Dost thou smell generic, or is it just me?
On my fragrance journey + what my IG followers are wearing
Enjoy an audio reading of this piece, or scroll to keep reading.
Even as a kid, I recognized beauty as a running archive of sensory experiences. The tingly feeling of having my hair braided. The cold, goopy body glitter I’d rub into the apples of my cheeks before a cheerleading competition. And nothing, I mean NOTHING, topped the ecstasy of opening a magazine to a new perfume sample.
My grandmother gave me $5 whenever I stopped by and it was always blown on a magazine, which would always have some thick insert, sealed with weird adhesive, containing a strip of fragrance. You rip it open and your whole young world is musk and gardenia for three unforgettable minutes.
Allegedly I was around 10 years old when I embarked on the dogged pursuit of White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor. If you’ve never smelled White Diamonds, it’s a wilted bouquet on Old Hollywood’s grave. White Diamonds is mature. Rougey dame in an old mink mature. And as my mom dressed me exclusively in hand-me-down sweatsuits, the request for White Diamonds was good comedy.
Countless magazine whiffs later, I weaseled my way into a bottle of J’adore by Dior. It was freshman year of high school, and none of my friends were wearing perfume proper just yet. This is to say I stood out in the way you do not want to stand out at 14. I’ll never forget the day my girlfriend, wincing, asked what I was wearing, and despite knowing exactly how to pronounce it after a year plus of French classes, I awkwardly replied, “Jay Adore Dior” to avoid looking any more try-hard than I already felt.
From that day forward, I wore nothing but diluted, evanescent body splashes. The iconic Baby Whore Scents that defined my generation, swirling around locker rooms and Volkswagen Jettas. It was Love Spell. Amber Romance. Sweet Pea. Warm Vanilla Sugar. And my personal unsung favorite, VS Pink With a Splash in Sweet & Flirty. The square pink bottle with the purple lid. Indeed, I was a heartbreaker doused in candy, tanning bed crispy and cheeky as all get-out, Soffe shorts with CHEER scrawled across the ass.
In college, I discovered Viva La Juicy by Juicy Couture. Fruity and floral with a warm, sweet dry-down of caramel, praline, vanilla, amber, and sandalwood. Viva La Juicy was a Baby Whore Scent of legal drinking age. She enjoyed one night stands, a can of Diet Coke for dinner. It was the unofficial scent of my senior year, lingering in the fibers of bodycon skirts and peplum tops.
Fragrance largely faded into the background of my early-mid twenties, probably because my nostrils were… *cough* preoccupied… and I was showering at music festivals with a bottle of Deer Park. I wore this tuberose bomb from Target called Pink Innocencia by Sonia Kashuk. Found some Jean Paul Gaultier at TJ Maxx and broke the atomizer within a month. Was gifted Tom Ford’s Black Orchid by an ex. But nothing ever stuck until one evening, walking through Old City with that very ex, I inhaled a woman in a crosswalk and chased her down. In the thickest French accent, she prescribed me For Her by Narciso Rodriguez, which was “what all the girls in Paris wear.” I’ve told that story 200 times and I’ll tell it a million more because it was profoundly moving for me, someone who grew up a.) dying to be French, and b.) loving fragrance. It was one of those moments when life feels too charming and uncanny to trust.
I wore For Her exclusively for a few years. I thought it was important to find one scent and mate for life like two swans. Like it signified some level of refinement, or self-assuredness. Not to mention everywhere I went, people told me I smelled great; so, there was pride baked into my devotion. Perhaps a dash of superstition because every Sicilian believes if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it or the sky will literally fall.
But mid-2022, I became a cheater for the first time in my life. And once I got a taste for other, it finally made sense why people stray.
