Beauty

“How taking control of my fragrance choices helped me take control of my life”

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Nicola Bonn
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Nicola Bonn was forever wearing fragrances that made everyone except her happy. Here’s how refusing to comform changed everything…

The year was 1992 and my friends and I were striking up relationships with boys, hormonal acne and The Body Shop’s White Musk. We sprayed it liberally, like it was going out of fashion. That was when I first realised how powerful fragrance could be. Wearing the same scent as my friends made me feel like I was part of a special club – yes, we all smelt the same, but that’s the way we wanted it.

A few years later, White Musk was replaced by more grown-up scents. Some of my friends had moved onto Cacharel’s Lou Lou, while others were playing it safe with Anais Anais, and some were inherently Impulse girls, wearing a headache-inducing amount of the cloying body spray.

Then there was me. An emotional, 14-year-old adolescent who would liberally spray her wrists with her mum’s selection of powerhouse fragrances. For years I’d parade around wearing scents that were quite obviously meant for somebody a lot older than me. Wearing heady perfumes like Ralph Lauren’s Safari, with its notes of cedar, hyacinth and patchouli, or Paloma Picasso – a commanding floral chypre, and Comme Des Garcons 2, an unmistakable rich, incense scent made me feel confident, glamourous and totally carefree. 

Sadly that exuberance was replaced by a perfume neurosis that I only overcame a matter of months ago. I remember my first boyfriend hated my choices so much that he begged me to wear something ‘younger’ and ‘sexier.’ I eventually admitted defeat and bought a bottle of Escada Ocean Blue. It smelt of holidays and blue seas. It was light and frisky and it soon became the backdrop to many an illicit fumble in his spare room. He loved it, so I loved it, too. Then he dumped me for my friend so I dumped the perfume almost as quickly.

Things had changed though. Not only had he broken my heart, but he had left me with a host of insecurities. His constant judgement left me questioning everything from my clothes, to my raucous laugh and my taste in fragrance. I no longer had the confidence to wear a perfume just because I loved it. Now it was all about whether other people would like it. The worst offender in my bid to impress others was John Paul Gaultier’s Classique. It’s an iconic scent, but it just didn’t suit me. I stubbornly stuck with it, though, because apparently, it’d make me ‘irresistible’.

As I entered my 20s I carried on conforming. All the cool girls at university wore Cerruti 1881, so I bought myself a bottle. It was pleasant, but not quite right. Over the years there have been the perfumes I’ve loved. Coco Chanel Madamoiselle, Chanel Chance, and my wedding day perfume: Maxmara Le Parfum, which has sadly been discontinued. I bought it on a complete whim, but I still have a tiny bit left in the bottom of the bottle. It’s beautiful and musky, and I often find myself smelling it when I want to be transported back to that day. But I still hadn’t found The One.

Then, before I knew it, I hit my mid-30s and found myself standing in Liberty’s Perfume Room – my favourite beauty destination in the world. I was sniffing Robert Piguet’s Visa like a woman possessed. The notes of vanilla, pear and orange blossom were feminine, sweet, somewhat overbearing – everything I usually steered clear of, yet I couldn’t get enough. It was in that moment I had an epiphany. Why did I care what everyone else thought of my perfume? I should wear it for me and nobody else. So I spent £145 on that small black bottle and felt utterly liberated for the first time in my life. I’d taken my first fragrance risk and I loved every second of it.

As I expected though, my friends and work friends weren’t keen. “It’s not you,” my best friend told me. “You smell like my granny,” said a colleague, and my Mum couldn’t stand it, either. But I didn’t care because I’d had a wake-up call. I realised I was living a lot of my professional life like I wore my fragrance: always worrying about the image I projected. I never truly felt comfortable just being me. On my most recent birthday I took a stand and as I wafted Visa around the room, I made a resolution that I was going to be more confident, more outspoken and worry less about what others thought of me.

It’s been eight months and I’ve stuck to my promise. I’ve never felt happier or stronger. So next time you’re searching for a perfume, leave all of your hang-ups and other people’s expectations at the door and focus on choosing something that really pleases and excites . Go shopping on your own and see it as an exciting journey of discovery. Perfume is the best way to express your individuality and, as I’ve found out, it can also be a fantastic way to get to know yourself better. Just make sure that you choose something that you love. Don’t be afraid to be daring.

Nicola’s top empowering fragrances

Robert Piguet Visa

With notes of pear, vanilla and peach this perfume is unapologetically sweet - reminiscent of Angel but with a twist. Spray liberally and prepare to fall in love with it.

£145, harrods.com

Frederick Malle Portrait of A Lady

A truly inspired work of art with a combination of rose, insense, patchouli and incense. Wear it and feel sophisticated and fabulous.

£235, libertylondon.com

Floral Street Neon Rose

A gutsy scent, this combines whimsical jasmine and peach nectar with spicy Sichuan pepper. It’s the olfactory embodiment of a light summery dress worn with a sharp leather jacket.

£55, floralstreet.com

Byredo Mojave Ghost

Ambrette, magnolia and musk come together to make a subtle, comforting and intimate fragrance. It will make you feel good.

£105, spacenk.com

Listen to Nicola Bonn’s Outspoken Beauty podcast here.

Main Image: Instagram / Nicola Bonn