Why I Write About Perfume…(Originally published in The Perfume Magazine~ December 2009)~ My most sincere thanks always to Marina Geigert of Perfume Smellin things and Raphaella Barkeley of The Perfume Magazine for believing in my musings....
By Beth Schreibman Gehring
Some people think that it is funny, this absolute fascination that I have with all things fragrant. They laugh hysterically when they see my perfume trays and my husband double dares them to open my closet doors and poke through my sample boxes! My obsession doesn’t come as any real surprise to me, because for my entire life I’ve been surrounded by fragrance of one sort or another, from my earliest memory of the little cobalt bottle of Attar of Violets that my mother kept in her mother’s velvet jewelry box and the Shalimar that she always wore, to the bottle of vintage Caron “Nuit de Noel” that I just purchased for myself at Christmas. In between there have been many favorites from Norell to Soir de Lune, Diorissimo to Halston. I’ve loved chasing their elusive magic with the promises present in each new bottle and succumbing to the hunger created by the marketing genius that supports the passion and vision of the master nose that created it.
I was only about seven when I became aware of my mother’s Shalimar and I instantly loved it. That could have been because it does smell just a little bit like chocolate mousse, which was at the time the favored smell of this particular toddler, but I also think that it was also because of the way that my father looked at my mother whenever she wore it. She would stand in front of the mirror and apply her lipstick and then she would apply her fragrance, layering perfume on her wrists and cleavage and then indulging herself with a spray or two around her hemlines.
At that moment, my father would walk into the bedroom as if on cue to fasten her pearls around her neck, brandishing their symphony tickets and looking at my mother with utter adoration. You could tell that he was utterly captivated by her. My mother was absolutely gorgeous with thick black wavy hair, huge brown eyes and a complexion that could only be described as cream mixed with honey. She’d been a Yardley English Lavender girl during the war and she really looked the part.
In my twenties I grew up to discover Diorissimo purely because Mick Jagger adored it and at that time the Rolling Stones were my world. I fell in love with all things British from that moment on. Piccadilly Circus and Mary Quant were my muses and life in the 70’s was such avant garde and decadent fun. The 80’s were reckless with Obsession and Opium and the 90’s brought me Enya, Aveda and aromatherapy.
So far the 21st century and the onset of my 50's have brought me a hunger for the vintage scents of my youth and a passion for the wonderful artisanal perfumers that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. An hour or two in their company leaves me refreshed and excited. Artistic mavericks, passionate natural educators and perfumers embrace a bohemian yet elegant sensibility that allows me to enter the world of gorgeous handmade perfumes without feeling like a complete and total neophyte.
Although my passions have always been fashion and fragrance, my lifetime has been spent in public relations and luxury goods marketing, most specifically in the arena of fine tableware and jewelry. As you can probably imagine this does enable me to fall easily and passionately in love with a wonderfully sexy sales pitch and by now it should be apparent to anyone reading this that I am blissfully enslaved by my own brand of hedonism
The introduction of the internet has been an incredible tool for connecting with those of like mind and it was through this medium that I discovered the entertaining world of the perfume blogs. As a writer, blogs appeared to be a wonderfully fluid tool through which I could hone my craft and as a marketer, I was intrigued by the possibilities that this new media could generate. So I began to read them obsessively and quickly became brave enough to leave comments. I made many new friends and entered into a previously unknown realm of fragrances through this brave new world. Most importantly I was having fun with my writing once again, enough
to rekindle a long held dream of becoming a fulltime fashion journalist.
It wasn’t too long after I began to tentatively post some reviews of my own that I was invited by various editors to become a regular contributor. I love the many wonderful writers that I’ve been privileged to share these virtual spaces with and I’ve been honored that so many readers have responded to my articles and reviews with pleasure. I really enjoy hearing from those who have let me into their lives through our shared love of scent. It’s a gift to be able to connect with so many fascinating people and one that I don’t take for granted. I know that I’ve done my job when people write me to let me know that they consider me a friend
because of the memories that we share.
My love of perfume is such an intimate part of me that I can’t bear to be standoffish or haughty about it, although I’ve had friends suggest that
I should grab my 15 minutes of fame and push the proverbial envelope of notoriety. When I write about fragrance I can’t help but bring my passions to the page and like my mother before me I desperately want my readers breathlessly near the nape of my neck, inhaling my perfume.