Everyone raved about Cloud by Ariana Grande, how it’s a dupe for Baccarat Rouge 540. At a relatively low cost, I decided to try it out. It’s true, Cloud is yummy. Especially to someone like me, who considers hot pink a neutral and likes birthday cake ice cream. But Andrew hated it. Told me I smelled like a carnival, and that was something I couldn’t unhear (or unsmell). Plus, deep down I knew cloyingly sweet wasn’t my essence anymore. So it was back to the drawing board.
I tried L’Imperatrice by Dolce & Gabbana: juicy and fun, but lasts 30 seconds. Melrose Place by Ouai: smells divine on my friend, but a headache on me.
And then finally, one rainy Sunday, I dragged Andrew to Sephora—specifically the one in Ardmore where it’s all rich MILFs and their bratty daughters in Golden Goose sneakers. We tested every bottle until I was so certain I’d faint, charging one of the MILFs’ poor doctor husbands to come scrape me off the ground. But I was determined. I was done playing small with this thing I’ve loved since childhood. This would mark the start of my collection.
I grabbed a rockstud bottle of pink elixir called Donna Born in Roma by (none other than) Valentino. I closed my eyes and melted into the initial spritz. That fruity opening of black currant and bergamot that fades almost instantly to jasmine and bourbon vanilla. It was sexy and commanding, still grasping something youthful that I never want to die. I’d never smelled anything like Donna Born in Roma… or had I? All I knew was I couldn’t bear to see tomorrow without this dripping down my neck. And each morning after, I arose with newfound delight knowing I got to smell like sex.
You know how they say don’t meet your heroes? That same guiding principle applies to reading reviews of shit you love. Let yourself believe that it’s all unique and wonderful. Hold that rapture tight against your chest.
I’ve been a casual Fragrantica reader for some months—the biblical online forum of fragrance, reviewed by discerning noses around the world. In fact, it's somewhere I often pull writing inspiration from because people get beautifully descriptive about scent. I hadn’t thought to pop on there in Sephora and I’m glad I didn’t, because when I looked up Donna Born in Roma, I was aghast. Reviews upon reviews deeming my delicious, new discovery generic. A crowd pleaser, sure! But in the way Aritzia is a fucking crowd pleaser.
According to Fragrantica reviews, Donna Born in Roma is:
“Like everything and nothing at the same time. There's also something hot and starchy in here that reminds me of dryer sheets.” (dryer sheets aren’t so bad, right?)
“For someone who still plays with Barbies.” (sounds dramatic, but go on…)
“Like the older sister of all those Victoria’s Secret vanilla fragrances.” (has my taste not evolved?)
“A generic, inoffensive scent.” (ah fuck)
“Hyped up and soulless.” and “Viral on TikTok.” (please bury me alive)
Truth be told, I felt some type of way receiving this news. I thought I struck gold with this one, you know? Like I’d be the girl in the elevator whom you want to compliment… but it’s awkward because you’re crammed in there with six other people… so you just think about that scent all day, wondering what it is.
Perhaps Donna Born in Roma isn’t something one wonders about, though, but rather, enjoys its mysterious familiarity. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. The deeper, less comforting truth in smelling generic is admitting that the kind of pretty I’ll always be, and always aspire to, is merely palatable. Sexy in essence, but nondescript.
That’s for another day, though.
To end on a fun note, I polled my Instagram followers on what fragrances they’re wearing lately. I had such a great time reading their responses that I figured I’d share them here (first time imgur user, so apologies if the link doesn’t work). Enjoy!
PS: I’d love for you to share your current fragrance in the comments.
Simp for this publication for $5/month. You’ll keep me smelling good and help ensure the majority of Broke But Moisturized remains free.
Warm Vanilla Sugar was THAT girl. I remember we kept the Japanese Cherry Blossom on deck too until my mom made me graduate to the Bath & Body Works “men’s scents” with names like Ocean & Noir.
Ah, just reading "Viva La Juicy by Juicy Couture" gave me chills, I can still remember how I felt wearing it. I also invested in a Scentbird subscription, which has been such a fun way to explore fragrances. Gorgeous piece as always! xo