Just a few years ago, I was a woman who never wore perfume. Growing up, my mom never wore it. A bottle of Curve by Liz Claiborne (a misguided Mother's Day gift) collected dust under her bathroom sink. I have no fond maternal attachments to the scent of any perfume. My mom smelled like Folger's breakfast-blend coffee, like Tide laundry detergent, like Degree antiperspirant.
As a girl, I treasured the Love's Baby Soft I found in my stocking one Christmas. Its pale pink, frosty bottle held a world of women's secrets for me, but I rarely wore it. I was neurotic even as a child and dreaded the day it would run dry. I saved it only for special occasions: 5th grade graduation, middle school dances, the first time I went to the mall without a parent.
From there, fragrance lost some of its charm for me. My family never had a ton of money. I remember crying into the lilac gingham of my pillow's shams when my dad wouldn't let me buy the Abercrombie jeans all the other girls at my high school had. My best friend had a Coach purse, and sometimes, when she swung it from her arm, I'd eye it angrily as I tried to hide behind the Rue 21 bag I'd been given for my 15th birthday.
Fragrances were a luxury and something for women other than me. My family was utilitarian with money. Everything needed a purpose. Why spend $75 on a bottle of something that had no purpose?
In college, I experimented with my roommates' perfumes. I wore DKNY Be Delicious, Curious by Britney Spears, D&G Light Blue. (It was 2008, okay?) None of them stuck. Mostly, I smelled like cigarettes, warm freshly printed paper, and Tide.
After college, I started dating a man and I gleefully gave him near absolute control of my entire life; though, in retrospect, he'd never asked for such responsibility. Like borrowing my roommates' perfumes, I was just trying on another personality: that of a devoted girlfriend. His tastes became mine. I moved into his house. I drank my coffee the way he liked his coffee. Like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, I preferred my eggs prepared whatever way he liked his eggs prepared.
And he hated perfume, so I never wore it. I convinced myself it was something silly to care about. Because it was something I couldn't afford, because it was something my parents couldn't buy me, because it was something my boyfriend didn't approve of, it became something I never even wanted to begin with.
It was easy to forget I'd once been the girl who treated her bottle of Love's as it were a religious idol, who poured over the ads of fashion magazines with Post-it notes and a highlighter, mentally blueprinting the wonderful-smelling, powerful woman I would one day be.
The relationship ended. After several years of true, generous love, one year of the kind of shabby routine you can easily parade as love, and a few months of heart-sapping tumult, I had to accept, he was no longer in love with me and I didn't know who he was anymore.
So I moved out. I started my life anew. I got a new job, I grew my hair out long, and I bought so many perfumes. It wasn't on purpose, at first, of course. I just started picking things up here and there. I started learning as much as I could about the world of fragrances, the history of each house, the nuance and tender joy of each scent.
I found some scents I truly loved. I came to know the way a perfume can empower and embolden you. The way a scent can bring to the surface a part of you that had been dormant for so long. I found perfumes that made me feel sexy, perfumes that made me feel delicate, perfumes that made me feel intelligent and strong. Everything has to have a purpose.
And then a few months ago, I found Eau du Soir.
Hubert d'Ornano founded Sisley, the legendary French house of luxury skincare, in 1976 with his wife Isabelle d'Ornano always by his side. The brand became well-known for its incredible products, handcrafted with active plant ingredients. In the '70s, they launched their first fragrance, Eau de Campagne. It's a bright, green, clever scent with a hint of spice. It's a walk in the park.... back to the hotel room with your lover. It's fresh, never cheesy.
In 1990, Hubert created Eau du Soir as a gift for his wife, and soon released it to the public. It's a fierce and powerful classic chypre. When I first sniffed it, I was overwhelmed and then immediately intrigued. I wasn't sure it was a scent I could handle, which made me need it even more intensely. I was intimidated and turned on.
Eau du Soir took its place towards the back of my perfume table, its golden Venus head looking down across my other scents. At some point, I put her on my bedside table so she could stand all on her own. Every morning I'd wake up and roll over to see her there, like a dare.
Eau du Soir is complex. It's hard around the edges and difficult to get to know. The first few times I wore it, I couldn't leave the house. I had to break it in, or break myself into it. At first spray, its bright, citrus top notes hit you like a slap. White grapefruit and crisp mandarin orange leave you feeling refreshed, like your thirst has been quenched on a summer day.
After a few moments, the scent rounds into a more floral incarnation. The scent's true heart is in the syringa flower, which grew wild in the fields surrounding Isabelle d'Ornano's childhood home in Spain and acted as the scent's inspiration for her husband.
Along with syringa, notes of rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, and lily of the valley all come together to evoke a sophisticated garden. I imagine it lit gently by tiny string lights, twinkling like fireflies as the sun's just begun to set. Notes of pepper are sprinkled atop it all, like the occasional whiff of a stranger's scent — a very intriguing stranger.
Balancing all the florals, you'll find the notes of oakmoss and juniper dry everything down, until the scent is nearly as soft as finishing powder. It's green, floral, and bright, but there's something so alien about it, something very unnatural.
Everything rests atop a weighty, velvet base of musk, amber, and patchouli. The scent's longevity is legendary. Don't spritz her on unless you're ready to spend the next 24 hours with her, but I promise she won't disappoint. Wearing Eau du Soir is like the best kind of first date — the one where time slips right past you and leaves you home at the end of the night with a spinning head, aching for more but excited to wait.
It's like drinking gin and tonics with someone incredibly handsome, in a garden just after it's stormed. He lends you his coat because it's gotten so chilly, but you hadn't even noticed.
Eau du Soir is strange and fierce. It's powerful and loud, but never ostentatious. Imagine a woman whose presence fills the room before she says a word — an Anjelica Huston type perhaps.
It's silky but difficult. Though my mom will never be the kind of woman to wear perfume, Eau du Soir reminds me a bit of her. It's the scent of a woman who could very well do anything a man could do, but can also very easily talk a man into doing very well anything she asks for, and she switches it up often just for fun. It's strong, feminine, cruel, and independent.
Eau du Soir stands in a room completely of its own. After spending so long learning to stand on my own again, a scent like this feels like a hand laid across the top of my hand, telling me in a reassuring whisper, "You're doing everything right."
It's a scent born of love, created by a man for the woman he loved. While I have no man in my life, Eau du Soir has reminded me how powerful the love I do have is, and it's that love Whitney Houston and George Benson sang about.
Eau du Soir is a love poem, it's a secret shared in a garden's dark edges, it's an animal unlike any other. It's everything I've ever wanted in a scent, and everything I wanted for the wonderful smelling, powerful woman I'm finally becoming.