Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in review (version Abigail)

2010 was the year I became exhausted from the onslaught of new releases, most notably the high end niche market. 2010 was also the year I began to lose hope for the future of mainstream perfumery, given that Celebrescents have taken over the market and aren’t going anywhere. It was also the year I found the largest number of reformulations; some of which people aren’t even talking about. I adore vintage perfumes, but I can’t spend my time chasing rainbows, I would much rather find something current and fresh than chase expensive 35 year old vintage bottles whose top notes have been lost.

On the whole this was the year I’ve been the most annoyed, jaded and least excited about anything happening in perfumery. But I’ve forced myself to stop and take note of the fact that if I’m still enthused about a handful of perfumes each year, well, that’s all it takes to keep the fires burning. As long as there are a half dozen or so perfumes that rock my world, whether they be new releases or plain old new to me, that’s what this hobby is all about. Because, let’s face it, I can only wear and enjoy so many fragrances in my lifetime and finding 5-10 winners each year is enough bounty to add to my already burgeoning collection.

It also hasn’t helped that, as Brian has already mentioned, I, too, felt a similar frustration with a strong current of snobbery, elitism and hypocrisy in the perfume blogosphere. For me, this fueled a sense of disinterest in perfume. I finally decided that I should continue to write because I want to offer the perfume community exactly what I, myself, set out to find when I read other blogs. I will continue to write and read only honest, enthusiastic, passionate, moving and fun posts. I would never write and will avoid reading anything with a snobbishly critical tone or a veiled intention or affiliation. I love smelling perfume and that’s all I’m here to communicate.

One thought I’d like to include is that I am so thankful for YOU. The biggest reason is that you make me feel LESS WEIRD!! This Christmas I visited family in North Carolina and for a solid week I felt like an oddball with a strange habit. Three times (not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES) my Mother told me that “so-and-so” requested I not wear perfume when we went out. The craziest part is that all three times were individuals I have never met before so they couldn’t have previously met me whilst wearing a kiloton of Shalimar. I’m sure my Mother mentioned to these folks that I have a business and a blog that’s all about perfume and these individuals decided they didn’t want to spend even a few hours around someone who might be wearing scent. Nobody in my family, extended family or even the endless encounters with Mother’s friends was remotely interested in perfume; they just wanted to be sure I wasn’t wearing any. This made me realize what a unique community we have here. I appreciate you and I value your interest in perfumery and I am hopeful that our numbers grow so I don’t have to spend much time feeling like a crack addict billowing wafts of Alahine in a corner by myself. It’s amazing how many suddenly have asthma when the topic of perfume comes up. Perhaps needless to say, I didn’t wear perfume for an entire week. I only wore it to bed at night.

2010 was the year I found a few beautiful new releases as well as a few scents that were just new to me. Typically I’m a lover of orientals, florientals and chypres but I found myself enjoying a bunch of sheer, light, seemingly simplistic beauties in 2010. Here’s a stream of consciousness list:

Atelier Orange Sanguinne and Trefle Pur: The entire Atelier line is about pure and natural smells. These fragrances smell so realistic, gorgeous and simple it’s easy to overlook them. If you’re like me and tend to prefer orientals, chypres or anything complex you might think “oh yawn” when it comes to a line like Atelier. But, honey, I gotta tell you, Atelier is killer in warm weather. Orange Sanguinne is the juiciest and most pure and realistic blood orange I have ever smelled. On me, Orange Sanguinne never goes sour; it stays perfectly zesty and sweet. Trefle Pur is a softly green scent, all meadows and clovers; it’s so simple yet so perfect for those occasions when you desire a refreshingly cool green scent.

The Different Company de Bachmakov: The Different Company has some great fragrances, most notably Sublime Balkiss and Oriental Lounge. TDC de Bachmakov is a treat for lovers of tea and spices. It wears softly yet stays with you through most of the day. It’s unusual but not overly so, you can wear this without feeling a little odd.
Canturi eau de parfum: I should have reviewed Canturi earlier. Canturi is an old school oriental fragrance. My only complaint is that I wish it was a bit more potent and projected more as it’s rather soft and subtle for an oriental. Canturi isn’t groundbreaking or unusual, rather it’s a classic oriental which was released in 2010, a year in which most releases were anything but classically styled. This alone is why I like it so much. Canturi leans toward the Far East for me; it’s very much an Asian inspired oriental. I smell dry plums and sake and it’s never especially sweet, it’s exceedingly understated. Canturi is a gorgeous oriental housed in my favorite bottle of the year.

Annick Goutal – the whole line: It was earlier this year that I stopped to realize just how exceptional everything from Annick Goutal is with a week long series on several fragrances from AG. There are so many beauties from AG and their newest fragrance called Rose Splendide took me by surprise. I’m never looking for a rose soliflore, but Rose Splendide is not just a rose soliflore. Instead, it’s an intensely green rose, think of the privet scent in AG’s Eau de Camille and add a dash of fresh roses – that is Rose Splendide. Rose Splendide is another one which seems so simple and sheer yet manages never to turn sour the way some rose scents do and also maintains its own unique green character in an endless sea of rosy fragrances.

Guerlain Chamade: I’ve always liked Chamade but just this year I took the time to actually wear Chamade, not just sniff it, and I fell hard. Five years ago, I would have said there was a strong ‘hair spray’ note in Chamade but somehow this has vanished for me. Chamade is astonishing and I’m trying to figure out why I think I must have it in pure parfum. I have so much perfume yet I feel I need a bottle of Chamade in pure parfum. Like soon.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz: DSH is an enormously talented perfumer and I personally find her orientals and gourmands to be fantastic. This winter I’ve been enjoying Mahjoun, Cimabue and Parfum de Luxe lots and lots. DSH American Beauty is one of my favorites, if not my most favorite, rose perfume. American Beauty wears well year ‘round but I especially enjoy it in winter.

Frederic Malle Le Parfum de Therese and Dior Diorama: both are sublime creations from Edmond Roudnitska; Diorama was created in the 1950’s and Le Parfum de Therese is essentially Diorama’s modern offspring. Diorama wears like an evening scent on me and LPdT feels like a brighter, clearer day-time scent.

Serge Lutens Bas de Soie: a seemingly simple, sheer and lovely Lutens. Bas de Soie snuck up on me and I love its soft iris/hyacinth/Chanel-esque charms. I like it more than Chanel 28 La Pausa which only lasts 17 minutes on me. Bas de Soie lingers for awhile.

Profumi del Forte Roma Imperiale: I previously reviewed this one; it’s basically the softest and most beautiful oriental wrapped in bunny ears.

Honorable mentions:
Jean Patou Joy: I know, this is about as exciting as listing Chanel No. 5, but have you really worn and smelled Joy lately? It’s an animalic floral with attitude by the suitcase.
Guerlain Mitsouko Fleur de Lotus: WHY was this limited edition? It is so incredible!
Ormonde Jayne Tiare: reminds me of Chanel Cristalle but I like it even better.
Solange Cosmic: I’m fixated on this one lately.
Teo Cabanel Alahine: my BFF 4-evah
Vetiver & Leather quandary: I’ve finally concluded my efforts to find a vetiver and a leather that I like. I’m throwing in the towel on vetiver fragrances; I hate them all. I like some classic fragrances considered leathery like Robert Piguet Bandit, but for the most part I don’t like anything that’s strongly leather focused; with the exception being Tom Ford Private Blend Tuscan Leather. Tuscan Leather is dry and herbal and reminds me of the New Mexico desert. It reminds me of cowboys riding on worn leather saddles. This one I love, especially on men.

Happy 2011 to all! And thank you so much for being here :)

Other participating blogs:
Scent Hive
The Non-Blonde
Smelly Blog
Roxana Illuminated Perfume
DSH Notebook
EauMG
A Rose Behind the Thames
All I Am a Redhead
Schreibman's Live
Portland Fragrance Examiner
CaFleureBon
Persolaise
Sorcery of Scent

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Year That Was 2010 (Version Brian)


I should start out by telling you that I didn't smell everything there was to smell in 2010, because I wasn't by any stretch exhaustive, and I think maybe that's what we've come to expect out of these annual summaries--some kind of self-appointed, authoritative overview. I do make an effort to smell new things--but much of what came out this year sounded so dreadfully uninspired to me that I didn't bother to track it down, and a weird feeling of anomie started sneaking in right around Spring.

It was a depressing year. While I appreciated attempts by some of niche perfumery's more recognizable names to branch out of their comfort zones, I couldn't help feeling that they were following the lead of larger brands, engaging in what seems at this point to be the overall corporate strategy of smoke and mirrors. Put another way, pissing on your leg while telling you it's raining. I might not have taken the offense I did to L'eau Serge Lutens, for instance, had it not appeared at a time when the company was silently reformulating some of its best fragrances. Sadly, when it comes to acknowledging these sleights of hand, Lutens is no different than Dior. Both assure you quality and uniqueness. Each feigns innocence when asked about self-mutilation. At some other time, L'eau and last year's Nuit de Cellophane might have struck me as a willful expansion of Luten's trademark boozy stewed fruits and woods sensibility. Instead, they seemed like insult to injury.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jean Patou Bottle Winner



Ladies and gents, the winner is Tamara J. Please get in touch with me by email, Tamara.

After Christmas, I'll be drawing four or five more names as part of a film project involving perfume. I'll announce the names and the project during my recovery from fruitcake, pudding, pumpkin cheesecake, Biscotti, egg nog, pecan sandies, and red velvet cupcakes.

A note about my drawing protocol, in case you are wondering. What I do is, I cut up little bits of paper. I then write the name of each commenter on his or her own individual piece. I then fold them exactly two times. I then chew them. I then take a straw, and shoot each balled up glob of goo at the ceiling. Voila! Whichever drops to the floor first is the happy winner.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

This Week At The Perfume Counter: Guest Blogged by Elisa

Here's the thing. It's rarely much fun shopping by yourself. Just last night, a friend and I were talking about how maddening it is to visit the perfume stores alone: the vendors aren't always so patient, when not exceedingly pushy. They can sometimes take the fun out of it. There's safety in numbers. When you bring a friend, you feel more insulated, more understood, and you don't feel so bad when you ask the sales associate to reach for the precariously placed bottle on the back of the highest shelf.



I do have friends, thankfully. Alas, few here in town would jump at the chance to head for the discount fragrance store. Elisa and I live in different states, so we can't exactly make trips to the mall together. But why should that stop us? Like a lot of my online friends we email constantly about fragrance as if sitting in the same room, carrying on a conversation. When she wrote me this morning to tell me about her most recent visit to the "perfume counter", I decided to meet her there, if only virtually, by commenting on her finds. Here's to speaking from one self-contained bubble to another.

"I had a three-hour layover in Dallas yesterday," she wrote, "and found a duty-free shop with testers of a bunch of fragrances I never see testers out for anywhere. I had a total sniffing spree and it was great because the store was empty and the woman who worked there didn't harass me. I didn't try anything on, just sniffed from blotters, but among the stuff that was totally new to my nose."

We're starting with...

Starting the Perfume Conversation with a Stranger

Oh how I love to surf the web. You can find almost anything your little heart desires online. Almost anything at all.

Some people look for goulash recipes and homemade bomb instructions. Me--I google perfume.


Today I found the website for a little company called ESL. The wonderful folks over at ESL provide "652 conversation topics" for those of us who sometimes have trouble speaking to our fellow human beings.

You might say, "Brian, I have no trouble speaking to my fellow human being at all. I speak to my fellow human being all the time, constantly; day and night my fellow human being and I are speaking." And I say, fine. But problems can arise even among the most conversant of us.

What if, for instance, you find yourself on the bus with an elderly lady, and she's staring at you, and she starts talking, and she won't stop talking, and the bus drives on, and on--and on? How long can you look out the window without hurting your neck?

What if you should walk into the grocery store, and you head over to, say, aisle four, and you're strolling happily along the linoleum and suddenly, quite out of nowhere, a strange man appears? What if there's a puddle there, between you--and you don't know what it is, and you suspect the strange man might know, but asking would require you to strike up a conversation? What if, during all this, you realize it isn't aisle four you need at all, but aisle seven?

I think you can see how things might quickly get very complicated.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Giveaway Reminder: Patou 1000


The drawing for a 100 ml bottle of 1000 de Jean Patou will take place on Thursday. There are still two days left to enter yourself.

To be eligible, please visit our review and comment on *that* post, telling us what perfume you remember embodying "luxury" as a child and why.

Playing the Peach Card: Boucheron Jaipur


Boucheron Jaipur seems, to me, a perfect choice for the Holiday season, setting aside impressions inspired by the original ad for the fragrance, which is festive in an entirely different way. According to press materials, Jaipur "revives the mythical story of the Naurantan, a bracelet traditionally offered to young brides in Rajasthan for good fortune." I suppose one is luckiest, in some cultures, with one's hands tied behind one's back. And naked, of course. It often helps to be naked. The luck can adhere to you more easily that way. In some cultures, people get married naked. They live out their lives naked, in fact, because nothing is worse than to be fully clothed when luck comes calling. Many have been shit out of luck who were overdressed at inopportune times.

The notes for this lucky elixir are listed as follows: plum, apricot, peach, violet, rose, acacia, heliotrope, peony, iris, musk, amber, sandalwood.

Jaipur was created by Sophia Grojsman, way back in the dark ages (1994), and as Dane over at Peredepierre says, it "plays the peach card." Fragrantica classifies it as "Floral Fruity". I wouldn't disagree, but would include a caveat. Since the mid-nineties, Floral Fruity has evolved (or devolved) into a pretty different beast than it once was. See any number of celebrity fragrances, starting with something, anything, by Britney Spears. These days, Floral Fruity is synonymous with sugary sweet, but it wasn't always that way, and Grojsman's instantly identifiable "milky peachy accord" (again, Dane) exemplifies the category's roots.

Many of Grojsman's perfumes feel lit from within. They hit the skin and it seems someone has switched a light on. There's a bright, happy glow to much of the work she did in the eighties and nineties, a quality which is simultaneously exuberant and adult. The closest I've seen a mass-market contemporary fragrance come to those special effects has been Gucci Flora, which didn't impress many people--and was, admittedly, a bit been there, done that--but was, for me, a welcome revisiting of a style Grojsman made famous. For me, in a way, Flora wasn't as much redundant as a tribute. The ad for Flora captured the euphoric feeling produced by smelling something as baroquely rich as Jaipur and seemed, with its sun-dappled field-of-flowers imagery, like some forgotten broadcast from the eighties. Do stick around for the jaded valley girl voice over at the close of the commercial; that's quite an evocative throwback, too.

Grojsman is one of my favorites, the nose behind an influential arsenal of iconic fragrances including Paris, Yvresse, Vanderbilt, Eternity, Spellbound, White Linen, Tresor, Bvlgari Pour Femme, and Calyx. Many of her lesser known fragrances are fantastic: Tentations, Celine Magic, Bill Blass Nude, Kashaya. Her body of work bottlenecks around the ten year period from the mid eighties to the mid nineties. Since then, she's done only several that I know of: S-Perfume's 100% Love and Outrageous!, for Frederic Malle.

I've smelled both, and like them--a lot--but, for me, Grojsman excels at making all-American department store fare. I say that with respect, because I think more than most perfumers Grojsman helped elevate the fragrance counter at the mall, bringing a uniquely heightened level of fantasy to the middle American consumer. Think how many of her fragrances can still be found in that competitive marketplace. You can still easily find Paris, Tresor, Eternity, Spellbound, White Linen, Calyx, Bvlgari. That's quite a streak.

Her forays into niche territory have felt a bit constricted to me, which is odd, given the budgets I imagine she was provided. They don't engage with the technicolor saturation of the mainstream fragrances on which she built her reputation, and I suspect she does her best work when her imagination must stretch to work within limits. All artists are limited, but I'm guessing the limits involved in a Malle fragrance and something for YSL are two different species of constraint.

Anyone familiar with Tresor and Yvresse will feel right at home with Jaipur. There are differences, and comparing these fragrances, which at first might seem slightly interchangeable, underscores their subtle distinctions. Yvresse is spicier than you realize; Tresor more oriental. Jaipur isn't at all spicy, really, but like many of Grojsman's scents it has a boozy aspect I like, one also found in Paris and Yvress; thus its appropriateness for this time of year. Like another wintertime favorite of mine, Clinique Wrappings, it is both cool and warm, the equivalent of flushed cheeks coming in from the cold or the sensation of your face heating up after a few cocktails. Jaipur is the punch at the Christmas party, and someone, bless him, did us the favor of spiking it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Mother--How Vicious!" The Age Old Allure of the Perfume Cabinet


A few weeks ago, I came across this wonderful clip on youtube. It's from an early Joan Crawford movie, a silent called Our Dancing Daughters, released in 1928. Crawford was quite a dancer, and her earliest films made the most of that energy, casting her as carefree, hedonistic flappers.

As a friend reminded me, this wasn't the last time Joan would be featured alongside perfume. Eleven years later, she played cut-throat, gold-digging perfume sales associate Crystal Allen, who sells perfume to rival Norma Shearer's husband, then steals his heart. Our Dancing Daughters presents a different angle; perfume is still alluring, but not the weapon of adultery. It's all about fun and fantasy:

"The Smell is like a Fairytale": A Conversation Between Michael Jackson Fans, Overheard on the Interweb


(disclaimer: the following was pulled off the internet and has not been spell-checked)


QUESTION: MJ FANS! DO ANY OF YOU KNOW WHAT PERFUME MICHAEL WORE?

I heard Michael smalled so heavenly. What perfume did he wore? And how good did he small like? Because I've heard he small soooo sweet. Has any of you ever met him? And how much more sexy did he look like in person? I bet he looked even better in person! MJ was hottt!!

Signed,
ILY, MJ family!

I love you more MJ. r.i.p.


BEST ANSWER:

MJ favorite perfume was Bal a Versailles by Jean Desprez and Black Orchids by Tom Ford which was the one he used during his last years. He used Bal a Versailles more in the 90s. Both are women perfume--Mj used to say it was not fair that woman were the only one who could smell nice lol. I have both perfume and I can tell you it smell so wonderful. Like I say Black Orchid was his last one (totally amazing, but really expensive) (the smell is like a fairytale.)

He also wore Allure Homme (Chanel), Orange Spice (Creed), Shamilar (Guerlain), Obsession for Men (Calvin Klein), but I think his favorite was Bal a Versailles (Jean Desprez).

I found my OLD "MJ file" and I can add that he also loved Dune for men (Dior) and Joop (Wolfgang Joop).

I see him twice at the Sony demo and the Invincible cd signing and yes he is far too much beautiful in person. Although I was not that close I could still see how beautiful he was and to feel his presence, his aura, they aren't simply any words to describe it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Jean Patou 1000: Review and Bottle Giveaway




There are people who find this 1972 fragrance from the house of Jean Patou to be a bit much, a near miss which falls just short of an embarrassment of riches. It has rose and violet and oakmoss and lily-of-the-valley and jasmine and patchouli and amber and sandalwood and vetiver and civet--and more--and I suppose this could be viewed as overabundance, though I'm not sure in what context.

Judged against a more contemporary exercise in minimalism, it's going to come up looking overdressed. Compared to the roaring jasmine fantasia of Joy, it seems rather close to the vest. Compared to much of what was produced in the seventies, it's downright conservative. I've always preferred it to Joy, and it remains one of my favorite Patou fragrances. There's a golden warmth to it which sits it alongside Teo Cabanel's Alahine, another favorite of mine, however different they are in many ways. 1000 strikes an interesting, rewarding balance between violet and rose, with jasmine calling an easy truce between the two. Joy has a warmth to it, too, but it seems cold next to 1000, and much more single-minded. 1000 is beatifically rich, both creamy and translucent. It feels serious but isn't grim. It's mossy and faintly animalic yet as clean and bright as Chanel No. 5.

For many, Chanel No. 5 has signified class and costliness for decades, but in my household, Joy was the known name. My mother wore Joy when we were kids. She didn't actually wear it--not often--it was too costly. Mostly she admired it. Joy wasn't an everyday perfume, but a signature scent you didn't wear so much that the ink would run dry. My mother got a bottle as a present on her honeymoon and cherished it throughout my early childhood, until my sister, noticing how low it was getting, did her the favor of topping it off with water.



I still remember that feeling of loss; the way my mother reacted. I'm sure my sister remembers even more vividly than I do. We still refer to the incident in slightly coded terms. It was like, losing Joy, we'd lost our one chance to be as important as other people we might never meet; we'd lost our one available glimpse into what it felt to live like they did. Joy was probably the first perfume I ever smelled, or was conscious of smelling. It was understood to be something my mother didn't come by easily. People like us, basically, did not intersect with something like that too often.

When something so precious came into your life it held an exalted position there, presiding over routine experience like visiting royalty. It reminded you who you were and weren't while giving you some indication of what you might aspire to be. The color of Joy still seems more golden than any other perfume to me. Set out on my mother's dresser, it appeared to glow. The loss of it was like the death of a fantasy. When Patou and Chanel talked about preserving the exclusivity of their fragrances, they didn't mean that only rich women should buy them, but that a dream should be kept alive, a certain kind of significance observed and upheld.

I bring all this up because 1000 has always carried the residual weight of my memories about Joy. I haven't had that reaction with any other Patou fragrance, much as I love many of them. The bottle and packaging for 1000 and Joy are similar if not identical at this point. I believe they always were, and that in launching 1000 Patou hoped to capitalize on the established prestige of Joy. The ad I've attached would seem to indicate this, posing the two side by side, as if synonymous. But asserting them as equals would seem to risk making the sum total less than its parts, so in a way it was a risky move, and a little confused. But confusion seemed to be the desired effect, a hope that the admirer of Joy would extend her affections to 1000.

A 1972 ad for Joy asserted: "There is only one Joy." In that ad, no other bottle stands nearby, stealing its thunder, though 1000 came out that very year. How do you market another exclusive perfume when you already produce the most exclusive fragrance known to man? An early ad for 1000 calls the fragrance a limited edition perfume: "Because 1000 de Jean Patou is so rare and available to so few, each flacon is registered. A hand-numbered card accompanies this totally unique perfume..." 1000 was just as exclusive, then, in a slightly different way. I'm sure I saw these ads as a child, and merged the fragrances in my mind as virtually the same thing. At the very least, I viewed them as important parts of the same special universe.

I do find some similarity in the fragrances themselves, and of course the color of 1000 is that same rich golden embodiment of luxury. When others think of Patou, Joy is surely foremost in their minds. I'm not sure 1000 is. I know a lot more now about Patou and the Patou fragrances than I did as a child, enough to know that 1000 arrived pretty late in the game, under Jean Kerleo as opposed to Henri Almeras, the perfumer responsible for the house's esteemed fragrances of the twenties, thirties, and forties. Still, for me, 1000 remains more iconic, speaking a language I remember distinctly from childhood.

I have a 75 ml bottle of 1000 in eau de parfum concentration to give away to one of our readers. This is a more recent formulation of 1000 and holds up impressively against vintage. The main difference is felt in the absence of natural musks. To be eligible, please tell me what perfume you remember embodying luxury and almost mystical properties when you were a child and why. I'll draw a name on Thursday.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Grace (Polo, Giorgio, Poison, Shalimar, Enjoli)



As part of our week long series on John Hughes and eighties perfume, our friend Jack was going to impersonate Duckie, from Pretty in Pink, today. Unfortunately, Jack got busy with school, so I am impersonating Jack, and instead of Duckie I'm portraying him as Grace, from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Ferris Bueller is my least favorite John Hughes movie. It has the manic flair of Sixteen Candles, but it misses the anchor of Molly Ringwald. It's the best thing Matthew Broderick's ever done, I think, and in a way I think he does flippant sarcasm better than Molly did in Candles, but he lacks her warmth, and despite a serious thematic thread involving his best friend's relationship with a bullying father, you don't really feel there's anything at stake. It's all lightness, with nothing much to ground you.

It does have its pleasures, and one of the most pleasurable pleasures for me is Edie McClurg. Most of the main Hughes players are hard to imagine wearing perfume, as Elisa Gabbert pointed out in her post yesterday. Ferris Bueller, his girlfriend, and his best buddy are the exceptions. It's easy to imagine them wearing the most popular fragrances of the time. And yet, I can't help it: Grace is the only one for me:




"I'm a happy person--okay? I'm just your average happy-go-lucky lady. I think on the bright side of things. But there are days at school where I think I could lose it--and how--and I might, if it weren't for the blessing of my chipper outlook. I guess you could say I'm pretty gay.

There's not even a window in my office. Can you believe that? That's how these school builders are. No window, and someone got a bright idea to paint the walls grey. A real light bulb went off over somebody's head and he thought, 'You know, it always seemed to me that the best color for a windowless room with a desk and a couple of dying houseplants would be the darkest, drabbest shade of slate, and somebody believed them, and now I'm stuck here all day like I'm pinned under a dark cloud without an umbrella.



I stare at the grey wall ahead of me straight to lunch hour while Principal Jones shouts my name at the top of his lungs. 'Gr-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ce,' he yells. 'G-r-r-r-r-ace!!' I run into his office as fast as I can and of course all he ever wants is to tell me the latest allegedly larcenous offense Ferris Bueller has committed. I come bursting in and he's sitting there red in the face, with steam shooting out his ears. He wants me to call the police, or Mr. and Mrs. Bueller. He wants me to send for Ferris at once. He wants me to jump up on the desk and scream, like him. I get a real workout running back and forth from his desk to mine.

I don't let it concern me. Okay? I'm going to tell you a little secret. I put ear plugs in. It helps me keep a smile on my face. And I have Jelly Rolls in my right hand drawer, so I keep my energy up.