I’ve been honored to have met so many people who have read my reviews and we throw our arms around each other and hug like long lost friends. I love being their portal into a world that we all cherish, I love being a part of their lives. They are so generous with me and the only reason that I exist as a writer at all. Without them I’d just be sitting here all alone in my dressing room on my island of perfume samples, typing away on my laptop pretending that I was making a difference in the world.
Writing for editors who are as talented and professional as mine has given me entre’ into a world that was previously completely off limits to a layperson such as myself. I’m not a nose and I have absolutely no professional training in perfumery. I’m a blissfully happy consumer and I know what I like, but I have absolutely no professional language with which to express it. I feel that as a blogger or citizen journalist of sorts that I must be respectful of this world that I do not completely know, yet am privileged enough to be a part of. Fragrance has been such an important part of who I am and how I present myself that I think that perhaps I do have something to share. I’m not one who truly cares what notes comprise the fragrances that I adore, I care about how I’m feeling when I wear them and how people respond to me. I’m not at all concerned about being an expert…
I truly just want to feel the love. I have one hard and fast rule. If I don’t like the fragrance, I won’t write about it. I’ll give you my opinion but it’s truly just my opinion, nothing more. What we are talking about is perfume which is by its very nature one of the most personal things that we use every day, in the most intimate of places. I truly have to believe that the people who create these elixirs that we love feel exactly the same way about them as we do. I am aware that people I’ll never meet will read my words and I know that they pay attention to my opinions. Like I said…I just truly want to feel the love!
It’s fun to think of myself every now and then as someone who is shaping public perceptions of the perfume industry but I can’t fool myself for very long nor do I want to. Perfume is as intimate as passion and that’s all it will ever need to be for me. What’s peculiar when blended with my particular chemistry might be pure joy for another. Isn’t that part of the delight of finding a personal fragrance that is both adored and provocative? The personal connection to the process of discovery far supersedes for me the trendiness of wearing the latest and greatest, although the latest could be a perfect fit and is always fun to try! I know that I’m not writing for the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times and as much as I’d wish to say that I was, I’m simply a woman who enjoys writing on her blogs about beloved perfumes and the profound impact that fragrance has had on my life. For now, I’ll leave the marketing to the professionals and simply concentrate on the simple pleasures that I experience each time a new perfume comes my way. After all of these years I still seem to enjoy trying them all and for now, that is more than good enough.
Each new fragrance discovery takes me back to that first moment when perfume became equated with passion and I treasure those earliest memories. Last year when my mother died I had the bittersweet pleasure of inheriting all of her pearls. She had quite a collection, baroques and freshwater, a simple strand of creamy white cultured ones and her favorites, a gorgeous opera length strand of natural blue grays that belonged to her grandmother. These pearls are well over 120 years old and belong to a time in history when free divers held their breath and dove into the watery depths, braving uncertain tides and dangerous creatures so that they could be harvested for the very fashionable tastes of my grandmother. They hold the essence of those women as well as the scent of every woman who’s ever worn them. On the days when I miss my mother the most, I go to my jewelry box and put them on. They have a beautiful luster and a wonderful fragrance, lighthearted and giddy like the woman that she was when she was having fun being herself, always the belle of the ball, forever the sparkling Yardley girl.
These blue gray pearls are the very strands that she was wearing that night with my father and they still smell faintly of her Shalimar and the essence of my grandmother’s sweet violet perfume that started me on this journey so very long ago. It may be my overly vivid imagination, but I even believe that they still smell of the sea. I can still see my mother, brushing her raven colored hair and laughing at my father while she was dabbing on her perfume. She seemed to know something of the mysteries that could lay between a man and women and she shared her knowing openly with us. Her love of fine perfume became my touchstone, her raw and honest passion for life birthed my own gift of self expression and I am grateful for the love of her.
She pushed me mercilessly to create a life filled with beauty and was thrilled when I began to write. Quite often she is my Muse and a luscious one at that. It would have been my parents 68th anniversary this past Christmas day, so I broke out her pearls just before dawn. I inhaled deeply and was amazed to find her standing beside me, if only for that moment in my mind. Beautiful fragrance or any scent for that matter has the profound ability to reconnect us instantly to the richness of our lives and those who matter most to us; a gift that because she is gone I am profoundly grateful for. Now that I am grown, with a wonderful husband and son
I know what she knew to be true.
