Finding Yourself in Scent

If Diana Vreeland thought fashion should be an intoxicating release from the banality of the world, maybe scent is supposed to be that release from the banality of the self.


It took me to 25 years to come up with this, but I’m pretty sure I’m right: the best compliment you can give a woman is not just to tell her that she smells so good, but that she smells so her.

You see, for the longest time, I have envied this broad I invariably see waiting to catch a cab on Bowery between Bleecker and Bond streets on weekday mornings. She’s not particularly striking; she wears a grey pencil skirt and black kitten heel sling backs. Her hair is blonde and typically wet while she’s hailing a cab and though I can’t quite make out what her face looks like, I always know she’s there because I can smell her down the block.

She exudes the stench of cleanliness. A scent that I, personally, would call I-Have-My-Shit-Together-and-I’m-Clean if I maintained the same one. Because, see, that’s the thing. To not just bear your own scent, but to emanate it so expansively that even a stranger can detect your presence seems to say, I know who I am, so you should know too.  

Of course, this theory is only propelled by my historically having radiated no scent at all. Believe me, though, I tried. There was the depletion of a month’s allowance because of Ralph and Versace Blue Jeans and Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, and then as I got older, there was Chance by Chanel and Hermes’ Un Jardin Sur Le Nil. But I never holstered smell the way my mom, or that woman on Bowery, does. You could smell Calvin Klein’s Escape on the former from a long-ass arm’s length.

If anyone were to comment on my olfactory aura, it was typically to tell me that I needed deodorant.

This actually happened as recently as a month ago (thanks dad!), and as a result ignited my foray into wearing Le Labo. The fragrance brand has been around since only 2006 and yet has become widely recognized, perhaps in part due to its high price point (which is apparently a cause of the volume of alcohol, a.k.a scent, a.k.a smell of long-lasting you present in the product). It has also instilled an untrammeled sense of youth in its perfume, which seemingly carries the implications of a dated good, and I think that lead me to bite the bullet.

I thought paying $140 dollars for a 50ml bottle of a non-consumable liquid would be a difficult feat and frankly, I wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t green juice replete with pungent anti-cancer properties and it didn’t make me shit gold. But there is something so indulgent in all the right ways about buying something that is for you in a way that no pair of shoes, or pants, or a dress — which are all subject to third party interpretation upon immediate contact — can be.

So, I started wearing it, and as with exercise, I couldn’t see results immediately or without the help of a third-party opinion. I could smell it for a bit, but then the scent became so imbued with my skin that it seemingly disappeared. And just when I was ready to give up, call it a wash and go back to begrudgingly walking past Bowery Street Girl, under arm odor in un-relinquished tow, I walked into an elevator in an office building last week and a man looked at me and remarked, “Le Labo Bergamote 22? Smells so you.”

I didn’t know him but I think that made it all the more special.

Get more Beauty ?
  • Beautiful essay, Leandra. I’ve never given any thought to both jewelry and scent, but having another canvas for shaping the “me” and the “you,” doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

    I guess I’m just too careless to think about cloaking my body with anything other than clothes, but while it doesn’t always register, I guess over the years I have enjoyed knowing the smell of certain people. Like my grandma, for example, wore a Dior perfume and it was a nice departure from the lack of smell and luxury in my mother and other family members. My mother, if she smells like anything, smells like some natural herbal something and/or lemon, which is which is nice, but it was kind of fun to have a grandma that smelled like a French fashion house. Second-hand fancy.

  • ee_by_cc

    I have also tried and failed to establish a signature scent for myself. I just haven’t been able to commit. On another note, best part of this post is that you called the great-smelling-stranger-lady-on-Bowery a “broad”, such an underrated term.

  • Alma

    nice!!!! 🙂 I’m looking for my scent too… I’ve been using Flower Bomb from Viktor & Rolf since it got out but that was something my Dad use to buy me, and now that he’s gone I just don’t like the scent any more (it’s more of a psicological thing). Anyway, just ordered Do Son from Diptyque, let’s see how it works 😉 Hopefully I can get the same effect as you. xx,

  • Lizzy Who

    Le Labo won me over when I first met Rose 31 in my hotel room bathroom a year ago. I still use the lotion here and there but the search continues for the scent that is “me”. Why is it so difficult?!

  • Warmleatherette

    Am I the only one who thinks Bergamote 22 smells just like Bulgari Green Tea?

    • Leandra Medine

      I have to take a whiff of that

  • GapToothedGirl

    Right now I’m obsessed with ACQUA DI PARMA mirto di pantelleria! Smells like summer!!
    xox, Gap.

  • Ohhh – I’m almost out of my fresh, smells like me (I think) Jo Malone Bluebells. Maybe I’ll switch it up and see if I like any of their scents!

  • Jamie Lynn O’Brien

    I have struggled to find “my scent” for years. My friends will recognize certain perfumes of mine, but the only scent that I truly feel that suits me is Diptyque Philosykos. I’ve gotten really picky with scents over the years. Anything I wear needs to smell unique for me to break and finally purchase.

  • elizabeth

    In the past couple years I came to realize that Chloe was “so me.” Then recently, my mom asked me what I was wearing, so I told her – turns out she wore Chloe through most of her 20s too. Maybe it’s genetic?!

  • After having struggled for years 🙂 I found out Boss fragrances are the most “So Me” – something about sunflowers in sunshine coming through and pleasing me. Also: the lack of sweetness, heavy blossoms, resolute fruits …

    And then I went and ordered an eau de toilette at amazon because I read the comments and assumed it would fit me even better … I know, I know, how stupid can you be?

    Anyway, this is how I found my fragrance. Like: this year.

    Is it of any importance it is not expensive and by … Dita von Teese?

    I say No.

  • THIS! My mother is Prada, and Nana, Chanel No. 5. After dating Ralph, DKNY, Philosophy, and Dior between the ages of 15 and 21, my olfactory clock started ticking. I speed dated every bottle of every perfume department of every department store and came up feeling cheap and empty.

    There were one night stands, inconspicuously spritzed from friends’ medicine cabinets, and a brief but intense relationship with generic Indian rose oil from Whole Foods. It gave me a migraine. Twice. Then I found perfection.

    The Diptyque lady at Nieman’s assured me that there was nothing wrong with the idea, adding that I could always use it as actually intended if we didn’t work out. And so this is how I brought home a bottle of Figuier Room Spray and have lightly bathed hair, décolletage, and the back my knees in French air freshener every morning since.

    • Bekah

      Have you tried Diptyque Philosykos? It has that lovely fig scent 🙂

      • It smells SO good in the air, but like musty hay on my skin. I was so sad until the heavens opened and I smelled the single note Figuier!

  • isaobeso

    I have always had that same thought, that a perfume should smell like “me”. Maybe it’s because my father has always had a smell of his own and I remember since I was little that moment when he got out of his room, ready to go to work, all dressed up and clean and of course, smelling amazing. It was always some sort of cologne from Jo Malone or any type or perfume with verbena in it.
    And then, when I think about the scent in a bottle being “me”, I don’t know what happens, because I’ve had many perfumes that people say smell “like me”… what does that even mean?? am I supposed to smell like something? does it really add anything to what I am? I don’t really know. All I know is that I really love perfume and right now it’s my Balenciaga bottle that makes me go out the door feeling that much more great.

    Visit me at http://WWW.PEOPLEWEARFASHION.COM for my tastes in fashion, style and beauty, and a little bit of sociology in the mix.

  • Amy Blumenreder

    I worked as a massage therapist for fifteen years so I never wore perfume- like EVER because I had to be mindful/respectful of not overwhelming peoples senses. The most I would wear were essential oils like lavender, geranium rose, citrus etc- all natural & wonderful on their own. Now that I am no longer working as an MT, I have been in love with perfumes & discovering new scents. I’m sure I would love Le Labo & look forward to smelling it. My fav scents are: Aqua Allegoria Mandarine Basilic by Guerlain, 754 by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (amazing, total splurge at Bergdorf’s-whoa), Light Blue by Dolce, Pure Grace by Philosophy and Cleopatra by Tocca.

  • Alma

    ohhh my gosh!!!! got the perfume yesterday and today I must say, mission accomplished! The guys entered the office and said “smells like you” *sigh* yeeeeey 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Effie

    All I can say is Maison Francis Kurkdjian – Aqua Universalis. 185 clams for 2.4 ounces but the smell melts into my skin! Smells clean and fresh. Always gets comments but I can never smell it on myself anymore. It also comes in laundry detergent which I am trying to justify to myself!

  • doublecurl

    Mine is and will always be D&G L’imperatrice. Not particularly expensive, not particularly potent, but it’s mine and it’s perfect.

  • kate

    Wow. It’s kind of a dream that someone would walk past me, recognize my perfume and call it out by name. Sigh. Pretty envious there, Leandra. I haven’t found the True Perfume to Wear for the Rest of My Life- I like the idea of that but I find I wear something for about 2.5 years then I must go on the hunt for something new — but they are all of a type, so I suppose in that sense I’ve found my kind of perfume. It’s always men’s cologne or unisex, usually French, it’s always heavy on citrus and patchouli, and generally low on florals. I’m wearing Lubin’s L’Eau Neuve these days. I’m not sure how much other people like it on me, but I think it’s pretty good stuff. Mainly, I love that when I put it on, whatever garments I put on feel more intimately MINE for mingling with the scent I’ve chosen.

  • Its so hard to find a scent that isn’t already your friend’s signature.

  • We love Le Labo! Ambrette 9 is our favorite! Fragrance and shoes are the best accessories…

  • dnotes

    I love fragrance & making my own because yes, they really are a great way to make your own scent ‘signature’ for the day. Since people’s chemistries are all different if anyone really likes the scent I’m wearing I have no problem telling them what it is. Also, for those looking for less pricey scents over the years I’ve found the Yves Rocher brand a lot of fun because they come out with new ones every year. My ‘magic box’ of fragrances has everything from the few drops of JOY by Jean Patou remaining in its bottle from my mother to Annick Goutal’s Heure Exquise, Shalimar, Opium, natural oils such as Frangipani, Sandalwood, Tuberose & my own blends of natural oils. To make any fragrance last longest, apply it on your hair at the top of your head, sides and at the nape of the neck followed by pulse points on wrists (if you have any fragrances that seem to cause a rash applying it to your hair only is the best solution I’ve found to prevent an unwanted reaction to fragrances I like that are somewhat irritating to my skin.)

  • Cardinham Killigrew

    I have found my scents in not only cologne, but soap, shave balm and shave cream as well are dependent on season and actually weather…if the scent you use in January the same as summer? Nope. A cold rainy day is not good for a sweet summer fragrance, nor is a heavy herbal musk good for a hot summer day. I prefer Chanel platinum for summer and Chanel bleu for winter, though Creed Irish Tweed is creeping up.
    Lotions and After Shave Balm

  • girl

    …how can a guy know a fragrance that’s been around for less than a decade…?

  • girl

    …how can a guy know a fragrance that’s been around for less than a decade…?

  • Chelsea

    L’eau by Serge Lutens (Barneys) is the one for me. I read a description on lucky scent that it smells “like the most expensive soap in the world.” A good one for those who just want to smell clean and expensive! I may try out Le Labo Limette…