Coco Chanel allegedly once said “A woman who doesn't wear perfume has no future”.
I always thought that this was a bit of an odd quote. Is it sexist – a woman won’t find a man unless she smells good? This quote was uttered sometime in the 1920s, so that’s not an implausible assumption, however when you consider who the quote came from – an unmarried owner of a business empire that bore her name – it’s unlikely. Is it suggesting that not wearing perfume would signify social death? Possible, after all Chanel was flogging the stuff.
However when I set myself the task of writing a post on the “Power of Scent”, I accidentally stumbled across what I think is the meaning of this enigmatic quip.
I seem to have a highly developed sense of smell (I swear it’s compensation for the fact that I'm so short-sighted!) and for me, being able to smell something – food, a flower, a person, a room, cosmetics – really helps me to process and understand my location, the person or what it is that I'm about to eat or put on my skin. My nose tells me what time of year it is – there’s a certain autumnal scent that creeps into the air at the end of summer and of course Christmas wouldn't be the same without candles scented with orange, clove & cinnamon or sticking your face (carefully) into a real Christmas tree and taking a deep breath. That may seem obvious, and that may well be the case for everyone, but I know that if I ever lost my sense of smell I’d be, well, just lost.
I find that scents take me back to places in my past, remind me of people and recall places that I hadn't thought about in years. Perfumes are possibly the most evocative – the soapy scent of Tweed, which my mum used to wear when she went out on a Saturday night when I was a little girl (she now wears Jo Malone’s Lime, Basil & Mandarin, which a waft of always makes me turn and look for her when I'm out and about!); the sharp tang of an ex-boyfriend’s Fahrenheit; Cerutti 1881 – my first “grown-up” perfume; Ralph Lauren Romance, which I wore on my wedding day. All of these fragrances remind me of something or someone.
But it’s not just perfumes that can bring back memories, good or bad. The smell of pipe smoke combined with mint imperials brings a comforting reminder of my granddad and I still remember exactly the strange smell of my reception classroom after half of the school had been burnt down in an arson attack (luckily the tadpoles survived – that’s the kind of detail smell evokes for me).
So what I actually think Coco Chanel meant was that without perfume, a woman has no future as she loses her power to be remembered. Of course the impact of a woman relies on so much more than just how she smelt, however what else can make someone else recall you, without meaning to, without wanting to, more unexpectedly, than the scent of your perfume?