Along with the Jelly Rolls I have a growing collection of perfume bottles. Confiscated contraband. The perfume problem has reached epidemic proportions here in our class rooms. The girls bring it with them from home. Every day there's a school shooting. Someone gets sprayed. And the amount these girls wear is a real nose sore. Mrs. Cabbits gets her migraines. The math teacher, new this year from Duluth, goes into coughing fits. He coughed so hard one morning he doubled up in seizures. He hit his head on the edge of the chalkboard and woke up in the dumpster. Those kids actually carried his body out like a bag of trash. It's the perfume. It clouds their judgment. It fills them with homicidal impulses. It's hard for a gay person like me to understand perversion like that.

We've asked the girls to stop bringing the perfume to school. We've alerted their parents. The problem is, their parents wear just as much as they do. That's where they pick up the habit. Principal Jones set up a security check at the front entrance. Everyday when they come in, they get patted down. First it was the girls. Now it's the boys. Polo and Giorgio and Drakkar Noir. Sometimes, principal Jones yells my name so loud and so all of the sudden that it startles me, and my leg hits the desk, and all the bottles rattle into each other. Those kids are sneaky. They've smuggled many a bottle past the checkpoint. This is where I come in. I set up a lookout post in the ladies bathroom, third stall down on the right.

I can read your mind, so I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, 'Golly gee, Grace, what do you do with all that perfume?'

Well, let me tell you, I certainly don't wear it.

I'm all for progress. When it looked like pet rocks were going the way of the slinky, I retired Engelbert to the herb garden. No dilly dallying from me. I might be gay but I'm no sap. Except for the occasional girdle, I'm not the slightest bit old fashioned. It's just that these perfumes, this stink they put out now, they're nothing I'd want anything to do with, unless I had a small feral creature to dispatch. Me, I favor the classics. I like something with the heaving bosom of history behind it. That's a fragrance I can get behind. Something generations of women have relied on, and generations of men have lost their heads over. Something classy. Shalimar. Now THAT, my friend, is a fragrance.


And since on a school secretary's income I can't afford Shamilar, I get Enjoli.

Which is just as good, mind you, as your Poison and your Polo and your Eau de Whoop-di-do. Whatever it is these kids are wearing. Some of these headaches act like they walked in off the family estate. Out in the suburbs. I guess they spray that stuff on and they think they're, what, of the manor born? They think they're really something. And they are. They're something else.

You've never smelled Poison? Oh please, there's only so much time in the day. I'll run out of jelly rolls. How does one describe it? How does one describe nerve gas? Tell you what. Why don't you just meet me out behind the cafeteria after lunch. I've got a bottle with your name on it. If you want to spray yourself into a coma, I'm not going to stop you, just don't go around telling people where you got it, and don't do yourself the damage on school property."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Some Kind of Wonderful: Laura Nelson (Love's Baby Soft, White Musk, Giorgio Beverly Hills)

Today's guest blogger in our series of perfumed tributes to the characters of John Hughes is Elisa Gabbert. Check out Elisa's blog, The French Exit. We often do. About her post here, Elisa says:

I’ve long held 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful to be the most underrated, or at least under-discussed, of Hughes’ teen ‘80s films. Pretty in Pink, which had the same basic plot (unpopular kid obsesses about popular kid, while his/ her equally unpopular best friend suffers the particular cruelty of unrequited young love), is the more popular of the two, probably because it stars Hughes darling Molly Ringwald. But common wisdom has it that Some Kind of Wonderful’s script is an improvement upon Pretty in Pink’s because it has the 'right' ending—i.e., the best friend gets the guy/girl, as opposed to the beautiful guy/girl with questionable integrity 'winning.' (Supposedly, the original ending of Pretty in Pink was changed in response to test audiences.) Watts and Keith are the film’s most interesting characters, but truth be told, it’s hard to imagine them wearing perfume. Keith’s little sister, however, a whiny, nosy brat and incorrigible social climber, would clearly have embraced the scents of the ‘80s in all their status and excess. Plus, I see a little of myself in her; I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a snobby streak in high school. So here, I live vicariously through Laura Nelson, played by Maddie Corman. (I was closer to the age—and the personality—of Candace Cameron’s character when this movie was released, so, sadly, I missed the perfumes that Laura would have worn the first time around.)

"Hey, losers. It’s painfully obvious you guys need a clue in the beauty department, so I carved a little time out of my busy social schedule to attempt to cool you out. First things first: Popularity is a choice, OK? You can choose to be chic … or you can choose to be bleak. And I, for one, am ready to leave the playground. I don’t want to name names, but someone in the vicinity is wearing Love’s Baby Soft. Guys. For real? Why would you want to smell like a baby, when you could smell like a woman? (What are you laughing at? Your White Musk isn’t impressing anyone.)

Here’s the scoop: If you want to run with the elite, you have to smell like the elite. And that means Giorgio. As in Giorgio Beverly Hills. The smell IS sex, OK? No one will ever mistake you for a child when you’re wearing this. I’ve brought my bottle along for educational purposes. Hey, take it easy there, this stuff is from a boutique, not Thrifty Drug, capiche?

Breathe deep, ladies. You’re smelling power. You’re smelling luxury. I have personally been to Beverly Hills, and this is the real deal. Mrs. Albright actually tried to get Giorgio banned from school. Why? Because it’s so intense, people literally cannot handle it! Fashion is a risk, ladies. If the weak can’t hang, c’est la vie. There’s no room for fear at the top of the social ladder.


Remember, men love this stuff. This will turn heads. Don’t be surprised if you get looks, even stares. The right perfume will leave the Hardy Jenn crew trembling in your wake. It might just be the difference between going to the prom on the arm of a prime hunk and staying home watching MacGyver with your little brother. Take my word for it, children: Giorgio is totally crucial."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some Kind of Wonderful: Watts (Estee Lauder Beautiful, Ysatis, Loulou, Polo, Poison)


Third up in our perfumed tribute to the characters of filmmaker John Hughes is Watts, the tomboy drummer played by an alarmingly young Mary Stuart Masterson. It pains me to remember how mature she seemed to me at the time.

Several things showed up again and again in these movies: the sidekick, smart-ass friend; the love triangle; the unrequited crush; the wise-beyond-his/her years outcast. Watts was all of these, and one of the figures with whom I identified most. Like me, she had trouble keeping her thoughts to herself.

Some Kind of Wonderful was the last in Hughes' teen cycle. It was the least forgiving about the remorseless cruelty of high school; the most judgmental about what having and not having does to a group of people. It looked at money and privilege more soberly than any Hughes film, and favored the underdog in an unmistakably emphatic way. Hughes had a lot to say about the hypocrisy of the well-to-do, the small minded phoniness and back-stabbing politics of group think, and he said it most clearly in Some Kind of Wonderful. It was his harshest story but his most forgiving one too. All three of the main characters felt like fully realized people, with beating hearts and mixed up feelings.

Like many of Hughes' protagonists, Watts was something of a malcontent. High school frustrated her and she armored herself with wit and derisive scorn for all that seemed hypocritical about the place and the people in it. The storyline is simple. She's in love with Keith, played by Eric Stoltz. That would come as a big surprise to him. He's in love with Amanda Jones, a popular girl with a poor girl's background. Watts watches Keith crush on Amanda with increasing discomfort, afraid of what's coming. She knows it's bad for her to stick so closely by his side during his dreamy fixation on a girl he can't have, but Keith is her best friend--her only friend--and in the world of high school, a friend like that is a lifesaver, no matter how much pain comes with him. Besides, she can relate.

The popular kids are shown in Some Kind of Wonderful to be shallow, insipidly petty facsimiles of their parents, and you get the sense they are mimicking behavior they learned from mommy and daddy: their values are truly screwy, their cruelty practically a blood sport. They're truly vile creatures, and though others sometimes see them for what they are, Watts is the only one stupid enough to name it:


"I'm probably too smart for a girl.

I think that's more than half my problem. I enjoy confusing people, but it gets old. The reaction is so predictable. It's too easy. I guess I could grow my hair out. I could dress like, say, Amanda Jones. She wears cowboy boots but with a mini skirt, which is a way of making sure everyone knows you're just joking. She wears cowboy boots with a mini skirt and a lot of make-up. I guess I could wear make-up. I could pretend not to have much of an opinion. I could pretend to have no opinion at all. The one thing I couldn't do, even if I did all that--especially if I did all that--is give up the drums. If I did all that, I'd need the drums more than ever. I'd need something to beat out all my frustration on.

I'm smart and I have a big mouth. Basically, I speak before I think. That's really the golden rule of being a girl. You're supposed to think a lot before you talk. You're supposed to think better of it. You're allowed to say anything you want as long as you do it behind someone's back. You can even make sure they hear it: as long as it comes from someone else. The great thing about gossip, I heard one of Amanda's friends say, is that whatever you have to say then gets back to your subject more than once, and sticks with them. I'd like to say that kind of stuff rolls off me. I'd like to say, 'I'm rubber, they're glue.' For the most part, I don't give a flying frog what they think of me or say behind my back--that I'm low class, a dyke, a freak, coarse, potty-mouthed, etc. But you do start to wonder. Is the whole world going to be like this; like high school, only amplified? Gutless, superficial people hiding behind their arsenal of plush luxury goods?

