Not long ago, I sat down to dinner at the retirement center with a woman I’d never met. We got along well but before the cheesecake arrived, she was in tears, telling me her version of the “perfume wars.” She loved perfume, she confessed, and as she spends much of her life in a wheelchair, struggling against the effects of diabetes, wearing fragrance is one of her few joys. Unfortunately, some of the women who live on her floor are either allergic to perfume or put off by the scent and so, they have begun to voice their objections loudly when she is present and vociferously when they clustered together in an elevator.
I confess after hearing her side of the story, I felt sorry for the woman and offered obvious advice such as wearing less perfume or avoiding her critics by taking a different elevator. My suggestions were rebuffed. “What’s the harm in a little perfume?” She bristled. I had no answer and wondered that those who were offended hadn’t taken a more conciliatory note with her, honey being more attractive than vinegar. Or perhaps, if they knew some expensive perfumes are endangered, they might rethink their aversion.
Among the threatened popular scents are J’adore, Miss Dior and Poison. Climate change alone does not account for their endangerment but population growth as well. One of the prime areas being pressured by development is Grasse near the Côte d’Azur in France. The area is unique for its weather and ground soil and is the natural habitat of the Rose de Mai. This flower is an essential ingredient for many of the world’s finest scents and is cultivated with such care that it is pruned during certain phases of the moon, but never a full one. During a full moon, “sap rises through the stems, which makes for full foliage but very few flowers.” (“Field of Dreams,” by Alexandra Marshall, Town&Country, May 2015 pg. 120).
The flower and the land that sustains it are as precious to those who create aromas as are other areas of France to winemakers. The rose can be cultivated in other places, of course, but never with the same pungent scent which is why Françoise Demachy, artistic director for Dior perfumes, has purchased exclusive rights for the next decade to the crops of one of the region’s largest growers. (Ibid pg. 120).
If the critics at the retirement center were aware of these facts, instead of shunning the “perfume” lady, they might come to appreciate her.
(Originally published 5/8/15)