She knew that the sense of smell was the most potent of our senses, lingering long after the moment had passed and that one whiff of something exquisite was enough to bring back a breathless memory or two. I love sharing my memories through my passion for perfume. When I was a young girl, my mother told me that the most beautiful things in the world are quite often not seen, but available through the subtlest of nuances. I am thankful for the opportunities that I have been given to know all of the many ways that her words were destined to come true.
It delights me to know that I’ve may have inspired you to try a fragrance that you wouldn’t normally dare or that I’ve reconnected you with a long forgotten fragrant love. But if I’ve left you speechless even better...that was my mother’s gift. She brought so much beauty to my world and taught me almost everything that I know about fragrance, fashion and seduction. She was an extraordinary cook, filling our home with the most decadent aromas and a wonderful gardener who grew such fragrant peonies that one stem could perfume a room. She loved gardenias and wore them whenever she could. My mother’s delight in everything beautiful has always inspired me to create my own luscious life. What more can you ask for than the gift of being able to create your life as a work of art thorough every breath, every day.
That’s who she was, who I strive to be and that is why I love and write about fragrance...
About Beth Schreibman Gehring
THE PERFUME Magazine welcomes professional writer Beth Gehring as a new featured contributor. Passionate about life, colorful and inspiring, Beth Schreibman Gehring has been helping others create lives that they love for over 20 years. Years of experience as a visual stylist blended with an extensive background in public relations and an emphasis on personal and corporate branding allowed her to work in and eventually become the President of one of the most prestigious Jewelry, Gift and Tableware businesses in Northeast Ohio.
Along the way she discovered that many were drawn to her for her ability to live everyday with beauty, creating each moment as a magical new gift, a never-ending circle of celebrations, feasts and fun. It is her belief that in designing powerful and beautiful rituals for our lives and beautiful environments to live in, we create magical experiences for ourselves and our families. A life filled with personal revelry and celebration supplies all of the magic necessary to create anything that we can dream of! An experienced personal shopper, life stylist and bridal registry consultant, she has the taste and expertise to help you choose gifts for yourself and others that that you will love giving and delight in receiving!
Beth has been privileged to have many of her articles published locally and nationally, and has enjoyed giving many interviews over the years, most notably to Martha Stewart Living, Gifts and Decorative Accessories, Town and Country, The Cleveland Times and Tableware Today. A gifted cook and creative hostess, Beth has also had the distinct honor and pleasure of designing the table settings for several TV series, including "Julia Child cooks at home with Friends" , "Julia Child cooks with Jacque Pepin" and the " Todd English and Olives restaurant" cooking show. She has also created the table setting designs for the books of the same name. Beth is also delighted to be a featured writer on Perfume Smelling Things.
Images courtesy of Vintage Ads and Stuff, Duke Library, Pierre-Dinand website. Additional images supplies by Editor.
I'm wearing something right now that I just broke out of my yummy FRAGments swag bag; a really intriguing creation made by a perfumer out of San Francisco named Kenneth Cory. It's a curious and enjoyable perfume called Dark and Stormy and I must say that it really suits me. I'm loving the lovely sea swept , spicy and tumbled driftwood feeling of it.
It starts out with a lively fruity garnish of Mexican Lime Peel and Red bitter orange, but fairly quickly the spiciness (cinnamon and clove) begins to emerge. As this perfume begins to warm up on my skin the oakmoss, cognac and tonka keep coming out to play and it's absolutely enchanting. It's a fairly steamy day here in Cleveland and the scent is not only holding its own with the heat, but it's blossoming into something really sexy, due to its naughty little heart of ginger lily and ylang ylang . I envision wearing it with a sarong , a tank top, some sandalwood and stone beads, feathers, dangling earrings and not much else.
I find myself curiously emboldened with a desire to do nothing but swing around in my hammock all day with a pitcher of Bermuda Yacht Club cocktails , some Diana Gabaldon and a naughty British pirate. Dark and Stormy really smells quite good on me, but I'm about to go try some on my husband whose yummy maleness will bring out the deep labdanum, balsam and myrhh notes. That along with an eye patch, a macaw and an ipod full of Great Big Sea. Oh my...it's definitely got the makings of a very fine day...
You can drink in this luscious cocktail for yourself at www.kennethcory.com
I have no idea who to attribute the lovely picture of the girl in the sarong to.....
