Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Last 5 In-Person, Real Time Perfume Interactions

You might think that people comment on my perfume all the time.  Alas, they don't.  It's exceedingly rare that anyone says anything about it, and I wear, I imagine, quite a lot.  The last week or so has been a bonanza of interaction.  People at the store.  People at the dinner table.  On a park bench.  Passing on the street.

Here's something else:  I rarely smell perfume on other people.  It's a sad fact of life I try hard to accept.  My friend Jack and I talked recently about how much perfume we give away and how infrequently we smell any of it on its recipients.  I don't know why but lately that changed, too--if only just a little.  Here are the top 5 most recent encounters.

1. Standing in the perfume section of TJ Maxx.

Which is a pretty desperate state of affairs lately, by the way, unless you are so in love with Hugo Boss that you can never have enough of it.  I'm standing there, trying to be excited about the one vaguely interesting thing I managed to find, Si Lolita (I did not end up buying it but holding onto it for a time made me feel a little less despondent), and a woman asks me about it, wondering if I've smelled it and if it's any good (I have and it's okay, if your only other option is Hugo Boss), and I pretended to be buying it for a "girlfriend" because this always makes things easier, and suddenly the woman says, "What's that YOU'RE wearing?  That smells GOOOOOD."  I was wearing an oil I'd made.

2. Sitting down to Easter dinner in a double wide.

My friend's family invited me over to celebrate the holiday.  There were two rather large holes punched in the wall and I tried not to focus on how they might have gotten there, and so close together, as if someone lost his temper a lot but was able to really focus it in one little area quite adeptly.  The guy at the end of the table had a mullet.  The oldest son wants to be a cheerleader, and I think not the male kind.  The younger twins seem embarrassed by this.  The guy with the mullet was probably in his seventies and belched loudly and prodigiously.  There was something mocking about his mullet.  It dared you not to be offended in some way by it.  We were in a military town, and before the meal we'd been to the commissary, where I'd put on a little Youth Dew bath oil.  A little spot of relief on my wrist.  The woman across from me at the table--married, better or worse, to mullet-- suddenly perked up and said, "who smells so good?"

I felt my face turning red but figured oh to hell with it.  Me, I said.

That must be Obsession, she said.  I really like Obsession.

3. Sitting on a park bench next to an Indian burial mound.

I was talking to a friend.  A very attractive, newly acquired friend.  Very stylish.  Very well put together.  One of those guys who seems to have stepped out of another time--slightly vintage looking.  They don't make faces like his much.  You see them in old tintypes. He had on a boat neck striped shirt.  Thick blonde-ish brown hair.  There was a little breeze in the air, and I could smell his day on him, and underneath that, just faintly, the gorgeous, silky smell of Chanel Egoiste, totally personalized by a full 24 hours of wear.  He'd put it on that morning, he said.  It mingled with his cigarette smoke.  I had a little trouble focusing on what he was saying.  This is what perfume ads try to capture, I thought.

4. Warehouse office downtown.

A girl I know who has received much perfume from me, and never seems to be wearing it, smelled wonderful one day.  As we talked the smell came in and out, yanking me into different moods and thought patterns.  She told me she'd layered Jo Malone Grapefruit Cologne with Bond No.9's Scent of Peace.  The Malone she doesn't tend to think much of by itself, and frankly Scent of Peace is war on my nerves on its own, but the combination was just enough of a curve ball to call a truce, and super lovely.

5. Standing at the oil counter mixing something.

A guy came in looking for something for erectile issues.  I didn't know the store carried such a thing.  They went right to it.  He was looking at jewelry, too.  I thought, oh, some lady is really in for no end of trouble, and all she gets for the incessant "attentions" will be a little pair of silver earrings she's probably instantly plotting to return.

Another guy came in.  Some kind of itching disorder.  His wife believes things are coming out of her pores.  The ladies at the counter went right to the herbs again.  If you think the fragrance counter is full of intrigue you should step up to the oil section of your local hippie apothecary.

I was very fascinated by all this but kept focused on my oils, until some other guy came in looking for who knows what, and started sniffing the air.  What's that smell? he asked, obsessed.  It made me so happy.  I had all my little bottles open on the counter next to him: rose, patchouli, clove, cinnamon, ylang, Nag Champa, Jasmine, sandalwood.  Turns out he was smelling the rose geranium, which I'm pretty fond of, too.


Elisa said...

The Egoiste guy sounds amazing! Wish you'd taken a picture.

I've had a couple smell encounters lately too. A couple weeks back a girl in the elevator asked me, "Are you wearing perfume?" I said yes, and she asked me what it was. It was DSH Tubereuse. She said, "It smells really nice" in a genuinely surprised tone, like she hadn't smelled perfume that actually smelled good in years. I told her to Google DSH, and would have written it down for her but we were at my floor. I hope she found it.

Nina Zolotow said...

Okay, this one is a short story (or maybe just a fabulous piece of what they call "creative non-fiction" these days). It's the kind of thing I like to do myself, create a story out of some kind of list or random series of encounters. Love it!

(I do get a lot of compliments on my perfume--mostly when I'm wearing Ormonde Jayne Woman, Tolu, Champaca, or Orris Noir--I think her fragrances just blend well with my natural scent or something--but I live in a place where hugging is the normal form of greeting.)

queen_cupcake said...

