The Tuberose of My Resistance

Coming to My Senses by Alyssa HaradAlyssa Harad

Note: the following is an excerpt from Alyssa Harad's (yes, our Alyssa!) just-published Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride. Tomorrow, join us again for a Q&A with Alyssa about her new book.

Andy Warhol, who knew a thing or two about perfume and cool (a serious devotee, he was buried clutching a bottle of Estee Lauder's Beautiful), wrote that perfume is another great way to take up space. Nobody knows this better than adolescents, even if they generally all want to take up exactly the same kind of space.

Perhaps you remember clouds of Alyssa Ashley and Drakkar Noir, or Anais Anais and CK One. In my junior high, Ralph Lauren reigned supreme. The boys--the right boys--wore Polo, splashing it on with abandon from the handsome hunter-green bottles they kept in their lockers. Their female counterparts patrolled the halls in clouds of the original Lauren, passing that deep-red square bottle from girl to girl until all were fully anointed.

Polo was a swoon-worthy scent of deep, smoky-sweet woods and gentlemanly confidence, good even when broadcast at very high volume. A few years later I would fall successfully in love with a wonderfully off-kilter boy who wore it very well. But the real object of my desire was Lauren. It opened with the rusty-spicy green of marigolds and then rounded ever so slightly into wide, wax-polished planks of wood floors, clean hair, and cut-roses chilled by the florist's case. Now sadly attenuated, it was a scent like the clear tone of a bell, with no hint of dirt, sex or decay.

But though I can still identify it from twenty paces, I never wore it. I was not among the girls in the hallway waiting for their turn at the red bottle. I was in the basement eating lunch in the art room with my friends, as I did every day for three years. We spent hours discussing the shifting power structures of the school--how had moved up or down, who was hanging on by a thread and who had been cut off for good. It seems impossible, but I dimly recall our making an actual map one sleepless slumber-party night--a star-stickered poster-board flowchart of the teen court.

So I wore the perfume my grandmother gave me. At least I think it was for me. It came tucked into the packages she sent us--little vials gleaned form the beauty counters of the department store where she worked. Once there was a whole mini-bottle of Bal a Versailles EDC, which I tried and failed to wear for years. (And no wonder. Bal a Versailles EDP is famously rich and dirty--huge overblown roses, rotting cherries smoked with incense and mellow aged manure. The eau de cologne is just plain dirty and is best worn by very wicked old women.)

I settled instead on Oscar de la Renta's eponymous perfume, a blowsy floral oriental that required twenty years, two bra sizes and an evening gown more than I had at my disposal to be worn properly. It went on strong and then bloomed bigger into a thick sweatiness that set my teeth on edge. I gritted them and wore it anyway, the tuberose of my resistance, sniffing past it to catch a whiff of the Lauren that teased me every time I walked from my locker to class.

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72 Comments — Comments are closed

  1. BChant says:

    I’m sold! I must read this book.

    • Robin says:

      Good, we want everybody to read it!

  2. RusticDove says:

    I’m having the most wonderful time reading this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. So well written, and a subject matter so near & dear to the heart. I have ordered two more copies – one for my mom, and one for a client of mine, to whom I have been giving perfume samples and turning into a perfumista. ;-)

    • Robin says:

      Wonderful, thanks RusticDove!

  3. elise says:

    Bravo! off to purchase a copy! This sounds like a perfect read!

    • Robin says:

      And of course it is :-)

  4. Dilana says:

    Wow, people actually wore fragrances to your school. I can’t remember actually wearing perfumes, although I probably had some Estee Lauders that my grandma got at her charity luncheons, or maybe a bottle of Charlie for parties. Certainly, I don’t remember kids wearing perfume to school. I do remember a few kids who had a harsh sweet smell on them, but it was certainly not perfume.

