Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bottling Shame: Why Perfume is My Dirty Secret

After all these years, I'm still ashamed about perfume. I am ashamed, I realize - I must be - even though I talk about it openly and wear it fairly indiscreetly, and argue for dispensing with the idea of some stratifying line between what's "Masculine" and "Feminine" in fragrance.

Last weekend, a friend who doesn't know much about perfume came over to interview me and to see what I have. People often want to come over and talk about perfume. They know I have a lot and many of those things are things they haven't smelled. I have a reputation for giving full bottles of perfume away. That tends to draw a crowd. This friend really didn't want any, for a change. She was, I think, genuinely interested in what this interest says about me. I still gave her some, of course.

All day I was anxious and nearly called it off, mainly because no one's ever really seen my stash. My stash, even more than my writing, tells you exactly how deep the obsession runs. You see my stash, I think, and you see that something I talk about on and off is, in fact, something I never stop thinking about. The stash is excessive no matter how you look at it.

I'm always guarded about the way I bring things out for people to smell. I seat visitors in the living room and ask them to please stay there and wait. They sometimes try to follow me into the room where I keep most of my stash, and I don't want them to see it, so I preempt them by stationing them out of the way. I even did this when Olfacta was in town from Georgia. Olfacta must be as obsessed as I am - she is, judging by our conversations over the last couple of years - and yet like everyone else she was cock-blocked.

Once or twice someone has been allowed to follow me in, but I make them avert their eyes and promise not to look. It sounds deranged but it's true. And they agree, although whether they sneak a look when my back is turned is something I think about. When someone tells you not to look you almost always feel you should.

Generally I seat people in the living room, disappear into the stash, make some selections, and bring them back out, loading up the coffee table with bottles and boxes. We sit there and smell and I get to watch their faces either shrink in displeasure or light up in epiphany, and this format is a lot more comfortable for me because their exposure to the depths of my stash has been controlled and contained and doesn't distract from their reactions to the perfumes themselves.

I don't want them to see me digging through a puzzle of precariously stacked boxes. I don't want them to see the overspill onto the nearby floor. I don't want to look like one of the subjects of HOARDERS who, when the camera follows her through her home, tries to pretend that stumbling over mounds of shifting what-nots is no different than Donna Reed navigating a vacuum across the carpet in heels.

But I showed this friend last weekend everything. I even took her down into the basement, where I keep maybe a third of my stuff in two laundry baskets. I let her take pictures, showing the cinder block walls in the background, pictures I imagine will look like some clandestine meeting in an underground bunker, where bottles of perfume are rationed out like cans of past due-date soup.

Having her there made me aware of things I haven't had to be. I do think about how I store my perfume, but not why I choose one way over another. I have thought about how I spend time with the stuff I own when no one else is around, but I've never verbalized it, which can make you look at something in a different way. "How weird I do that. I wonder why."

It was the first time I'd told anyone, for instance, that when I leave for work every morning I fill a small bag with anywhere from five to ten perfumes, the same bag everyday, and that, ever since I got a baseball cap at some event I'd been to, I keep the perfume covered with the cap when I enter and leave the building, as if to say, "Oh - hey there; I'm just coming in with my little bag of baseball cap. No girly things in here." I knew I was dong this, of course, but somehow it was just something I'd started doing because the hat once fell on top of the bag, and eventually I kept it there, as a sort of "cover".

This stash has been building for over four years now. I've had plenty of time to organize it differently. Some people organize in nice cabinets or have efficient storage systems - this shelf for this, that shelf for those. I have enough room in my house to devote an entire piece of furniture to what I own. I have the room to organize it all in one place, where I could get to anything I might want to find easily, in one stop. Yet I keep it scattered in little areas about the place: here in a cupboard, there in laundry baskets, and in various other stacks of varying heights and loosely organized categories.

It occurred to me there's something pleasurable in shame - some frisson or excitement I want to hold onto. Why else would I persist in storing my perfume as one stores hidden things in attics or hard to reach, out of the way areas? I remember being a child, sneaking up into my grandmothers' attics, where forgotten relics were shoved, then forgotten. I got to discover them in secret. They were secrets because no one wanted to remember them. I wasn't supposed to be up there, so I certainly wasn't free to talk about what I'd found. My family wanted to forget the things they were reminded by these objects, without being able to actually let them go. The loot lived up there in a half life.

