Perfume before Zoom, I presume

I’ve always loved perfume: the final touch of preparation for a day of work or an evening out. My habit is rooted in memories of my mother and the sweet scent of her beloved Miss Dior. She kept the bottle on her dresser, near a photograph of the woman who protected and inspired her during their time together in Nazi slave labor camps. I think that her pleasure in the small luxury was a silent salute to her friend Ala and a lost world.

I graduated from stolen sprays of my mother’s Miss Dior to my own stash of Shalimar, then Caleche, then a long relationship with Givenchy’s L’Interdit, which I liked mostly because it was reported to be Audrey Hepburn’s favorite.

Guess you could say I’m serially monogamous with scent.

I remember the fateful day when Givenchy and I split up. Pregnant with my third child, I was wandering through a department store and accepted a spritz at a makeup counter. It was love at first sniff. A lifetime of Chanel’s Coco opened before me.

That child is now a man; I am now a grandma. Let’s fast forward several decades to the gloomy days of 2020, a year with its dangers and sad deficit of human interactions. Even the sight of Chanukah candles failed to dispel the sense of foreboding. Still, I count my blessings: most of my family is nearby. We are grateful every day to have health and food. I am lucky to be able to work from home, where I spend most days lurching from one Zoom meeting to another.

I do wear makeup, which must be a relief to the $500 billion cosmetics industry that long ago convinced me that mascara was essential to my well being. Lipstick, though, in this era of masks, eludes.

But most of the other outward signals of professional life have been abandoned. Suits and dresses are quaint vestiges of an era with meetings, lunches, cocktail parties, weekend events, business trips. Weddings are on hold, funerals no longer require respectful black. My shoes are flat and rubber-soled, my pants have elastic waists. Whatever faint echoes of my mother’s natural elegance were mine have been muted. ‘Tis the season of fleece and flannel.

And perfume? Other than my husband, nobody is close enough to smell me.

So it was a surprise to me when, after all these months of lockdown, that amber bottle of Coco seemed to jump all by itself into my hands. I was sitting at my makeup mirror, lost in thought about an online panel I would be moderating later that day. The heavy glass of the bottle was actually dusty: I had paid no attention to it for months.

The first spray put a smile on my face. The air around me was fragrant and familiar. I doubt that my fellow panelists could guess the source of my extra energy, but if they looked very closely, they would see a glass bottle barely visible in a corner of my screen, next to a photograph of my mother and Ala.

There may have been fuzzy slippers on my feet, and a blazer camouflaging my stretchy leggings, but I was definitely less stuck in the pandemic gloom zone. The benefit of smell therapy has lasted: I’ve gone back to that final touch of perfume when I prepare for a new day of working from home. Best of all, perfume fits even when your clothes don’t.

Join me and spray today! Let’s ring in the new year with sweet scents that trigger fond memories and hopes for the future! Maybe someday we’ll even go back to buttons and zippers.

Dr. Ann Kirschner is the author of Sala’s Gift, a book about her mother’s Holocaust story, and a strategic advisor in education and technology. Email :

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Perfume before Zoom, I presume

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