A Scented History

One of my favourite perfumers created a memory of his grandfather in a bottle.  Christopher Brosius describes his Greenbriar 1968 as

a memory of my Grandfather, the sawmill that he owned and the stone house where he lived.

It is blended with Sawdust, Fresh Cut Hay, Worn Leather Work Gloves, Pipe Tobacco and a healthy amount of Dirt. There is also a faint whiff of cotton overalls covered in Axel Grease…

I admire deeply this kind of genius.  How wonderful to be able to pay tribute to a loved one by putting a memory in a bottle.  It is a joyful and quiet scent.  I wear this perfume and feel a little heartache, too.  There’s the pleasurable pain of nostalgia, lived vicariously, but I also feel a little of the green in Greenbriar as a prick of jealousy.  I wish I could bottle memories like that.

I tried when my grandmother passed away.  When I flew home after her funeral, I brought home some of her Oil of Olay moisturizer, the smell of her face when I kissed her, and some fabric that had the smell of her house.  I put the fabric in a plastic bag, but the fragrance of grandma’s house did not survive the voyage home.  One of the technologies of the future should be an app like Shazam for fragrance.  We could capture the scent of a place, download it and play it back on demand.

In the mean time, bottles.

I keep a bottle of my late mother’s perfume in my closet on the shelf with my collection of perfumes.  Youth Dew.  I like it, but I never wear it.  Wearing her perfume would be very unsettling.  It would be too powerful and intrusive a presence, on me, but having it there in its bottle to smell whenever I want to is an enormous comfort.  There are a millions of bottles of Youth Dew in the world, but my bottle is my private history of her and her alone.

I really love perfume and the wild variety of fragrances geniuses like Christopher Brosius can bottle.  I celebrate it by wearing something different each day, each occasion, each season.  I have some favourites, but I don’t have a signature perfume.  My regret about this is that my kids won’t have a bottle of something to put on a shelf in their closets to remind them of me when I’m gone.

When we think of the legacies of our loved ones, we think of inheritance,  we think of property, we think of objects, big and small, we think of memories and moments and, hopefully, love.  But what will our olfactory legacy be?  How would we be celebrated in scent?  What would your scented history be?


3 thoughts

  1. This is beautiful, Nathalie, and makes me want to seek out Greenbriar. (I remember Youth Dew…) My mother left a partly-filled (or -emptied?) bottle of My Sin and I’ve thought about it a lot, what it meant, continues to mean. (I wrote about it in an essay about my mother in my recent book.) I love perfume. But I can’t imagine wearing anything but Chanel 19. I’ve tried but somehow I don’t smell myself in my sweaters as I pull them over my head unless it’s a whiff of Chanel 19 I catch as I try to find the sleeves. I’d love to be a woman who could try new scents but have discovered I end up comparing and nothing lives up to the green beauty of the perfume I first tried at age 18!

    1. Thanks, Teresa. I was given your essay collection as a gift for Christmas because the giver, Kerry Clare, knew I’d love that essay with My Sin. She was so right. It’s a wonderful collection, and I’m so glad this resonates with what you’ve written there.

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