Monday, August 4, 2008
A Letter to Chanel Regarding Cuir De Russie
Remember a few weeks ago, when I was out in L.A., and I came to see you, and I smelled every last one of your Exclusifs fragrances because, as I believe I told you at the time, I’d been reading about them forever, and had developed a love affair with them in my head, and didn’t want to be deluded, to be romantically involved with blinders on? I wanted to be sure. Did these Exclusifs warrant such reverent devotion? I wasn’t interested in your quilted purses (though I admit they seemed perfectly lovely and were in fact swarmed around by others in the store to the point of psychosis) or your dresses or frocks or whatever you start to call them when they get to costing that much. I thought the room off to the side (men with little walkie talkies; glass cases which seemed to be protected by laser fields) was just plain quaint; all those diamonds--is that what they were? I didn’t like that room most of all because it placed too many walls between me and your perfumes. It felt like going to see your betrothed at her childhood home for the first time just so you could fondle the spatulas in her mother’s kitchen drawer. What did spatulas have to do with anything?
Remember how I stood there, smelling and re-smelling? Remember how I held the bottles in my hand one after the other? I couldn’t get over how heavy they were, how solid. Glass bricks. And those magnetized caps! I should have been warned, I suppose, by the relative ignorance of your staff when it came to these fragrances. They were so busy running around chasing after quilted bags and glittery doo dads that they hardly had time to stop and answer my questions. Did they in fact have Cuir de Russie in stock? Hmm, they would have to go look. And look they did. I suppose. I waited. And waited. And finally someone popped her head out of some secret Chanel door to inform me that no, they did not have Cuir de Russie and that yes, perhaps it did indicate a certain degree of popularity. They expected more to arrive at the beginning of the following week, they said, clucking regretfully. Remember how disappointed I looked? Recall the shaky apprehension on my face? I didn't beg you to take down my address but I was more than happy and a little relieved to give it to you.
Early the next week, I wanted to know: had Cuir de Russie come in? I was impatient. I know, you said you’d call me, but I’d smelled the tester and been sent away with a sample, and all week I’d been obsessed. Guerlain said something about creating perfumes which smelled like the backside of his mistress. To me, Cuir de Russie was the ass of that mistress after riding horseback all day. The excitement of L.A. was peripheral, circumstantial to the real purpose of my visit: to secure Cuir de Russie and bring it back to Memphis with me, where I might love it and kiss it and hug it all over and call it my very own, oh boy. I didn’t want to bother you, Chanel, so I had your affiliates at Saks call you on Rodeo. I must have this mistress' ass rubbed in leather, I kept telling myself. Imagine my shock when the saleswoman at Saks was kept on hold for ten minutes and counting. I pictured frantic women racing around your multi-level layout. “Beaded useless trinket needed at the front counter!” “Rich woman trying on shiny earrings in the try-on-costly-jewelry-in-secluded-privacy wing!” “Quilted purse hemorrhaging cash on aisle four!” I was embarrassed for your affiliate at Saks, treated as if she were the ugly stepchild. Please, nevermind, I said, I was only kidding. I didn’t mean it. It was merely an experiment. With this, I walked away.
I stopped once more at Rodeo before leaving town. Weren’t you the guy looking for some of that stinky stuff, the faces of the security guards seemed to say. Whereas your sales staff couldn’t for the life of themselves remember me. Not that this troubled them even slightly. Until this visit, I never dreamed that quilted purses generated so much activity. Now I know what a serious business such items are. These people are in control, I told myself. They have handbags to sell and they set about selling them as if they were solid gold. This is good, I told myself, because people who shell out thousands of dollars for simple leather purses should absolutely, no question, be made to feel they are buying some luxurious rarity from the country of Googelholler. You did not have Cuir de Russie but promised to call me when it arrived. You’d call me in Memphis, you declared, and though I was dubious (when, after all, would the trade in quilted purses slow enough to allow such a leisurely call to be placed?) I expressed my gratitude and bid you adieu.
A week later, I received said call. “Mr. Whatsyerface, we’re calling to let you know that Cuir de Russie has arrived. We have reserved a bottle for you.” Hearing this, I must have tinkled ever so slightly down my pant leg. And listen, Chanel, don’t think I didn’t get right on that. I know what happens to a lousy little bottle of perfume when the big boys start crowding it out on the shelves. It’s a hard-knock life for perfume in a cut-throat quilted handbag environment. I gave you my credit card number and immediately began the effort to contain my excitement. You would only deliver the package to my home address. You refused to send it to my office, which was fine because, though it inconvenienced me, requiring that I stay at home to sign for the perfume, it bolstered my sense that you took my fantasy seriously, with the intent of rewarding my expectations.
Several days later, my package arrived. Please listen carefully, Chanel, because this is where our love affair ends. I knew when I took the package into my own hands that there was a problem. It rattled rather than rustled, for one. And I could smell the smoky florals and birch tar through the cardboard, as if you’d shipped it to me by simply pouring the juice into the box. Cuir de Russie: the splash bottle! The luxuriant perfume equivalent of boxed wine. Hesitantly, I opened the package. Here’s what I found. You’d stuffed the perfume box into one of your shopping bags, as you would at the counter, then folded the bag over. You placed the bag in the shipping box, then folded over several sheets of tissue paper to take up the slack. Here’s what the bottle looked like. The box, for one, was scuffed and dented, and soaked in perfume. The cap was off. So was the dispenser and the metal bib used to secure it. The label on the bottle looked like runny mascara. I appreciate the sample your staff threw in—-how very sweet of you, Chanel—-but would have appreciated a full bottle of Cuir de Russie, wrapped thoughtfully, with some amount of intelligence or forethought applied. Everyone appreciates a bit of rough, but runny mascara and torn stockings...not from you, Chanel. If I wanted hot mess I'd go downtown and pick it up out of the gutter.
Has anyone at your house ever mailed a package of perishable or breakable goods? I have to think even the smallest of children have, and you honor child labor laws, I expect. Has anyone in her right mind ever placed a glass bottle in a box without proper padding expecting it to arrive as if by some protective magic intact? Quite frankly, Chanel, my grandmother, who never learned how to open an email, sent me cookies with more thought put into their packaging than you put into the shipping of this 205 dollar bottle of supposedly luxury perfume, which arrived looking like something out of the remnant bin. My grandmother would have been appalled and mortified to learn that a box of crumbs, however tasty, had landed on my doorstep. You, on the other hand, are busy with the next quilted bag.
What do I want, mon cherie? Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure you can make it better. Of course I’ll call you, first thing this week, and try to work things out. The dissolution of a relationship is a sad, uncomfortable thing. Whatever happens, the honeymoon is over. I now know that the quilted handbags are your true focus. Your priorities are there. As far as you’re concerned, Jacques Polge makes pretty things to smell but he can go fuck himself. And the people who spend hard earned money on his fragrances can go fuck themselves too, or they can fuck him. Or they can simply fuck off. It’s neither here nor there to you.