beauty

'I badly needed a nose job, but faced a dilemma I never saw coming.'

The first time I really thought about owning a fragrance was at the age of 11.

My brother and I were visiting my father, who was going to Europe on business, and he asked me if I wanted him to bring me back something.

The fact that he had even asked this question was pretty revolutionary, so I quickly asked if he could bring me some ‘channel perfume’. He laughed derisively and then corrected my pronunciation. I was mortified but it was worth the humiliation when he turned up with a bottle of Chanel No. 5. And so the addiction began.

Intricately related to my love of all things fragrant was my obsession with my nose. For as long as I can remember, I have had an issue with it. It reminded me of my father’s, and every time I thought I had come to terms with it, there would be a sneaky little reminder.

When my children were small – let’s face it, that’s when they are the harshest and truest critics, before they develop filters (oh, who am I kidding, that never happens) – they would say, ‘Mummy, you have a big nose.’ So, even though more thoughtful souls would reassure me that that my nose was ‘fine’, I never really believed them.

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I would go for months at a time without thinking of it, and then catch sight of myself at an unflattering angle, or caught like a rabbit in the headlights without my photograph face on.

Remember the days before Instagram filters and angles and the delete button? Whole packets of photos opened and destroyed before anyone caught sight of them.

My son Harrison, up until recently, had the most appalling photo of me on his camera that he refused to delete, often taunting me from his towering height of six foot four, keeping the camera just out of my reach. I can’t begin to describe how bad this picture was; I didn’t even look human. He thought it was hilarious to have this documented evidence; me, not so much.

However, my nose, for all intents and purposes, always performed exceptionally well on the smelling front.

Secrets-of-a-Beauty-Queen
This is an extract from Stephanie Darling's book Secrets of A Beauty Queen. Image: Supplied.

I come from a long line of sniffers and I’ve become famous for my sense of smell. Our family are renowned for sniffing everything before we buy it, read it, taste it, go out with it . . . so you can imagine my horror when, at a fragrance showing during my time as beauty director at Madison, I discovered that by the end, I basically couldn’t smell a damn thing.

The first paddle-shaped test strip, which had been dipped in Penhaligon’s Blue Bell eau de toilette (all bluebells, earth and moss with a hint of cinnamon, clove and galbanum, it launched in 1978 and was a favourite of Princess Diana’s), I just vaguely registered.

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I am always a bit of a show-off at these events as I have been to a number of fragrance workshops run by the maestro of fragrance himself, his royal highness Michael Edwards, so I am down with the way you have to bend the paddle-shaped strips to help get them closer to my nose.

These blotter strips are pure and free of any contaminants, letting the fragrance speak for itself.

I learnt so much from those workshops, where Michael showcased literally hundreds of both well-known and little-known scents and taught us to tease out the notes.

Even with my nose functioning at full strength, after three or four fragrance dissections, nasal fatigue took over and my nose could be revived only by sniffing a bowl full of coffee beans.

Listen: Why we're ignoring these fashion and beauty age rules. Post continues after audio.

After attending a couple of these workshops, Michael asked me to the inner sanctum to be part of a workshop at his home with the heavy hitters of the fragrance industry, including the head of fragrance company Givaudan, from whom I learnt that the way the brain layers meaning on to smells is called ‘configural processing, a way of mapping the odour to a meaning’. This explains a lot.

We were sampling the newest fragrances about to be launched on the market. This was a laborious and at the same time fascinating process, watching Michael dissect the notes to categorise the newcomers for his perfume bible, Michael Edwards’ Fragrances of the World, which is now in its thirty second edition.

This gem is a go-to for beauty editors, perfume houses, department stores, and basically anyone who loves fragrance. Fragrances are broken down into family categories, including: aromatic, dry woods, mossy woods, woods, woody oriental, oriental, soft oriental, floral oriental, soft floral, floral, fruity, green, water and citrus.

I love Michael’s take on fragrance and his scent mantra: ‘A great perfume is a work of art. It can lift our days, haunt our nights and create the milestones of our memories. Perfume is liquid emotion.’ (Post continues after gallery.)


I nervously oohed and aahed over each strip, dredging the superlatives from my olfactory memory. I seriously thought this was a one-off and all would return to normal once my cold had abated, but disturbingly, it was not to be the case.

At first I thought I was suffering fragrance fatigue, such as happens when you can’t smell the fragrance you are wearing.

This happens when the senses tire after being constantly stimulated by the same scent and your nose becomes used to the smell, but that was not what was happening. I had gone from an Olympian sense of smell (a proud family tradition) to hyposmia (a reduced sense of smell), which was bad enough, to anosmia, a complete loss of smell. The decline was gradual, until I was reduced to a quivering wreck as my super-honed sense had almost completely abandoned me.

