Moods. Scents, smells and wafting waves of memories that trigger unpredictable reactions in our minds. Images conjured up with jasmine or neroli, sandalwood or orange blossoms. I personally love scents redolent of patchouli and leather, with that astringent version of oud, harsh at the open but which always dries down to a rich woody musk. When I smell certain scents I can conjure up and see memories that had faded to the background as I lived my seemingly more urgent daily life.
But the past lingers, and other times lure us with the romance of nostalgia. I mix it into my work, crafting collections based on a time and place, an image of a more glamorous life; if only.
I gently pick up a tobacco fragrance , with a mix of peony and leather, unusual, unisex and fabulous then spray some on my right wrist. Returning the bottle to its spot among an assortment of other ridiculously expensive bottles in a mirrored gold tray, I bring my wrist to my nose. Smelling, I instantly recognize that the scent is like a fine wine and will ripen into something dense, deep and full in about 20 minutes. Meanwhile I’ll go find a different scent for my left wrist but I still can’t resist that raw first sprayed scent as the fluorescent light overhead glares in my eye. I turn my head to scan the sales floor, a vast expanse of luxury goods decorously displayed for utter temptation. I’m escaping again, as I do. I use the excuse that it’s work and I’m merely scoping out the competition.
Neiman’s Beverly Hills, en route to Cedars, is the classic emporium for the rich and I adore the makeup and fragrances here. It’s a den of indulgences and aspirant dreams, in which I have spent an entire day more than once. The jeans here cost more than my current entire outfit, including shoes. But the perfume counter is the most divine place on earth, including Venice, Bora Bora and the Taj Mahal. The sales ladies here look you up and down but they’re also unwittingly pleasant and helpful. Who knows how Neiman’s does it? I’ve seen a couple with tattoos, hairy pits and dirty clothes escorted counter to counter and treated like royalty here. The snobbish element of Beverly Hills rarely creeps through these doors.
And the ladies here know their scents. I’m handed sprayed samples of Clive Christian No. 1, the most expensive perfume on earth and promised an extra cask with purchase. Instead I whiff the Ylang-Ylang and Tahitian vanilla and just indulge. The vanilla in the concoction takes 6 months to crystalize.
The floor is to the right of the golden doors that lead to the valet and parking garage when you enter. The heart of Beverly Hills shopping is out the other double doors on the store’s opposite side. Shoes to the left , and jewelry to the right, and in the middle of the floor is the escalator up to clothes.
But I skip makeup. I’ve seen and swatched it all as I was here a few days ago scoping out new releases. I head instead to the far right corner as I move deeper into my descent from reality and into the haram of smells and dusty cobwebs of past memories. And here I am moving from Clive to Tom to Ramon and finally a woman, Jo, who sells only colognes and not perfume. Then I head to Estee.
“Can I help you,” a tall blonde, older, asks. So far I’ve been able to slide by the salespeople but this one has me caught. She’s dressed in black and has a vivid lovely deep rich plum shade on her lips and as she smiles I can sense her life and know how she ended up here. Stories are in our eyes, our stories I mean, with past and present but no future covered. “Oh, smell this,” she states and sprays Youth Dew on a paper strip and hands it to me. My eyes tear up at this cheaper scent, here, where the top end is almost $1,000 for a bottle. But Youth Dew is the Estee classic and still one of my mom’s favorites. The only scent that can make me cry today but she needs a fresh bottle despite my silliness.
“Rose, lavender, spices, rich jasmine, moss, vetiver and patchouli. A classic,” I say to her and try to smile back. I hear piano in the background and see a cluster of women coming in our direction but I feel safe, lost in the scent and the smile of a woman who knows what it is to live and feel.
“I’ll take a bottle, for my mom. Do you have a gift set?” I ask. And then I stare at the soft ripped jeans I changed into at the last minute before leaving and suddenly feel out of place, even if everyone here is so nice. If these were designer ripped jeans I’d feel better but they’re old boy’s Levis ripped someplace in Venice (CA) and sold cheap. But my saleslady smiles and points to a lovely set.
“We even have a gift with purchase today,” she says and nods at a lipstick, eyeshadow and skincare cluster of items, in bright bag. I just smile back and reach for my wallet. Mom will love it and can spray the perfume not only on herself but also on the pillow. She make the room her own, Cora’s, not some stale institution smelling of death.
Then I hear the laugh and my skin crawls with the recollections of eighth grade. Isabel. My torturer then. Isabel of the big house and limitless credit cards. The parents who were never there, but she had nannies and Bentleys at her beck and call. Bitch even had a private plane.
“Lise, slumming it at Neiman’s again,” she giggles. I see she’s with two other mean girls and the past just repeats doesn’t it? I run a company and she runs up bills but she still talks down to me.
“I still like the classics,” I say as I hand my card to the sales lady. “Wouldn’t kill you to try one,” I add and smile back. She’s still thin and I hate her for it. Thinner than I am. But she’s also ugly with a pudgy nose, post surgery and small eyes no one can fix. An ugly vomit khaki. Whoever thought green eyes, the most stunning shade ever, could not work on someone. And her lips are pufferfish-lite, the local plastic surgeons’ special. Her forehead doesn’t move and I see a small tell tale bruise in the corner of her right eye. It’s a fresh botox scar. She also has a $40,000 Hermes bag and the latest Gucci blouse and slacks that I’d kill for. Her friends are also thin and perfectly dressed, glistening like Christmas trees with fully white diamonds. At least my t-shirt and jeans are clean.
But do I really need to deal with this crap? I’m a mogul, if a blue jeans version, with write up in W all the time type. In the real world these things do matter.
“Nice to see you but I need to go,” I say firmly
“But before you go, where can I find your makeup line here?” the bitch asks. And I see her little mind calculate the cut she just delivered. Making me feel not good enough, substandard and poor. But I’m not anymore and I deliver the coup.
“I’m at Neimen’s now. So flattered you noticed,” I respond. Then I bat my eyelids and smile as I get my credit card slip. Slowly I sign and see those mean eyes coming up with a comeback. But I’ve played this game too often and for too long and I’m above it now. Mostly. And I have a more important female to visit as I come bearing scents of a better time. Better memories. This bitch is just in my way.
“By Tom Ford,” I say then gesture. I watch my saleslady’s eyebrows jump and her eyes dart over but then she just takes my signed slip and gracefully murmurs a delicate thanks.
The she-devil just stares and I turn, perfume in hand and proud at my grunge success, and leave. Mom is waiting.