It's ridiculous to be ashamed at my age, though many people are, and for me it's even impractical. I'm way too open about what I do. I think it's because of that openness that I protect and store my stash the way I do. I want to preserve an air of sacred secrecy around it. I hide it from myself in little places I can return to in order to make my discoveries all over again, to relive that private joy repeatedly. I think shame might be a comforting feeling for me, rather than some artifact of immaturity I've never grown out of.

The perfume was moved into laundry baskets during the shoot for my last film. I needed to transport it to one of the locations we were using, and that was the handiest way. I don't remember where these bottles and boxes were stored beforehand. I never returned them there. Something about those laundry baskets rekindles the sensation of the profound hidden in the banal that I enjoyed during my childhood. The baseball cap is a way to keep my obsessional shame active, a way to carry it out into the open world with me without diminishing its powers. Not "Oh, there's Brian, with his bag of perfume again" but "What's with the bag and the cap?"

I guess shame has its uses.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

If Fragrance is a Thing of Wonder, Why Do I Always Try to Put It Back in the Box?

A few days ago, doing some maintenance on the blog, I realized that I don't often review recent fragrances, and I started thinking about why that might be. Plenty of new things come out - there's a constant stream of things, and many of those are worth talking about. I could write a post every week about something new.

I used to think I was stuck in the past. Most of my posts are about fragrances that took hold in my memories a long time ago, even as far back as childhood. I don't think of Coco or Private Collection or any number of eighties fragrances without viewing them through a complex prism of memories involving my sister and high school friends and experiences, for instance. I tend to think about fragrances as specific points in time, and only have much to say about them if I've lived with them through something or they've fused with a nexus of recollections about people I've known.

I smell new things all the time. There isn't much that hits the market I don't smell and develop impressions about. But those impressions always seem premature, sort of flimsy to me. How can I really know a fragrance until it's lived with me? I marvel at other blogs. They remain so current. They have early impressions and those impressions seem definitive, written with an assurance that's pretty foreign to me so early on in my experience with a scent. I can see a film and know what I think about it pretty instantly, at least with the confidence to express an opinion about it, however much that opinion might evolve over time. With fragrance it's different for me. I feel like I know next to nothing about a fragrance and can't trust my initial sense of it with any kind of certainty after a few first impressions. I feel that way about people, too, however much I'm smitten with them at first.

I once interviewed several bloggers, asking them how they go about reviewing fragrances. I talked to about five people, all of whom said that they spend anywhere from a few days to about a week with a fragrance before writing about it. Like everyone else who loves perfume we're excited to start talking about it. We fall in love or we don't, and we document the affair. I've always trusted these early reviews, relied on them, hungry for other people's ideas about scents I'm coming to for the first time myself. That's part of my daily conversation. But the conversation that really sustains me is the one where people talk about a fragrance they've spent years with, revisiting it again and again over time under constantly changing frames of reference. It isn't just our own feelings that change. Culture itself shifts around a fragrance, distorting or revealing undiscovered facets.

Once we write about something, we rarely go back to revisit it in print, and yet we all know that the way we felt about a fragrance a month or even a year ago can seem totally alien to us when we smell it today. The fragrance boards are full of comments about virtually every fragrance on or off the market, detailing the time we've sat with them and the way we either confirm our first impressions or come around to the previously unknown attractions they've harbored. Myself, when I write a post, I always feel the pressure to look at something I haven't before; revisiting something I've already covered would be redundant, or would in some way undermine my credibility. If I disliked it or felt ambivalent about it last year but have since changed my mind, why should anybody read what I might have to say? Clearly it's untrustworthy. I'm supposed to stand by my opinion. What happens, though, when we're not standing together any more? Isn't there something to be said for being candid about that? Doesn't it say something important about scent?