At least Amanda comes from our side of town. She can cover herself in a mist of Estee Lauder Beautiful to obscure her origins, to put her admirers under the noxious spell of thick, choking florals. She can cover up the smell of her mother's bacon grease that way and the aroma of well worn carpet and handed down upholstery in her house, but it doesn't change where she comes from. It doesn't change who she is.Most of that crowd comes from money. Their parents own this or that, or their parents' parents did, and they inherited it. The money grows on the family tree, and the shade of money keeps them protected from the glare of reality. One kid's family owns a fur business. He works there himself, picking money from the tree. He doesn't even have to pick it. The stuff falls to the ground and they've got people, hired people, to collect it for them. At prom, all the girls wrap themselves in his father's coats and stampede the gymnasium like fragrant beasts, stinking of Poison, Loulou, and Ysatis. Like Amanda, they're hiding behind the smell. They're hiding their ugliness. It's like putting a glitter bow on dog crap. I don't know why they bother. He's much too busy looking at himself to worry about what he might step into.

I call him Richie Rich. He'll go wherever he wants in life. He won't even roll down the windows to check out the scenery on the way. He's proud of the family tree. Shouldn't every tree be so green, he'd say? The rest of us are only jealous. Everyone wishes they came from the lap of luxury. You can make any kind of vehicle out of that kind of advantage, and it will take you pretty far. You won't have much of a soul. You won't have much substance--but who needs substance, when you have advantage? Substance is for sore losers.

I don't know what Amanda dreams of. She hypnotizes them with her perfume. She probably hypnotizes herself. I guess she wants to be liked. She wants to be popular. She wants to be something she isn't. So she keeps her mouth shut. When she feels like opening it, she forces her face into a smile. I've seen the way Hardy Jenns, her boyfriend, treats her. I've seen what it does to her, when he turns the other way. Her expression goes slack with hurt. The guy's surrounded by a force field of Polo, and nothing can touch him. Great name for a cologne. It makes him seem sporty. He wouldn't know the outdoors if it slapped him in the face. The outdoors would react to his Polo the way the body reacts to cancer, trying to root him out.


I know what I dream of. I might not be rubber, but I've got my own force field in the form of friendship. If life after high school is more of the same, I'm going to need an ally. I look at Keith and I think how lucky I am. He's my dander. Whatever they say rolls off, as long as he's got my back. I'm bullshit detection enough for both of us, and he supplies the wishful thinking. Keith smells of turpentine, of paint thinner, oil paint. His jeans and t-shirts are streaked with complicated colors. He takes the world and frames it in the most interesting way. He puts it on canvas. But it gets everywhere else, too; even on his skin. Especially on his hands. It's the only cologne he needs.


I love that smell so much that I want to have it around all the time. I found an oil at a local head shop here in Shermer. It smells like his paint thinner: like burning wood, creosote, rich and earthy and warm. I dab it behind my ears and on my wrists, and when I practice drums and work up a sweat the smell wraps around me, blocking out everything but the good parts. I know that Keith thinks he loves Amanda. He's an idealist. And underneath that Beautiful, she's probably a good person. He's a good judge of character, however stupid in romance. Amanda's just mixed up. She's complicated, like his paintings. I don't mind this triangle we're in, so much, as long as I'm one of the points."

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Breakfast Club: Allison Reynolds


The Breakfast Club was so ingrained in my teenage consciousness that I think my generation should be called Generation Hughes instead of Gen X.

I was 14 years old when The Breakfast Club was released. I must have seen the film five times that year; way back in 1985 (2010 is the 25th anniversary, yikes!). The Breakfast Club is essentially about high school stereotypes and teenage angst. I personally didn’t fit into any of the tidy stereotypes John Hughes chose to represent in the film, but I strongly felt little bits of myself in all the characters, every single one. And the most defining feature of The Breakfast Club is that all these kids, from every stereotype, all feel similarly frustrated, trapped, sad, scared and nervous about themselves, who they are and who they will become as they grow up. I like to think John Hughes did my generation a favor by creating films about teenagers; he gave us a voice and he gifted us with entertainment that helped us understand ourselves in a way that had never before been represented on the big screen.

Now, I highly recommend that you get in the mood for my character, Allison Reynolds, and salute 1985 by listening to this:


My name is Allison Reynolds. Yeah, I’m the kook, the social outcast, the freak, the character billed as the basket case. If you don’t think these labels hurt my feelings, well, they do. But you know what? I'm not really any of these things. I'm just different, pure and simple, and if that makes me a basket case, well, that's your stupid problem. If you can't see that a person might not want to be Miss Popular, then you are short sighted, my friend. You asked me here today to talk about how I feel about my life, or lack thereof, since I have no friends and no home life to speak of. And you also asked me here to find out what perfume I wear. Now that’s just crazy. Who the hell cares what perfume I wear, if I wear any at all? I'll tell you the truth, sometimes I spray skunk juice on myself because I love that smell.

Yesterday I went to Saturday detention. I didn’t even do anything to get in trouble. I just wanted out of the house really bad. I thought telling my parents I was in trouble and had Saturday detention might give them something to yell at me about, a reason to pay attention to me, for just a little while. Well, it didn’t. My Dad just mentioned that it might make him late for his flight, but he volunteered to drop me off. My Mom said thank goodness they’re sending me to a shrink, ‘cause I need all the help I can get. Yeah, whatever, Mom.

I packed my own lunch for detention. Always do. Mom would never think of doing that. I usually go to detention once or twice a year, something to do on a Saturday besides stare at the walls of my bedroom and wait for the minutes to string together until I graduate and get the fuck out of this town. I told my shrink and he thinks its fine; detention allows me some ‘social interaction’ like I’m a dog, going to the dog park, to meet other dogs.

This Saturday we had a really mixed up group. All the kids there were total opposites, or so we thought, at the beginning of the day. We had the Princess, the Jock, the Brainy Nerd, the Burn-Out and me, the freak with no friends. Principal Vernon didn’t even realize I wasn’t supposed to be there. He doesn’t even know my name. None of the kids there yesterday knew my name. They just think I’m weird is all.

Turns out that all the other kids think they have problems, too. I couldn’t imagine how the Princess and the Brainy Nerd could have a dark side, but they seem to think they do. Now, John Bender, the Burn-Out troublemaker, I can see how he might be like me. Instead of being quiet, he just acts out all the time, putting a big spotlight on himself; he’s kind of exactly like me but the opposite. The Jock, Andrew, turns out to feel really pressured by his Dad, like the only time he’s worth anything is when he’s good at sports. Brian, the Brainiac, also feels the same way, like his parents only care about straight A’s, and don’t know there’s a person inside him. Claire, the Princess, doesn’t really seem to have any problems to me, but she says she does, she says she feels pressured to be mean and do what all her popular friends think is acceptable. I wouldn’t know what that’s like since I don’t have any friends. I do know that I wouldn't stay friends with people who are fake, and only pretend to like each other to stay popular. That's just so shallow, and I'm more than that. Status quo is not important to me, I'm fine by myself if this is the way it has to be. But I just don’t know. Anything is possible. I’m getting tired of being alone and always looking at the other kids from the outside, from the sidelines, as a nobody, a loser, an invisible girl. So, it’s embarrassing to admit, and I’m using some of the self “introspection tools” that my shrink is teaching me to use, I can see now that I do things to gain attention, I compulsively lie and I steal things and I try to act shocking so others will pay attention to me.

Shoplifting is how I came upon the perfume I’ve been wearing the past few months. I was at the drugstore and they had these gift sets of various types of perfumes with matching body lotion. I picked Jontue by Revlon. I had seen the ads in Seventeen magazine and commercials on TV and I liked the way the ads made me feel like I could get away, on horseback and be free. Free, happy and wonderful, just being me! I could be myself yet somehow sensual and still innocent. So I stuffed that gift set into my back pack and left the drugstore. Sometimes I sneak a little Opium from my Mom’s cabinet or even her Shalimar, but Jontue is my little secret and I’ve already used up the body lotion. I need to go back and steal some more soon.

