My grandmother — faithfully and exclusively — wore Chanel No. 5. To this day, when I pass a woman wearing the warm, complex fragrance, I think of my grandmother, Ruby Gay Bitter (née Collins), pictured in that black and white photo to your left. Chanel No. 5, created in 1921, per the request of the iconic designer Mademoiselle Coco Chanel, is to this day one of the best selling perfumes in the world. It’s composed of light floral and citrus scents, including lemon, bergamot and ylang-ylang, jasmine, iris, rose and lily of the valley, as well as the more prevalent and darker, muskier notes of patchouli, sandalwood, amber and vanilla. Chanel took it upon herself to design the now-recognizable bottle, a simple rectangle with a stopper said to be modeled after the Place Vendome in Paris. The fragrance — like my grandmother — was an instant classic and remains a timeless choice for women of good taste around the world. With that in mind, I took a cue from Coco and Ruby Gay when deciding upon my own signature fragrance a few years ago, Chanel Coco Mademoiselle. It combines a base of several of the Chanel No. 5 notes, with fresh, lighter citrus elements, including orange, orange blossom and mandarin orange, for a brighter, fresher fragrance. All of this was brought to mind recently as I was editing a piece about fab new fragrances for New Orleans Bride Magazine, by our beauty editor Mirella Cameran. Coincidently, I also was nearing the bottom of my most-recently purchased bottle of Coco Mademoiselle. It seemed a good time to perhaps shop around for a custom or new perfume, considering the various fine perfumers in New Orleans. So I set out upon a quest.
On days when I knew I’d be in the French Quarter for meetings or social calls, I’d arrive early and duck into one of the perfume shops. Visits to Hové en route to the restaurant Sylvain for dinners with friends were welcome diversions. I was especially interested in Bourbon French Parfums, for its Voodoo Love collection, said to be a recreation of the love potion by New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and its service of creating a custom fragrance. While it doesn’t do custom scents, Avery Fine Perfumery in the Central Business District does carry many of my favorite perfumes, including a line by the visual artist Andrea Maack.
Alas, while these fieldtrips were entertaining, a feast for my sense of smell and provided a cadre of potential “backup” perfumes for when I feel like changing it up, I kept coming back to Coco Mademoiselle. Perhaps it’s my sentimental side, but in many ways, wearing Coco Mademoiselle is a tribute to my grandmother and the style and beauty secrets she passed down to me. The scent I wear is — like me — a bit lighter and slightly more youthful, yet — like my grandmother — it embodies mystery, sophistication and elegance. As far as I’m concerned, there’s not another fragrance in the world that can hold a candle — scented or otherwise — to one that at once exudes the chic simplicity and effortless grace of two women whose lives and style I admire and emulate. What would Coco Chanel and Ruby Gay do? They’d spritz on some Chanel.