Life [is] like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.Forrest Gump (1994)
In this case, I got The Body Shop Amorito. Simply put, it smelled like chocolate. (I couldn’t decide between that and Zinzibar, so I got them both—that might have been the first time I realized it was OK to own and use more than one perfume at a stretch of time. Zinzibar was a ginger perfume, fresh and zingy; but as time went by, it turned out not to be as indelible.)
I suppose it’s fair to say that I grew up on The Body Shop fragrances. That is, after my first 2 perfumes that I can remember from my preteen to early teen years, whose names I don’t know or can’t recall, unfortunately. The first one came in a decant and the closest thing to my memory of it that I’ve encountered so far is Cabotine de Grès. The second was something ambery in scent and color; after over a year of digging into my subconscious, I could recall the shape of the bottle better, and I seemed to remember that the brand started with a D—that led me to search all of Donna Karan’s and then Dana’s perfumes, and now seeing pictures of California by Dana, I think that could very possibly be it. You’d think a name like California would be a lot more memorable, but it doesn’t ring a bell at all, so that’s my only hesitation.
My first The Body Shop perfume was Oceanus, along with matching lotion and shower gel, in a lovely metal basket gifted to me by a glamorous friend who placed it as a surprise for me to find, labelled as from “a secret admirer” (which of course set my teenaged fantastical brain flying through a roster of possible candidates—”Could it be…?“—much to the amusement and satisfaction of my friend who was apparently aiming for precisely that effect). This blue, aquatic juice was my first introduction to a “unisex” fragrance, and I found the concept to have a certain appeal.
When I finished my bottle of Oceanus, I went to The Body Shop to pick something out myself, and Dewberry was an easy choice (I didn’t know yet that they promoted certain new scents for a limited time and changed them out so often). This purple, blackcurrant-freesia number—my first fruity-floral?!—accessorized me through my (perceived) next stage of adolescence, when I became less of a tomboy and convinced myself that I had some sense of fashion. I may even have switched from blue to purple eye shadow. Funnily enough, I never wore the iconic White Musk, although I always recognized it and will probably forever associate it with a classmate with whom I was friendly (but not close) who wore it well.
Later, I fell in love with Tobacco Flower, also in a set—this time a rustic wooden box—given to me as a present by another good friend, who may be the most well-traveled person I know. This scented a time of happiness and independence (not financial, but in most other senses) for me, and smelled intriguing, too—not like what I normally would expect from The Body Shop, but a step above. When I first tried Ormonde Jayne Montabaco much more recently, it made me think of a more elegant version of Tobacco Flower.
Eventually, I arrived at Amorito. This was—and I can say it without discomposure—15 years ago. Amorito accompanied me on my first trip to Japan, where I stayed with the friends and family of my friends who were temporarily unable to have me over themselves—they all showed me such overwhelming kindness and generosity and formed some of the most cherished memories of my life. As a grand finale of my stay in Nagaoka, an industrial region that produces some of the most delicious white rice due to the good water quality, my friends’ friends (by then my friends too) treated me to the most spectacular fireworks show in the world in celebration of Matsuri, the summer festival—a whole 2 hours of amazing patterns and spherical magnificence viewed from a lovely picnic on the grass.
In Japan, I also got to know some new anime characters, which of course became the subject of plush toys and various other merchandise—notably, Siro-tan (“little seal”) and Rilakkuma (“relax bear”). I took them at face value at the time, because their faces were irresistibly cute! A few years later, I would learn more about the cultural phenomenon of escapism via these creations, which was fascinating and made perfect sense.
Shortly after that life-enriching experience, I started a new life as a student once again. Everything and everyone around me was new. I quickly formed a love-hate relationship with my surroundings, reflecting the juxtaposition of the dirty and gritty with the shiny and fancy. As I walked around the city, soaking it all in, still wearing Amorito, I had a crystal-clear realization that no matter what I did, I would need money—because, after all, that was the real divisor of these two opposites. It sounded obvious and silly to say it out loud, and it’s hard to explain why it stood out to me like that, but it may have set the stage for me to start thinking about the value of things in terms of money (including things that were “free” to me; somebody had to pay for it somewhere).
I was yet to truly grasp the concept of “time is money,” though. Still immutably an idealist, I gave boundlessly of my time and took unapologetically of others’ time, taking for granted that the exchanges were always mutually beneficial (and it never occurred to me to question whether they were). That is how I made friends.
I had brought a Japanese-style fan with Chinese words on it with me (not from Japan, incidentally), and carried it with me everywhere. I would sit in moderately packed lecture halls—near the front row, even—and fan myself, flapping inelegantly in an attempt to cool myself down after walking to campus in the warm, humid weather, spreading large whiffs of Amorito to anyone within my radius. (Nobody complained, fortunately.) To me, this scene embodies the type of guilelessness that would last for a while.
Revisiting the subject of escapism through kawaii characters, recently my other half and I finished watching the anime series Aggretsuko. First a Sanrio production, and then a Netflix original, it portrays the extremely relatable inevitabilities of office life (and life in general) as experienced by Retsuko, a young office worker. All of the personas are represented by animals, which makes for a highly diverse and delightful cast. Retsuko is a red panda who lets her feelings out by singing death metal in a karaoke booth. She learns a wealth of life lessons through conversations with friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances—some older, some younger—and we the audience get to benefit from the wisdom, too. Each episode is only 15 minutes, so they cover a lot of ground and get to the point much faster than many of us do in years.
I found Season 3 especially rich in inspiration (though the plot gets a little preposterous, but I won’t spoil anything). In one scene, one character laments to another that he doesn’t know his love interest well at all. The other replies that knowing them well isn’t really that important, because you will never fully understand each other, and if you think you do, you will end up parting ways. As someone who constantly wrestles with solipsism (except when I’m too busy with practical things), that spoke to me.
In another scene, Retsuko is apologizing to someone whose spotlight she has been given, and the other says, “You think you can go through life without hurting anyone, don’t you?” This rhetorical question brings home the fact that as long as you are living and doing anything at all, you will have an effect on others, no matter how big or small. If you have the talent for something, refusing to own it won’t do anyone else any favors.
That’s all she wrote… for now.