When I was a little girl, the 70’s were in full swing. I was born right at the edge of the disco era and grew up in a world where Halston ruled the planet, glittering eye shadow and disco balls made the world go around, and everything was insanely glamorous.
I watched as Bob Mackie dress Cher and Carol Burnett in blinding sequins and beadwork, I devoured every mention of Studio 54, I clipped photos of Bianca Jagger and Jerry Hall and Scotch taped them to my walls. My Barbie dolls were glammed out in marabou feathers and sequined fabric remnants that would fall off my mother’s evening clothes. They loved the nightlife, they had to boogie.
I became a tween and teen in the era of 80’s power bitches. I watched every nighttime soap with religious fervor: "Dallas", "Falcon Crest", "Knots Landing", "The Colbys" -- I loved them all.
And then there was "Dynasty". I named my Cabbage Patch Doll Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan. I lived for every Nolan Miller gown with gigantic shoulder pads. I covered my lips in mauve gloss and aspired to the lifestyle. I used to drink my mother’s sun-brewed iced tea from an old crystal bar set I found at a swap meet because it looked like the one Alexis drank scotch from in her apartment. I aspired to meet my own Dex.
My love of glamorous fragrances was born of these mental time stamps. I ingested copious amounts of advertising while watching these programs. I secretly sneaked into Mom’s fragrance cabinet to explore the glitz and glamour of her collection of nightlife-approved scents.
My mother’s been wearing YSL’s Opium since it came onto the scene, and the heady fragrance is her signature. I love the eruption of oriental spice and warmth that comes from the bottle, so much so I buy it for her every year and siphon off a bit for myself. Maybe it reminds me of home, but the fragrance warms into a don’t-fuck-with-me-fellas kind of aroma I like to borrow. My mom is a powerful woman, I love borrowing a bit of that bad bitch air from her.
There were others that made their way into the age of excess and the perfumes I’ve remembered so well from that time: Estee Lauder’s Cinnabar, Lancome’s Magie Noire, and I could never forget Charlie...or Jaclyn Smith extolling the virtues of not being too much of a good girl in her ads for Epris from 1981.
All the popular girls in my high school delighted in Cacharel’s Anais Anais, Christian Dior’s Poison or Giorgio Beverly Hills, but I just couldn’t get down with those florals. Disco may have been dead, but I wanted something that still smacked of Bianca Jagger’s wanton appeal.
This is when I discovered my lifelong addiction to Calvin Klein Obsession. Woodsy but sweet, powerful and driven, it was everything I wanted in a fragrance. With notes of mom’s disco era but all '80s the promise of men becoming obsessed with me. I spritzed a bit on my neck at Kaufmann’s department store in as I went into high school and suddenly it was the milkshake bringing all the boys to my yard. I wear it on date nights or on days when I need to bring that powerful persona to the present. I even throw on some Madonna or disco to make it interesting. It makes me happy.
I think this love of old nightclub fragrances is what makes me such a fan of Tom Ford fragrances to this day. Tom gets a good power bitch, and a spritz of Black Orchid or White Patchouli is like turning up Gloria Gaynor to ward off a bad day.
For all disco’s inevitable backlash and for the mostly ill-advised excesses of the 80’s, I came into my own back then, watching glamorous women delight in being unabashedly female. These powerful fragrances give me that added boost now and then, like a little mirror ball in my mind, reminding me that I deserve a little glamour today....and maybe to do the Hustle.
Do you have an addiction to vintage fragrances? Let’s reminisce.