It can skip past your emotional defences and take you right back to important memories of people and places but this is only one of the reasons Sue Busto has discovered perfume - and the understanding of the power if scent - is as much an art as a science
Why do you like perfumes so much?
I get asked this more than anything else these days and to be honest, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that this scented journey of mine was actually the greatest of gifts to myself.
This is a gift that triggers inner dialogue, reflection, healing and immense joy. This is why every month I am chasing one olfactory sensation to the next; why each month, I budget and push funds around to see what I can afford and which bottle from my wishlist of perfumes that I could acquire. That never-ending wishlist that I meticulously edit and watch grow endlessly as I dive further and further into the world of perfumery.
The following quote, which comes from an article written by Lush perfumer, Simon Constantine, in a recent article for Resurgence magazine provoked some further thoughts about why I love perfumery so much. In this article he says;
“Perfume has the unnerving ability to skip past our emotional defences and to access memories and feelings long thought buried. If you strike the right chord (or accord, in perfumery jargon), you can bring back a dearly departed loved one or a childhood moment lost in the recesses of your subconscious. It is an extremely powerful medium, more so than any other art form, I believe. Maybe it is this that prevents us from creatively exploring scent further. Is it too real?”
I don’t think it’s possible for me to talk about my love affair with perfumery without talking about my life. As the above quote states, the power of perfume to instantly draw up the past - whether you like it or not - is something I’ve finally learned to accept and appreciate and, as Simon suggests in his article, it’s enriched my life more than any other art form.
So where my story should start, naturally, is in the past... 22-years-old; a University graduate disillusioned with the ‘American dream’ that promised millions like myself that if you get a degree and work hard you can be “successful”. I found myself holding a fresh diploma but jobless after having put all my eggs in one basket in the form of a failing art gallery.
Desperate to pay my bills, I took a random retail job at a local mall until I could figure out what to do with myself. Never did I think that this unfortunate circumstance would lead me to what would become my passion in life.
This independently-owned perfume shop was stocked floor to ceiling with a vast array of perfumes. Designer to niche, vintage to modern, colourful, bright and offering a beautiful oasis of olfactory stimulation. Just like my previous job surrounded by beautiful paintings filled with splashes of colour, light, and emotion, I discovered that art can come in many different forms. I remember spraying perfume strips for customers to test and becoming deeply engaged with these invisible liquids. I knew I was hooked but it would be years before I realised exactly why this had happened to me.
So as the years went on, with countless jobs, friendships and relationships lost, and several different moves (including to another country), the one constant thing that remained with me was my perfume collection.
My first perfume gift came from my sister-in-law. The smell of Tommy Girl will always conjure up memories of her, whom I had greatly admired as a teenager and aspired to become ‘just like’ as an adult. My long-lost childhood best friend is forever captured in the scent of Gap Grass. And like so many others, I too have a perfume that I can no longer wear because it reminds me of my first heartbreak - Gucci Envy still sits in my collection as a reminder of him.
Certain perfumes encapsulate profound events in my life too. The first sniff of Prescriptives’ Calyx takes me instantly back to my 15-year old-self and to that moment I packed my bags with a few outfits, $16 and a bottle of Calyx to leave my family home. Ironic how it wasn’t until this discontinued fragrance was made readily available again that I was able to smell and reflect on that pivotal moment and make my peace with what had happened back then.
Perfumes have also been my main source of comfort in a very mysterious way. Perfumery has become my therapy. Why do certain perfumes instantly bring me inner peace? Has a scent evoked a “childhood moment lost in the recesses of your subconscious” as Simon wrote? Is it a smell that I once associated with joy as a child? How beautiful and magical is that?
I believe Perfume is a gift to ourselves. We spray, we remember, we process the joys and the pain from our lives. The right combination in a perfume instantly brings a fleeting moment of happiness or sorrow, then disappears leaving you with your emotions.
So the next time you have the opportunity to smell a new fragrance or one from your past, close your eyes, inhale and exhale. Allow the inner conversation with yourself to begin and just like during a meditation, allow your thoughts to enter and pass through. Discover for yourself how we are left to embrace the magic that is perfumery … after all the most important relationship we must nurture is the one with ourselves and don’t we all deserve that very special gift all year round?
Sue Busto is a Korean-American perfume enthusiast currently living in the UK. You will often find her in London, coordinating perfume experience tours and attending perfume events.