The signature scent may be the last grand gesture of personal grooming. After all, smelling not simply good but evocative, lovely, woodsy, seductive, terrific—with notes of anise and an underbelly of sage plucked from a heaving English garden bed!—might delight the wearer and those in her immediate circle, but its magic can't be captured in a photograph. If all this painterly application of beautiful creams and gels, of bold lips and dewy cheek color, and of body oils that make us glisten like diamanté-studded mermaids makes us feel good , it must also be noted that it is a little selfie-centered. Attention to our outer beauty can bring a certain inner peace, but scent is the one category of beauty that remains staunchly averse to the digital world: you can't smell an Instagram (yet!).
So like handwritten letters, telephone calls, and thrilling your besotted public in a neon velour zip-front hoodie with matching bedazzled sweatpants, the signature scent has a bygone, dangerous appeal. It's an indulgent holdover from a previous world—and therefore more worth it than ever!
We begin as Walter Benjamin—a man whose love for sprawling expanses of shopping centers has been matched only by Fetty Wap's—would want us to: in the department store! But before you descend into the basement beauty dungeon, think. You want to buy you, bottled. But who are you? Oh my God, this is a column about lipsticks and Clinique Happy, so instead, let's close our eyes and imagine a personal paradise. Is it a shaded grove in a forest in Loiret? Are you listening to SZA in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Or, ah, yes: you're reading Eve Babitz in Diane Keaton's house in Something's Gotta Give? Inhale! Is that the woody smell of an old book, mixed with the lemony sugar of something Frances McDormand is baking in the oven and an afterthought of Jack Nicholson's Old Spice? I think it is!
Now to the testing grounds! Don't let yourself get spritzed, literally or figuratively: you are in control. Try everything, and BYO coffee beans to cleanse the nose, because you mean business and that means the sweet smell of success. Anything can draw you in—scent is about intuition, so follow your spirit. (I found my perfume—Roja Dove Lily!—a few years ago because a coiffed-beyond-coiffed salesman in velvet slippers spritzed it on a little piece of milky cardboard and cooed, "There are fewer certified perfumers in the world than there are people who have been to outer space!" Now I think about defying gravity every time I get dressed!)