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I have a confession…

I’ve just noticed something about my perfume buying habits, and while I don’t want to admit it, the Unseen Censer is here to report on uncomfortable (perfume-related) truths.

The truth is that I’ve just realized that I’m not sure there’s much relationship between what I want to buy and what I want to wear.

When it comes to what I want to wear, I am replete with perfumes. Of course I am. There are more than enough exemplars of everything in my collection and in fact more than enough scents that I love in my collection to have a plethora of choices, really probably too many choices, every day. And while sometimes I wish I’d picked something different, for the most part what I wear just makes me silly happy, and I enjoy it.

When it comes to what I own, I feel the need to still acquire. I see something that is unique – a limited edition I am interested in, or a new line – and I want at least some of it. But often I want, not just a substantial decant, but a bottle – that luxurious experience of ownership, the rich acquisitive probably unattractive cavewoman inside me that looks at a full bee bottle of Attrape-Coeur and thinks “MINE!” because I can hold the “real thing” in my hand. Surely possessiveness is not the best side of human nature. But in the same way that it can be very enjoyable to give in to possessive impulses occasionally, with tight clasping hands, growling noises, and teeth, it can be very enjoyable to give in to those impulses in the field of perfume acquisition as well.

I have now noticed, however, that they are not necessarily related. While the wearing impulse can be satisfied with what I have (of course it can, OMG the number of bottles), the acquisition impulse cannot be satisfied. Of course it can’t. There are still so many new things out there that I don’t yet own, so many of them worthy of ownership because they are beautiful compositions, or rare, or intellectually challenging, or even just undiscovered. The lust of the blind buy isn’t just the thrill ride (what will happen?) but the joy of pure acquisition – adding to one’s collection, one’s hoard, one’s treasure chest.

This must be how a museum curator feels, knowing that they must concentrate on, for instance, Vermeer, and that even if they feel they have a good and representative Vermeer collection they will never have all the Vermeers, much less representative samples of other Dutch artists, much less a comprehensive history of art. It simply can’t be done, the breadth of art and the limitations of acquisition, preservation and storage being what they are.

Identifying this impulse in me certainly helps me to understand a few things about myself. Why as soon as I love something I want a whole bottle of it, a whole bottle now. It isn’t to wear; it’s to save, to preserve, to add to the collection. It is not unknown for me to give away the original sample I fell in love with as soon as I acquire the bottle – and then go months without wearing what’s in the bottle. I know it’s gorgeous, I know I love it; the experience of wearing it is only part of the experience of discovering it, understanding it, acquiring it, and having it.

I could respect this impulse in myself more if it were goal-oriented. I would love to host sniffing parties, where a group of like-minded folks sat around and compared the finer points of this and that. We are actually a small world, however, my fellow perfume-lovers, and geographically this probably isn’t happening. I like seeding samples of this and that here and there when I can too, though it doesn’t happen as often as it probably should. It conflicts with the curatorial impulse, you see.

And yet I have come to terms with the ephemerality of perfume. I have. It is, after all, ultimately, a consumable – perhaps humanity’s most purely luxurious consumable, as it exists only for pleasure. It must be consumed to be enjoyed, like delicious food or wine, but nourishes only our senses and thoughts; and like those things it will not last forever, no matter what I do.

So there, that’s my confession. I intend to do absolutely nothing to atone for my sins. Perhaps only to be mindful, now that I know myself better, of the difference between what I want to own and what I want to wear, and realize that while the latter impulse can be more than met by the current holdings, the former impulse can never be truly and completely satisfied, and therefore must be structured and held back by reasonable, planned limits. I’ll never be able to limit myself to just one bottle a month; but I can’t limit myself to only buying what I’ve used up a sample of either, because that’s not the way my personal curatorial impulses are wired. I must and will find a good balance. It’s all part of the journey of discovery that is perfume.


Image is “I have a confession…“, by Jamie Carter, via Flickr; used under Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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2 comments to I have a confession…

  • Almost all perfumes I wear are those that I own (a bottle or a large decant), I do not even consider wearing fragrances that are in my testing pile. Unless it’s a final stage of the testing and I’m considering a bottle/decant purchase. But I’m not wearing all the perfumes I own… So yeah, sometimes I want to own a bottle but then I do not want to wear the perfume. I do not regret buying it though 🙂

    • Judith

      Ah, but you are much more restrained in your buying habits in general than I am, I think. And I absolutely do “wear” samples over and over that I’m not yet ready to buy a bottle for, at least not at retail. This often happens with something commercial (like Bottega Veneta) that I know will eventually flood eBay and be available for a song.

      Casting a gimlet eye over my collection, I can see there aren’t many bottles I don’t want to wear. And the thing is, once I sniff them, I think how pretty they are! So really they’re all bought to wear; but there’s still a difference between the “I want to wear this” and the “I want to own this” impulse.

What do you think?