The truth is, there isn't a day where I don't go to the perfume cabinet and pick something up, even something I've smelled regularly, and think, wait a minute, what's that? Where did that little thing come from and why didn't I notice it until now? The day to day reality of perfume for me isn't really reflected in the way I've written about fragrance. The way I feel about fragrance day to day is constantly shifting and re-situating itself. It's full of doubt and discovery and epiphany. Disappointment that turns to satisfaction. Estrangement that becomes intimacy. The blog is a ceaseless thrust forward, clocking things off one by one, avoiding the reality of fragrance's mercurial nature.

Isn't that a lot like the worst parts of the fragrance industry and the marketplace in general? I'm constantly bemoaning the way things are simplified or distorted by perfume creators and marketers, and yet the way I approach perfume in print supports that culture and those trends of impermanency and novelty. Something new every day. This is the latest: onto the next. By simplifying fragrance into a single, definitive entry in my quest for the new surprise or delight, am I contradicting how I really feel about it and what it means to me? Am I colluding with an industry I often feel hostility or bewilderment toward in confirming that one word is the last word?

I smelled Balenciaga Cristobal Pour Homme this morning, on a rainy, sleepy day here, and I liked it so much better than the last time I saw it. Sometimes the vanilla is all I smell, and I think of it as a sugary behemoth. Other times, I smell it and everything seems perfectly balanced. Sometimes it's more masculine; sometimes more androgynous. Even a fragrance like Coco, which I've always loved and never doubted, shows me new things, new textures and feelings, every time I smell it. Private Collection is often like an old friend - but I return to it each time feeling that as much as I've loved it all this time, I've also diminished it, because I can't see all of it or see it as it truly is. I keep projecting onto it, depending on my mood, and even though the projections are positive they feel like they have more to do with me than Private Collection ultimately.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Histoires de Parfums' 1740 Marquis de Sade: Dulling the Whip

As excited as I was to smell one of the latest Histoires fragrances, Editions Rare Petroleum, recent sniffs from the rest of the line's testers were a serious disappointment. I like most of the fragrances, but I liked none more than 1740. Discovering that many of them seemed to have been ever so slightly tweaked was shock enough, given such a relatively young brand. Changes in 1740 have left it, for me, a ghost of its former self, and I feel that absence the most acutely and personally.

As with most subtle tweaking, the smallest alteration can wrought a most profound transformation, and while 1740 is there in basic structure it feels gutted somehow. I doubt anyone associated with the line will confirm this, no more than anyone at Lauder would fess up to the renovation of Private Collection, but I detected the difference instantly and was heartsick about it.

I have an older bottle, and sprayed some on this morning. I went out for a walk through the state forest, up hills, down around creeks, past a massive hornet's nest dangling by a thin vine from a tree branch. I perspired from the heat and exertion but the scent stayed with me, and even now I can smell it wafting up from my skin, creating some future narrative of memory around the experience of the woods. I don't know of any other scent that endures with the potency of 1740.

For me, aside from Tauer's Lonestar Memories and Vero Kern's Onda, no other fragrance I own has built up a wider series of stories over time, intertwining with my own day to day life. As with Lonestar Memories, which conjures back trips to LA and Massachusetts and the momentous things I went through while at those places, 1740 reads like a roadmap of my recent past, detailing all the emotional peaks and valleys. The latest version of the fragrance barely made it out of the store and down the street on my skin with anything resembling its previous tenacity. It's hard to imagine it surviving past the first serious incline in the forest.

The notes list davana sensualis, patchouli, coriander, cardamom, cedar, elemi, labdanum, and leather. What I've always smelled is something sitting between the honeyed savory of immortelle, tobacco, and tawny port, a fantastically sensual arrangement of notes which on their own would be too much to stomach but in this particular combination take me right to the point of excess and hover there. This latest version airs everything out to something approaching sheer. The basic qualities are still present but they feel shrill and excessive without the heart of the fragrance there to cohere them. Once rather rich, the perfume now feels merely loud, and only for a short time.

