Wednesday, August 27, 2014
(Or: Why I Seem to Have Stopped Writing "Reviews")
For a long time now (let's throw a number out and say five months) I've spent more time on customer review sites than on perfume blogs proper. Until recently, I didn't really ask myself why. I must have just concluded, in some hazy region of my hamster wheel mind, buried chin deep in everyday routine, that I'd lost interest in perfume. Why else wouldn't I want to read in depth analysis, let alone write it?
I guess it gradually occurred to me that a loss of interest wasn't borne out by the amount of time I spend on, say, Fragrantica, a site I visit at least ten times a day - often impulsively. It gradually occurred to me, in some equally hazy way, that I don't want to write or read about perfume the same way anymore. The blog review has come to feel essentially reductive to me: these are the notes, this is the perfumer, here's a brief evocative list of things this scent evokes or recalls or references. Here is how long it lasts, here is something the perfumer told to me at a cocktail party I was invited to as I stood at the red hot center of the fragrance industry. Here is the history.
I appreciate the notes. The anecdotal information can be interesting. Knowing that you see a woman standing under a tree eating an apple in a flowing white gauzy dress when you smell this perfume is...maybe over-sharing. It's at least beside the point. The problem for me is that the monolith this template has become in aggregate, across scores of blogs, obstructs in some ways and minimizes in others what perfume actually does for or to me. It makes fantasy feel rote. There is a catalog element to a great deal of perfume writing now: Here is this, and this is this that and the other thing. Moving right along, here is another.
How can I expect anyone to see the point in making imaginative, truly inspired fragrances when so much of us spend so much time and space making what we say we love sound so phoned in?
I think I just want to step off the hamster wheel for a while? Maybe that's it. I don't expect to get to the bottom of anything; I want to stop pretending that you should read me because I can, or because it's possible.
I used to stand at my grandmother's vanity to smell her perfumes. I've written this at least twenty times throughout the lifespan of this blog. It's often the only thing that matters to me. I've gone back to that memory my entire adult life. The sun coming through the windows, the colors of her pale rug, the gilt mirrored tray the perfumes sat on, the light blue velvet chaise off to the side with an afghan my grandmother made draped across it. She made all of us afghans like it. My sister got one in the same colors. I was a boy, so mine was red, white, and blue.
It was difficult for me to pretend to sit on that blue chaise in my own room, back at home, with that red, white, and blue afghan. I used to sneak into my sister's room to sit with hers. In my memories I chart one forbidden moment after another like that; I sneak into an endless series of rooms, rooting around where I'm not meant to be. For a long time I had a recurring dream: The house was always different, but it always had a secret room I discovered during the course of the dream. The room was enormous, stockpiled with deep dark glamorous (to me) family secrets.
It occurs to me writing this that part of the reason I store my fragrances the way I do, deeply layered in no particular order, stacks upon stacks, in a bureau, is because it makes looking for anything involve finding many things I'd forgotten about. It recreates that sense of discovery and secrecy. This entire system of memories exists in the perfumed air surrounding my grandmother's vanity.
I'm always finding Dior Addict pushed back to the rear. I might have three bottles to make sure that virtually anywhere I dig I'm bound to come across it. I don't know why I don't wear it more often, or why I want to keep being reminded it's there in this particular way.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Cristalle is nice, and I prefer the edp to the edt, which is nice too, for the all of five minutes it lasts on me. Cristalle in that big brick bottle Chanel makes. My Cristalle edp comes in this brick but hits you like a feather. I keep trying to like feathers but I prefer bricks. So the Cristalle feels like a beautiful tease, and puts me in an irritable mood.
Mito Voile d'Extrait is a brick - not a blunt thing, not bombastic, but it has force, it's got a confidence and an assertiveness about it. People compare it to greens like Cristalle and maybe Chanel No.19, Scherrer, Givenchy III. References can be useful. They make you feel you can control the narrative happening to you.
I don't compare Mito to anything but other Vero Profumo fragrances, each of which, in each concentration, is a different state of mind. I find it difficult to put them into words. I can find all kinds of words but I don't want to restrict the fragrances. I don't want to break them down or compartmentalize them. They happen to me in a place outside of vocabulary. They make words feel feeble at a time when almost everything does back-flips to assure you it can be summarized succinctly.
I've heard that Vero Kern, the perfumer behind Mito, was inspired by an Italian garden, at Villa d'Este in Tivoli. Smelling Mito I don't need her to describe that garden in words. She's brought it alive in my mind. Cristalle is this kind of thing: beauty as an ethereal concept, something that wafts across your consciousness as a veil. Sheer, really. Chanel takes pains at all times to reassure you that you are in control of what you see and experience.
Mito takes you over the way extreme beauty or experience does. There's no safety from it. There's no remove, no conceptual detachment. A veil sits between you and the thing you see through it. It imposes an abstraction, a sensation of separateness, locking you securely behind the wheel of your own experience. It pats your hand and affirms your sovereignty over your perceptions, the things you see out in the world. They don't happen to you; you happen to them.
What Mito does, what all of the Vero Profumo fragrances do for me, isn't precious that way. When I see someone or something beautiful, I experience it, it colonizes my emotions, changes the alchemy of my thoughts and mood. There's no separation; there's no protection from it. I'm communing with it and being changed by it and it might end up being stronger than I am. It is in that moment. It can make me feel tiny, a speck, swimming around in powerful, gorgeous and fraught otherness.
Do you know that moment in a beautiful place, where everything seems to be perfectly constellated, caught in a moment of full bloom? It reminds you what a miracle a moment can be, how fugitive it is. Mito sits on my skin bringing that alive. A brick as in a force of beauty. Cristalle assures you beauty can be handled, minimized, abstracted, ordered. Mito reminds you what a fantasy that is.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
There are some key differences between eau de toilette and eau de parfum, the primary difference being skank. Honeyed skank, really. The eau de toilette is honeyed chypre, lasts forever, relates itself to true moss leather chypres like Trussardi Femme and Rochas Mystere. It kisses you like you kiss a baby.
I once found two or three bottles of the eau de parfum for something like 30 bucks each. At the time, I'd never smelled anything like it (at this point, I have and I haven't), so I bought them all. I worried the world would end and I'd be without La Nuit otherwise.
Weeks later I decanted some and traveled to a film festival in Philadelphia. A friend met me there and the night my film screened I doused her in La Nuit. I wore, I think, an equally generous application of Diptyque L'eau (pomander rose). The cab driver looked shocked when we stepped into the car, and I apologized without meaning it. I thought then and still think now you shouldn't have to make excuses for smelling better than life at large wants you to.
We were out for several hours, and when we returned to the hotel there was a man out front, airing out his tiny dog. Oh how sweet the dog looked. If not sweet, then harmless. The leash seemed mostly decorative. You don't need chain link to keep a balloon from drifting away.
My friend did that thing as we approached the entrance and saw the dog, that thing you do: "Does he bite?" The owner assured us his dog was just shy of herbivore, so my friend, wafting furiously, bent over to pet the thing - and this probably-chihuahua became a fierce attack dog. It just went totally apeshit, like a bear had approached it still stinking of the fawn it had just swallowed whole.
The owner was as shocked as we were - maybe more shocked. It was his balloon; we'd never seen it before.