A Woman Wearing Green
A gift of working in fragrance is the scented stories I am privy to. Certain professions open channels into our intimate selves and allow us to express tales that would go untold. My hairdresser gets me going on lovers past and present; something about her handling of my hair has me unabashedly charting woes in love the way tabloids print close-ups of unflattering bikini shots. In taxis, I find myself turning the tables, longing to hear stories from beyond the plexiglass partition.
The stories about smell that I am told range in tone, setting, and detail. What they all share is a potency. Even when the story is sad, there is an importance to moment and meaning. Even when the teller cannot place his or her finger on why, there is an implication that something special happened and that it will not be forgotten.
I heard the most fantastic story from my veterinarian the other day. He has absolutely no sense of smell, which is one reason why he makes an excellent vet. He’s been through two house fires and has only been aware of the smoke once he sees it. He has cleaned the bellies of horses without noticing any odor and almost fainted recently from over-inhaling ether, which he also can't smell. However, years ago as a young man, he walked the streets of Paris. One day, he came upon the most beautiful French woman, walking in his direction. As she passed, her perfume washed over him and he was so overwhelmed by her fragrance that his knees went weak and he had to lean against a wall to catch his balance. He recounts the story as though it happened yesterday. She smelled like fresh-cut grass.
My first inclination was to help him find the perfume. It sounds like Vent Vert, Balmain’s ode to Spring and the greenest of grasses with an overdose of galbanum. Only later did I wonder how a self-described anosmiac was able to associate the experience with the odor of fresh-cut grass. I told a friend the story, and he was also curious to know more. He wondered if my vet’s impression of the woman - the epitome of elegance and grace - somehow hit a subconscious switch in his brain, flooding forth the green fragrance in expectation of how great beauty would smell. Otherwise, was this encounter related to something from his youth, a sniff of grass cataloged in his developing brain, forever linked to beauty, forever to cause a swooning? A fragrance is only a fragrance until it becomes associated with a specific experience. It is only then that the smell becomes sacred. What if, in actuality, this woman wore no scent, and simply exuded a certain ambiance that excited the young veterinarian, causing him to feel something so exceptional - love, lust, awe, abandon - it could only be perceived in an olfactory form?
We will never know and we need not ever know. He was touched by this experience and I was touched by his story. Fragrances are both ephemeral and everlasting. A scent stays on the skin only a few hours and a fragrant passing breeze comes and goes within a moment. The immortality of fragrance is in its ability to bottle up a moment that can be revisited and relived infinitely; as long as there is perfume left to smell, green pastures mowed in springtime mornings, and muses strolling past on Parisian promenades. Isn’t it incredible that something invisible and fleeting could leave a mark that will last a lifetime?
Originally published April 3rd, 2016 on Las Brujas de Yerbas