1740 is - was - one of my favorite fragrances. It's a day long event and I've reserved it for times I know I'll be able to stick with it and remain in a reflective frame of mind. I'll be hoarding it even more selectively now, and it frustrates me that I'll never be sure which version people are talking about.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Perfume in the Movies: The Last Picture Show

There's a great scene early on in The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971) between Cybill Sheperd and Ellen Burstyn, who play mother and daughter in a small, stifled Texas town, circa 1951.

Teenage Cybill is alone in her frilly bedroom, reading a book on her bed while absently stroking her cat. Her mother, played by Burstyn, walks in, and Cybill immediately stomps to her vanity, where she faces the mirror, presenting her back in adolescent contempt to the parental intrusion.

Burstyn tells her she's foolish to spend so much time with her boyfriend, Jeff Bridges, who will never amount to much. He has no money and he'll never make much of himself, and she's too young to realize what being stuck in town the rest of her life will do to her.

Cybill says money doesn't seem to have made Burstyn very happy, and besides, when she married Cybill's daddy he had no money. Burstyn says she basically scared him into making something of himself. Cybill says Bridges can be made scared too, and Burstyn laughs, telling her daughter she isn't nearly mean enough to scare anybody, least of all a boy.

Burstyn is as well dressed and pretty as her daughter, with a harder edge, and it's obvious where Cybill's looks and her obsession with them came from. At one point, Burstyn approaches Cybill and grabs a perfume bottle off the vanity. She sprays it on her neck and Cybill says in disgust, you have your own, suggesting they share the same taste in fragrance.

Burstyn's great response: Maybe I want to smell good right now.

When her mother leaves, Cybill stomps back over to the bed and flings herself on it, after unceremoniously tossing the cat off, through with the girly stuff.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I Might Spray You, If You Weren't So Busy Sucking: Perfume as Epic Fail

Last Sunday, in a not so rare mood of profound boredom, I was sitting in front of the TV, as I sometimes do, trying to decide whether I should read from a stack of waiting books, or do laundry, or write friends I owe long emails, and I noticed that the last Transformers movie, Dark of the Moon, was available on Netflix, and I decided to watch it, if only because it was there and free and I couldn't seem to make up my mind about any of the other things. In a similar mood, though with imminently more rewarding returns on the investment of my attentions, I've embarked on viewing, in quick succession, all 200-something episodes of Cheers.

Dark of the Moon was the loudest, most confusing thing I'd seen in ages, and while I wasn't exactly or even nearly riveted, I did what you do when you're faced with that kind of movie: I let my mind roam into various philosophic dimensions sorting underwear never gives it much opportunity to. Among other things, I started thinking about how the bombast of the film, the sheer cacophonous messiness of it, reminded me of perfumes that don't work on any conceivable level but die extravagantly loud deaths trying.

It wasn't just that the scale and proportions of Dark of the Moon were all wrong, or all over the place, the way a perfume which tries to be all things to all people can be. It wasn't just the busy spectacle of the CGI effects, which made me realize for the first time that computer generated imagery is essentially, like many celebrity scents, a modern form of cartoon, substituting synthetic shorthand for human warmth and drama. Not just the ridiculous voice overs of the Transformers themselves, their cadences the vocal equivalent of Muzak, compressed for maximum appeal. Dark of the Moon, like many perfumes these days, felt overall like a live action, three dimensional Jackson Pollack painting. There was no appreciating the artistry. It never settled into anything remotely picturesque.

Dark of the Moon was all top notes, a constant barrage of quick, spectacular effects grandstanding each other. Even the presence of weighty thesps like Frances McDormand and John Torturro couldn't anchor the affair into something resonantly coherent, and ultimately functioned like the incessant foghorn of a cut rate patchouli or one of those emphatic but flatlining woody ambers fighting the good fight in cascading sparks of fruit and floral.

Things were flying all over the place but it was hard to figure out what that place was at any given time. Here a suggestion of tall building. There some crudely, hastily sketched impression of military complex. The movie was on the moon, then it was back on Earth; it was thirty years ago, then who knew exactly when or where. There was no getting a grip on its spatial coordinates. It's noise and images had no through line. A great big mechanical snake coiled around phallic skyscrapers, castrating them in explosions of metal, glass and plastic. People fell out windows, parachuted from helicopters, were thrown from cars then, the cars having morphed into something else, snatched back up again. If this sounds exciting, it's only because more thought went into composing the sentence I used to describe these events than the filmmakers put into filming them.

