Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Ultimate Film Prop: The Perfume Factice
Lately I've been on a crazed hunt for an old perfume factice. You've probably seen these larger versions of well known perfumes in stores or online. Fragrance manufacturers use them to promote their lines - less so, maybe now, than at one time. Dummies don't seem to be displayed as often as they once were, and the older ones don't stay around for long, as the turnover is so high at the perfume counter, the shelf space there at such a premium.
The inspiration for a film I'm shooting this Sunday was a gorgeous Shalimar dummy I saw at a local department store here. Over a foot tall, it looks like something out of a dream. It has a little blue tassel, that instantly recognizable scalloped blue stopper, the fanned bottle sitting atop a fluted pedestal. The Guerlain counter at this store has about three such dummies. In addition to the Shalimar, there are Samsara and Jardins de Bagatelle bottles, both equally large. Hands down, Shalimar is the stand out. Online, these go for upwards of a thousand dollars. The one at the Guerlain counter in question is covered in dust. I've seen it there for several years now, sitting back behind the display case on a low, neglected shelf, and I've been lusting after it, thinking "if only..."
That Shalimar bottle was the inspiration behind the story I'm filming, which involves a perfume lover who discovers a large factice in a colorful, slightly ragged vintage clothing store. He tries to convince the proprietress of the store to sell it to him, but of course she knows what she has on her hands, and wants more than he can afford. Stupidly, I got it in my head that the folks over at the Guerlain counter would happily let me borrow the Shalimar, or even rent it - just for the shoot. Last week, when I finally built up the nerve to inquire, I was embarrassed by the response - a definitive no - realizing what an idiot I'd been to imagine a fortuitous outcome.
So I went on a wild goose chase. While there are plenty of display dummies online, none are as fantastic as the Shalimar, except maybe Chanel No.5 and Mitsouko, both of which I would also possibly embarrass myself amply for. The Chanel goes basically for what Shalimar does, and Mitsouko I think is about the same as well. I did find one fairly reasonable Miss Dior bottle, with that white cap and the black and white herringbone motif striping the top and bottom of the bottle, but the seller is out of the country and it would take much longer than I have to get my hands on it. Other bottles on Ebay are pretty, even very pretty, but wouldn't elicit the gasp of recognition I expect from the character in my film. I'm guessing that anyone who loves perfume and sees the film would wonder what all the fuss was about, if one of these lesser revered bottles were featured as if the holy grail.
My mind keeps going back to a store in Seattle I visited once a few years back. All along the place, on the highest shelf, were display dummies. I remember Caron, I think, and Balenciaga Quadrille. The owner wasn't all that friendly - the kind who opens the door when someone who loves perfume comes in and starts the spraying, complaining of headaches. A real buzz kill, this woman, so I highly doubt she'd feel empathetic toward my need for one of her dummies, let alone be in the frame of mind to part with any of them for less than a princely sum. If I were in Seattle, I'd be begging her shamelessly regardless.
I also talked to someone on facebook who told me he had a factice and would talk to his "co-owner" about loaning it out to me for the film. Several days later, he got back in touch to say he didn't really see how it was possible. The bottle, which went mysteriously unnamed, is incredibly valuable, he informed me, and while he doesn't normally think this way, he couldn't imagine what kind of scenario we'd find ourselves in should something happen to the prized possession - crack, chip, tear, or worse. He and his co-owner - and I love that two people who don't seem to live together or even in the same city went in on this factice together - would have no choice but to require a security deposit. I totally understood. Knowing what I do about the unforeseeable mishaps that occur as a matter of routine on film shoots, I wouldn't dream of lending anyone my own mysteriously unnamed factice, had I one.
A friend of mine knew how committed I was to obtaining the Shalimar bottle. Let's say unnaturally fixated. He thought it might be a good idea to buy a decorative bottle somewhere and dress it up like a fictitious old fragrance, but he didn't dare mention it until yesterday, when I'd reached the point of desperation and was resigned to my limited resources. Pottery Barn had a great decanter: square, with no embellishments, and a stopper that resembled one you find on antique perfume bottles. Only 25 bucks. I called Pottery Barn to order one and to make sure it would get here on time. Apparently, it's very popular. It's on back order until July 5th.
Today I found the bottle pictured above, and it seems perfect to me. Exactly the kind of thing Coty, Revlon, Dana, or Max Factor might have once put out. I think I might call it Voodoo, as per a suggestion I received on Facebook. For a while, I thought Baise-en-ville, another suggestion, would be pretty great, but it's too wordy to register on film with any kind of resonance. Voodoo, I imagine, is some long lost perfume hardly anyone has ever heard about--like the unmarked violet fragrance I remember finding in my grandmother's medicine cabinet, or the little vial of Primitif I discovered in a flea market last summer. The incredibly rare Voodoo was worn by adventurous women in, say, the fifties, lending a touch of the forbidden to their suburban Tupperware parties. Voodoo, I think, would be very rich, dark like Youth Dew, balsamic, with civet and jasmine, carnation, patchouli, and enough ylang ylang to revive a dead man.
Now all I need is a fancy tassel, a worn label, a thick velvet ribbon, and a thin gold rope to coil around the stopper. Who needs Shalimar when you have Voodoo?