Perfume Cool and The Rules, with an aside on The Pleasures of Science
When I understood that my love for perfume was here to stay awhile, I made a few rules for myself:
1) No Hoarding (and its corollary, No Saving for a Special Occasion).
2) Love Without Apology
3) Pleasure First
I needed these rules because I am bad at following them. I wanted to see if I could do better when it came to perfume.
Rule One has been, by and large, a smashing success. After a lifetime that began with stale Halloween candy and has continued with dried-out specialty soaps, expensive olives languishing in the back of the fridge, and beautiful scarves worn once every other year, I am learning to come to terms with ephemerality and the impossibility of having one’s precious thing and eating/using/wearing it, too.
Rule Two is a different story. I’ve already written here about learning to love perfume itself without apologies. The matter of taste has come along more slowly. I yearn to be one of those fantastic, iconoclastic women who make the things they love chic by fiat. I suppose I could create her, here on the page, and you’d be none the wiser. Alas, I know I’d never be able to keep up the illusion. While I’m too weird at bottom to be a truly good girl, I will forever belong to that class of worriers who test well and know how to please their teachers. I spent my adolescence eating lunch in the art room and dissecting the girl-driven power structures of my junior high with the obsessive precision of an archeologist unearthing an ancient civilization. Though I tried to leave it behind, later-life experiences (helloooo grad school!) did nothing to dissipate my paranoia. I can still sniff out a hierarchy from twenty paces, even when I’d rather remain oblivious.
So it was that after a scant few months of obsessive perfume reading and research this tenderfoot perfumista was certain that despite all the gentle, democratic talk of individual preference and skin chemistry and loving a cheap thrill she knew The Lay of the Land. At the top were the Great Houses (Guerlain and Caron, with Caron slightly more noble). Then came The Moderns (Chanel and Dior). Venturing out into the niche world we could find the New or Emerging Moderns (Goutal, L’Artisan, add your own here…) and The Indies (CB I Hate Perfume, Ava Luxe, Andy Tauer and other single-nose/person driven lines). Any of these can be trumped at any moment by a Discontinued and Almost Totally Unavailable Scent From The Great Days. More generally, smoke, leather, and skank beat the pants off of sweet, fruity and (god forbid!) aquatic. In perfume, as in wine, a taste for the strange and complex showed off one’s sophistication, while a desire for the merely pleasant relegated one to the kiddie table, getting drunk on Zima.
Like all category maps, this one had some truth and was also pretty ridiculous (Um, where is the rest of classical perfumery? The other fashion houses? How exactly are these ranked? And how massively pleasant is Theorema? Oh wait, that’s discontinued…). Gradually I came to see there were so many exceptions to the rules, and so many subdivisions within the lines themselves, that there was nothing to do but plunge in and trust my nose to learn for itself.
And yet. From the beginning there was one line undeniably at the pinnacle of Perfume Cool and, in spite of recent dismayed murmurs, there it remains. For the scent of beauty headed down the road to decadence, the jolie-laide, the astoundingly weird thing that just might, if you’re the right one, be the astoundingly beautiful thing on you, Serge Lutens wins hands down. (Sit down Etats Libre, you are not even in the competition). And there is still a part of me, no matter how I deny it, that wants to be Cool.
Which is how I got into my current predicament, staring at a small gray tube of killer-bees-on-crack (© Tom) Miel de Bois that has been taunting me since, oh let’s see, last August.
It all began innocently enough—sweetly, even. Back in the middle of August, the inimitable March, over on Perfume Posse called for us to reveal the perfumes that satisfied our sweet teeth. (I write that sentence and have to pause: what were we doing discussing sweet perfumes in the middle of August?) I took the opportunity to confess my love for Ginestet’s Botrytis. The Divine Miz M replied by asking (“Hey, honeylover…”) whether I liked Serge Lutens’ Miel de Bois and Santa Maria Novella’s Acqua di Cuba. Hearing a challenge (imagined, I’m sure) and eager to prove my cool, I promptly sent off for samples.
On another of March’s honey posts I duly reported in about the AdC (I got honey, barbershop, and boyjuice) but begged off on the MdB pleading hot weather and deadlines. There is something about MdB that frightens me. I try all kinds of scents. I even go back to bang my head against Chanel No. 5 on a regular basis. But I just don’t have what it takes, somehow, for this one. Maybe it’s the hype. Maybe it’s knowing I’m in for a six hour ride. Or maybe I’m just not quite cool enough.
Sometime in September I did finally try it and it was, well, OK. Not horrifying, not gorgeous. A little tough to take but…OK. Heresy, I know.
I should try it again. And I should give it more than the single barely-there wimped-out half-spritz I managed. But as I stare down at the vial I have to ask where this “should” comes from. Why do I hear my mother’s voice telling me to taste that weird thing on my plate three times before I decide what I think? What happened to Pleasure First?
Which brings us finally, to the Pleasures of Science. I think that for most of our best beloved reviewers, experimentation—comparing, trying things out, trying them in a different way, returning to them—is a pleasure in and of itself. For these lovely mad scientists, the true pleasure-killer is not the horrifying, but the boring (and here I’d like to give a shout out to Robin on NST and her efforts to keep up with new releases--don’t think we’re not grateful for it, R.). March’s style is a prime example. I’ve seen her write, “I have to dig ____ out and scare myself with it again” more than once.
I am a science groupie. I love to read about science and hang out with scientists, but I’m only sporadically possessed with the Spirit of Science myself. Here is the part where I should be giving away my killer bee crack, but I can’t quite bring myself to give up the fight quite yet. If you’d like a sample of my beloved Botrytis however, give a holler in the comments and I’ll pick a couple of names out of the hive. If I can’t be cool, I can at least spread a little honey love around.
Image: Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan, courtesy of the UK Daily Mail.