Covet (Sarah Jessica Parker for Coty)

On an average day, the Point Pavilion Antique Center on Arnold Avenue is as tranquil as a museum. The trio of older ladies who work there are friendly, well-mannered, and above all, quiet; a shopper can normally browse undisturbed for hours. I have traveled here this morning (despite a sky full of ominous thunderclouds) in anticipation of a relaxing stroll through the vendor booths. Instead, I find myself in the middle of a Constitutional crisis.

The minute I open the door, a furious flood of invective pours out onto the street. Its source: an obese woman with brassy yellow hair and a short, middle-aged man with an overdone spray-tan. (We'll call him Napoleon.) While the nice ladies watch from the relative safety of the cashwrap, these two stand there bellowing at one another... about Monica Lewinsky.

Yes, even after a decade and a half, the Clinton impeachment scandal is still running full tilt in this corner of the universe. From every corner of the store -- and believe me, I investigate them all in search of a hidden exit -- I clearly hear Napoleon proclaim (in a North Jersey accent and at an impressive decibel level) that Clinton was a NASSHOLE and Lewinsky was a NUGLY DAWG and they BOTH SHOULDA BIN STRUNG UP, ENDA STORY.

JEEZIS, the brassy blonde shouts. GIVER A BREAK, SAL, SHE WUZ ONLY TWENNY-TOO.

And that was fifteen years ago, I long to interject. So for the love of humanity, LET IT GO.

Stung thus by the hornets of political strife, I accomplish my first pass-through in record time, with disappointing results. I see the exact same bottles of Youth Dew, Brut, and Lenthéric Red Lilac gathering dust; it seems the Pavilion no longer enjoys the swift turnover in vintage fragrances it once boasted. And since the argument up at the front counter seems in no danger of losing steam, I figure it's time to go. At this very moment -- as I plot a clandestine exit that will NOT take me near the cashwrap -- I spot it. Forgotten on a shelf, full to the brim, a store tester bottle of Sarah Jessica Parker Covet.

Before testers such as this one disappeared from department stores, I would steal a sniff of Covet and puzzle over what made it different from the other fragrances on the display. A wonderfully weird femme fougère overlaid with chocolatey patchouli and tobacco-tinged vanilla, it's really too good to account for its discontinuation. For that, I blame the arrogance of a perfume industry which maintains that all women want ditzy florals when many us -- not least SJP -- flat-out don't.

Consider the "fragrant, dark, musky, rich concoction" she pitched to Coty fragrance executives, as described in Chandler Burr's The Perfect Scent:
What did she like? Well, first there was body odor. (They stared at her. She stared right back. Yes, body odor. "I think that we all secretly really like it," she told them forthrightly, "and we're just afraid to admit it.") She liked dark scents, mustiness, slightly serpentine complex greens, labdanum, opopanax. She liked masculine notes, and the team watched her inhale them eagerly and intently. They shot each other a few glances. They were all for avoiding the clichés, sure, and it was good -- in fact it was surprising and terrific -- that she was so intensely interested, but she had very, very strong opinions, and her olfactory preferences didn't accord much with her girlish, fresh-faced public image. Parker's perfume from the very start was looking like it was going to be something unexpected (pg. 30).
But Coty doesn't do unexpected any more than it does dark or serpentine -- at least since it discontinued Chypre-- and so SJP ended up fronting Lovely, one of the ditziest florals on the market. Her bold brief did eventually have its day, but in a flacon so unforgivably ugly it could only have been a corporate attempt at sabotage. Such a rebuke must have been painful for Sarah Jessica Parker. To see her "true" scent marginalized, rejected, and disavowed in this way-- no wonder it's not even listed on her website. One would think it never existed.

For this reason, I decide what the hell-- I'll give this handsome fragrance in its lonely bottle a home. But when I approach the cashwrap with Covet in hand, I find Napoleon actually standing with folded arms behind the counter. To my horror, I realize that he works here-- and from the peremptory manner in which he takes Covet out of my hands and thrusts it at one of the nice ladies, it's possible he may even own this place.

The lady left holding my bottle raises it up to her nose. Ah, she says, that smells so good!

Fast as lightning, Napoleon barks, WIMMEN shoulden be ALLOWED ta JUDGE those sorta things.

I stare at him in amazement. I beg your pardon?!

MEN should be the judge of whatcha wear. WE'RE who you wear it for, am I right? I'm still staring at him, so he ventures to explain further. Like ya hair. You dunno how ta wear it unless we TELL ya, 'cause we're the ones who hafta LOOKET it.

I have no idea what you're talking about, I tell him. I'm sure he sees my expression of disgust; he, too, shakes his head in amazement that I've failed to understand this very simple concept.

Ah FAGEDDIT, he says, handing me my change. I guess it's OVAH YA HEAD.

Scent Elements: Greens, geranium leaf, Sicilian lemon, lavender, chocolate, honeysuckle, magnolia, muguet, musk, vetiver, cashmeran, teakwood, amber