    • Robin says:

      I am older than Alyssa…there was less conformity in fragrance when I was in junior high school…I don’t remember packs of girls wearing the same thing. I wore Coriandre & Diorissimo. I know the Love’s scents were still big too (Baby Soft & Lemon). In high school, lots of Halston floating around.

    • annemarie says:

      I know what you mean. I’m in Australia and and at my school, perfume was banned. No-one regarded that as outrageous. I don’t think perfume wearing was all that common in high schools anyway. Not sure what the situation is now. My son is now in high school, so I guess I’ll find out. He wears the usual Lynx deodorants and body sprays.

  5. Aparatchick says:

    The line about Bal a Versailles EDC being “best worn by very wicked old women” is one of my favorites in the book. Which I enjoyed reading very much!

    • Robin says:

      It’s a great line :-)

  6. lise says:

    I am so looking forward to read more of this book! At my junior high school it was a horrible perfume named Exclamation that was all over the place. Plus LouLou and Laura by Laura Biagiotti. I did wear Nature and Orchid from Yves Rocher, dreaming about Eden from Cacharel. My older sister walked around in a cloud of Chanel Allure.

    • Eroica says:

      Funny! It was Vanilla Fields, Exlamation, Navy and Electric Youth at my school. I wore Laura Bigotti Venezia. I go back to all 3 for the memories!! I said 3 bc I can’t find Electric Youth and I won’t pay ebay price.

      • lise says:

        Where did you go to school? I was born and raised in a little village in north of Norway.

    • mals86 says:

      Aw, now, no ragging on Exclamation! But go ahead and rag on LouLou all you want. :)

      • lise says:

        Sorry! :-)

    • Robin says:

      Love hearing all these middle school / junior high fragrances!

  7. farouche says:

    Just downloaded this book onto my Kindle and have started reading. I am really relating to the embarassment of admitting one’s parfumista tendencies to friends!

    • Robin says:

      Kindles are great — and assume they’ve got the first chapter free, if anyone else wants to check it out.

  8. Perfumista8 says:

    Hilarious! I can’t wait to read this book! I’ve got a road trip coming up next week and this will be perfect.

    My middle school crush wore Polo. He was from another country and the other boys at the school wouldn’t have been caught dead in cologne. Makes me smile to remember how I liked everything about him that was so different. And he wore Polo sooo well.

    Alas, I think I’m still 2 bra sizes too small for Bal a Versailles- and too old for that to change, naturally anyway.

    • Robin says:

      Mine wore Devin, and then another, Grey Flannel. Loved them both. And still love the smell of original Old Spice…there was lots of that around too.

  9. Rappleyea says:

    Laughing at the Bal a Versailles reference – I started wearing it in my twenties – what did I know? And my skank-eating skin turned it into a nice floral!

    Your book is already on my Kindle, simply waiting for me to finish what I’m reading now. I can’t wait!

    • Robin says:

      Glad to see all these Kindles! I am a huge fan, primarily because of the free first chapters. I read a LOT of free chapters, LOL…

      • Rappleyea says:

        Free chapters, free books…. ain’t it great!?! :-D

  10. lalicias says:

    Read it in two sittings . . . any perfume lover will love this book. This book could quite possibly make any reader a perfume lover. :-)

    • Robin says:

      And so it should :-)

  11. poodle says:

    I just got the kindle version the other night. Haven’t started it yet though. I know I’m going to love it.

    My high school had lots of Polo, Drakkar, and Halston z-14 for the guys. The girls tended to wear those Designer Imposter scents. My best friend used to smother herself and anyone nearby in a cloud of Primo which was their version of Giorgio. I got good stuff from my aunt so I wore Calandre, Ultima II Sheer Scent, and Chanel no 22.

    • Robin says:

      Ah yes, I remember those Designer Imposter things!

