A couple of months ago, I walked past a perfume counter at a department store. I spotted a tray of Cartier testers. The one in front was “So Pretty.” “Too bad about that name,” I thought, but picked it up anyway, and sprayed.
I nearly swooned with pleasure. I kept walking toward the parking garage, in a much better mood than I had been before. “Why,” I thought, “didn’t I know about this perfume?” And then “This must have rose in it somewhere. Yeah. There it is.”
I got home and hit the blogs.
Sure enough, “So Pretty” is a floral mix with rose. I’ve gotten to the point where I might be able to choose a perfume by reading the “notes.” If it’s called a “rose chypre,” as this is, I’m there. I began to wonder: why?
Why does one fragrance send you to the stratosphere and another one leaves you cold?
The obvious answer, of course, would be that good ol’ emotional memory triggered by a smell. While it is true that the olfactory receptors have a sort of all-access pass to the brain’s referees of emotion, just the recall of a specific a memory would indicate cognitive involvement too, and evidence supports that idea. By this reasoning, Something About Roses, some loaded memory, would be responsible for my near-swoon.
Except that it isn’t.
I never cared much for roses. I never grew them, nor did my mother, nor did anyone else I knew. (I have a couple of bushes now and they are a pain to maintain. Besides, modern roses hardly smell at all.) My only memory of a rose garden had to do with my “planting” of artificial rosebushes for a garden scene in a film. I dug holes all day. This is not a particularly fond recollection. No smitten lover ever brought me dozens. Etc. In other words, that’s not it. So I looked up some stuff on psychology and individual preference. I might as well have asked “Why is the sun?”
Are we talking about perception -- am I smelling the same thing that anyone else might be smelling? Or is it cognition -- where does this scent fit into my world view? Psychoanalysis (Freudian version) -- could it be an unconscious memory involving attachment to a parent? (Jungian version) -- is it an archetype, a symbol, that has come down to me from prehistory? And so on. Every school of psychology has its answer to my question. All of them could be right, or wrong. Or some combination, like ordering from a menu in a Chinese restaurant: one from column A; two from column B; Eureka, I have Found The Answer!
At first, I had concentrated on olfaction, individual preference, and emotion in my research. But then it occured to me: it’s not really emotion I’m dealing with here. It’s pleasure. Is pleasure an emotion?
I don’t know the answer to that one, either.
Adding to the confusion, most of us know that the “rose” in modern perfume often has little to do with an actual flower. It’s an aromachemical, synthesized in a lab somewhere. And, depending on the other essences in the perfume’s formula, that aromachemical might form an accord with one or more of them that is unique.
So much for the emotional memory theory.
Then I thought, well, it was a Cartier display, and I like the Cartier fragrances I’ve tried, as long as you don’t count “Delices.” In fact, one of the scents that made me love perfume was the original 1981 “Must.” Could my judgment have been influenced by that? Possibly, at least insofar as it made me pick up the bottle. But I would be the last person on earth to swoon over a brand.
So, I just don’t know. Do I have to know?
“So Pretty” came out in 1995. I bought tester bottles, of the EDP and the EDT, from an online discounter. I don’t think they’re all that different, though some say they are -- the EDT is a little greener and feels more spacious, somehow. The notes are listed on the bottles: Neroli, Iris, Rose, “Diamond Orchid,” Sandalwood and Musk. Another list I found, an older one I think, also mentions “Italian” mandarin, “Clear” jasmine, “Exotic” dewberry, “Rose Centofolia from Grasse,” “Osmanthus from China” -- let’s drop the ad-copy folderol, shall we? -- vetiver, white peach, oakmoss and benzoin.
In the final analysis, if you can call it that, none of this stuff really matters. In my own life, there have been just a few perfumes out of the hundreds I’ve tried that have done this to me, and this is one of them. I wear it to do laundry. I wear it to sleep. Right now, it’s my favorite mood manager. No matter what I’m doing when it wear it, it’s better than it would have been without it. For me, it has transcended analysis.
Is there a fragrance, or more than one, that does this for you?
The perfumer for “So Pretty” was Jean Guichard, who also created “Obsession,” “Loulou” “Poison” and “Asja.”
The nebula photo is one I’ve had hanging around in my photo files for a long time. I never recorded who the photographer was, so can’t give proper credit here.