On days like this when the sun is shining bright, I can almost feel the soil rustle beneath my feet. Truly If I shut my eyes and sniff the air, I can almost smell the sap running. It's been a long cold winter and finally I think that the end may be in site. If that's the case and in the truly hedonistic fashion that you've all come to expect, It's time for something splendid and new. In my world this means that it may finally be time to succumb to most romantic perfume that I can think of which would be the very exclusive Guerlain Muguet 2014. I almost was persuaded to purchase one of the last bottles of 2013 when I was in New York last month, but I decided to wait. If you've never smelled this, it is absolutely transcendent. It is incredibly pricey, but it's worth it. It is the purest , sweetest story of the ethereal Lily of the Valley that I've ever heard told.
Guerlain's Muguet comes out every year on May Day in honor of the fresh Lily of the Valley blossoms that are presented as good luck charms on that day throughout all of France.This year it is going to be a Beltane present to myself and my husband who thought that it was one of the loveliest perfumes that he'd ever smelled.It's a Pagan sort of perfume that hearkens back to a time perhaps a little more primeval. A fresh tangle of greens, herbs and crisp white blossoms all I think that It needs to be complete is naked, sun warmed skin and soft cotton sheets. (or an Herme's scarf or three!)
I am told that once again this beauty will be available at Bergdorfs....
Sometimes I wake up craving something . Most likely these days because I live in the bitter cold northeast it's sunshine and warmth...I stumble out of bed.. Look outside, groan and remember that March does roar in but more than likely in three weeks I'll be thinking about tomatoes! Ahhh... Tomatoes, fresh and juicy in sandwiches , salads and gazpacho.. There's a thought!
That's when awareness kicks in and I reach for Sisleys Eau de Campagne. I spray it liberally. Suddenly I'm warm and envisioning planting young heirloom tomatoes in my garden amidst tangles of basil, bergamot and jasmine. Nothing is lovelier to me than the scent of bruised tomato leaves and Eau de Campagne has plenty of that. I take a deep sigh and relax... Spring really isn't that far away!
I adore perfume and I always have. By the time that I was 17, I'd amassed a collection of such enormous proportions that I needed a separate shelf in my bathroom closet for all of the bottles. When I began to write, it came as no surprise that I started hanging out on perfume blogs, writing for them and eventually becoming Senior Editor of The Perfume Magazine; a beautiful online magazine that I still write for today. Because of this I quite frequently get requests to do one of my favorite things which is to help someone pick a signature fragrance for themselves. It's amazing to me still how a new fragrance can delight and enhance your mood in so many unexpected ways. What's always surprising to me though is how difficult it is for most people to do this. I think that this is because glossy pictures in magazines do their job so well. We've all been there looking at the beautiful woman draped in an evening gown with a beautiful man looking hungrily after her and proclaiming her his "Obsession". Then we buy it , wear it and wonder why it doesn't make us feel the way that we thought that it would. Perfume is not one size fits all. We each have a different body chemistry, but more importantly we all have a different emotional chemistry,a fragrance template which I can discover fairly easily when working with a client by asking them a series of questions and then taking them shopping. I really love my job!
For example, there are some types of fragrances that I always love, regardless of how many different variations of them appear over the years. Yves St. Laurent's fairly irrepressible scent "Paris" is one of them and Christian Dior's classic perfume "Diorissimo" and Robert Piguet's "Fracas" are the others. All three of these perfumes are warm sunny fragrances filled with fleshy white flowers, woods, enhanced with a bit of spice and herbal notes. All three are very appropriate fragrances for a lot of different occasions, whether they be a wedding or an afternoon tea, or even a casual morning strolling down 5th Avenue or along a sunny California beach with my husband. All three of these perfumes can be worn with cashmere and pearls or a very bohemian bit of velvet, denim or lace. None of them are officious or overbearing, just fun and sweet enough to be extraordinarily flirtatious and yet without pretense. These scents completely fit my personal fragrance profile, but I had to sniff through quite a lot of different perfumes to discover them which of course was very pleasurable! I'm a woman who loves to have fun, but wants to keep it simple. My idea of a perfect date with my husband is a tandem bike ride along the towpath in the Cuyahoga valley in the spring when the wild violets are blooming. Bring a picnic, a jam-box wireless speaker and the iPhone with my favorite Debussy in the mix and I'm one very happy wife. I love wonderful fresh food and gorgeous things but I don't want to feel uncomfortable at the table so instead of a really fancy restaurant I'd always prefer a convivial bistro atmosphere with great wine, flowers and plenty of good conversation. I'd much rather sit on the lawn with a picnic at Blossom than the pavilion. My favorite colors are earthy herbal greens, brownish pinks, soft lavenders and cream mixed with a splash of warm corals and turquoise. If I had to choose a favorite painter it would be a toss-up between Monet and Gauguin. I'm completely captivated by the seasons of spring and autumn . I think that it's easy to see how the three fragrances that I've mentioned can fit within this profile and because I've discovered what really works for me, I've stopped making expensive mistakes based upon a visual response to a bottle or an advertisement.
