One of Laura Mulleavy’s strongest memories of smell is the perfume Opium.
Her mother would spray her bed sheets with them. “It seemed so unnecessary — my mom isn’t a perfume wearer — but so emotionally charged for us. It seemed like a beautiful thing to do for your children. I’ll know that smell for the rest of my life,” says the designer, who, along with her sister Kate, runs the critically adored fashion line Rodarte.
Despite declining sales in the cosmetics and fashion market, perfumed water’s historic connection to mood could make it an unexpected recession upper. “For me, wearing perfume is psychological. If you’re feeling bad, perfume always makes you feel better,” says Romina McGuinness, a 23-year-old writer from France whose Tunisian mother would splash her cheeks with orange blossom water whenever she had childhood fits of fear or tantrum.
“It smelled nice and calming. We always had a bottle in the house,” she recalls of the fragrance more commonly known in stores as Fleur D’Oranger.
Edouard Roschi, the French co-founder of the exclusive, niche fragrance line Le Labo, says that fragrance can be a small comfort in rough periods. “These are challenging times for everyone and people try to lighten up and find cheerful ways to colour each day and perfume can be something that impacts the senses in a good way if used right,” he says. He and his partner Fabrice Penot approach perfume-making as an art form. Their collection of rarefied fragrances, a hit in cool emporiums such as Colette in Paris and Barneys New York, includes Fleur D’Oranger, which was once viewed as an antidepressant.
Perfume sales are even increasing in some regions. The Florida company Parlux, responsible for mass-market celebrity perfume lines (think Nicole Miller and Josie Natori), predicts that its profits will rise 43.2 per cent in the second fiscal quarter according to Women’s Wear Daily. Meanwhile, Douglas Perfumeries, Europe’s biggest perfume retailer, posted a four per cent jump in its first quarter. “I think that in these times, people tend to be more sensorial and I am sure that music, perfumes and other accessories are used as a way to ‘forget’ about hard realities, a way to protect one’s self,” he adds.