While other teens in high school were out underage drinking and stealing candy from the local corner store, I was wandering the beauty aisles of Holt Renfrew (it's like Canada's Saks, for those who haven't been). I'd try on some lip gloss at the YSL counter, gaze admiringly at the Shu Uemura false lashes, but in the end I'd always find myself at the big counter that ran along the back wall: the fragrance counter.
From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be one of those ladies with a signature scent. The only problem was, I couldn't make up my mind. I wanted every scent I smelled, to the extent that every Christmas and birthday I'd have at least two new bottles on my list.
They weren’t cheap drugstore preteen fragrances, either; my first-ever perfume was Hermes Concentre d'orange vert, and the second was a Burberry scent. Apparently, I was a super-demanding, spoiled kid.
The real issue with this pattern wasn't my greedy-brat wish lists or my blatant ignorance of consumerism and its downfalls (though those are definitely issues), but the reflection the scents had on what was going on inside my head. I was totally and completely lost, and instead of just sitting back and letting my growing personality sort itself out, I pushed myself full-force into a variety of strange identities.
Over the course of a few years I switched around from drama kid in Vans, to country chick who constantly wore pigtails and a cowboy hat (like, in real life wear, not as a costume), to a weird Mean Girls-inspired human who always wore high heels no matter what... to high school.
This identity indecisiveness made me unstable and unhappy, and was the root cause for my constant scent switching. I couldn't find a fragrance that matched me because "me" was more like a series of extreme characters from a very confusing TV show.
After a few years of fancy scent-gifting, my parents and grandparents started to grow tired of always getting me the same thing. So instead of making use of what I already had, I found a new way to attain a neverending stream of scents: I became a pro at getting free samples.
I knew exactly what to say and do to get as many as possible, and I visited different department stores just in case too many sales people recognized me and told the others I never really bought anything.
My favourite counter was Bond No. 9, not only because their scents were lavish and incredible, but because their samples came in shiny wrappers and looked like tiny, cute perfume candy. I crafted intricate lies about my picky friend who I wanted to buy a bottle of perfume for, but needed samples to show to her first; or my dad who desperately needed an updated scent.
The stories were never true, but I'd almost always leave with pockets loaded, purse stuffed. I had enough scents for a small army by the time I graduated high school.
Luckily for the perfume companies, my phase didn't last forever. I started to find myself. I moved across the country to a bigger city and came out as queer. I found a community where I felt at home, and a look that actually felt like me. With that change, I stopped greedily hoarding scents, and even gave most of my samples and a few full sized bottles away to friends and families.
Although I still have a large collection of fragrances, I really only wear a handful of them on a regular basis, and I'd like to think I have a perfect roster of signature scents that suit my identity and my life.
I did hang on to a few of those unopened candy-like Bond No. 9 samples though; six years later I still think they're just the cutest.