Did the film do well? I haven't checked the numbers. It hardly matters. Like many a mainstream - and even, increasingly, some niche - fragrances, the bigger picture is the ongoing franchise. It probably won't matter that a fragrance like Marc Jacobs Dot is no less a creative bankruptcy, taken on singular terms. Inevitably, Dot, with its Transformer-esque bottle design (I'm a perfume bottle that's an atomizer that's an art piece that's a swirling-parts sex toy!) will advance the brand, promoting its own version of ancillary bendable action figures and plastic wrapped gew-gaw. Though it's hardly an offense along the lines of a sensory onslaught like Dark of the Moon, the latest from Donna Karan, Woman, focuses, like that film, on surface pleasure (the bottle being the most interesting thing about it, a Giger alternative to Dot's Disney-Murakami adolescent fantasia) than depth of content. What harm will a passing little distraction like La Vie est Belle do Lancome? It can't be the worst thing in the world, with Dominique Ropion on the CGI effects team, and will do no more damage than, say, Tresor Midnight Rose did, probably, but how many whirligigs of caramel, praline, and third world patchouli must iris be subjected to before someone notices it's left the building?

If nothing else, the overload of a tentpole film like Dark of the Moon makes me appreciate the mechanical simplicities of a well constructed, perfectly judged, thoughtfully balanced ongoing narrative like Cheers, where the comic stuff of Diane and Sam and Carla and the coach is infinitely legible and lastingly pleasurable. Thank God there are perfumers and fragrance lines out there who still see the appeal of a good script and recognizable stories.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Few Things I'm Looking Forward To, Though I Should Probably Know Better By Now

Maitre Parfumeur et Ganteur has released Ambre Dore, which seems to be (might be?) a re-release of Soir d'Orient, a hard to find fragrance which was once in limited release then seemed to disappear. Soir was spoken about mostly lovingly on Make-up Alley and Basenotes as an ambery leather. Ambre Dore lists styrax resin, saffron, coriander, myrrh, and vetiver in addition to oud and ambergris. Hopefully, if it is a re-release, it hasn't been reformulated out of recognition, though I wouldn't know, not having smelled Soir.

In October, Mugler is releasing leather versions of Angel, A-Men, Womanity, and Alien, and I'm hopeful about those too. I wasn't thrilled with the Taste of Fragrance versions of these scents last year, but the liqueur series remains a favorite and produced two heavy rotation pleasures for me with its remixes of Alien and Angel.

I'm less excited about Agent Provocateur's Petale Noir, but more enthused about it, certainly than Coco Noir, advance news of which sounds reliably grim.

Please be good.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Parfums de Nicolaï: Number One Intense

There aren't many Parfums de Nicolaï fragrances I don't at least like a lot, and some, like Maharanih Intense, are among my favorites. Several of those I like most are a little more formally innovative or inventive than my ultimate favorite, Number One Intense. Vie de Chateau, for instance, with its curious hay note, is full of subtle, elegant herbal twists. Nicolaï Pour Homme always surprises me, somehow. And yet not one of these satisfies me more than Number One, which seems so pure and perfect in its way that I realize I'd rather be fulfilled sometimes than startled.

Number One was, aptly, my first Nicolaï purchase. Recently, at the Perfume House in Portland, where an older bottle was still in stock, a friend opened it and smelled it and nothing else seemed as good to me in the store. I remembered instantly how much I love it. I would classify Number One as an amber floriental I guess. For a while I thought it was a lot like Hermes 24, Faubourg, another amber floral which seems illuminated from within - until I compared the two side by side. They have a lot in common, but alongside Number One, 24 seems, if not shrill, then a little heavy on the treble. Faubourg seems more like a citrus cologne by comparison.

