Oline Cogdill

altDenise Hamilton's latest novel, Damage Control, revolves around a woman who works for a high-powered public relations firm in Los Angeles that specializes in “damage control” for its uber-wealthy clientele.

As she does in her series about L.A. Times reporter Eve Diamond, Hamilton uses this standalone novel to explore issues of classism and identity. Maggie Silver, Damage Control's heroine, knows how to spin doctor the facts for her elite clients because she's done the same thing for her life.

Here's a link to my review of Damage Control.

An ongoing aspect of Maggie's personality is how scents trigger her memory. The smell of a plane passing overhead, the sand and sea all are part of Maggie's history.

But what intrigued me most was that Maggie's olfactory sense was especially spiked by perfumes. Scene after scene had Maggie applying perfumes or catching a whiff of another's perfume and, in both cases, sending her on a memory journey. Think of Proust's description of that madeleine.

I could so relate to Maggie's love of perfume. It's one of my enjoyments, too.

Here's Maggie applying a scent: "...clean, crisp notes of citrus, bergamot and verbena. Nothing cloying or clobbering... Just a subtle scent amulet to infuse me with secret grace and power."

When Maggie spoke about spraying on Mitsouko by Guerlain and gave its history, it made me remember wearing this fragrance on one of my first dates with the man who is now my husband. I don't know how much Mitsouko had to do with it—the man now cannot smell burning toast.

But Hamilton's reference triggered my memory: "Mitsouko was one of the original Orientals: a sweet, spicy, leathery, mossy fragrance with hints of peach and oak." Makes me want this perfume again, although it is no longer sold in department stories.

Her description of Dune by Christian Dior as "the bleakest beauty in all of perfumery" was right on the money as that is what I used to think when I wore Dune.

Christian Dior's Jules with its tones of cedar and sage provides a clue to Damage Control's plot, and made me remember how much I love that scent.

I don't know where my love of perfume came from. My mother never wore scents although one of her most cherished possessions was a little trolley of five miniature perfumes that my father had brought her back from WWII. She never opened the perfumes, preferring to look at the lovely gold-plated display. I now have it and it makes me remember my parents and the deep love they had for each other. The perfumes have evaporated through the years and have never been opened.

In high school, I loved Yardley, Heaven Scent, and Jean Nate, appropriate scents for a high school girl. But on my first date, I doused myself with Intimate by Revlon, which prompted my first boyfriend to ask if we spilt some perfume in the house.

I've learned a bit of subtlety since, but during the '80s I would wear too much perfume to work to counteract my boss' cigarette smoking.

Unlike me, Hamilton is an expert on fragrances and writes a perfume column for the Los Angeles Times. Mystery fans will especially be interested in the column she wrote about perfume as clues to crimes.

Like Maggie, I've gone through various phrases—from Halston to freesia; from high-end fragrances to those available at drug stores to only those sold at the Body Shop or Bath and Bodyworks. I have sought out perfumeries that will mix up a special blend, as well as the Aveda stores that do the same. I've even gone through phases when I wore no scents.

There have been times I wore only Ruffles by Oscar de la Renta (a scent I would probably not like now) or only Joy (still a favorite) or Shalimar (which I can't seem to find anymore). On my first trip to Paris I brought back four bottles of LouLou by Cacharel because it was no longer being sold in the US; I now am down to one bottle.

Right now, my tastes are varied. I alternate between Lola by Marc Jacobs; the entire Dolce & Gabbana line; Summer Linen by Clean; Burberry Summer Perfume by Burberry for women; Bermuda Breeze, a Bermuda-made fragrance I bought on the island; Euphoria by Calvin Klein; Jo Malone's entire line; and the Grapefruit and Sweetgrass fragrances made by the Charleston Soap Chef in South Carolina.

It was nice to find a kindred spirit in Hamilton's Maggie Silver.