November 4, 2017
Gainsborough Vintage ad 1920s
My earliest memories involve smells, although not perfume. My grandmother who smelled like a pleasant mixture of baby powder and lilac.The attic of my childhood home which reeked of must and mystery, a great-grandfather’s trunk. The smell of hot pavement after a summer rain, crushed leaves underfoot in autumn, crackling fireplace in winter.
photo: Liza’s original bottle, vintage Nina Ricci Mademoiselle Ricci
When I was eight years old my father went on a business trip and brought me back not a child’s gift but a bottle of women’s perfume instead. It is likely that he reached the airport and realized that he had forgotten to buy me a souvenier. In those days Duty Free shops were the sole retailers in airports (no Disney). The holy trinity of Duty Free shopping was, and remains, alcohol, tobacco, and perfume. The first two categories did not suit but a bottle of perfume could be justified; a full-size bottle of Mademoiselle Ricci (original formulation 1967) by Nina Ricci. I was so impressed that I got my own bottle of perfume. It was more than a gift, it was a message. What I internalized was that one day I would grow up to become a lady and ladies wear perfume. As seminal as that gift was it was the bottle that mattered. A genie shaped flacon it still adorns my vanity to this day. I really have no memory of the smell of the fragrance itself. (It has since been reformulated and relaunched in 2012). It took me years to connect emotionally to an actual juice. In high school and college I was spoon fed the mass market favorites:Skin Musk by Bonne Belle, Vanderbilt by Gloria Vanderbilt, Liz Claiborne, Ysatis by Givenchy. I wore them each without thinking, sprayed on last, almost as an afterthought.
photo: Mariella Burani Mariella Burani
It wasn’t until I worked in cosmetics that it occurred to me that fragrance could be individualized, selected much like a dress which suits your own unique curves. That a fragrance might smell different on me than on someone else, that it might enhance my personality, was a new idea. With that approach in mind, I learned to test directly on my skin skipping the blotter card. Like this I found my first true fragrance love, Mariella Burani by Mariella Burani (1993), now sadly discontinued. That Mariella Burani (nose: Jean Jacques) was an oriental scent is significant as this category remains a hallmark of my signature scents to this day. The middle notes of jasmine, ylang-ylang, iris, and rose are all usual suspects for me now, as are the base notes of amber, sandalwood, patchouli, and musk.
Edvard Munch Paris Nude 1896
More importantly, I had made an emotional connection to the fragrance. It made me feel more…me. Not surprisingly, the ritual had become more intimate, spraying on the fragrance while still semi-nude, fresh out of the shower, and straight onto the skin.
Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, The Three Perfumes (1912)
It wasn’t until a full decade later that I discovered the world of niche perfumery. I was working at a Blue Mercury location in the heart of Georgetown in Washington, DC. This was when Blue Mercury was a quirky independent boutique with five locations which carried lines that were long in cult status and short on national marketing. Essentially, despite years of experience in the beauty biz, I had not been exposed to many of the lines they carried. Chief among them, the fragrances, with brands like Comptoir sud Pacifique, Creed, Red Flower, and Tocca.
Olivia Giacobetti and L’Artisan Premier Figuier
Most evocative of all, was how fragrance choice became for me a journey of self-discovery. These were scents that lead you by the nose and, while my default towards orientals had been set, I learned to enjoy the occasional fragrant surprise. The most unforgettable among those was Oliva Giacobetti’s masterpiece for L’Artisan Parfumeur Premier Figuier (1994).
Adam and Eve Marc Chagall
I just couldn’t believe that a fig could be the centerpiece of a perfume. And yet there is was and once on the skin, so powdery yet primal I felt like I had been transported to the Garden of Eden.
Fig Tree by Elani Van der Merwe©
Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti was, in fact, the first to create a fig inspired perfume and the name is French for “first fig tree”. To this day I credit Premier Figuier for giving me the most open mind…and nose. Elevated, at last, in my quest for fragrant dreams… the Holy Grail… I am happy with the quest as I linger upon each new fragrance love content with the idea that, in the moment, I am wearing a fragrant work of art. As Oscar Wilde once said, “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.”
Notes: fig, fig leaf, milk of almond, sandalwood, and coconut.
Disclosure: From my own collection
~Liza Wade, Monthly Contributor
Art Direction: Michelyn Camen, Editor-in-Chief
Thanks to the generosity of The Perfumed Court we have a 5ml sprayer of the Original L’Artisan Parfumeur Premier Figuier for a registered reader anywhere in the world. To be eligible you must sign up for their newsletter. Please leave a comment with what you enjoyed about Liza’s Fragrant Awakening, if you are familiar with Premier Figuier and where you live. Draw closes 11/7/2017