Chanel No. 5

It's been my longest, if least faithful, relationship. Since I was 13, I've been dabbing drops of Chanel No. 5 Eau de Toilette behind my ears. It works on middle school girls, octogenarians, stay-at-home writers out for a jaunt at Target. It works not just because it smells clean--it has more body than those nostril-drying abominations found at the Gap--but also because it smells smart. It reeks of complexity, changing throughout the day from tart and powdery to dark and husky, a voice after too-long a night.

I've had my affairs. Charlie and Love's Baby Soft. (Look! you can still get it!) Aliage. In college I had a Puerto Rican roommate who brought me bottles of Nenuco, a Spanish baby cologne. It's wonderful in the summer, light and fresh and more sophisticated than the too-pretty, too-pink Johnson & Johnson scent.

I slathered myself in Musk by Alyssa Ashley for years (note to Alyssa, please remove the parabens from your formula, thank you). I was wearing this when a boyfriend observed how he'd miss he way I smelled as he was leaving me for another woman. Good riddance, I say, if he couldn't appreciate a reliable, drugstore buy like Alyssa Ashley.

I loved Oscar de la Renta mostly for that gorgeous, sinuous bottle. Excessively floral, the scent will send you into a diabetic coma. Trust me on this. But the bottle is pretty. Really pretty.

There were the Coco years; I'm pretty sure I snagged a husband with that one. It's still available, though in recent years Chanel's put out a dumbed-down version, Coco Mademoiselle, which smells nice in magazine inserts. And Aveda's late and much-lamented-by-me Hana (hoarders now are scalping bottles on Ebay for about 200 bucks).

I've gone all Proustian because I just read the review of Tilar J. Mazzeo's book, “The Secret of Chanel No. 5," and because I keep going back. It's not a cult favorite nor is it particularly in vogue. But when I spray it it sends me back to that tiny vanity topped with a single glass bottle.

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