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The Fragrances of My Life (So Far)

My love of perfume started when I was about 9 years old with a couple of mini bottles of upscale scents my grandfather gave me during an ice storm cousins’ slumber party at his house. The standout among those precious bottles, and my go-to through my late-’20s, was Chanel’s Cristalle Eau de Toilette. The description on a vintage box I recently found online is spot on: “A brilliant burst of fragrance with the freedom of cologne and the force of perfume.” Reading that now and looking back through my perfume choices over the years makes me realize that’s the effect against which I’ve judged all other scents.

It’s not surprising, then, that I found most women’s perfumes in the ’80s and ’90s overpowering or cloyingly floral, or both. During my teen years I routinely embarrassed my best friend by trying on all the men’s scents at department-store fragrance counters. I preferred the earthy “realness” of...

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