Oh, it gives one hope that people could notice and even appreciate beautiful and interesting scents! I wear fragrance of some sort every day but no one says anything. How can an entire human sense be so demeaned? Our eyes are overwhelmed with images at every turn and our ears are overstimulated with soundtracks for shopping. We are bombarded by advertisements for such things as electric deodorizers--ridiculous! Anyway, congrats on being noticed in this way, hilariously so in the case of Chez Mullet. Your friend sounds delicious. And I am curious about the oil you've mixed...

Brian said...

What oil have I NOT mixed, Cupcake? It's become a problem. Olfacta mentioned that she was going through such a phase too. I've mixed, in the last month, about 12 oils. They have one ounce roll on bottles, which provide plenty of room for experimentation, and they let me come behind the counter at this point and mix myself. The best I did were the following "formulas":

a particularly earthy patchouli, cinnamon, clove, and a bit of rose. (I also tried this with amber instead of patchouli and it was quite nice but very different)...

Geranium, rose, violet, patch, "tibetan musk" (one of the less synthetic smelling musks I've found), jasmine, clove, clary sage (divine stuff), and a touch of eucalyptus (which, like rosemary, provides the illusion of skank if just a drop or two is used,I learned).

Rose, patch, fig. This simple combination is amazing. Who knew?

Cymbaline said...

I'm sitting here on the couch between my SO and his friend who are discussing 1968 music, reading your blog and just dying to butt-in and read it to them! Each vignette is so great : )

Puredistance 1 always gets me a compliment-love that perfume! And yes, standing around sniffing and eavesdropping is one of my favorite pastimes too.

Olfacta said...

Oooh, I can't wait to see that store.

You're so right about perfume advertising. Compared to the encounter you describe, erotic, not forced, not crass, fleeting, one of the delights of being alive. Cut to, well, almost any perfume ad, print or broadcast; ick. The old hand-drawn Dior ads, featuring just one person obviously delighted with herself and her day -- a much better approach, imho.

When I lived in California, everybody hugged. You hugged your friends hello and goodbye. Here, that's Just Not Done, so you don't smell perfume unless it's a sillage monster, usually. But I have noticed that people stand a little closer when I'm wearing something good.

Glad you made it through the storms ok!

Elisa said...

I always hug all my friends hello/goodbye. That's when you get the most compliments!

Brian said...

It's so true though. I never really thought about it until Olfacta just said it. People don't really hug here. And if they do they pretend not to smell you. It's often, when you do hug someone, really awkward. You reach out and in reaching out realize, oh hell, I'm inflicting a hug on them.

Brian said...

Cymbaline, I'm in love with your profile pic and have animated your anecdote with Groucho glasses. I picture you sitting between two people in those specs and bushy staches, reading from your laptop.

FruitDiet said...

You didn't mention the integral part of the Egoiste guy: his body odor! Well I guess you did in the sultry euphemism, "I could smell his day on him." Reading about this whole encounter just makes me so horny.

People rarely comment on my perfume either, and I'm always wearing enough of it so they can smell it, and it's always hot in Texas. The last several comments I can remember:

Vintage Shocking: These two women trailed behind me and I heard them say, "Oh he smells so good. Like incense!" and I told them what it was and one of them said, "You smell like my grandfather." I think initially she said grandmother but changed it to grandfather out of politeness.

Sunflowers: I kept getting compliments on this ALL DAY. I think my coworkers were relieved that I was wearing something that smelled clean for a change.

L'Air de Rien: Another strange crowd-pleaser, I get compliments whenever I wear it. Don't know why it has a reputation for smelling dirty.

Britney Spears Curious: Coworker said, "Oh you smell so good. It's really MUSKY!"

Kingdom: A guy said, "Your smell!" and nothing more. A girl who had previously complimented me on Cuir de Russie said "It smells SO GOOD in here!"

Obsession: Professor ten feet away said, "It smells like incense!"

Elisa said...

Musky! I have a theory that regular people have no idea what musk smells like, so when they don't know how to describe a perfume, they assume it must be musky.

FruitDiet said...

Oh wait actually it was Believe, not Curious. Curious smells like hair spray. I guess the patchouli in Believe translated as "musky".

You're right Elisa, "Musky" is the word people use whenever there is anything remotely dirty about the perfume in question but it isn't baroque enough to be called "old lady". Last time I wore YSL Nu I got told it was "musky".

Anonymous said...

I love this, especially two and three. Thanks for the laugh and the sweet image (respectively)!

Peter said...

Great writing as always, Brian!

Where is that wonderful counter image from? (Did I miss a photo caption somewhere?)


Brian said...

Hi Laura. Thanks! I don't know where the photo is from, actually. Not exactly. All I know is that it depicts an "early 20s apothecary". That's according to a site called Under "apothecary" on google images there are some wonderful old images. I wanted to use the photo I took while sitting across from my friend on the park bench but he cried mercy.

Tania said...

Hmmm, I think I'm a little in love with your bench companion, too.... ;-)

I don't get many comments either, unless I'm with perfumista friends. Maybe it's British politeness - you just don't say anything about how a person smells, good or bad. I wear perfume to the office, it's not a large room, and I don't hold back, but not one person has apparently noticed....

Anonymous said...

Hey, that neat photograph in this post: where is it? It looks so french. lisa