Here's the commercial for Jontue. I know it's corny but it makes me feel like someday I'll escape my parent's house, I'll escape high school and I'll be someplace far away, free, successful and happy, just being me:Anyway, yesterday in detention was kind of fun. We all sorta bonded. Claire gave me a makeover, and even though I felt so stupid, it made Andrew, the Jock, notice me. He suddenly thought I was pretty and he even kissed me when we were leaving at the end of detention. I thought my heart would explode right out of my chest. I really did. I’m still all tingly and excited. I've never kissed a boy before, even though I sometimes tell people I'm a nymphomaniac. (Oh, and since you're so unusually interested in perfume, I can tell you what Andrew was wearing, it was definitely Polo by Ralph Lauren, all the jocks wear that stuff.) Anyway, back to the nympho stuff, I tell people crazy crap all the time, just made-up shit, to get a rise out of them. People are so stupid, especially in small towns like mine. Everyone is so concerned about being cool, accepted and the same as everyone else. I’m a little nervous that in school on Monday Andrew won’t talk to me, he’ll pretend not to know me. But that doesn't really matter. I'll be fine either way. I’m sure Claire won’t talk to me, pretty positive of that, but only time will tell. It was good to find out that the other kids sorta feel the same as me, ‘cause they all have issues too. I thought I was the only one with problems, well, and John Bender, too, because he’s just a big explosive time bomb of issues. But yesterday I suddenly realized I wasn’t alone, that other kids were just like me on the inside.

People tell me that college is entirely different, that there aren’t the same cliques and the other kids are more accepting and almost everyone finds their own niche. At least this is what my shrink tells me. I want to go to art school. I'm going to be huge, do something really amazing once I blow out of this stupid town. No one knows this yet, because I keep all my work hidden, but I’m a really talented artist. I draw all the time and I’m getting better and better. I also like to write. Writing comes so easy for me, maybe it's because I'm always observing others, from the side lines, I have so many stories to tell. I haven’t told my parents yet, about art school, but they won’t care anyway, they'll just send me wherever I want to go.


...don't you, forget about me...I'll be alone...dancing, you know it baby...

Sixteen Candles: Jake Ryan (Gloria Vanderbilt, Estee Lauder Cinnabar, Aramis JHL)


This week, Abigail and I and a couple of friends are using characters from the films of John Hughes to talk about some of the perfumes we remember from high school and the eighties. First up: Jake Ryan, the guy who made such a lasting impression that still, all these years later, he inspires pangs of dreamy infatuation in women my age all over the country (see above photo of unknown internet user and her, um, date) and plenty of men, too. Trust me.

Jake was like no other guy I'd seen on screen before: sensitive, drop dead good-looking, sleepy-eyed, quiet, relatively smart, and far more interested in the odd girl out than the prom queen. There was something sad about Jake, too; something melancholy. It seemed like he was trapped by circumstances beyond his control, which made his determination to do the unexpected something close to heroic. It was the first time I'd seen the most popular kid at school depicted as such an underdog.

In case you aren't familiar with the character and the film, we're talking about Sixteen Candles here, which came out in 1984. The movie is set in fictional Shermer, Illinois, where another Hughes character, Ferris Bueller, also resides. Molly Ringwald plays Samantha, whose birthday is the sixteenth in question. No one remembers--not mother, father, siblings, paternal grandparents, maternal grandparents--mainly because her older sister is getting married that weekend. Everyone's in town visiting, and in the chaos of preparing for that happy event, Samantha gets pushed to the periphery.

It's nothing she isn't used to. Most of the movie deals with life at high school, where Samantha is equally ignored. She's crushing hard on Jake Ryan, one of the most popular seniors. She worships him for afar. As it turns out, he's not quite as far away as she thinks. Jake is crushing hard on her, too, only it takes a while for her to put this all together. The movie roots for her, and for getting them together. If these two can end up together, high school can't be all that bad. Before that can happen, various mishaps and complications ensue. A geek and a foreign exchange student add to the mixed signals and misunderstandings. Oh--and Jake has a girlfriend, Caroline. There's that to be straightened out first, too.


Michael Schoeffling, the actor who portrayed Jake Ryan, had been a model. He'd done GQ covers, among other things. Many of the people who saw Sixteen Candles at the time of its release were used to admiring him from afar, like Samantha. After acting in a handful of movies he retired with the girl he was dating during the filming of Sixteen Candles. They're still married, and live outside the public eye. It was almost like Schoeffling understood the audience's need to keep him preserved in memory the way he was in Sixteen Candles. In reality, he probably got sick of the bullshit of the business. But that's in keeping with Jake Ryan, too, who seemed equally frustrated by the rules of high school.

The following imagines a parallel universe in which Jake attempts to figure out a.) what perfume Samantha wears, and b.) what it is about said perfume that drives him crazy:


"The skinny geek with the braces swears on his mother's Tupperware collection that the perfume Samantha wears is Cinnabar. According to him, she got it at the mall. He seems to know a lot about her--at least he says he does--but he says she gave him her panties, too, and I highly doubt that.

I wanted to be sure--not about the panties but the Cinnabar--so I sort of grilled him, and he went straight as a rod, then he got all bent out of shape. He was pretty indignant.

'Don't you trust me?' he wanted to know.

Of course, I said. Of course. I just want to be sure. I want to be sure that's the one she wears. You're sure it's called Cinnabar?

'What do you want with her perfume,' he said, a little suspicious. 'Don't you think that's...I don't know...kind of...creepy?'

This from the guy who stole her underwear. Spoken like a true panty fiend, I said.

Later, I went to the mall to smell it, the Cinnabar, and I'm pretty sure he's right. I can't tell you what it does to me. She comes up to me in the hall and I freeze; I go numb. Samantha. It's the most amazing thing ever. It's so serious. It's so heavy. It's some seriously heavy stuff, that Cinnabar. It smells like experience--not, like, slutty experience--I don't mean like that. But maturity. Like she's all grown up. The rest of them are children.

When I asked the lady at the counter to let me smell it, she asked me how long my mother's been wearing the stuff. I told her it isn't my mother, it's my girlfriend, and she got a very confused look on her face.

'How OLD are you?' she said. She had her glasses perched on her head and raised her eyebrows so high she nearly knocked them off.

My girlfriend is a freshman in high school, I said. She's almost sixteen years old.

Her glasses really did fall then, and she said she'd never heard of a girl wearing anything as...sophisticated as Cinnabar. She said sophisticated like somebody'd used her counter for a bathroom.

My girlfriend isn't like any other girl, I said.

Which isn't exactly true, given that my girlfriend is actually Caroline, not Samantha.

Caroline isn't like most girls either. The problem is, she's exactly like all her friends. They dress alike and talk alike and feather their hair all alike, and I think if I heard them coming up from behind I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Caroline wears that perfume with the swan on it. It's got that weird looking lady in the commercials, the jeans lady. She looks like your mom trying to act like your sister, which totally creeps me out. She's got a smile like the joker from Batman. A white face and a big smile that splits her face in half, and she sells those jeans like if everybody doesn't have at least three pairs in two years she'll jump out the window with a lit piece of dynamite clenched between her teeth.


The stuff smells okay but it's everywhere. Vanderbilt! That's what it's called. It's the perfect name for a rich girl's perfume, the kind of girl whose daddy wears Rockefeller after shave. Caroline's friends spray it in their books, their bags, their hair. She gets in the car when we go on a date and it's unbelievable how much she puts on. If I want to kiss her I feel like I have to break through a wall of stink. Not that I want to kiss her much anymore. She mostly WANTS me to kiss her, and of course she expects me to make the first move. She sits over there in the passenger seat winking at me and I try to figure out if I can drive without passing out at the wheel. Vanderbilt. It smells like flowers in the shape of a big mallet. The big mallet is whacking you over the head.

Samantha isn't like that at all. You have to get right up close to her. You smell the Cinnabar where you'd want to kiss her. It smells of cinnamon--like the name. So soft. It's like a blanket. Spices. Deep and dark and rust colored, just like the cap. Just like her hair. It's weird, because Cinnabar is technically so much stronger than the swan stuff, but she knows just where to put it and just how much to put. It should be a shout, but it's a whisper. It's something whispering in your ear.


I think Caroline knows something. And I feel bad. Maybe she sees me watching Samantha. I try to be careful. I can't help myself. Samantha draws me in.

My dad tells me we're incredibly lucky, for Shermer, for Illinois, for America, for anywhere, we're lucky. I'm lucky to have such a pretty girlfriend. I'm lucky to be popular. I'm lucky I have both of my legs and wasn't born disadvantaged. I feel guilty a lot of the time, because I am thankful, but I'm also miserable. We were riding in the Rolls and we passed somebody in a pinto, and he turns to me, my dad, and he says, "always remember how lucky you are." He says stuff like that like he feels bad for what we have that other people don't have, but if he knew I was watching Samantha all the time he would tell me to remember where I come from and where she comes from and how sometimes people aren't meant to get too close. In other words, I'm lucky, but don't press my luck.

I figure he wouldn't know his head from his ass, so what can he tell me about keeping the proper distance?

I don't like who I am. I don't mean I don't like myself, exactly. I mean that if my life is driving around in my dad's Rolls talking about people from at least several yards away, if that's where I'm going, I'm going to be seriously unhappy. I can feel the weight of that forcing me down. So I'm lucky, but the luck is so heavy it's crushing me. I'm not that person, the guy my dad wants me to become. I'm not sure who I am, yet, but I can tell, looking at Samantha, being with her, that the decision is mine. I can be happy and close or I can keep my distance and be lucky for the rest of my life.

