My Life Thus Far, Through 5 Perfumes

I've had, like, 30 signature scents. Here are a few of them, plus what my life looked like when I loved them.

There's nothing more secretly thrilling than buying a new perfume. It's been one of my favorite silly little kicks since I was, well, way too young to be wearing perfume. Whatever, I highly doubt I'm the only circa-Gen-X-ish lady whose parents indulged her love of fragrance from a juvenile age (Love's Baby Soft! I had the whole box set of Love's fragrances, including some watery jasmine number plus "Lemon Fresh," because everyone wants to smell like countertop spray!). Then it was Jovan White Musk (SSSEEEXXX) before I progressed into naughtier territory with Skin Musk. Anyway, perfume hound here -- so now I'll describe five of my former favorite scents, plus how they affected my burgeoning ladyhood.

AGE: 14

PERFUME:Calvin Klein ObsessionME, THEN: SO.F*CKING.MISERABLE. Varying shades of Angela Chase red hair. A walking tailspin, all heightened emotion desperately waving its arms and floundering to poke its head above a roiling ocean of unrestrained angst. I was desperate to be liked, desperate to be loved, and more than desperate for a real, non-Truth-or-Dare-fueled kiss. Somehow I thought wearing an "Adult" fragrance like Obsession would help me reach that goal. It didn't. My friend M. (on right above) and I used to drive around DC listening to REM's "You Are the Everything," theatrically fighting off tears because we wanted, soooooo badly, to be the kind of girl a guy like Michael Stipe would write those kind of lyrics about ("I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music, the voices talking somewhere in the house, late spring").WHAT IT SMELLED LIKE THEN: Grownups! Sex and secrets and independence. Harlots. Obsession seemed to contain, deep within the bowels of its weirdly sensual, round little amber bottle, all the mysteries, lies and seductions of, like, Ultimate Womanhood. WHAT IT SMELLS LIKE NOW: Moss. And powder. Goddamned powder! Why do people constantly try to make women smell like powder? Oh it also reeks of thick cloying musk. And trying too hard. I don't regularly (er, EVER) use the word "cougar," because ew. But if I did, I might use "cougar" to sum it up.[CUE HIGH-SCHOOL HIPPIE EXPERIMENT HERE:

In which I experimented with oils (so natural, man!) like the Body Shop's White Musk and Tea Rose, before converting to the dark side: straight-up patchouli. (I still love patchouli, though I don't use it any time I'm trying to make a remotely decent impression.)]AGE: 17

PERFUME:Joop! For WomenME, THEN: Still angsty, though the edge was wearing off (thanks, Effexor!). I finally felt passably attractive; by then I'd finally had a kiss, off at my beloved summer camp with a guy named Matt, whose entire wardrobe seemed to consist of a robust rotating collection of tie-dyed Grateful Dead T-shirts. That kiss (and the sloppy makeout marathons that followed) was a milestone for me because it signified, to my deluded little adolescent brain, that I WAS PRETTY. (What more could a young woman possibly hope for or expect of herself?) Yeah, I was still a misfit, lying to my parents and sneaking out of my best friend's house to go to raves. But I was 17. And it was my time.WHAT IT SMELLED LIKE THEN: Musky and sexy, sweet and bracing. It smelled like precisely what I wanted to smell like: the hottest girl in high school, duh. Pretty, mysterious, frisky -- towering blond ponytail, red lips, matte skin, bitch face. WHAT IT SMELLS LIKE NOW: It's kind of hard to find Joop! nowadays; I only see it at discount stores like TJ Maxx from time to time. I did smell it a few years ago when I was visiting the house I grew up in -- there was still half a bottle stashed in my old bathroom. It still smells amazing, must purchase pronto. AGE: 20

PERFUME:Angel by Thierry MuglerME, THEN: Angel was my sig scent from around age 18 through 21. It was hailed as being all weirdo and novel and avant-garde when it launched; everyone made a whopping deal of the fact that ZOMG IT SMELLED LIKE PASTRIES!!1! "Oriental gourmand!" I ate up Angel's "weirdo" reputation, because I'd always felt so weird and alien inside. At 20, I didn't look particularly weird (other than my oh-so-subversive "hellcat" baby-tee) -- my hair was still blond; I still dug the red-lip/pale-skin thing. But wearing Angel felt like a tiny act of defiance, a private proclamation that I may have looked normal, but that inside I was complicated. Unique and dark and OH. SO COMPLICATED.WHAT IT SMELLED LIKE THEN: Unapologetic drama. Bitter resolve. Candy and delight. Hedonism and debauchery.WHAT IT SMELLS LIKE NOW: Like the '90s, duh. And it smells like everybody else.AGE: 27

PERFUME:PradaME, THEN: I was living in Brooklyn with a man I'd been secretly pining over for years. Being with him felt like I'd finally, finally caught the epic love prize I'd been waiting for forever -- he was everything I thought I wanted, my physical ideal mixed with a stellar combination of interior attributes (he was smart, and charming, and sweet). But beneath the fuzzy Won-The-Man glow, something was slightly off. I was trying to hold on to the fantasy of the consummate, lovely Thing I'd persuaded myself we were fated to have, and scrambling to reconcile the fantasy with the sudden reality that the reality was different.WHAT IT SMELLED LIKE THEN: Prada was so me, so everything I loved -- I snapped it up the second it came out. It was deep and sexy and warm. I remember sniffing my wrists INCESSANTLY every time I wore it (which was daily, obvs).WHAT IT SMELLS LIKE NOW: 11 years out from 25, I still love Prada. The spritzer on my bottle is busted, tragically, so I haven't used it lately. But it still makes me happy -- it smells like cashmere and orange leaves and crackling bonfires.AGE: 36 (i.e. now)

PERFUME: A shifting selection of favorites, though Burberry's classic women's scent is my No.1 everyday staple.ME, TODAY: Maybe I'm the least grown-up woman on the planet; maybe that's a problem. Because despite my age, I still feel 16, or 18, or 20 inside. I still feel fairly alien, though I feign normalcy most of the time. And I'm STILL doing the blond/red/pale combo. Some things never change.WHAT IT SMELLS LIKE: Burberry is a bit reminiscent of Joop! -- it's fuzzy, earthy and spicy, but also sweet, and sharp, and unique. Above all, it smells like me. It just smells like me. Which is always what I look for in a scent, you know?

What are some of the scents you've loved? Ones you've tossed aside over the years?

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