I've known Nancy for about twenty years, I suppose. We lived in New York at the same time. We lived in the same apartment for a while, as well. She's very tight with another friend, D, which is how I met her in the first place.
It's only in the last year or two I discovered Nancy likes fragrance as much as I do. Nancy is a fantastic artist. She has a unique sense of style and a strongly individual way of looking out at things. I remember her entrances, because she typically brought a new energy into the room. Her arrival always introduced an element of the unexpected. She never says what you would expect her to. She's not coming at the thing from that angle. It's not an affectation with her. It's not as if she's trying to be "interesting". She's simply looking for what's interesting in any given thing, and so she lifts it and scrutinizes it where no one else is scrutinizing.
Nancy is what I think of as a Great Beauty. Not all attractive women or even very attractive women fall into that category. For me, a Great Beauty implies style, usually unusual, meaning the person in question is not just stylish but somewhat stylized. Someone who puts thought into presentation. Self, image, as an art. Capucine was a Great Beauty. Greta Garbo. Alida Vali (remember her?) Marlene Dietrich was a Great Beauty. Grace Kelly was not. Nor is, to use a more contemporary example, Nicole Kidman. There's something otherworldly about ladies like this. They're like no one else, so they seem to come from another period.
For a Great Beauty, perfume is part of the picture. It advances the style. The clothes, the manner, the "look": these all express and coalesce the style as well, but they don't manifest it in the air the way fragrance alone can. Very few people talk about perfume as style, but when I think of Nancy and her use of perfume I imagine it as something like a fantastically dressed--inimitably dressed--woman. I've been curious to chat with her about perfume, just to see what she's wearing lately and what she thinks when she scrutinizes the stuff.
BRIAN: I heard you like Rochas Poupee...
NANCY: Love Poupee. The name is memorable.
BRIAN: What do you like about it? Is it tuberose?
NANCY: It's sort of a strange floral. Harder to find. I think I smelled it in one place and couldn't find it anywhere except one tiny store in Milan. I'm sure it's online though. I'm sure there isn't gardenia in it but it's like that fragrance of gardenia to me.
BRIAN: I've seen it online. Are you out of it?
NANCY: I love the color, too--just a little blush and the soft red fuzzy top. It's all very light and delicate. I have maybe half a bottle left now. Do you own it?
BRIAN: I've never smelled it. I just looked it up: tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, rose. Good nose.
NANCY: It does have gardenia in it then. Okay. It's almost slightly bitter with a floral thing. A little sweet.
BRIAN: Where did you find out about it?
NANCY: I smelled it when I was traveling, maybe Paris, and I was drawn to the bottle, it stayed with me for a day or two and I decided I had to have it. Found it again in Milan. It's not one I've seen anywhere else. I didn't realize poupee meant doll for a while. I was drawn to the sounded out name of it. Poopee.
BRIAN: It's delightfully perverse, the sound of that name. What do you think makes you connect with a perfume?
NANCY: Amber and bergamot are often in fragrances I like... I love most of the Tauer fragrances. L'Air du Desert Marocain is good always--especially in the summer. The incense fragrances are exciting--almost effervescent--carbonated and fizzy. Love love love the Orange Star. His fragrances are like a drug for me.
BRIAN: I love all the latest ones. Have you smelled Carrillon Pour un Ange?
NANCY: Yes. It makes me think of a strong, saturated hue of red. L'Air Du Desert Morocain is more of a bronze brown natural color to me. Did you win an advent calendar sample? I tried every day.
BRIAN: No. Alas. What others do you wear, aside from Tauer?
NANCY: Amouage. Chanel No.19. Amouage is gorgeous. I dont have any of those yet. Pricey...
BRIAN: Which Amouage?
NANCY: Dia, Gold Women. I have samples but they go in a flash. They're extended binges.
BRIAN: Pricey indeed. Gold for men is one of the few masculines I prefer over the feminine counterpart. It's very much like Gold Woman but I think it's stronger, projects more, and lasts better, though I'm sure I'll be laughed at for criticizing Gold Women on the issue of longevity. When do you tend to apply? Morning? Afternoon? All day and night?
NANCY: Mostly afternoon. You know, I remember asking you what you thought about how much is too much. You said it's never too much. I've gone with that recently. I put a lot on. It'll stay into the evening and the next day.
BRIAN: What made you ask me the question at the time?
NANCY: I honestly couldn't stop applying, and I couldn't tell if it was offensive or as exciting for everyone else as for me. I do remember a few years ago right before going out with friends; I put on a ton of amber based perfume and one or two of them coughed.
BRIAN: Oh, the coughing. Yes.
NANCY: Maybe it was just a form of communication--not bad, not good. Hard to tell. These friends have such good taste that I can't help but pay attention.
BRIAN: It can make you paranoid. The coughing.
NANCY: But, you know, then again, when I wear my favorites to the swimming pool during the summer people migrate to me. It's like they don't even know what they're doing. They're drawn like flies.
BRIAN: There's a woman at work who never fails to cough, anytime I apply even the tiniest amount. I mean, just a dab, and she's apoplectic. Just a dab, and she goes into coughing fits.
NANCY: Ha! It's just an affirmation.
BRIAN: Maybe I imagine the coughs and my application are related.
NANCY: She loves it.
BRIAN: Oh she just coughs and coughs. Every once in a while she'll tell me I smell good, but very infrequently, and she coughs so reliably that I'm trained to be traumatized. In the morning, when I spray on something at home, I feel she might be over my shoulder. I expect to hear a cough in the other room. Her nose is so sensitive that I'm convinced she can smell me all the way from her house, and if my hearing were as good as her smelling I would hear it.
NANCY: She's intoxicated with excitement over it. How much do you put on?
BRIAN: I don't usually put a lot on. Of any one thing. I keep adding.
NANCY: You put several on at a time?
NANCY: Throughout the day? So you end up with your own creation?
BRIAN: At the end of the day I'm wearing at least two and as many as five. Sometimes more. It's a commitment problem.
NANCY: I do mix but I like just one too.
BRIAN: It's like being worried that if you go out without underwear you might die, maybe get hit by a bus, and they'll find you and you won't have any underwear on. I guess in the back reaches of my mind I'm thinking, what if I go out in this perfume, say Obsession, and something happens and someone says, well, so we know he liked Obsession. And from the after life I would be saying, No, no, I like many, many different ones, I haven't made the final decision yet!