Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Scent Track of Our Lives

I first realized the depth of my interest in perfume because of visits to my friend Amanda’s house starting early on in elementary school. Her mother loved perfume and gave Amanda a host of samples to keep on her dresser; we routinely sniffed them. I loved the elegance of these essences, the sensual pleasure of them and the ways in which the scents triggered my imagination, transforming a pre-war Manhattan apartment into an exotic and opulent interior. Occasionally we also looked at her mother’s own collection; she favored orientals, spicy perfumes that I would later on identify as my own favorite category of fragrances (although as I have gotten older chypres have run an increasingly close second). On her tray: Opium, Bellodgia, Must de Cartier, Samsara and others in similar deep warm-toned hues and bottles. I began to wear perfume myself while still in junior high school, not cottoning to the typical adolescent favorites of the day - Lauren, Anais Anais, Oscar de La Renta. I preferred Tuxedo (Ralph Lauren’s original evening counter-part to Lauren) and Bellodgia (in its older, much spicier version which in my opinion no other carnation soliflore can match).
My mother, a chemist, had no interest in perfume. But once I started talking about fragrance she told me that her father, a pharmacist (like his own father) had mixed perfumes for clients in his shop in Bulgaria. When they moved to the new state of Israel in 1949 he found little demand there for the product, something that has changed quite dramatically, as a visit today to any drugstore there or to the duty-free shop at Ben-Gurion can attest. I usually consider myself to be thoroughly my father’s daughter, interested in writing, texts, culture and history and all things Jewish… so to have this interest in scents (and also, although less intensely, in beauty products and treatments more generally) be traced through my mother’s lineage is ironic. I call it the revenge of my mother’s genes. It is a sultry love, fragrance, and my mother is a Scientist with a pioneer personality, fond of very few frills. I have seen video and photos of Bulgaria and know the terrain to be lushly green, producer of the world’s most prized rose oil. So something from the generations my ancestors lived there has come to me and I know that I have a hidden capacity for enjoying sensual indulgences.
Surprisingly I did discuss this interest with friends while in school – in high school a group pooled resources to buy me a bottle of Fidgi as a birthday gift - but I was largely silent about it as a younger adult, even though I continued to collect articles and books on the subject. In the last few years I began again to tell people about my love of fragrance. I stopped being embarrassed by this seemingly trivial interest, so different from the persona I usually focused on developing and presenting to the world. I began to wonder about the ways in which our often forgotten sense of smell influences the way we react to and make meaning of the world, all the more mysteriously because we understand it so poorly.
A few years ago I wrote a paper on perfume, focused on Chanel No. 5, one of the most iconic and classic fragrances, for a class on the Sociology of Objects. (My paper focused on the question of what constituted the “object” of a fragrance). In doing research I explored offerings on the web and found a wealth of new resources: blogs, forums, resource sites, e-tailers and niche perfumers. The virtual fragrance world is a revolution; a recasting of what was once a secretive and cloaked arena into one where aficionados publish criticism and trade tips and perfumers are acknowledged and feted; where it is much easier to hunt discounted and discontinued fragrances and where indie perfumers can develop international followings. I joined Sniffapalooza ( and began attending their events, where I was introduced to a host of new scents, lines and perfumers. My collection has grown accordingly. I also made friends with people who share this passion, usually superseding me in their holdings, knowledge and skill. Our conversations, rooted in fragrance, expand into many other topics and issues; every perfumista is an artist and philosopher at heart. Lucy’s recent posting on captures the beauty of these exchanges. Daily SOTD (scent of the day) postings online allow group members to share the micro and macro events of daily life as they are matched to fragrances, a soundtrack for the nose and a chance to focus on those brief moments of beauty and artistry, both natural and man-made, that our senses capture fleetingly in the crush of our routines and trials.
Forums: (see also,,
Blogs: (Now Smell This, the best for industry news and links to articles),, Follow the links on each to find other blogs – there are many, they are quite varied in style and of exceptional quality.
© 2009 Leah Strigler


Anonymous said...

I love how your friends gave you Fidgi as a gift when you were younger. You had asked when we were at Aedes what I wore when I was in high school, and one of the fragrances was the original Gloria Vanderbilt in the swan embossed bottle. That was given to me by some girlfriends as a birthday gift. How I wish I still had that bottle!

Aside from the ghastly Giorgio (gift from boyfriend) I also wore Anais Anais which I bought for myself. I remember saving up the money for that one.

Thanks for sharing your love of perfume and your family's history.


Ask Leah said...

Anais was popular and I imagine that it suited you well. Gloria never worked on me. Nothing makes me think of the 80s so much as Giorgio - I still remember how it overpowered the department stores.