The first post I wrote about perfume was sort of off-hand, a simple list of the perfumes I’ve worn over the years, where they came from (sometimes gifts, esp. in the beginning) and what they have meant. I’ve always been very interested in smells for some reason.
Then I read “The Emperor of Scent” by Chandler Burr about Luca Turin and was impressed at his analysis of scent theory and the scramble of science, perfume politics, industrial scent management (deodorants and soaps mostly — I’m the only person I know who buys dish soap and bar soap according to smell), and simple opportunism. In fact, I sent Turin a fan letter and got back a come-on that assumed I was shopping for some kind of commercial use of his knowledge.
Lately perfume has seemed to be linked with celebrity, a kind of accompaniment to fame that started with the couturiers, most famously with Chanel, and is now lamentably connected to movie stars, transient vixens promoting forgettable flower scents. (One would expect more “musk” in such linked smells — at least I have strong memories of the tomcat reek of our pet fox in heat.) The idea seems to be to pretend to be very sexy and available but at the same signal that one is innocent, even child-like, which I suspect is an American desiderata. We don’t like snakes in our Edens and are always upset when we find them.
On the European front, there was that remarkable book, evidently about a true case, about a man who murdered young women for reasons of scent. It became a movie, a horror movie, which brings up that issue of “disgust” (smells are more easily disgusting than any other sense), and now begins to make me ask why we mix horror and elegance or at least glamour. Is it an attempt to be extreme? Is it somehow an excuse for horror or a warning to stay away from fascination with glamour? Or is it raw sex, hoping for arousal? Darren Aronovsky appears to be playing with this in his new “Black Swan” movie. Is it a way of trying to reach for transcendence? Perfume as the ultimate emotion? Proust’s metaphor?
So I look at Amazon’s list of books about perfume and find: “Shakespeare’s Perfume: Sodomy and Sublimity in the Sonnets, Wilde, Freud, and Lacan” (New Cultural Studies)” by Richard Halpern. One reviewer suggests this book confirms that Lacan is nearly impossible to understand, which is a relief since I share that opinion, but the cover is Mona Lisa — will we find out what perfume she wears? And much of the content is about Shakespeare’s fascination with both the beautiful boy and the dark lady — are we supposed to guess what they smell like? Halpern is at Johns Hopkins University, so you are not likely to find this book erotic. The cultural level is bound to be in the ozone. I’ve downloaded a chapter. I’ll let you know.
But I want to come back to one of my fav blogs,called “1000 fragrances” at firstname.lastname@example.org It is a door to many other perfume blogs, some of which are more interested in the bottle than the contents, and lots of books. Even sources for famous perfumes, if you have the money. Evidently there are people who look for elegant but elderly ladies who would like to sell the remnants of their collected perfumes. Or perhaps they have departed and you’re looking for an estate sale. Some of the perfumes will have changed over the decades and some of the bottles will be nearly impossible to open without shattering since the perfume has become lacquer and sealed the stopper against eternity.
This man provides reviews of new perfumes as well as some old ones. Though I knew that perfume is layered and meshed in complicated ways, I did not appreciate that they are a time art, unfolding on the skin over the minutes. They also have a lot of history and they are recognizable as the work of specific scent artists in the same way as paintings. Here’s his review of Faberge’s “Tigress,” a scent I wore in high school:
“Tigress is a floral woody aldehydic perfume descending from several less known perfume created in the 1920′s based on the accord rose – Sophora + Mellitis – balsamic sweet note – aldehydes. It has 2 distant cousins: one is ToscaBois des Iles (Chanel) for the sweet woody facet. Its origin could be traced back to the many interpretations of Le Parfum Ideal, but unlike the rich Houbigant creation where many expensive naturals where underlined by few synthetics, Tigress redefines the balance with modern, less precious materials and with a strong accent on the woody dry facet. It gives you the feeling of a classic abstract perfume where the powdery balsamic musky drydown notes are contrasted by the aldehydic fresh top note. The citrus top has an unusual light fruity raspberry note that surrounds the sweet rose bouquet. Tigress, launched almost 40 years after Le Parfum Idéal (and without an obvious connection), shows a very important difference in the floral vision. Amour Amour (Jean Patou) has been there showing a very different interpretation of the rose-jasmine-lilac-lily of the valley idea. Tigress is not sweet and opulent but has a certain dryness characteristic of the vetiver-sandalwood notes. The drydown of the perfume is wrapped in several balsamic notes (benzoin, tolu), a very light ambery-opopanax, vanilla, a lot of salycilates with a cinnamon carnation, and musks giving a certain powdery facet to the perfume. The rose-cyclamen- honey accord is very alluring with its lightness floating over an orris-vetiver-sweet tonka notes.”
That’s not all he says, but it’s enough to give you an idea. This is a smell (indeed that particular “family” of Faberge smells) that is popular enough that “The Vermont Country Store” — which specializes in old-fashioned stuff like original Vicks and historic candies — sometimes carries it along with “Joy” and “Evening in Paris,” that famous bourgeois bit of glamor in a blue bottle. I have no mental note of either smell, but I can smell “Tigress” in my memory as surely as madeleines in tea.