Perfume: necessity or luxurious extravagance?
By Sophie Soar
Marilyn Monroe, the beautiful bombshell and world-famous actress, knew how to work the press. She drove them wild with tantalising titbits that screamed every bit the sex-goddess reputation Monroe possessed. In a 1960 recording, only released in 2013, Monroe discussed the demands of the press: “You know, they ask me questions. Just an example: What do you wear to bed?” And she did not disappoint: “so I said ‘Chanel No. 5,’ because it’s the truth!”
Whilst Chanel’s brand manager probably wept for joy over the find of such a recording, it raises another question: just how necessary is the perfume in our make-up bags?
The recording of Monroe exudes her startled innocence. She saw no extravagance in her choice of nightwear; it was simply a statement of fact. Many women swear by their scent of choice, seen as just another element to their daily make-up routine. It is as much a staple as a slick of red lipstick.
In reality, however, it’s a relatively bizarre notion: you are tailoring your scent; sharing an artificial aroma; impressing upon people a fragrance shared by many others across the world. To think we personally spend hundreds of pounds on these elixir bottles of scented liquid seems mad, especially when propelled to buy these scents from their advertising campaigns. Do we really subconsciously believe we will embody Keira Knightley’s confidence whilst straddling a motorbike in a beige leather jumpsuit or Charlize Theron’s sexual allure whilst ripping off pearls, simply by sharing their perfume?
When also confronted with a limited student budget, our luxuries are the first to take the financially imposed hit. A Superdrug find replaced my Mac bronzer too soon into my first year at university and when purchasing mascara, the lowest price always prevails, despite my fear of my eyelashes falling out. My perfume also took the hit but rather than give it up completely, I only spritz on special occasions and hold out for the annual Christmas present for a new bottle of my favourite perfume.
From a young age we learn to love sensuous fragrances, playing through our mother’s perfume collections or buying our first body mist from Claire’s Accessories at the age of 12. The search for our favourite scent starts early. I for one follow not only in my mother’s footsteps but Monroe’s too, opting for the classic scent of Chanel No. 5.
Despite its age, the perfume remains loved 95 years after its first release. It is the epitome of a timeless classic, as is consistent with the entirety of Chanel’s work. Launched by Coco Chanel herself, the brand insists the scent remains extremely true to its original form from the 1920s. It is historical.
Whilst Chanel’s advertising campaigns may have us believe we share our scent with women of today, from Gisele to Nicole Kidman, we share our choice of perfume with hundreds of thousands of women over the last century, including the designer herself. The perfume may be a luxury, but one imbued with memories.
Designer Jean Paul Gautier once said “perfume is the most intense form of memory.” Whether referring to the lasting impression you leave when meeting someone new, or perhaps a memory of your mother’s perfume, maybe even the memories of women throughout history sharing the enjoyment of one scent, his point is that of a fragrance’s personal significance.
Whilst perfume may technically be unnecessary, it is a luxury we often struggle to sacrifice. Our chosen scent, selected over years of abusing testers in shopping centres and purchased by scraping funds together, is an extension of us. And besides, apparently it’s a solid way to make an impression. However, as Monroe teaches us, that may solely be dependent on how you wear it.