Number One was created in 1989, which makes sense, because that era produced a lot of my favorites. Like a lot of those '80s fragrances, Number One is rich to the point of plush, but where a lot of those scents have conjured the analogous big shouldered outfits of their time, Number One, despite all its voluble drama, feels softened and remarkably supple, a symphony heard through velvet. Part of this, I suspect, is the restraint shown with tuberose, which in many eighties frags becomes their sole reason for being. The tuberose in Number One plays nicely with the other florals - namely, jasmine, ylang ylang, rose, and orang blossom - allowing all of them to show something of themselves. There's a unique harmony to the fragrance.

The base of amber, oakmoss, and sandalwood shows, for me, the kind of durability and backbone emphasis most fragrances need a hefty dose of patchouli to achieve. Number One is the rare fragrance I imagine patchouli would have ruined rather than improved. And I like to think the use of tagetes up top gives it some level of distinction often lacking in its eighties brethren. The fragrance is perfectly judged and balanced and I couldn't imagine it any other way. It lasts all day on me, without, by the end of the day, feeling more like the day after.

I understand, I think, why it isn't discussed more often. Revisiting Number One recently started me thinking about the way we "review" fragrances. There are so many - so many in existence and so many emerging. It's easy to fall into judging them by what they do that something else hasn't, when sometimes, as with Number One, what they do different is simply, for a change, get it wonderfully right.

Painting: "Torrid Day" by Jane Wilson

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Space Oddity: Vero Kern's Onda Eau de Parfum

 I was excited, in 2010, when Swiss perfumer Vero Kern released eau de parfum concentrations of the three fragrances in her line, Vero Profumo. I'm not much of an extrait wearer, and the cost of Onda, Kiki, and Rubj were steep. I'd smelled them all at Luckyscent in Los Angeles, and thought that Onda was just about the most fantastic thing I'd ever laid hands on. It was smoky and mysterious, a meditation on the darker edges of the olfactory palette. I loved Kiki and Rubj, but for me Onda was one of those fragrances you come across and realize you've been waiting for without knowing it.

Early reports indicated significant differences between these new eau de parfum versions and their extrait counterparts. By introducing a passion fruit note to all three, Kern essentially remixed the scents the way a musician revisits a beloved song with slightly different instrumentation. While passion fruit was said to add something odd to the already profoundly odd Onda, I was skeptical. What I thought I liked best about the extrait was its deep, dark, near-incantatory properties. Onda extrait was some kind of pitch black spell wrought through scent instead of words. Kern stated that the passion fruit added a "sensual and erotic lightness" to the composition. While the original style of the extrait was said to remain intact, the mission of the eau de parfum versions was to render the scents "easier to wear".

I'm no more a fan of the phrase easier to wear than I am extraits, and the idea of these new formulas made me think of David Bowie re recording LOW with Muzak accompaniment. I was worried, and the worry kept me from buying Onda. It didn't help that for a while Luckyscent didn't have tester bottles of the EDPs at Scent Bar. I was so skeptical that I wouldn't even shell out the seven or so bucks for a sample. I knew that, like Bowie, Kern had a sort of bedrock integrity when it came to artistic vision, and that probably anything she did would be at the very least fascinating. Then again, I'd never been a huge fan of Bowie's "Let's Dance" period, and couldn't forget that embarrassing duet with Jagger, which had only been fascinating the way a car crash in reverse might be. Backwards or forwards, a car crash is a mess.

When Andy Tauer and I visited Scent Bar for the release of Tableau de Parfum's Miriam last October, I finally got a smell of Onda EDP, and I didn't know what to think. It was quite different, and I'd built it up or knocked it down in my head for so long that all kinds of mental adjustments were required to even properly apprehend, let alone appreciate, it. We were there about a week, and I kept coming back to it. Ultimately I bought it, and wore it out in the desert a lot when we traveled to Joshua Tree.

Onda EDP was the perfect scent-track for the trip. While there, we talked a lot about the attitudes and emotional effects of the desert landscape, its peculiar, powerful state of mind. It's a bigger than life place - too big and strange to take in all at once, if ever. Ultimately you surrender to it. The dry heat has an insidious effect and after a day in the sun you can easily feel exhaustion, precipitating that surrender with a sudden, out of the blue, immediacy.