Nothing could get through, noxious or pleasurable. As I gazed up at the vast array of favourite fragrances in my office.

I picked up YSL’s Rive Gauche; I could almost retrieve the scent of this fragrance, which I had discovered at 21 at the duty-free counter while crossing the English Channel and promptly purchased, even though it meant forgoing a week’s worth of meals.

Rive Gauche is a delightful soft floral underpinned with orris root and sandalwood. Fortunately, even though my sense of smell was compromised, my sense of taste was still intact. This would have been the beginning of the end.

I was still in denial, but started to consult Dr Google as to what might be the cause. Nasal polyps seemed to be a common theme.

These are teardrop-shaped, form in the nose or sinuses, and look uncannily like a peeled seedless grape. These little suckers are often associated with allergies and asthma. Symptoms include runny nose, sneezing (tick), post-nasal drip (tick) and decreased sense of smell (double tick).

Rather unfortunately, I have also developed adult-onset asthma. The shortness of breath, which I’d convinced myself was just that and nothing else, turned out to be asthma, which improved dramatically after I started taking prednisone tablets to reduce the size of the polyps in my nose to prepare them for surgery.

After a barrage of allergy tests, it turned out that I am highly allergic to rye grass. The welt left on my arm by the test rivalled Uluru.

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So I was finally catapulted from a state of denial to a begrudging acceptance. My first port of call was an ear, nose and throat specialist, who placed an endoscope up my nose and diagnosed a veritable forest of polyps, which had seriously compromised my sense of smell.

Oh, and I also had a deviated septum. I was relieved in a way, because at least there was a reason. The solution: a sinuplasty. My nasal insecurity leapt to the forefront and I blurted out that perhaps I could combine this with a nose job.

The specialist said he knew just the man, who could deal with the pesky polyps and give me a ‘pretty nose’ into the bargain. He referred me to plastic surgeon Dr George Marcells, who could do both procedures in the one sitting.

When I went to visit him, I was in the classic position of not wanting anyone to criticise my nose except for me, so having someone else critique such an essential part of my face was pretty confronting.
On the one hand, I was desperate for George to give me confirmation that the nose I had lived with for fifty years of my life was ‘fine’ and that I really didn’t need anything done at all. And on the other hand,
I wanted to change it. Needy old distrustful me was never far from the surface; I didn’t envy George having to walk this fine line.

He navigated this delicate path with skill, however, and gave me a digitally enhanced image of what my nose would look like after the operation. George is a stickler for exactitude, thank god, and he uses techniques based on open-structure rhinoplasty.

This can take longer to perform than other methods, but he believes they help keep the basic foundation of the nasal structure strong, ensuring a more predictable shape to the nose after surgery as well as improving breathing. Bingo: the old two-in-one rule that I so love.

The first chilling day before the Christmas madness @theboathousegroup_ with the lovely Nikki Evans #summerdays2016

A post shared by Stephanie Darling (@mrssdarling) on

To my delight, he turned out to be a meticulous superstar. I signed on the dotted line, figuring anyone who knew me and my penchant for putting my body on the line would figure that if I said I was having my polyps removed, they’d simply think it was code for a nose job. I nervously figured it was now or never.

I fronted up for the surgery, justifying it to myself as being two-birds-one-stone. The actual procedure was very intense, as it involved peeling back the skin of the nose to get better access to the nasal structure, ensuring a ‘predictable shape’ and improved breathing.

It is a bit like lifting the bonnet of a car and then filing away at the structure underneath to get the right shape. I had stupidly watched a video of this procedure recently. I am not quite sure why – once I had committed to the challenge, there was no looking back. I told my husband that along with the polyp removal I was also having my deviated septum straightened (which was true!), hence the procedure would be more expensive and the recovery period longer.

I woke up in recovery after six hours of surgery with a giant supportive splint on my nose, as well as internal nasal splints and two massive tampon-like packs up each nostril. This was not a procedure for the faint-hearted.

When George came to give me the nod to be discharged, he kind of blew my cover when he asked my husband what he thought of my newly shaped nose. I was spluttering ‘Deviated septum!’ and ‘Polyps!’, though, so I hope it washed over him.

Once I was home, the first hurdle was getting to the seven-day mark, when the packing would come out. Bizarrely, having to breathe through my mouth was by far the most painful part of the recovery. Nights were the worst, as my mouth became completely dehydrated and felt like cracked parchment; I had to sip water every ten minutes just to stay sane. I hadn’t been this sleep deprived since my sons were babies. This part of the process was the most uncomfortable – the longest seven days of my life.

I was counting down the moments until my new nose was liberated and I could finally smell. This may sound weird, but I actually wanted to smell my sons’ farts again.

Edited extract from Secrets of a Beauty Queen by Stephanie Darling, Viking, RRP $32.99

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