Know that when you are shopping for a new perfume, the two biggest mistakes that most people will make is to pay attention to the cost of the perfume and what we call the fragrance pyramid, which is the list of ingredients from the opening notes, through the middle or "the heart" and then on to the base. Most of the sales associates who sell perfume rely on the pyramids too much . It's a bit like reading a recipe but not allowing for alchemy…that bit of magic that happens when the scent meets the skin or a glorious white truffle meets the skill of a very fine chef! When I take a client scent shopping, we spend a lot of time talking about all of the things that I've mentioned and then we begin; first by smelling certain families of fragrance on the paper sticks so I can see their subtle (or sometimes not so subtle!) responses and then we begin to slowly narrow it down, eventually getting to one or two choices that bring smiles and a resounding " Oh my god..that's exactly what I wanted and I wouldn't have chosen this on my own! " It's akin to placing your hair in the hands of a very skilled colorist who looks at your coloring, lifestyle and the way that you dress and then gives you a result that everyone thinks is your natural color! You don't notice that you're wearing perfume and no one else should either. The right scent enhances and it should whisper "come hither" but not scream "HEY LOOK AT ME !" A perfumes silage or more simply put, the trail that a too strong or completely wrong scent leaves in its wake is more than a little unnerving because our sense of smell is the most primal way that we know someone. It's instantaneous without you being truly aware of it. We make snap decisions about someone without knowing it and this is usually why.
With that thought in mind, I'd encourage you to notice how a fragrance makes you feel and the descriptives that come into your mind when you smell it. One of the most famous and notorious perfumes of the 80's "Opium" by Yves St. Laurent smelled absolutely wonderful on me at the time and now it has no place in my life because I'm just not that woman anymore. We outgrow fragrance, just like we outgrow certain friends or fashions. Perfume is one of the most intimate of fashion statements and it goes without saying that it should please you personally and if it doesn't provoke an inner giggle every time you put it on then give it a good home with someone else who will love it. If you wear a fragrance for the sake of simply wearing the newest or most expensive you're cheating yourself of one of life's loveliest experiences. Expensive doesn't always equal beautiful. One of my springtime "go tos" is a lovely little twenty dollar bottle of perfume by Pacifica; a soliflore (single flower) called "French Lilac". It smells just like an old fashioned bouquet of lilacs. I love it and because it is so reasonably priced I can blow through the bottle with frivolous abandon. It totally fits my profile.
You'll know when you've gotten it right because the scent will seem to become almost a part of you. It will blend beautifully with your energy and you will wear it , instead of allowing it to wear you. Please note that the same goes for home scents and often when I'm helping someone select a perfume, we choose the home fragrances, candles and reed diffusers that can compliment the perfume that we end up with. I have many candles around my house that pull out different components of the perfumes that I love so that I always have a symphony of fragrance, almost like a beautifully layered wardrobe where many pieces compliment each other when worn together in many different ways. Herbal scents in the kitchen, tuberose and jasmine in the bathroom, gardenia and lily in the bedrooms and a tobacco and vanillin scent in the living room. They blend beautifully without being overbearing.
So don't be nervous and instead have fun selecting a fragrance that's just right for you, making sure to take plenty of time to sniff outside of the box because that's where the fun begins! When you're wearing the right perfume/s they will make sense to you and everyone around you. This is where the old dictum "To thine own self be true" should seriously come into play. There's a whole huge world of gorgeous fragrance to explore so have fun with them all, listen to your nose as well as your heart and I promise that you'll find just the right one for you!