Onda is indeed lighter than the extrait, and also, for me, more colorful. I would say...radiantly purplish. That's a horribly inept way to describe a fragrance, but like the desert Onda EDP is next to impossible to put into words. The extrait draws you in to some pitch dark, loamy underworld. It's buried deep in some unconscious territory and feels very gothic. The EDP concentration explodes that soil, sending all its particles airborne. Light from the sun heats and illuminates them, opening it all up without reassembling the constituent parts. The scent remains wonderfully expansive. I could tell you I smell passion fruit. I could say, Hey, there's the vetiver. But you experience this scent all at once, and it's that inability to put it into words, to narrow it down, that matches the extrait's qualities of strangeness, a relation that is more conceptual and philosophic than literal. There's something uncanny about Onda EDP, something at once overwhelming and intimate. I would agree it's sensual. And at this point, having spent a year with it, I would say it isn't just a desert island fragrance for me but the desert island itself.

The addition of a tropical fruit to Onda is no simple happy medium, nor does it produce standard, commercial impressions of the "tropics", with all the attendant coconut and shea butter stereotypes that typically implies. Here passion fruit is a study in what I guess I'd call vibrant decay. In other words, light and dark qualities existing in a tricky dual relationship where the one is viewed through the other no matter how you approach the sum total. Vibrant decay will be as much a turn off to some as easier to wear is to me, but for those who appreciate uncanny exuberance and a certain kind of jolie laide, Onda EDP will feel like a spectral visitation shrouded in ambient light, emerging from a portal no one and nothing else could possibly fit through.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Scent Memories: Three Women in Hickman, Kentucky

Around this time last year, I interviewed a woman about the scents the women in her family used to wear. Each of her aunts had her own signature scent. There was Dot, Baby Doll, Judy, Juanita, and Linda, the youngest. She said her aunts wore White Shoulders and Youth Dew, among other things, and together they represented what she called a "menagerie of scent." Until 2011, all of the five women were still living. Last summer, Linda was having trouble hearing and went to the doctor. Her body was riddled with cancer and she died about a month later. This summer, Dot died, leaving three.

Dot had kept up the family home in Hickman, Kentucky since their mother's death in '95. My friend, who is the daughter of the woman I interviewed, had been to the funeral and came back telling me about the place. She texted me pictures to illustrate. In the attic, there was an old Guerlain dusting powder box: L'Heure Bleue.

I've been wanting to make a western movie of some kind, ever since Abigail recommended the book The Sisters Brothers to me. The book was as fantastic as she'd said it would be, and instantly made me want to do something with some of that frontier mood. I told my friend I was writing a story but didn't have a house to film it in, and she mentioned this place in Hickman, and off we went with cameras and microphones to check it out.

Since Dot died, the house is just sitting there, used mainly for rare family get togethers. There are family photos all over the mantel and propped along the transoms. A sign between the dining room and the kitchen reads: "God help me to know when to keep my big mouth shut." In the small bathroom, there's a single bottle of perfume, an older version of Cachet.

The three surviving sisters knew we were coming and were at the house when we got there. They'd brought fried chicken, okra, and biscuits. There was Diet Coke in the fridge. They all sat in the living room while we took test shots of the place but it soon became pretty obvious that they were the most interesting things in the house. They talked about their memories of boys and each other and the people in Hickman. And I asked them about perfume.

Judy told me about the time she'd saved her allowance and the money she got for Christmas, which added up to 29 cents, to buy a perfume set which included powder. I can't remember what scent it was. Like her daughter, who I'd interviewed, she recounted what all the women had worn, but their stories differed slightly. They seemed to remember every perfume they'd ever worn.

There was a Hammond organ in the room and at one point Juanita played it while the rest sang hymns. Baby Doll was eating pie out of a tin dish and started to cry, maybe because all the talk about perfume brought back memories, and she felt the absence of Dot and Linda. When we left Judy told us she didn't know why they all got so mean but she thought it was probably because there were three men present, counting me, and men seemed to do that. I didn't think they were mean and I think maybe what she meant was that they got candid in a way they worried might be unladylike. I loved that they talked freely, the way I imagine they do when they're alone with each other.