Real Perfumes For Fictional People

by Arabelle Sicardi


When I remember AP English classes, I don’t necessarily remember the details of the books I read, but snippets of descriptions. The sickly sweet vanilla decay of Miss Havisham and her wedding despair. Wilted roses and arsenic, the dead romance and salted berries of Hill House. Even when I’m reading a guilty pleasure novel (no pleasure is guilty, though, to be honest) — I like to imagine the smells. Smells promote fantasy; they’re all about desire.

I came up with this as I sat next to this girl who reeked of roses on the L train. I’ve always thought roses smelled like decay. Anyone wearing it gets fictionalized into a twisted turn of events in my head. This particular woman was wearing an amazing suit and had not a hair out of place, so I imagined her as this Patrick Bateman type, only instead of aftershave, she wore Paris Roses de Verges by YSL. This is the game I play to pass the time. Here are the first few levels.

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson is an American hero, not in the least because my first queer feelings came from the betrayal of The Haunting of Hill House. Her perfume would smell first of roses and fresh berries. Roses are supposed to be romantic, the musk of a rose, but mostly it reminds me of decay — which reminds me of grandmothers. My grandmother’s bathroom reeked of rose. More accurately, roses infer intimacy, which can be stifling. Roses are stifling. Shirley Jackson wrote stifling moments in the dark. Whose hand are you holding at night? A rose’s thorn is my favorite part. So, roses for Shirley, a favorite monster girl.

Floral bouquet and berries to open and wilt to a bitter middle of salt, with smokey wood at the core. The dying breath would be sugar. Constance would not take the sugar but you, dear reader, would. You are the small creature swallowed whole by a monster, and the monster which feels your movements is that cloying sugar rose-wood. Ha, ha ha, ha ha. Enjoy the obscene 10 hour drydown. You won’t be able to shower it out.

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth
“Everything about her was warm and soft and scented / even the stains of her grief became her as raindrops do on the beaten rose.”
I’ve always thought Blair Waldorf belonged to Edith Wharton. Where is my Gossip Girl / House of Mirth AU fanfiction? Only in my head, I suppose.

In any case, Wharton’s perfume would be an aromatic fougere…rainwater, lavender, and powder, with a short life. I think you would wear this when you are sad, fleeting, and unsure of yourself. A simple composition of the feminine. Most aromatic fougere scents seem to be for men, but whatever. Wharton could hold her own with the best men of her literary age, and so can you, in your fougere pond of perfume. Or rather, eau de toilette — you wouldn’t be a perfume, but the less concentrated version. A clear, rounded and filigreed bottle, with a purple box. Like TOCCA. I am essentially imagining TOCCA.


Cassandra Clare, City of Bones
Cassandra Clare’s perfume would smell only of buttered toast. That’s it. The whole time. It would be six hours of buttered whole wheat bread, lightly toasted with butter. Actually, not even real butter — I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. That’s it. The core of the perfume would be fake butter on toast. If she’s going to use the typical fallbacks of edible things to describe the people of color in her books, I’m going to describe her perfume as a one-note wail of toast. I love her books, make no mistake — that doesn’t mean I don’t get to make fun of her weak points. Fight me, Cassandra. I’m ready for you.

Arabelle Sicardi is a fashion and beauty writer for the likes of Rookie, Teen Vogue, Refinery29 and The Style Con. She likes makeup, cyborgs, and bad fashion puns.