I went over to the cologne section while I was at the mall. I smelled everything they had. I don't know how close I can keep getting to Samantha without people raising their eyebrows so high their glasses fall off their heads, but maybe our smells can reach out to each other. I wanted to pick out something that seemed like the best possible answer to the question Cinnabar is asking. I wanted something Samantha could smell and use to read my mind. Something she could smell and use to see that guy I want to be.

Here's what I picture, with this perfect cologne. I'll spray it where I want to be kissed. I'll stand at my locker, across the hall from Samantha's locker. I'll stand there with the cologne on, waiting. I'll stand there until she smells it. I found the perfect thing. It's called JHL. It smells like we were kissing, me and Cinnabar, and Cinnabar rubbed off on my stubble. JHL is saying something about cinnamon, too. It's saying something like, 'Please get closer.' It's a code. Cinnabar needs JHL and JHL needs Cinnabar; they need each other, to figure the code out. Once they get closer, they'll put it all together.

The geek said I wasted my money. He rolled his eyes and huffed and puffed and postured and clicked his tongue like he was disappointed in me. He said I didn't need to spend half that much. What was I thinking!? I said it was money well spent. I said I would have paid more, much more, if that's what it took. I would have traded in my dad's Rolls, that worthless heap. What else is it good for but keeping a distance? The geek rolled his eyes some more, halfway off his face, and called me a sap. He said I still have a long way to go. Such a long, long way to go. Stick close, he said: look and learn. Lesson number one: he showed me HIS cologne. He got it from his father. Jovan makes the stuff. It's called Sex Appeal for Men and it smells like arm pit.

No wonder he has to lie about girl's panties."


Sunday, December 12, 2010

John Hughes Smells the Eighties


Say the name John Hughes to many people of my generation, and you see instantly how deeply the man and his movies permeated our young adult lives. I saw Sixteen Candles my first year of high school, right around the time it hit the mall. I remember thinking, before I went into the theater, that I would hate it, that I would have to. The ads made it sound like a typical teen exploitation flick, a la Porky's. The movie hadn't gotten too much buzz by then and I didn't know a lot about it. I was embarrassed to be seen at it and hoped none of my classmates would be in the audience. I was still busy convincing them I was cool enough to be their friend. In my mind, I was much too grown up for such a film.

Very few movies have affected me the way Sixteen Candles did. There's something so naive in it. There's a real emotional alchemy there, perfectly sent up with humor, some of it slapstick, most of it painfully adroit about the angst involved in being that age. In my now woefully long movie-going experience, only a small handful of films generated this kind of exhilaration in me, that feeling, when you leave the theater, of having seen something truly great, maybe even profoundly good. I wasn't embarrassed to say it after seeing Sixteen Candles because of course the movie, though officially about teens, isn't the slightest bit juvenile. It wasn't just that John Hughes understood what it was like to be in high school. He seemed to understand something essential about being human.

There is a lot more diversity in the Hughes films than people give them credit for, though it's true the films got darker and a little more distilled after Sixteen Candles. Sixteen was full of the sight gags and an irreverent bawdiness typical of National Lampoon Magazine, where Hughes had worked for some time. It still had the residue of the Chevy Chase vehicle, Vacation, one of the first films Hughes had written. Vacation had just come out the year before--and was a huge success. Hughes revisited that particular sensibility, that outright zaniness, in his teen films only once, with Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where Matthew Broderick speaks to the camera and channels in and out of musical interjections with an almost aggressive, jacked up perversity. Otherwise, things got much more serious, like a kid who loses the last of the baby fat and is suddenly, as if overnight, "all grown up".

Breakfast Club recombined and refined the elements of Sixteen Candles, stripping them down to their basic attributes. It locked the quintessential types of the high school experience into a room together, playing them off each other, with less laughs and more tears. Bueller, like Sixteen Candles, was high school as a Marx Brothers film. Breakfast Club was high school as high melodrama. It's the melodramas most of us remember, because in some way they came closest to the tortured core of adolescence. Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful, more melodramatic still, were written and produced by Hughes but directed by someone else. Yet all the elements of that imaginative kingdom are there: the popular kid you can't have, the disregarded geek who turns out to be the most interesting person on the planet called High School, the heart to heart talks with dad on the couch, the annoying kid sibling who ultimately becomes the protagonist's fiercest defender, the missing or abandoning parent, the wrong and right sides of the tracks.

Watching these movies today, I cycle through the weirdest feelings and memories. Movies are a lot like perfumes in several ways. They rush things back at you. Certain recollections, mostly ephemeral (the smell of your classmate's hair, the feel of the plastic seat in Algebra), have been inert, you realize while watching these films. The movies reactivate those memories with an almost painful intensity. And on those little details many deeper, forgotten scenes piggy-back, stampeding back into your adult consciousness. I hadn't seen these films for several years. Some I hadn't seen for at least a decade. It isn't just that, watching them, I remember what it was to be young. It's also the fact that I'm remembering from a vantage point I couldn't have imagined back then. Back then, youth felt like a trap. Now I couldn't get back there with all the money in the world. I wanted out like you wouldn't believe. Now I'm out, and for good. Like smelling a perfume my grandmother wore, the Hughes movies transport me back to a time which is totally lost to me, and I go back with the regret and bittersweetness of adult experience, a special kind of understanding I wish I could share with my younger self, and a stodgy stupidity I know my younger self would have laughed out of the room.

Over the course of the week, Abigail and I and several other bloggers will be stepping into the shoes of some of our favorite John Hughes characters, figuring out what they meant to us. Stodgy stupidity be damned. People remember Molly Ringwald, who became the poster child for the era, but there were so many memorable characters, big and small, in the Hughes cosmos: Duckie, Amanda Jones, Jake Ryan, Blane, Iona, Cameron, Jeanie Bueller. The films and their characters are time capsules of the eighties, and we're using them as a kind of time machine. From inside that perspective, we'll look not just at those films and their depiction of the high school experience but our own experiences, too, in all their screwed-up, heightened, angst-saturated detail. Starting tomorrow, we'll be raiding the perfume counters of the period, spraying up the high school hallways and libraries with the memorable, big shouldered scents of that decade. Look for us in the hallways, the library, and the gym, surrounded by the potent, armored mist of tuberose.

While you're at it, check out the fantastic series on eighties fragrances over at One Thousand Scents. I've been enjoying these reminiscences immensely, and I'd be lying if I told you they didn't have something to do with our own. Another inspiration, if you're at all interested, is this book on Hughes and those films I've been reading, which is wonderfully chatty and informative.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Contenders: starting a list and looking for suggestions

This is the first year I’ve been wondering, well in advance, what I’ll wear during Christmas. Normally, I just wear whatever I want, depending on what I’m doing that day, or thinking about who I’ll be around. This year, I’m traveling to North Carolina to visit family so I’m planning in advance what I’ll wear and bring a few decants with me. I’ll be around my Mother, who pretty much hates perfume, or anything strong or what she calls “chemically perfume-y.” Yeah, I know, this means I can’t even consider bringing about 75% of my collection to NC (not that I’d bring the whole collection, I just mean this greatly reduces my choices to begin with).

So, I’m thinking about ‘comfort fragrances’ similar to comfort food. I’m thinking of scents that actually smell like Christmas to me (although I can’t bring Angel because Mom would suffocate, unless of course a few drops of Angel in pure parfum wouldn't shock her, since the parfum has much less sillage...hmmmm...or maybe the Liqueur version or Angel Violet). I’m aiming to bring 3-4 decants, I’ll be in NC for 7 days, and 3-4 should hold me.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir: This is a lovely scent, utterly unisex, and it smells like Christmas. It’s somewhat soft and sheer yet I can smell it on myself all day. For a Jo Malone, the longevity is pretty darn good. It’s spicy and non-foodie yet it simply smells like Christmas. The Jo Malone websites lists the notes as: sweet fruity notes of raspberry, plum, pink pepper and pomegranate with patchouli, frankincense and spicy woods. You know, I don’t think this smells fruity at all. What I smell is the frankincense and spicy woods, and maybe a tart fruit, like what I imagine pomegranate to smell like, but it isn’t sweet and I don’t even get patchouli from this. I swear I smell balsam fir trees, a crackling fire, some nutmeg and maybe even a smidgen of snow and sparkling candle light.

