this thing's incredible

My $17 Perfume Was Supposedly a Favorite of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy

And is that Cranberry Veil on her lips? Photo: Richard Corkery/New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Sometime during my first trimester of pregnancy, my relationship with perfume shifted dramatically, which is to say, I didn’t really want it on me, nor in my immediate orbit. Suddenly, most fragrances, even those I owned and cherished (and were triple-digit-price-tag kind of special), were, when applied to my skin, immediately and intensely cloying. It’s a sentiment that, one year postpartum, has remained.

It’s what led me to discovering my beloved palo santo oil and to rekindling my affection for Egyptian musk oil, long lost since teenagedom, when I used to buy the stuff from head shops or sidewalk vendors in Harvard Square. About seven-odd years ago, I found a variation (by Abdul Kareem, which, the internet tells me, is an ’80s NYC-born scented-oil brand) that resonated with adult me, both the scent (clean and mellow and faintly soapy and significantly more refined than my former head-shop variety) and the price ($17).

On me — how a fragrance reacts with someone’s chemistry is so individual, after all — the oil is perceptible, but not intrusive, and manages to endure for many hours post-application, even more so in the summer months, when heat seems to boost its potency. This incarnation of Egyptian musk has the soft comfort and familiar ease of a favorite white T-shirt, which is perhaps what once endeared it to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, for whom it was, supposedly, a signature scent.

I recall it being name-checked in an excellent XO Jane post by Cat Marnell listing CBK’s beauty routine (Face Stockholm’s universally wearable Cranberry Veil lipstick was also on there), and it was mentioned by journalist and recent Real Housewife Carole Radziwill in her 2007 New York Times best seller, What Remains (a memoir of life with her late husband, Anthony Radziwill, who died of cancer the same year as his cousin JFK and her best friend Carolyn). CBK’s style choices were breathlessly chronicled (plenty of Calvin, Yohji, Narciso, often avec Birkin bag), and, regardless of your level of fandom, it’s hard not to appreciate the dichotomy of a woman with unfettered fragrance access opting for something so down-to-earth. I just can’t help but wonder what street vendor she scored hers from.

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My $17 Scent Was a Favorite of Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy