I haven’t worn perfume for years. Nothing scented really, if I can help it, unless it’s of the all-natural essential oil variety. Allergies and chemical sensitivity see to it that pretty much anything with fragrance gives me a splitting headache.
I don’t mind this especially, as I think most people who wear scent wear far too much of it, but there are a few perfumes that I love and would love to be able to wear again.
At the top of this list would be Chanel No° 5.
I wore Chanel when I first moved to Toronto in the late 80s. Chanel was huge in the club scene then and the perfume was the closest I was ever going to get to a suit or a bag. It was a glamorous scent, not overwhelming, pretty but also mysterious.
I went through perfume phases and had a few favourites after I abandoned Chanel up until I had to stop wearing all fragrances or risk making myself sick. I hadn’t thought about that lovely square-cut bottle for years.
But recently I was walking through the Bay, carefully avoiding the perfume department, when I exited through one of the original art deco foyers. All white stone and silver handrails, I love this seldom-used entrance because it is so evocative of the 20s when the store was built as the Simpson’s flagship location. Every other part of the store has been renovated on an almost-yearly basis, but ths staircase remains the same, right down to the grooves worn into the stone of the treads.
For the holidays, they had set up a huge display of Chanel No° 5; the scent filled the air. My first thought was to be angry (sometimes it feels like I can’t ever get away from other people’s perfume), but then my brain started doing flip-flops and memories came rushing back. Dancing to “Low Rider” in the basement of the Tasmanian Ballroom in that 50s black silk dress I had scooped from work; drinking Absolut before heading out to Komrads with my boys; a pair of huge hoop earring with iridescent marbles attached to them that I wore constantly; fries and sangria at the Bloor Street Diner.
I stood for a moment, looking up at the war memorial in the foyer that commemorates Simpsons employees in the first and second world wars, and just let the scent waft over me. I was tempted, ever so briefly, to ask the clerk for one of those scent strips they’re normally trying to jam in my face when I zip through the perfume department, but thought better of it. I was even tempted to buy some, I have no idea why, although I knew I could never actually use the stuff.
It’s a different life now, I’m not that same girl. I couldn’t, wouldn’t, want to go back. But just for one minute, grasping that art deco railing and reading the names of the dead, I was 19 again.