The Changing Scent of a Woman

My obsessions with Obsession and other sweet smells of youth

Kate Moss for Obsession.

There it was, on the drugstore shelf: Love’s Baby Soft. I felt a thrill as I opened the pink bullet-shaped bottle. It looked just the same as it did in seventh grade. And, oh, wow!

It smelled like seventh grade, too.

Love’s Baby Soft was the first perfume I ever owned, if you don’t count the times I pilfered my mother’s Charlie (kinda free, kinda WOW! Charlie!). I fell for the many, many ads for Love’s Baby Soft in all the hard-hitting magazines I read back then: Teen, Seventeen, Young Miss, Tiger Beat. Without even stopping to consider what on earth a tiger beat was, I devoured these magazines like they held the secret to the universe, because they did. And among their secrets was how to smell innocent and sexy all at the same time: by using Love’s Baby Soft.

The part where I looked like a man in seventh grade was beside the point. Love’s Baby Soft smells, to me, like hope. Hope that I’d attract some feathered-haired boy. Hope that I’d be the most alluringly innocent sexy girl in my junior high. Hope that I’d stop looking like a dude.

That pink perfume isn't the only scent that brings back the memories. I got a bottle of Tatiana for Christmas in 10th grade, and it coincided exactly with the first time I ever fell in love. One whiff of Tatiana and I am giddy, happy, on top of the world. Tatiana was before I got ruined and jaded. That should be their slogan. Tatiana: Your Scent Before You Get Bitter. Tatiana: Wear It Before You Turn Into Delta Dawn.

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I moved on to Gloria Vanderbilt perfume after that. My 11th-grade boyfriend got me that one. The commercials for Gloria Vanderbilt said it would release the splendor of you, and let me tell you, I was releasing the splendor of me all over the place with that stuff. The scent of Gloria and her Vanderbilt self takes me right back to my vanity in my room, getting ready for another night of cruising up and down Bay Road in my boyfriend’s 1967 Mustang. Hello, splendor.

In college, I moved on to Obsession. Perfumes in the ’80s had ludicrous names. I remember getting ready to go somewhere with my aunt and mother. “One of you smells really good,” said my uncle. “Who’s got on perfume?”

“I’m wearing Obsession,” I told him.

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“Poison,” said my aunt.

“Opium,” said mom. Then we all laughed.

God, I loved Obsession. I loved the brown flat bottle, and the dirty print ads for it. I was so done being innocent and pink. Now I was earthy, dark, sultry. You haven’t seen sultry till you’ve seen a size-two girl with a giant blonde spiral perm. Obsession takes me back to my college apartment and my cabbage-rose capri jeans that were also not sultry. Poor misguided me.

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In the ’90s, I moved to Seattle and pretended I was grunge, and I wore CK One, which was a unisex cologne, and really I should have worn that back in seventh grade when I was androgynous. I loved CK One, and so did everyone else, because when I smell it, I remember parties and clubs and bars, where we all had it on, men and women, to go with our combat boots. Other than my scoop-neck velvet tops, I was so unfeminine in the ’90s. CK One was part of that. So was brown lipstick. God help us, everyone.

Now I am sorry to tell you that I wear Taylor Swift perfume, and you can laugh at me all you want. My dad sent it to me as a joke, and I was all, “Oooo!” when I sniffed it. Of course, I can’t know what memories it’ll bring back when I smell it later in life, but I think I’ll remember being newly divorced, and newly in love again, and I really, really hope it doesn’t make me think of Taylor Swift’s dance moves.

I’ve heard there’s nothing more powerful than scent for bringing back memories. I was washed in them when I opened that Love’s Baby Soft not too long ago. And that's why I closed the pink top, smiled, and bought the damn bottle to celebrate the hopeful, mannish 12-year-old that used to be me.


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