“Shat!” I muttered under my breath as I set the bottle back down on the glass counter. A hundred and ten dollars? For perfume? But it was Chanel, so of course it was expensive. I’d be a little disappointed if it wasn’t pricey, because c’mon, CHANEL.

I’m not a labels person by any stretch of the imagination. Hell, most of my clothing is either A.) thrifted, B.) Target, C.) hand-me-down. I like what I like – especially if it’s tie-dye, because I’m classy like that – brand name be damned. However, on this day, I found what I liked, and it was Chanel. Mademoiselle, no less; a sign from the Lord Almighty Himself that this Francophile needed to wear this scent and make it my own.

I left the counter sniffing my wrist. Wearing it out of the mall that day, I didn’t feel like an alcoholic three months out of rehab and barely a year sober; I felt like Audrey Hepburn. Truth be told, at my most intelligent, beautiful and accomplished, I’d never been Audrey Hepburn – I was always just me. A little too tall, a little too quirky, a little too awkward, a little too sad, a little too much.

That evening, I found myself perusing Ebay on the couch while watching TV with my then-boyfriend Mike.

“What are you looking at?” he asked, leaning his head over to peek at the laptop screen.

“Nothing!” I screeched, slamming the screen down. I was an under-employed college graduate tutoring for peanuts, I had no business looking at Chanel.

“Don’t shut the screen so hard, you’ll break it,” he said, sitting back up and directing his focus back to Dexter, who was all torn up over Rita’s death and didn’t know how to tell the kids.

Whew, crisis averted.

Once he seemed sufficiently absorbed, I surreptitiously opened up the screen again and resumed my search for Mademoiselle at reduced prices. Starting at sixty bucks a bottle! Could I not get a break? Really though, I don’t know what I expected; I didn’t have two dimes to rub together, and this was CHANEL. Did I think I’d magically whisk away a ninety-nine cent bottle on the first bid? The internet gods would not allow such dumb luck.

As the episode wound to a close, I did find a sample-size bottle for five bucks, so I went ahead and stealthily clicked Buy It Now. So what if I’d have to skip a meal that week? The scent was already fading from my wrist, and soon it would vanish all together.

In the few months that tiny spray bottle lasted, I combed the internet for jobs, looking for any scrap of employment I could find. Coffee shops, hotels, offices, newspapers, clothing stores, strip clubs (just kidding); no one was hiring, no one ever called me back for an interview, not one person, none. Dropping my resume on piles of hundreds of applicants, I stretched out that delicate bottle as if I was in possession of liquid self-confidence; one spritz on the wrist, which I would rub on the other wrist and then dab on my neck. Fortunately, the fragrance was potent enough to wrap me in a cashmere haze of luxury that lasted the entire day, carrying me through the constant grinding disappointment and shame that belongs solely to the unemployed alcoholic.

The week after I found full-time employment, exactly one year after I left rehab, I walked up to that same counter and bought a bottle of Chanel.

“Isn’t this a lovely fragrance?” the sales girl asked as she put the sleek box into a bag for me.

“Yes, it makes me feel so glamorous,” I replied with a smile. I wasn’t about to tell her the whole story, because it was mine to savor in private. I didn’t think she would really understand.

I still have that same bottle, and from time to time, when the occasion calls for a little Chanel, I don it as if it’s a garment in itself. I wore it on my wedding day, too. I wasn’t Audrey Hepburn, not by a long shot, but I was me.  I felt radiant – and not because of the perfume.




My Date with Chanel — 53 Comments

  1. You are a perfect, beautiful version of you! I always thought Audrey Hepburn was a little too skinny. This is a wonderful story, well told. I can totally relate. I’m actually more anti-brand on principal, but truth be told, I own and wear on special occasions, Chanel #5 for the same reason. Because sometimes it just makes me feel glamorous.

  2. I love stories that revolve around one item, like the Necklace by Maupassant (another French guy). While yours is clearly different than his story (besides being nonfiction), it has that same idea of feeling “glamorous” because of an item. It’s so cool that you are willing to write about your previous life…I think this openness is a reason so many commenters flock to this site.

    • It is always my hope that by being honest about my failings, others will feel not quite so alone in theirs. Part of my biggest struggle was feeling alone all those years, and if I can help someone to not go through what I did, that’s what I want. 🙂

  3. I loved this line so much –> ” the fragrance was potent enough to wrap me in a cashmere haze of luxury that lasted the entire day, carrying me through the constant grinding disappointment and shame that belongs solely to the unemployed alcoholic.” Sometimes we need material, trivial things to get us through the hard times. . . you captured that idea perfectly w/ that line, and w/ this post. Thank you for that. . .

  4. First of all, I love the story and the success of going back and being able to buy the bottle, for the stability it represented. Second, that photo of you–wow! You are stunning!!

  5. I. love. this post. Because it’s well written but also because I have similar relationship with my perfume, the estimably less glamorous “Worth.” There’s just something about it that’s tied into so many memories and makes me feel like the best version of me.

  6. I really enjoyed your story, Natalie; it evokes those delicious, special, secret pleasures that make life just that much more worth living. Bravo!

  7. Oh my god, you made me cry. Really nice piece, Natalie, truly. Your red dress can manifest in any way, including a luxurious bottle of Chanel 🙂 I’m still looking for mine.

  8. I enjoyed this story of how an object can become a talisman. Or, in your case, the perfume served as a powerful elixir.
    And your right-as tempting as it is share your story with the sales girl, sometimes our stories lose their power when we speak them aloud and don’t get the reaction we hope for. I’m glad you wrote if for your readers who so obviously appreciate it.

  9. Awww, such a cute story! Being a non-smeller, I can’t even begin to relate to perfume, but I can totally relate to that one thing that makes you feel special. We all deserve to feel special, and I’m glad you were finally able to buy your Chanel.

    Also, yay!! You have a button! I can’t wait to put it on my blog!

  10. I love how something so simple (and EXPENSIVE!) as a purfume can make all the difference. Congratulations on your sobriety!

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