Jermyn Street in London is not a place where I would habitually shop. Famous for its bespoke tailors and other extremely posh stores out of my financial league, it’s with some hesitation that I entered the Czech and Speake store at 39 Jermyn Street many years back. It wasn’t bathroom fittings I was looking for. The company’s founder, Fred Sawkins, saw an opportunity in the 1970’s that he promptly filled: high-end bathroom fittings that quickly became legendary for their style, creativity and exorbitant prices.
Somewhere in between designing bathroom fittings and accessories, Mr. Sawkins also had a fragrance created, No 88, from the street number of his design studio, also on Jermyn Street. I had been in love with that unisex, but mainly men’s, fragrance for years, since an ex-boyfriend brought it back from a trip to London. Unable to find it in the States at the time, I was determined to see if it would work on my skin.
Meandering among faucets and basins, I finally asked a shop assistant to spray some of the contents of the solid black bottle on my wrist. I circled the empty store a few more times to let the scent settle – the notes of bergamot, geranium, vetiver and sandalwood resulted more subtle on me than I remembered, with the rose in the background, just the way I like it. I find too much rose sickening. I shelled out the equivalent of $200 I could barely afford, ate soup and bread for the next two days and brought my precious cargo home.
I love my 88. I use it sparingly, never at work, because I don’t want to become inure to it. Every time I wear it, someone will invariably say “You smell nice”. It’s not so masculine to come off as aftershave on a girl and definitely not flowery and gentle like a girl’s scent. It just works perfectly on my skin. I have come to think of it as MY smell.
It was MY smell that greeted me when I opened the door to my house today. I looked at Ottie and wondered if he had taken a shower all on his own. Unlikely, he hates to get wet. I also wondered if Susy, who comes once a week to help clean the house, had brought some scented cleaning products – she knows I abhor them. And, anyway, the smell was a bit too good. I didn’t recognize it immediately as MY smell as it wasn’t on my skin. No – it was all over the bathroom floor, the beautiful satin black bottom smashed on the counter, next to a note from Susy, informing me of an “accident” she had with the perfume. I sat on the edge of the bathtub and nearly cried. Susy has broken a million things over the years and I thoroughly do not care. I am not attached to objects. At least, not most of them. My bottle of 88 represented the memories of all the special occasions I wore it for, the mere act of spraying it marking the day or evening different from the rest. It was the self-restraint I displayed towards my favourite scent. Now I can smell it as I cook, as I am writing, as I go about my business around the house.
In the end, I couldn’t get mad. Susy cleans homes for a living and I am fortunate enough to be able to afford to pay her. It makes me feel good that my employment, certainly one of many, meant that she could buy a house of her own a few years ago. Even MY smell is just stuff in the end.
Later on, furtively, in between sentences, I logged on Amazon and typed the magic words “88 Czech and Speake” and bang! thank you Fred Segal who first imported it into this country, I can have it shipped to my door. For $209. I mentally review my credit card balance and I know I shouldn’t be adding, not with Christmas approaching. Is it so wrong to want my smell back? I secretly promise myself I will make it last for years to come. And I will hide it in the same cabinet with my secret chocolate stash.