My best friend in high school was the person who first introduced me to the fragrance industry. She came from Tampico, Mexico, where social clubs were abundant and crowded, belts had to match with handbags, and certain items of clothing could not leave the house twice. Everyone in her social circle was a miniature celebrity, each with a set of defining characteristics that they could not overstep. Couples who were together stayed together (very Luke and Marissa season 1 – although Newport Beach is nothing like The O.C., Tampico is.) When you were known for something, you made sure it stayed that way.
This is how she felt about Burberry Brit. Ironic, I know, given that it is probably one of the highest-selling perfumes out there – everyone I know has smelled it at one point or another. But at the time, it was new to me: my sole conception of scented bodies came from Calgon’s Take Me Away commercials (my preferred mist, shown here, was Hawaiian Ginger). Other girls grew up with their lotions from Bath & Body Works. Individuality was very much not at stake – everyone smelled like Warm Vanilla Sugar, and that was fine.
Not by her. When I manifested interest in her perfume collection, my best friend very cautiously handed me her bottle. “This is my favorite, but you can’t get it,” she said firmly. “It’s mine. We can’t smell the same.” Neither of us knew at the time, but this was the moment I inculcated the notion of signature things: scents, styles, vocabulary – all of which were to be grasped at in the decade that followed. The elusive sense of refined and defining taste. I would be lying if I said I’d found it.
After I purchased Ralph by Ralph Lauren at a duty-free shop, I forgot about perfumes for a few years, mostly impaired by an adolescent budget. Then, the year I moved to Montreal, the obsession struck. I was possessed by the idea of owning something that would come to associate itself with my image; it, that existential sense of self, was something I was still crafting with difficulty. I had just dropped out from architecture school, and my mind was reeling with guesses as to what that meant about my character. It’s bittersweet, the ways in which we try to substitute our own lack.
I ardently researched online and spent hours in department stores, trying this and that. I learned to sniff coffee beans to dispel olfactory ghosts. Chanel #5, I was disappointed to learn, was not for me (I don’t think it’ll ever be). Finally, Brit was presented to me on a perfume strip, and something about it was comforting, yet attractive, both characteristics I didn’t mind embracing. My friend came to mind, but my selfish desire for that sense of identity pushed the thought aside: she was hours away, and our friendship was fading. Perfect.
Burberry Brit is a oriental, fruity, slightly nutty scent. Its main notes, to my nose at least, are lime, vanilla, peony, tonka bean, almonds. Many reviewers mention the presence of icy pear, but I won’t even pretend to have ever met an icy pear. According to Sephora, it is “Impulsive. Sexy. Unique.” But as we all know, projected expectations are rarely reality. This much-lauded perfume is, in fact, none of these things. Not to me, anyway, and I’ve been wearing it (occasionally, but consistently!) for a long time.
It is, at its core, very un-English. The austerity, the wry wit, the cold rain – it doesn’t reflect any of that. The astringency of the lime fades almost immediately upon spraying, and what we’re left with is a very sweet, inviting, and warm scent, like that of an intimate (but platonic) embrace. If Brit were a television character, it’d be Gilmore Girls‘ Sookie: pretty, loyal, always making delicious things.
And to that point, I’ll add (though I hate acknowledging it) that boyfriends have described it as dessert-like. This is not an idea I want to associate with perfume or me, by proxy. Dessert-like! It did not align itself with the aloof, mysterious persona that I coveted at the time, and it’s still a few steps removed from my personality today. Yet I wear it, at least several times a month, for those exact reasons – to be comforted by this genial energy surrounding me, this added presence: the reminder of Warm Vanilla Sugar and firm, maternal hugs.