Paris by Yves St. Laurent is one of my favorite fragrances. Don't get me wrong, it smells like old lady. But it also smells like mischievous giggling and sneaking cookies at midnight. It smells like squeezing in close to cuddle in her overstuffed armchair and feeling the remarkable softness of her aged and wrinkled hands. It smells like decades of family portraits and school pictures in mismatched frames lining the narrow, creaky-floored hallway. It smells like an Arizona sunrise and waking up early to watch the quails eat the bird seed Papa scattered every morning. And it smells like the birthday cards she wrote me every year, intentionally spritzed with her perfume so I would know, without even looking, that it was from her.
I like to think that this tradition of spritzing birthday cards with perfume started with the love letters she wrote to my grandfather during World War II, but I can't be sure. I am certain, however, that Grandma got it. She understood that her precious perfume carried with it a lifetime of memories. That, just the slightest hint of her signature fragrance, felt like eating cookies and telling jokes and holding hands.
Fragrance is powerful. Our sense of smell is so strongly connected to our memories that it has the ability to transport us through time and space. That's why my favorite bridal detail to photograph is the perfume. On occasion, a bride will tell me that her perfume bottle is nothing special and doesn't need to be photographed. And in those cases, I politely disagree and say, "Your perfume is the fragrance of your wedding day. It's the scent of the anticipation you feel building inside your belly right now. It's the smell of laughing with your bridesmaids as you reminisce about college and try to keep from smudging your makeup with happy tears. It's the memory of walking down the aisle, holding his hand, saying I do, and being pulled in close for your first dance. Trust me. It's special."
I no longer receive birthday cards from my grandmother, and when I visit her in the Alzheimer's facility she lives in, she's not wearing Paris by Yves St. Laurent. We don't sit in her overstuffed armchair. She doesn't remember the Arizona sunrise or the creaky floor in the hallway, but I do. And when I hold her soft hands and hear her still-mischievous giggle, I think back to sneaking cookies at midnight, and it smells like Paris.