I fell in love with with Chanel No. 22 (as much as you can truly love perfume) when I was coming to terms with how desperately sad my marriage was. It was 2014 and I had just discovered my passion for collecting perfume although I’d worn it since age 4. We were also living in an area surrounded by Art Deco and Moderne architecture.
I smelled the melancholy Ernest Beaux work of genius called No. 22 and instantly felt my soul reflected back to me in olfactory form. The original terrazzo floors beneath me and the light from a bank building coming in through the windows of our building from the early 1900’s felt like a whisper from a distant age the way “Rhapsody In Blue” did when I heard it for the first time in childhood (an old recording FYI as there’s a difference). Comforting. Sad. Incredibly beautiful.
But it was an amazingly well preserved and very old bottle of Chanel No. 22. It was quite different from the versions that followed it. Less sweet and more reserved and serious. It was also a little heartbroken. Perhaps heartbroken in a delicate and youthful way though and as Chanel debuted No. 22 as part of the 1922 White Collection (meant for a bride) perhaps it was just my subjective opinion that it was also sad. Or, I should point out, it might be my nose. While I had Covid-19 last spring No. 22 smelled rambunctious, sweet and saucy to me. Now that my sense of smell has returned to normal it smells more as I recall it originally: Pensive.
I used to wear No. 22 with red lipstick, drink gin and write on this blog. But that was before I had my second child and while my son was taken care of during the day. I had plans even then of writing a novel. It was going to be a very different novel than the one I’ve written.
Since then my marriage has been rejoined, separated, rejoined and then finally separated for good. The first time it was out of a slight hope for finding love and some sense that it wasn’t “right” to stay in a bad marriage at only 31 years old. But then my son got very sick, almost died and we reunited. Eventuality, of course, the marriage fell apart again only for me to fall apart from exhaustion and then decide in resignation to “try again” given how kind Mark was when I was literally so tired. …I felt good enough eventually to give birth to another child and having been an only child myself I didn’t want my son to have that experience so we added one more child. And it was actually the right choice. (We adore our daughter too, of course. It wasn’t just for my other child. I wanted one more and I’m indescribably glad we had her.) But…things are what they are and of course now we’re separated because I can’t truly stay in a dead marriage. I just can’t. And it isn’t the concept that it’s “bad” to stay that’s motivating me this time so much as that I can’t handle the suffocating hopelessness of it. It was killing me from the inside out.
(…Again, Mark is a great man. I’m glad we have our kids but the marriage is dead.)
But No. 22 is such a beautiful perfume. Vintage No. 22 in particular. Now that my nose is back to normal and I smell the misty light blue and creaminess with aldehydic edges once more memories return. And I worry it embodies the part of me lost to time and disappointment since then.
Do I even have access to that part of myself anymore? Does it even exist? I use perfume to express myself and what am I expressing now? Where is my soul?
I’ve thought that La Pausa with its iris note is “me”. Perhaps it is. L’Heure Bleue is too though. And No. 22 was “me”…more than any perfume has been or continues to be. But…it’s a part that’s in the past.
Mlle. Coco Chanel once famously said, “A woman who doesn’t wear perfume has no future.“ I do wear perfume! Ha! But… I need to work on getting my bearings and I hope I find a perfume they resonates with me again someday.
Not that I don’t know who I am… And not that No. 22 betrayed me. It didn’t convince me to adore it and parade it around as my signature under false pretenses only to realize later that it was a mismatched love. Of course, it was “stolen” from me and my nose did stop smelling all the notes for a relatively short while. But, really, I just changed and since I wore it as an expression of myself because it’s perfume and that’s how I wear perfume I’ve lost my ability to enjoy it in the same way. I still “love” it but it’s not me anymore.
I wish I hadn’t changed in some ways. But I also know a lot more now.
If I ever go on a date again I wonder what I’ll wear for a fragrance. Mark really did barely care which perfume I wore. As long as I didn’t stink he was content… *fond smile* It wasn’t that he was opposed to perfume but it certainly wasn’t an aphrodisiac for him on anyone. I read perfume reviews for fragrances like Frederic Malle Carnal Flower or Musc Ravageur and the way it seems to affect some people is entirely foreign to any experience I’ve ever had wearing perfume and all the men I’ve gone on dates with have never worn much fragrance. Well…I had one boyfriend who proudly wore Palmer’s Coco Butter. Gen Z would say he made it “a personality trait”. And, he thought made him smell like chocolate. But he never wore it to arouse or intrigue me although I wonder about some other people. He just thought he was cute when he smelled like chocolate (?) and he demanded I admire it on him as well. I hated it to be honest… It smelled like Palmer’s Coco Butter not chocolate.
And then I wonder again how skin chemistry affects perfume as much as scent perception. But for now it’s a mystery when it comes to No. 22 on my skin (and all perfume to some degree). If I ever have a male opinion on my perfume other than Mark’s opinion I’m going to have to experiment to figure the mystery out.
…Sorry if the posts have been too dreary so far.