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Coming to My Senses review

I couldn't tell you the name of my mother's perfume but I'd know it by scent. Saved for special occasions and date night with my dad, the perfume signified part of womanhood, this grown-up elegance and sophistication. I don't know the last time she wore it- it's apparently retired now- but it wafted its way through my childhood.

By junior high, I alternated wearing a few fragrances of my own. Love's. Debbie Gibson's Electric Youth. Bath & Body Works' Cucumber Melon.

And then my perfume days ended: my dermatologist told me fragranced lotion was further drying my eczematic skin out and I should probably avoid products with fragrance in them altogether. In retrospect, perfume might have been OK but it was easier to cut it out altogether. I still wore body spray occasionally but I sprayed my clothes, instead of my skin. That sums up my relationship with perfume for the past two decades.

When I first heard of Alyssa Harad's memoir Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride, I was intrigued. I didn't realize perfume had a larger story or that perfume blogs existed or that someone would be anti-perfume or that perfume could change someone's life.

From Amazon:

Alyssa Harad’s affair with scent begins in secret, late at night, by the glow of her computer screen when she stumbles on a blog devoted to perfume. Bookish and practical, and a stranger to beauty counters, she is surprised to find herself lured into a sensual underworld of quirky characters that changes her mind about much more than perfume. Candid, elegant, and full of lush description and humor, Coming to My Senses takes readers from a private museum of rare essences in Austin, Texas, to the glamorous fragrance showrooms of Manhattan, and finally to a homecoming in Boise, Idaho, to prepare for Harad’s wedding. This deeply personal story reveals the intimate connections between scent, our senses, and the people we are and want to become.

Alyssa Harad emailed me a few months ago, after a recommendation from Katie Gibson (thanks, Katie!), and asked if she could send me a copy of her book. I couldn't say yes fast enough. Whenever a book on my To Read list arrives unexpectedly in my hands, it's as if the stars have aligned.

I had to set Coming to my Senses to the side until I traveled to Seattle last month. There, on the plane, I settled in. Harad whisks her reader away on a feast of the senses. I could have sworn I smelled amber and rain and honey and leather and vanilla solely based on reading her rich descriptions. I contemplated how each perfume would settle and what a heart note actually smells like. What scents have I been drawn toward all these years without really thinking about it?

I was fascinated by the association between perfume and memory. Or just plain scent and memory. We might not smell something for years and the moment we do, we have an instant association. Women have long been known for their signature scent and this can bring back memories of special occasions, relationships, and so on.

The perfume world is accessible while feeling remote. Perfume can be costly but I wonder whether it's a more affordable luxury than we give it credit. After all, one bottle can last years. Harad takes us along through the blogs, the history, the perfumers- giving us the information, while also flooding our noses, so to speak. Along the way, she adjusts to a transition in her career and decides to get married to her long-time boyfriend.

Perfume makes her come alive in a whole new way and it was absolutely lovely to witness that transformation. I'm not saying I cried a few tears on the plane. I'm just saying.

Coming to My Senses is an easy and mesmerizing read. I felt strangely bereft when it was done because I wasn't quite ready to leave the world Harad created. It appears I'm starting a new relationship with perfume.

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When I read the latest copy of InStyle magazine, instead of skipping over the perfume inserts, I actually opened the tab and inhaled deeply. I never do that! Not only that, I considered the notes and scents and my reaction to them.

The other day, I rubbed one of those perfume inserts on my wrists. Just to see how my skin interacted with the scent.

Now I'm contemplating visiting a perfume counter and finding a signature scent of my own. Maybe I'll help my mom find a new signature scent, too. It's the daughterly thing to do.


Do you wear perfume or have a signature scent?

Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a complimentary copy of Coming to My Senses but all thoughts, opinions, and reactions are my own. Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.