DSH Mahjoun: Serge Lutens might think he holds court over the “loukhoum” type fragrances but my favorite is Keiko Mecheri Loukhoum. By a mile. DSH Mahjoun is another oriental which is said to focus on this Moroccan dessert but it’s nowhere near as sweet as the SL or the KM and, in truth, it’s much nuttier and more oriental than both. Let's just say there's no almond or cherry in sight. Mahjoun is a nutty, woody, slightly sweet oriental gourmand with dashes of cinnamon, nutmeg and what I can’t describe other than date-nut bread. Mahjoun is a crowd pleaser (thinking of Mom) but it also pleases me.

Ava Luxe Madeline: This is new, just arriving a couple days ago. Madeline is, I believe, Ava Luxe’s Christmas scent for 2010. Madeline is also similar to DSH Mahjoun in that it’s a gourmand but it isn’t as sweet as most. It is sweeter than Mahjoun, however, as it smells like spicy, creamy eggnog. The gourmand quality doesn’t go over the top because it has a blast of nutmeg keeping the sweetness in check. It’s delectable.

The Different Company Oriental Lounge: An essentially basic oriental, with both gourmand leanings and entirely non gourmand leanings (curry leaf). TDC Oriental Lounge has been a favorite of mine since I purchased it last year. It sometimes seems so basic in structure yet I find myself smelling it over and over again all day enjoying the off-beat twists that daughter-Ellena chose to include. TDC Oriental Lounge is again, a crowd pleaser (couldn’t possibly be called “perfumey”) yet it also pleases me.

Do you have any suggestions I might not have thought of? Of course, I can bring more than 4…(hee hee you know how it is!).

Oh, and PS: I'll have Teo Cabanel Alahine with me, because she's my closest friend, sort of like Oprah and Gail King; Alahine is always with me.

Photo is of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. I think we're attending a Christmas Eve event there.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Whole World is Mothers and Daughters: Estee Lauder Private Collection (Review and Bottle Giveaway)


Private Collection is one of my favorite fragrances, yet I've resisted reviewing it until now. Like Estee, I guess I've wanted to keep it a secret. I'm not sure why I've been hesitant to talk about it, unless I just want it to stay in some magical, imaginative domain, some fantasy realm where only I know about it, as if it were made expressly for me. It's as if Private Collection and I are dating: I'm the geek, and Private Collection is very popular, and if I bring our relationship out in the open, no one will believe me, and it will be clear that it was all in my head: Private Collection belongs not to silly insignificant me but to much more important people in the world.

High school analogies are inevitable when it comes to this one, because I have such strong memories of my teenage sister wearing it. Remarkably, I've maintained a pretty fierce devotion to many if not all the fragrances she wore when we were growing up. I remember Coco, Bill Blass, Lauren, Albert Nipon, Anais Anais. As far as I can recall, my sister wore one at a time. We didn't have a lot of money--we were quintessentially lower middle income, Middle America--and when I look back I can't picture more than one bottle out on her dresser. She didn't have a collection. She emptied each bottle before moving on to the next, which probably went a long way toward building my own attachment to them.

For months she would smell exclusively, and strongly, of a single charismatic fragrance. Like a song you hear over and over, each fragrance became a sort of soundtrack to our childhood. I smell them now and, while I can't construct a chronological time line, I move directly back into the heightened emotional landscape of that period. Impressions flood back in. I remember the way the light came through my sister's bedroom curtains. I remember the feeling I got from that. I remember the painted treatment of her dresser; the way her room looked behind me as I viewed myself in her mirror, wondering what it was like to be her, or, at the very least, not to be me. I remember the feel of the textured green carpet in the hall outside our rooms, the way it rubbed on my feet. It was comforting, like being in your pajamas.

My sister wore a lot of Estee Lauder, so the soundtrack is pretty heavy on that specific, instantly recognizable instrumentation. Estee Lauder connected mother to daughter. It reinforced a cohesion in the home. Recently, an almost satirically snotty commenter referred to me as being "geographically marginalized," because, I suppose, as a blogger, when I want to contact a perfumer, whether to interview him or befriend him or, say, sleep with him, I must negotiate it all online, as if, by not living in France, I am out of some essential loop. It's a joke, of course, because at this point, no one is geographically marginalized. Ask Facebook. There's probably a perfumer or two waiting in your suggested friends box. There is no center. The world is full of centers. There is no "there" there anymore, as another saying goes.

Back when I was a kid, to be American was truly to be stuck in your own skin, in your own pocket of experience. A term like "geographically marginalized" would have meant something then. Corporations understand this as well. Estee Lauder achieved something back then that very few companies can any more. She was ubiquitous. It was a name and a brand that signified very specific things. Very American things. America was a conglomerate of remote, far flung outposts. You were alone in your experience and the world was way, way out there, somewhere past the shag carpeting of your suburban hallway--but others, way, way out there, were using Estee Lauder too. The name was everywhere. It was on TV, at the store, in magazines, on your mother's lips. Estee Lauder was a kind of American mother figure herself, and her brand reinforced an idea that all these geographically marginalized satellite points were connected, even if you couldn't prove it yourself or see exactly how. You trusted her on that.

You saw the Lauder name in your mother's medicine cabinet. In the family bathroom. In the make-up bags your sisters and mothers used. It was a reassurance of some kind. I wasn't attracted to women sexually but I was fascinated by them. They seemed connected in ways guys weren't. They seemed to understand those distances separating everyone and every thing. There was a combustible bond there between women which I thought must be unique to the gender. Estee Lauder seemed in on this conspiracy of connection. It was a secret code, a part of that language. You'd go to the mall and women were clustered around the Lauder counter. It was always the hub. It was hard to believe they were just talking about foundation and lipstick. The way they were huddled, their excited speech, indicated some sort of strategizing must be taking place, as if, across the country, they were all plotting their escape. I wanted them to take me with them.

My mother tells a story about me which makes a lot of sense when I consider it in this context. Apparently, I roamed away from her at the mall once. I couldn't have been older than five. She looked all over for me. She had security searching too. Finally, the sound of female giggling and chatter. As it turns out, I'd crawled into a glass-fronted display counter. They found me because a crowd of women had gathered around to watch. I was wearing a bra as a hat. I was putting on some kind of show. Maybe I wanted to be at the counter because that's where they all seemed to want to be. Obviously, I wanted to be part of that conversation. Now that I'm older, I understand that what they were talking about was less important than the basic fact that they were talking, which is kind of why I talk too, probably.

My mother or grandmothers wore Youth Dew and Estee. My sister went through Beautiful, White Linen, Cinnabar, Knowing, Tuscany, and, most memorably, Private Collection. I don't remember picking up most of her bottles. But I can say that, picking up my own bottle of Private Collection several years ago, I had an amazing sense of deja vu when I felt the thing in my hand. The glass has a specific feel to it. Your fingers make a unique sound whistling along the glass, a hushed but emphatic kind of thing. Of all the perfumes my sister wore, Private Collection had the most gravitas. It was formal in an outdoorsy way. It felt a little like Christmas, with its evergreen aroma and the kind of emotional intensity one finds centered a lot around the holidays.

My sister was popular but intense. I still don't know what was going through her head during those years. I still wonder. She was very pretty, gorgeous really. She was feminine, but like many of the women in my family she was also very headstrong in a way which indicated deeper reserves of masculinity. Private Collection shares a certain feeling of athleticism with another favorite my sister wore, Clinique Wrappings. It's that flushed sensation of someone coming in after a brisk run in the cold. There are florals in the mix (specifically, orange blossom, linden, jasmine, chrysanthemum, rose) but I never really notice them until I force myself to. Private Collection feels like a cold air fragrance to me. It feels like the outdoors brought indoors, like frost on the windowpanes. There's a brilliance to it, a sun on snow kind of quality. Its slightly powdery feel only adds to the wintry impression.

I don't know when it was created. It was released in 1973. Company legend has it that Mama Estee reserved it for her own use, before being convinced to pass it onto her daughters out in the world. I think another reason I've resisted sharing Private Collection publicly is the fact that so many react in visceral contempt for the brand and its fragrances, almost the way we grumble at the suggestion we've grown up to resemble our own mothers. We want to enforce a sense of separation there, maybe. How many times have you seen a mother protest when her daughter doesn't apply lipstick before a photograph? How many times does the daughter rebel? Maybe it's something like that. Estee is mom and mom tells you what to do. To love her is to mind her, and maybe it's impossible to appreciate our mothers objectively. Whatever the reason, I've chosen to avoid soliciting unfavorable scrutiny about Private Collection particularly. I want to protect it from that rejection, I guess.

I have a bottle to give away--but I should be clear: this is Eau de Private Collection. I'm not sure what the difference is. It's lighter, to be sure. It lacks some of the powder. And I believe it lacks oakmoss and some of the heavier players which make the base of Private Collection proper so durable and persuasive. However, it's very similar; i.e. wonderful. The bottle is 1.7 ounces. To be eligible, you must have commented on this site before. Drawing will be conducted Monday. Conducting these giveaways, I realize, is a way for me to get back into the glass fronted counter. See you there.