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25th November 2010

Thanks for the memories: the potency of perfume

Exploring the personal quality of perfume

Scent is a sensual subject, surely? Certainly, if you close your eyes and imagine the current object of your infatuation, one of the most memorable aspects of that person may well be – if you’ve managed to get close enough – their smell.

Indeed, scent seals and evokes memories more powerfully than any other sense  –  our sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than all other senses. Also, the  recognition of smell is immediate, due to the fact that other senses must travel through the body by means of neurons and the spinal cord before arriving at the brain, whereas the olfactory response is immediate, extending directly to the brain. Therefore, it’s not entirely surprising that many memories – most notably memories of youth and love / lust affairs – are enmeshed with some sort of smell.

However, the power of scent is by no means epitomised by the memory of another, as demonstrated by the very personal choice and application of perfume. When selecting a perfume, I am always hunting for a fragrance that smells like something I want to be: a reality that makes me feel like myself, yet with all the promise of fantasy. This scent isn’t about pleasing anybody else, but instead is a curious method of defining myself just for myself.

For the past couple of years now, my Bvlgari “Jasmin Noir” has performed the role of such a scent. Enclosed in a beautiful black bottle, complete with violet shadows and strong gold stopper, it gives me great pleasure to simply reach for this perfume. Having released the scent around my neck, “Jasmin Noir” opens with notes of green sap and gardenia, the heart notes of the scent – including sambac jasmine and satin almond – soon follow, accompanied by the base notes of precious woods, tonka bean absolute, and liquorice. The result is a rich yet subtle scent full of sophisticated yet sensual femininity, complete with incredible longevity – I can always smell it the morning after the night before. When the sun goes down (for it is truly a nocturnal scent – I use Tom Ford’s “White Patchouli” for a daytime sense of self), I never leave the house without enveloping it into my outfit. Clothes come second to a signature scent because, comparatively, nothing else seems necessary.

Silent and invisible, the consequences of fragrance are nonetheless tangible. Proust exemplifies the enigmatic power of perfume when he muses:

“But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection”.

When there’s no night left  for dancing and I fall into bed with the sunrise, on the brink of unconsciousness, reality in all its sensuousness begins to fade until I am left solely with the remains of the perfume that has pervaded myself throughout the night. My head hits the pillow, the heart notes swirl up from my hair; I sleep with a final intoxication.

Isabelle Dann

Isabelle Dann

Isabelle Dann is the Lifestyle Editor at The Mancunion. Follow her tomfoolery @izzydann

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