  12. Ida says:

    Can’t wait to download and read this!
    At our school (co-ed in South Africa), most of the boys seemed to be wearing Ego, but the one I like wore Eau Savaged. A friend wore Fidji, and I wore: EL Private Collection and Estee! Several bra sizes later, I can’t believe I thought I had the cleavage for it :-) I also adored Colors de Benetton, in a wonderful (octagonal) color-blocked bottle. My mom gave me Nocturnes de Caron, which I managed to track down again years and years later – a very endearing memory.

    • Robin says:

      Ah, the one you liked had good taste!

  13. Ida says:

    I meant Savage –

  14. teri says:

    At my Catholic high school, fragrances were discouraged, so I didn’t have the ‘soli-scent’ experience, although I can certainly remember my public school friends discussing the must have scent of the day.

    It wasn’t until I reached college and joined a sorority that I personally experienced fragrance as a fashion trend. There were several scents that all the girls wore – Eau de Love, Ma Griffe, Intimate, Blue Grass, Bonne Bell Skin Musk – although a few of us were scent rebels (I alternated in those years between Miss Dior and the classic Faberges).

    • Robin says:

      Ah, almost forgot about the Bonne Bell…I remember that one!

      • Rappleyea says:

        Did you ever smell their shower gel? They may even still make it, but I remember *loving* that smell.

        • Robin says:

          Gosh, I don’t think so. I don’t think I even used shower gel until much later.

  15. Tama says:

    Hooray! Loved this book! I wish Alyssa all the best success.

    • Robin says:


  16. mals86 says:

    LOVE LOVE ALYSSA’s BOOK! Planning on buying copies for numerous people. Will review soon.

    And the cool girls at MY high school wore Giorgio Beverly Hills.

    • Robin says:

      Argh…I remember lots of Giorgio too. Never liked that stuff (with apologies to its fans)

    • tulp says:

      Yeah, at mine too. Also patchouli. I hated both………..

  17. I am almost all the way through the book… got it last Thursday at Alyssa’s event at Bookpeople here in Austin.

    I don’t remember a whole lot about perfume in middle school… I know I had a mini of Cover Girl Navy that I nursed for a long time, but I don’t remember what anyone else was wearing.

    The first perfume I remember being EVERYWHERE was Ralph by Ralph Lauren when I was in high school. I liked it but didn’t have a bottle. I was wearing Oscar by Oscar de la Renta, which was hugely anachronistic at that time!

    • Robin says:

      Oh, and somehow that reminded me of Charlie…we had lots of Charlie too, although maybe that was high school? Can’t remember when it came out.

      • Bela says:

        1973. I worked as a dresser in a London theatre in 1974 and every afternoon, on my way to work, I would stop in one of Oxford St department store and drench myself in Charlie. It was really very very nice – and so different from the French perfumes I’d been used to until then.

        • Robin says:

          And it was a prestige fragrance then, of course! Later, in the US, it fell back to mass market.

  18. poodle says:

    Lol. Charlie. I used to live in a town that had a soap factory that made a lot of the fragranced soap for a bunch of different companies. Charlie was one of the scents and sometimes when you drove by that’s all you could smell in the air. Oftentimes it was a blend of many aromas but every now and then you could make out a particular scent. It was much better than the usual industrial factory aromas. We knew someone that worked there so we used to get some free samples now and then.

    • Robin says:

      That’s so funny!

  19. Whitscent says:

    It is a wonderful book and beautifully written! I just finished it this afternoon and now I will have to buy another copy for my sister because I can’t bear to pass it on.

    • Robin says:

      Oh good, hope your sister loves it too!

  20. Angela says:

    Hurray! I have to hustle down to my nearest independent book store (Powells–luckily only a few blocks away) and get a copy of the book. I’ll set aside my last few drops of Oscar de la Renta extrait to wear while I read.

    • Robin says:

      Do, because when Powell’s goes, it’s all over. But they’re in good shape, right?

