Image by Andrew Dunn
One of my first solo trips abroad as an adult was to London in the 1990s.
I'd been alone as a teenager on a school-sponsored trip to Switzerland and Spain, but this was different. I stayed in a small B & B in Pimlico, and got over "the pond" on a low-cost British Airways fare that didn't break my budget.
Wandering the streets, comparing the London of my imagination to the real place and finding very little difference to my delight, I came upon the Burlington Arcade.
This historic shopping arcade, built in 1819 in the heart of posh Mayfair, was one of the world's first shopping malls--but the phrase doesn't do it justice. You feel as if you're in a Dickensian time tunnel as you stroll through the glass domed thru-way that runs from Piccadilly to the Burlington Gardens.
Loving perfume, I was lured into a shop called "The Crown Perfumery," a historic perfume label that had been bought and restored by a major perfume house. Inside, were scents that had been popular back in Queen Victoria's day, when the original house had ruled the roost as the perfumers to the royals.
I opened one of the crown-shaped bottles to inhale the fragrance of "Alpine Lily," a scent from the 1890s. It was innocent, almost virginal, but so meltingly soft and sweet there was a sensual air of corruption about it--like a hot house flower that spent all its ardor on its intoxicating aroma.
"That one is a favorite of Princess Di," said the shopwoman with a conspiratorial smile, shifting her eyes to the left and then to the right.
I inhaled again.
Was it worth the $200.00 US I could barely afford?
I proudly declared the purchase on my customs form, and once home, I made the fragrance my own "signature scent."
"It's like you," said my worldly Aunt Eve, my own version of Auntie Mame who had taken me on my first trip to Europe. "It's innocent, but has a dark center to it."
I wore the scent on my first press trip (to Bali), and ever since, its heady sweetness reminded me, not of Princess Di, but of the humid, incense-laden air of that Indonesian island.
The shop and the perfume brand are now long gone. I bought a few more bottles on subsequent trips which I stored lovingly in a dark, cool drawer so that I could open them and relive a time when smelling like Princess Di seemed the right thing on which to indulge.
-- Gretchen Kelly