best wishes from an American lawyer living in the Northwestern U.S.

Ines said...

You sure made me want to go and smell it again to see if I need it in my arsenal.
I'm so glad the court did the right thing.

La Bonne Vivante said...

Beautiful prose! And quite a paean to Chanel no. 5. You make me want to smell you and know you, if that doesn't sound weird. Keep up the good work, both in your real life and in your writing!

Diana said...

Ines, you know it was the first true classic I ever really loved and owned a bottle of. I never thought it would be because it seemed so cliche that I actively sort of smelled around it (trying Patou Joy, Guerlain Mitsouko, and a couple of others first) but then I had a really long layover in Seattle on a Flight to Philadelphia, so I went into the duty free to kill some time and there it was! So, of course, I bought it.

I'm glad the court thing went well, too. I get very invested in these things personally, so it sort of kills me when they don't.

Diana said...

You make me want to smell you and know you, if that doesn't sound weird.

No, that doesn't sound weird to me. Perfume is so personal that it seems so different when you know it through someone else's experience. For instance, when I think about Caron Tabac Blond in the abstract, I think it smells very western, like horse sweat and leather and open sky and dry land pounded hard by the beat of hooves. But then, I also know Caron Tabac Blond through my friend Angela, and she is a vintage dress wearing, classic film loving, woman who always has this sophisticated air to her. She loves Tabac Blond, and through her I get a different sense of it.

And of course I'd like to know you, too! A Medieval Literature studying, opera trained, Chinese watercolor painting perfume enthusiast? This, by far, is the best thing about the internet. All the cool people you can meet!

It's funny, I was actually offered a job at Ithaca last summer and passed it up to take a gig in California, so I've actually been to your academic neck of the woods. It's a pretty part of the country, but then, I did get to go in summer, so I'll have to trust your take on the winters.

La Bonne Vivante said...

um... winters suck, no joke.

Although I do like to look at the trees naked. They come in so many shapes and colors we just don't get out in the West, where I grew up, where it's all pine trees, pine trees, pine trees!

Ithaca is a nice place to live and work, though I don't know if I'd like to spend my life here.....

cKate said...

I love this piece, and it totally gives me a glimpse into the role that perfume plays in your life, which is really cool (I say as someone who is usually content to smell like grocery store shampoo).

Diana said...

Awww, the Kate! That was so nice of you to say!

Diana said...

La Bonne Vivante, ultimately I choose southern California b/c it was closer to my friends and husband who was still working here in PDX. But I do like Western New York.

Good luck on the dissertation.

ScentScelf said...

D, if No. 5 did for me what it does for you, it would be at the front of my arsenal.

That is neither complaint nor question; that is a bow to your power to present a different guise for No. 5, and my reverence for perfumes being a fabulous expression of public and personal. I may not be part of the party on this one, but I'm glad you are.

I'm glad things went well for the object of your support, too.

We're going to have to prepare our anti-sniffers; if I got "sweet candied" out of Infusion d'Iris, it would be nowhere near the prominent position it gets in the no-brainer wallpaper section of my brain.

Somewhere in Venn Diagram land lies Tabac Blond, Angela, me...and you. I am a classic film loving but not-vintage dress wearing sort. I kind of like what it does when I'm wearing an ironed white shirt and jeans...like when I'm going "casual" to a board meeting. ("Casual"...but don't rely on it... ;) )

Hope the new job is off to a good start.

Josephine said...

What a lovely post! I acquired No.5 EdP through a bidding war at a charity silent auction and wear it on occasion, but only those times that I can truly appreciate all that it has to offer.

Don't you just love those days when you truly think through the perfect perfume and realize, all day, that you got it just right? Magical.

Diana said...

Josephine, I do love it when I get it right! Especially when I get a hit off the scent 4-6 hours later and it makes me happy all over again.

Mademoiselle Frou-Frou said...

i am tempted to buy Chanel no.5 just for the beautiful bottle. i am not a huge fan of the scent...ended up getting Chanel Gardenia a few months ago.
xox alison

patti said...

I loved your review of No. 5. Also, very happy to read that justice was served.

I just recently discovered my love for No. 5. In the past, I couldn't get through the opening. Much too strong, I thought too harsh. But then, I was looking for a new fragrance to wear to our son's wedding. I went to the department store, tried on several and couldn't believe that my nose kept going back to the No. 5 sample on my arm. The heart and drydown were amazing. I just never gave it long enough. I came home with the EdT and EdP. I prefer the EdP on me, but I love the EdT on my husband. To me the EdT has a bit of a sharper/bitter quality, maybe it's citrus, that I think goes well with a man. The plus side is, our fragrances match eachother. No one scent is fighting for attention.

Perfume said...

I have been wearing Chanel No 5. for some 22 years now. The moment I take that beautiful bottle in my hand and spray it on, I just love it. For me it is one of life's great pleasures. I would agree it either suits you or it doesn't. I just love it and can't count how often it has been complimented, and even if it wasn't it's more about the satisfaction I get from wearing it.

Diana said...

Patti--

First of all, I am humbled you read my little blog! Thanks for the visit.

Also, I know people who don't see the beauty in Chanel No 5, who think it is harsh or boring, and generally my reaction is -- depending on the person -- either (a) you'll come around or (b) fine, then, more for me! I'm thrilled it is speaking to you now.

I like the idea of putting the EdT on your partner and wearing the EdP. It makesm e think about what else I might be able to surreptitiously spray on my husband...

Diana said...

Mademoiselle Frou-Frou, I love the bottle, too. It's very angular, and yet, I really like it.

Diana said...

Perfume, I tend to get a lot of compliments on it from younger women who always seem surprised that they like a scent so firmly cemented in their minds as "classic" meaning "serious" and "old." Once again, proof that you have to try any scent for yourself before you'll know if it's scent love, reputation and price point be damned!