  21. 50_Roses says:

    In junior high, I wore Shulton Blue Jeans, which I think was quite popular among the teenage set at that time. I do not clearly remember the actual scent, but I do remember thinking that it was similar to Love’s Baby Soft. I would love to get a whiff of it again, even just a small sample vial. It does show up on eBay pretty regularly, where it fetches truly astonishing prices. I also remember having one of the Coty Sweet Earth solid perfume compacts, with three different, coordinating scents. I don’t remember which one I had, though. When the Blue Jeans ran out, I got a bottle of Baby Soft, and later on in high school I acquired Emeraude, Blue Grass, Heaven Sent, and, I think, Arpege (that may have been college).

    • Robin says:

      Oh, I remember the Blue Jeans bottle! Can’t remember the smell though.

  22. nozknoz says:

    My pre-order arrived last week – now all I need is some free time! Great excerpt – really looking forward to this!

    • Robin says:

      The free time to read isn’t so easy to find, is it?

  23. bluepinegrove says:

    Loved the book. There was so much to relate to, I felt like it was written just for me. I’m sure a lot of readers will have that feeling. And now I will always think of Robin as The Librarian.

    • Robin says:


  24. CM says:

    I read this in a day and a half and thought it was absolutely charming. I loved how she slowly revealed and embraced her love of perfume …like a secret club! The girls in my school went from loves baby soft to Georgio. I wore Babe or Magic Noir and then Oscar. Finding other perfume lovers (am I the only one who breathes in skunk or barnyard or lilacs or fresh mown grass) has been fun for me too, but I loved reading Alyssa’s story.

    Oh, and I read everything on my kindle app on the iPad. Unless Im in the pool, then the kindle goes in a zippie and I read outside!

    • Robin says:

      Oh yes, Babe!!

  25. Merlin says:

    I’m a bit behind! Where can I get my claws on the book? Will it be released in South Africa too? My nose is twitching!

    • Rappleyea says:

      Easy-peasy – has it and ships to S. Africa. Enjoy! :-)

  26. ladymurasaki says:

    Wonderful. The book arrived through my door yesterday. Can’t wait to immerse myself in it.

    • Robin says:

      Hope you’ll love it!

  27. tulp says:

    Will the book also available in Europe?

    • Robin says:

      I’m afraid I don’t know…we’re posting a Q&A with Alyssa later today, and I’ll post your question as a comment & hopefully she’ll answer.

      • tulp says:

        Thanks, Robin!

  28. Woodgirl says:

    This is in my cart and my finger is hovering over the order button. In high school, during the Era of Musk, I wore Caswell-Massey Musk Oil, and Bakir by Germaine Monteil. A friend wore Halston and my Mom thought it smelled like cigars.

  29. AnnE says:

    Boy, did this bring back a fragrance memory for me with a big ol’ whoosh! 1973, first year in college, stealing a few hours away from the books to go perfume shopping at the mall with one of my housemates. I had a huge crush on him, so it was a very special event. He ended up with Polo, and I with Oscar de la Renta. I had stopped wearing the Oscar by the time I had graduated, but I still love Polo. :-)

    • AnnE says:

      Uh, make that 1978.

  30. bluegardenia says:

    Love the excerpt and love the interview with Alyssa. Cannot WAIT to receive the book from amazon!
    My middle school and high school were filled with perfumes. It seems like everyone wore them. The boys wore polo and drakkar and obsession for men and later, i think, cool water. The girls wore something called Design (what is that?), as well as body shop and bath and bath works scents, a lot of Calvin Klein eternity, which I hated, and yes, Lauren. Later people got into ck one. I refused to wear anything similar to what everyone else wore and bathed myself in the most expensive things I could find, like anything niche and from aedes, or things like dolce and gabbana (no one knew who they were back then except die hard fashionistas). So fun to remember!

  31. Adjovi says:

    Can we have your book in e-reader format please? Either Nook or Kindle. Thanks

    • alyssa says:

      It is available in both Nook and Kindle, Adjovi, download away!

  32. alyssa says:

    Not answering individual comments over here since Robin’s already done so, but just wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed hearing about people’s junior high perfumes!