I love to give presents. Finding something for a particular person, that I know they will love, gives me a thrill – for birthdays, Christmas, or just because it’s Tuesday. The act of giving makes me a bit happy.
And this is the time of year when gifts are exchanged – and not just between the giver and receiver, but sometimes the receiver and the retailer too. Whether because the receiver already has the item, or it is faulty, or because the person giving the gift really didn’t ‘get’ the person they were giving to… we all know it is better to give than to receive, but isn’t it so much nicer if you receive something that you like – love, even – something that shows the trouble taken, the thought that went into finding that perfect gift, for you. (And don’t get me started on the passive-aggressive side of gift-giving, those insidious digs from disapproving relatives, or co-workers, or frenemies (ghastly word, but perfectly encapsulates the signified) that are designed to demean the receiver… really, you’re prepared to spend money just to be petty? Baffling!) I have been the lucky recipient of perfect presents. And of odd ones too. Christmas can be such a minefield. But I digress.
Once upon a time – and it feels such a very long time ago, now – I was seventeen, and awkward, and confused, and hopelessly, stupidly in love with someone who turned out to be very bad for me. And I had a pen-friend, a friend-of-a-friend, who was also seventeen, and awkward, and confused, and of whom I was platonically fond. That Christmas (1988) he sent me an unexpected gift:
Obviously it was full, then. It contains the echo of the scent, now. Not yet fading, still potent, still elegant. Timeless. And the most romantic thing I have ever been given. I wish I could have thanked him better.
Now, Chanel is the gift I give to myself. A bottle of scent – though not No 5 – a powder compact, a lipstick. Now, at last, I feel grown-up enough – sophisticated enough – to be a woman who wears Chanel. But this was my first, and it remains a treasured icon.