Do You Remember the First Time … ?

An inquisitive little girl, about six or seven years old. At grandma’s – where else? It had to be at grandma’s. A dark-wood dressing table, a vanity mirror, a cut-glass tray. A square, sized just to fit into a small girl’s salty palm. A recalcitrant oblong stopper, that had to be sneakily eased from its socket. You had to know better than to tug this, to save spilling its luminous contents.

Chanel No.5 parfum. Le monstre. A gift – perhaps carefully, thoughtlessly? chosen – from a duty free counter in some far-flung clime.

My first olfactory encounter of import, my first recognition of the power – and status – of scent.

Gran revered but seemed somewhat mistrustful of the stuff. Certainly, I never recall her choosing ever to wear it. She was happier in the lightly acrid chypre of Madame Rochas, the sober, spicy floral of L’Air du Temps, the tang of Elnette.

And so the No.5 remained, a forbidding totem, on the cut-glass tray. I feared it even as I worshipped it; I’ll never quite understand why. It lost its glow, became viscous and thickened, then met its end with my grandmother’s death. Where that small, square bottle went, I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter.

The song has ended, so it goes, but the melody lingers on.

Do you remember your first meaningful encounter with scent? Share your memories here, with The Scentimentalist.


  1. I adore this and will be an avid reader!

  2. I love it too! Scentimentalist, you already know that my earliest scent memory is my great-aunt dabbing 4711 eau de cologne on me when I was ill. But I thought I'd mention it again!

  3. Thank you, friends. I am honoured! :)

  4. Yummy post and you won't get penalised for chatting.

    I can't remember smells as a young child except the smell of talc. My grandmother had a powder bowl on her dressing table.

  5. Loved your evocative tale of your grandmother and her haunting bottle of No 5. I associate my granny with an abundance of wool and stern reprimands. On birthdays, if we were good, there would be a 10 shilling note and a ball of wool.

    In terms of early fragrance memories it will have to be non-perfume related scents such as Bronnley lemon soap (shaped like a lemon, for extra verisimilitude), and Yardley Honeysuckle Talc. In my teens, the memory morphs into Lentheric Tweed Talc - both on my mother.

    I didn't have a true perfume epiphany till the age of 48 last year with Apres L'Ondee, which I smelt and simultaneously read a review of, comparing it to "mercury trickling down bathroom walls". I was hooked.

  6. Oh, yes, floriental girl, I remember those Bronnley lemons. They smelt good! Tweed on your mother -- that's lovely. My mum has always smelled of Joy to me.

    48! How ripe you were for your first perfume 'moment'. Your citation is superb; evidence of how some scents are an evocation of something, rather than a literal translation.

    And you, you will always be Jasper Conran Woman to me. And yet I've never actually smelled you wearing that perfume!

  7. That can be rectified before the summer's out!

  8. supermarkynose@att.net29 July 2009 at 02:39

    like floriental girl I came to perfume... at about the same age. I will say that there are scents that stood out before that going way back. for instance the smell of the little towlettes that are provided with kentucky fried chicken, which I recently realized is none other than the scent of one of the very first eaux de cologne, 4711. (I have to say, I prefer it as an ephemeral refresher of greasy fingers to something that lingers for hours!)... I'd enjoyed the odd scented soap and shampoo, certainly, but it wasn't until about 5 years ago that I was lying in bed with someone and realized that I was for the first time, really taken with someone's cologne. He was wearing Mark Birley, which is ... pretty much the first Frederic Malle creation. I wore it for about 3 years before it occurred to me to investigate what else might be out there. I rarely wear MB anymore. Actually Mssr Malle has all but repudiated it. He was aghast that I was even aware of his involvement in its creation "who told you?" he asked. Nonetheless he gamely autographed the box I brought for that purpose when he came to visit Barneys a couple of years ago. I will say that at that time I expressed to him a desire to wear a concentrated version of Angeliques Sous La Pluie. It wasn't long afterwards that the release of "French Lover" aka "Bois d'Orage" followed!

  9. Mr Supermarky, you are clearly a perfume afficionado! I love the Malle line, and 'Angeliques' is a celestial scent. I have never been lucky enough to smell Mark Birley, and will confess readily that my knowledge of so-called 'masculines' is wanting. Please stick around and inspire us with your gentlemanly knowledge!