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Monday, January 21, 2013

Scent Memories

For me, the hardest decision to make about a heroine is not the color of her eyes or her hair, but her fragrance. Scent invokes so many strong emotions in a reader. Who can forget Ellen O'Hara, and her scent of lemon verbena? Long after Ellen dies in Gone with the Wind, Scarlett can bring her mother to mind with just a whiff of her scent. To me, a character or person's scent is stronger than eye or hair color, which can be shared. Scent reacts differently and can take on a life of its own depending on each person's body chemistry; it is, in a way, as singular as a fingerprint.

When I was in high school, I found one perfume that I had to buy. Annick Goutal's Gardenia Passion. I sniffed a sample in Vogue and was hooked--no matter what the cost, I had to have a bottle. I saved up my money from cleaning kennels in a vet clinic and, with one Christmas' worth of gift money, had enough for one small bottle. I remember walking in to Neiman-Marcus and my knees trembled. I was shockingly out of place in such a fine store, but the floor walker graciously assisted me anyway--as though I were a princess in disguise. He even made sure that my purchase was wrapped in layers of tissue paper before being tucked in a scarlet bag.

When the bottle was empty, I saved it. I saved every scrap of wrapping from that purchase for years. And then as I grew older, I was able to afford Gardenia Passion and wore it for decades--it became my personal scent. But something happened over the past year or so--my body chemistry changed, or something altered in the formula and I no longer smelled like me. I took the opportunity to change scents, but I still wanted to smell like a gardenia.

I found Goest Perfumes through an Etsy listing for a scent called "Silent Films"--any perfume made to smell like an old movie has my vote. I tried a sample of Silent Films and it was amazing--but too strong for me to carry off. So I asked Jackie, the owner, if we could create a scent that smelled like a blend of Silent Films and Gardenia. Bespoke perfumes are her specialty, so she agreed to the challenege with zest.

Every aspect of the bespoke perfume process was fun, frivolous, and intensly personal. I answered a lengthy questionnaire that helped Jackie understand my likes and dislikes. She sent samples my way--not merely to wear but to try on paper so I could catch the different notes as the scent aged. And finally, just yesterday, I received my personal, custom scent in the mail.

The heroine has her scent! And it's uniquely mine.

My Handley sisters smelled like violets--as soon as I discovered their scents, I understood their characters even though Harriet and Sophie are very different women. My newest heroine, Susannah Siddons, is more open and passionate and so orange blossom is her signature fragrance. Now that I have developed my own signature scent, I feel like a heroine of my own making.

What is your favorite scent? One lucky commentor today will win a fragrance sample trio pack from Goest Perfumes. Please include your email address. Contest open to US residents only. Thank you!

23 comments:

  1. My favorite scents have always been gardenia, lilac and old roses such as alba roses. Luckily I have alba roses and lilacs that bloom right outside the windows (gardenias don't do so well in Illinois - lol). I have yet to find a perfume in any of these scents that work for me. I prefer lighter and more subtle scents.

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    1. I love the smell of lilac too-though it always changes on my skin. :)

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  2. Oddly enough, I've never been a scent-wearing kind of person. I have an extremely sensitive nose - almost freakishly so - and find most perfumes overwhelming, no matter how small the amount. There is one scent, however, that always reminds me of when my husband and I were dating: Surf laundry detergent! LOL - its as wonderful to me as even the finest perfume since it evokes those cherished memories of falling in love :)

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    1. Love how a certain scent can invoke an entire period of your life. My grandad always smelled like cedar because he stored his clothes in cedar-lined drawers. Whenever I smell cedarwood, I am 6 years old again, riding around with Grandad on his wheelchair. :)

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  3. I love the smell of violets. However, I love my body wash which is coconut lime. I'm drawn to the smell of coconut. I love reading in the stories how the hero describe the scent of heroine and vise versa. I have notice as I got older my scents have change. When I was younger I love more flower scents and now I'm in love with fruity smells with a touch of citrus.
    countessofmar(at)yahoo(dot) com

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    1. Bath and Body Works' Coconut Lime always smells like summer to me. :) Thanks for stopping by, Melody!

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  4. I'm not big on wearing heavy scents, but I love a soft floral fragrance. Coach has put out some scents called Poppy and Poppy Floral. For Christmas, I bought myself (To: Connie From: Connie :-) ) a duo of these which come in a perfume pencil/crayon. It's really unique in that you can just "mark" yourself wherever you want the scent. It's light and delicious. It also comes with a sharpener and very reasonably priced.

