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The past was not shy

Josephine Baker and acres of skirt. Not shy.

Josephine Baker and acres of skirt. Not shy.

As I’m mulling over when (not whether, but when) to acquire some vintage Emeraude and testing some old Krazy Krizia I scored in a thrift shop (I hear it’s a dead ringer for the old discontinued Anne Klein II), I’m contemplating the fact that old perfumes must have been worn to be noticed.

In the slightly unseasonably warm weather of the last few days, in New York, one can smell any number of sweet or fruity or laundry-musk type scents as one walks down the street; but it’s hard to find anyone wearing anything I’d personally call perfume.

Perfume – from scented smoke, from incense, originally – was surely meant to be noticed. If it was true that Marie Antoinette’s scent gave her away, because no one poorer than the Queen could have been wearing it, it must have smelled expensive – and it must have been noticeable. Watching the BBC’s recent documentary on perfume, I noticed Roja Dove pointing out that the old eau de toilettes and eau de colognes were wiped on the arms (probably down the décolleté as well). They can’t have been that shy and retiring as scents.

Nowadays we worry about what to wear to the office that isn’t too big or too noticeable. Yes, the 80s scarred us all and all of us have been trapped somewhere with someone wearing just too much of something – probably a scent we hated – and we never want to be That Person. But if you love classic perfume, real perfume, you may have a challenge on your hands from time to time. Because real perfume is noticeable.

I have vintage Chanel No. 5, and some vintage Shalimar extrait and a number of other older perfumes. There’s very little made nowadays to come anywhere near them for sillage. If I’m wearing them someone will notice. I keep them under control by dabbing them very lightly, if I’m going to wear them.

But I do fantasize, I admit, about walking into a huge polished room wearing something slinky and enveloped in a cloud of one of these fragrances and making such an impression upon at least one breaking heart (of course, not broken before encountering me!) that there’s at least one person in the world who will forever after think of me whenever that scent wafts by.

It’s a movie fantasy. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep sniffing my arm.

This little two-inch patch I’ve anointed with Krazy Krizia smells fantastic. The top notes have gone off a bit (it is only a small mini and those stoppers aren’t perfect) but the middle is a rich, glorious dark oriental bouquet of the sort that satisfies all my classic perfume cravings. It dries down to a slightly vanillic wood gloriousness of the kind I’d like to live in, and then departs leaving only a bit of almondy shadow behind. I wish I had the guts to wipe it up and down my arms, like they did at the dressing tables of old.

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