Marilyn Monroe famously said all she wore to bed was Chanel No. 5. That always puzzled me. No. 5 is elegant and restrained, so ladylike, and it doesn’t have half the pulchritude Marilyn does. Marilyn might have done better with No. 5′s lusty cousin, Guerlain Vega. While No. 5 stares coolly as a man walks out on her (how dare he!), Vega begs tearfully for him not to go, then laughs at him when he tells her he loves her. But it occurs to me now: maybe No. 5 wasn’t really what Marilyn was. Maybe it was what she wanted to be.
How much of your perfume choices reflects what you aspire to, and how much reflects who you really are? I know I’d like to be a vintage Dior fragrance: elegant and unusual, like Diorella; passionate and unexpected like Dioressence; and strange and womanly like Miss Dior. Sadly, my unkempt hair alone kicks me down the perfume hierarchy to something found on the sale rack at Walgreen’s.
My perfume cabinet could provide years of material for a fragrance-savvy shrink. I see a bottle of Guerlain L’Heure Bleue that is supposed to reflect my complicated sensitivity. On the other hand, next to it is half a bottle, no cap, of vintage Dior Diorissimo, that I want to communicate how pure and straightforward I am. Half a dozen bottles of perfume, from Guerlain Shalimar to Piguet Bandit, want you to believe I’m one of half a dozen varieties of smoldering heartbreaker. Yet another half dozen bottles (Balenciaga Le Dix and Hermès Calèche among them) tell the world I live for good taste. But then again, a few other bottles want you to know that I’m not that kind of stuffy person at all (hello Fabergé Tigress).
Maybe perfume is like an olfactory mood ring, but instead of telling how you feel, it makes known how you want to feel and who you want to be. Some lucky people may epitomize exactly the perfume they use, and the perfect Serge Lutens Bois de Violette probably is out there drinking champagne in Paris. But for the rest of us, perfume choices represent possibilities and maybe even ideals that we can adopt when we need them.
Marilyn Monroe probably did have a slice of No. 5 in her, and maybe she was tired of Vega stealing all the limelight. What we aspire to is, after all, part of who we are. As Walt Whitman wrote, “I contain multitudes”. I’d like to paraphrase Whitman to say “I contain multitudes; therefore my perfume cabinet contains multitudes of bottles.”
Note: image via Images de Parfums.