    I find the history of perfume making is enthralling. The novel, "The Book of Lost Fragrances" by M. J. Rose is great in bring this subject to life. When I lived in France, there were still stores that would make your own perfume based on what you liked and your own body chemistry. Fascinating!

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    1. Oh wow - that would be a cool store to limit! On the rare occasion I do dab a little scent on, it's the Coach perfume my mom got me - So therefore I know you must smell very nice, lol!

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    2. That sounds like an amazing book, Connie. My bespoke experience with Goest is as close as I can get to living in France--and it's amazing! Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. It's so funny that you blog this now... I was sitting up last night trying to think about what my heroine smelled like! I thought maybe I was one of a few who obsessed over it. For awhile my heroines had floral scents but the seasons I notice seem to play a role in my heroine's scent...so last night I found my heroine has a lemon mirangue type scent that is both chocolate and lemon...I thought it odd but she insisted! ;)

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  6. I got so caught up in my heroine that I forgot about MY favorite scent....it's sun-tan oil and the beach together!

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    1. Hey Christi! I obsess over perfume for my heroines--not just how it matches her personality, but how well it meshes with the time period. So I probably spend more time on that aspect than any other part of character development! LOL

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  7. Oh Lily, I love this post! I can't find a perfume that works with my body chemistry--what is supposed to smell sweet turns sour on my skin, and what should smell musky smells sweet. It's a bummer! My favorite scent is Gardenia too! I was given a Gardenia scented spray, lotion and body wash as a teen and it stayed true to its smell on me. I LOVED it! But I've not been able to find it since. ;( I love that you've found another Gardenia scented perfume!

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    1. I think Gardenia has a tendency to "turn" more than other scents. I don't know why--but not all Gardenia perfumes smell good on me. If I could get them to grow, I'd plant Gardenia shrubs all around the outside of my house, so I could just open the windows during the spring and breathe. :)

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  8. Great post, Lily! I'll share it with my mom. She's always on the lookout for great scents.

    You know what strikes me as funny, though? While we obsess over the right fragrance for us or our heroines to wear, the heroes could care less...Honestly, most men want something that smells like sex or maybe beer. Possibly both. heh.

    Now, back to writing about my heroine who smells like honey, sugar and whatever else would make my hero's mouth water.

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    1. LOL, Marquita! My husband loves the smell of my shampoo as much as any other scent I wear.

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    2. You could always get a mandle for your man (man candles). Where there is smell of beer and so forth.

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  9. I love L'Air Du Temps and some of the scents by Philosophy. For shower gels I love Aloe, Lily of the Valley, Honeysuckle, Almond, Lilac and clean scents.

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  10. Lily,
    How cool that you have a scent that's all yours! I don't wear perfume very often and never at work. I don't even use scented laundry detergent, because some of the patients I work with are so sensitive to smells and it makes them sick. But some of the natural scents I love are lily of the valley, lilac, and jasmine. And of course coffee and snicker-doodles. LOL

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  11. I'm extremely scent picky. It took me some time to find one I actually found one a few years ago by Jessica Simpson that I fell in love with. It is a combination of pear, caramel, vanilla and a hint of musk. Each scent blends well together and when it settles on me typically I can smell the the pear. It quickly became my go to scent, as it smells good and didn't seem to bother those around me who are allergic to perfumes. Imagine my horror this December when I discovered that it has since been discontinued. Now I'm on a hunt for a new scent that I can call mine.
    temptnfate13 at yahoo dot com

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  12. That is truly awesome about having your very own scent! Too cool! I don't really wear anything but scented lotion. Perfumes seem to irritate my neck so I can't wear many. But I do seem to associate a heroine with a particular scent, if anything it helps orient the reader to one: the time period and two: the location. Great post!

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  13. I do think seriously about scent in my stories and select a scented candle for each book. Great for bringing me back into the story when it is time for revisions and final edits! For myself, I seem to be drawn to unusual scents that are discontinued. Niki de St Phalle and Byblos come to mind. Love Guerlain fragrances, particularly L'Heure Bleue, created 100 years ago. They are still making that one, but it can be hard to find in the U.S.

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  14. And Blythe Gifford is our lucky winner! Blythe, I will send a message to you about your perfume sampler. Thanks everyone for commenting!

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