Friday, 30 August 2013

Why I find vintage perfume too melancholy to bear

I have been obsessed with women for as long as I can remember. I can remember being intrigued by witches and evil step mothers as a child. I was just drawn to them, intrigued by their thoughts and their actions, the minute details, the purple eye shadow the long black hair.

 Looking back I sense that I was wanting to identify with the women in the stories who were agents of the narrative of their own lives, not objects of desire; such women are usually villains and witches. And I think even as young as four or five I thought that I was a witch and that I had magic powers, maybe if I'd been blonde, born without my witchy features, long fingers and thin wrists, an angular face and a bent nose I would have thought I was destined to marry a prince with my narrative culminating at my wedding and afterwards I would be symbolically annihilated.
I thought a woman's dressing table was a magical thing, trinkets and creams, jewels, ancient melted lipsticks and musty eye shadows. A place where a woman becomes. Of course we derive pleasure from these rituals even though they are burdens, perhaps radical feminists underestimated how much women would resist abandoning beauty. What all Disney antagonists knew is that beauty is a game of life or death and they refused to disappear silently like Disney princesses before they even turned twenty. All Disney baddies were at least over thirty and/or fat.

Maybe the only object that exists on a woman's dresser, for her pleasure alone is perfume. Perfume is truly worn for the pleasure of oneself. Society demands a minimum of odor that should be emitted from the body, the presence of floral, woody, spicy or herbal aroma's is just a nice bonus. As a feminist with a masochistic desire to know the horrible and profound truth of existence I have an encyclopedic knowledge of suffering. Perfume is like a holiday for me, pure pleasure with a hint of imagination and intrigue.
 I am still fascinated by women, the concept of women, their secrets, their lives, their pleasures. I love asking people what their favorite perfumes are, because you can watch their faces light up, you can see all the good memory associations fire up, its a beautiful thing to behold.
When I smell a perfume, I feel a psychic link in my soul with other women that I've never met, this historic link of me to all these women through time. I conjure these women before me, their faces, their secrets. Perfumes contain a psychic resonance, they conjure memories more abruptly and accurately than any other sense. I like to imagine that I can tap into some collective unconscious every time I smell a perfume, that I can divine their memories, like they're telling me a story about their last love affair before they got married, or the year they spent in Europe, or the memory of their mothers warm embrace. Every memory has a scent attached to it.
I am intrigued by vintage perfumes but I am also, and I'm aware of how melodramatic this sounds, profoundly depressed by them.
Every year the perfumes you know and love are changing. Certain ingredients become too costly due to the scarcity of natural resources and the ebb and flow of the global economy, some ingredients are outright banned. Animal ingredients such as musk and civet are almost totally synthesized, and have been for a very long time. The result being that the perfumes that you once knew are either vastly different to what you can purchase now or they're discontinued altogether. Nostalgics who refuse to leave the party are forced to hunt on ebay and the old beauties get rarer. Unlike the great works of art and literature, or even fashion, perfume is by its very nature ephemeral, and every minute of the day this juice is used up, expiring, and evaporating, never to leave a trace on this earth, aside from an empty bottle and some old yellowing magazine advertisements. Those molecules will never be arranged in that exact order again. Right now on ebay there is a 60ml vintage bottle of Bandit by Robert Piguet for $899 US dollars.

Every time I've worn a vintage perfume I've been racked with a sort of uneasiness like I've killed a bird just because I liked its feathers. Every moment I'm sniffing my wrist nervously thinking, 'Oh gosh, you're disappearing from this world, you're disappearing, one molecule at a time!' Which of course leads to me realize yet again and so am I! And so is EVERYTHING!
Its like a dead woman's perfume, I feel a certain dread about it like its the last essence of a person, like its all that remains them, like taping over the last voicemail ever left by a dead relative, so final.
Dear readers, I have never finished a bottle of perfume in my life, never. When I see a bottle is starting to get to half way I stop using it so I can keep it. I don't mind someone else having it and using it to the end, I just don't want to be the one to finish it.
I only have a very small vintage collection: a miniature bottle of Youth Dew bath oil, a miniature Emeraude by Coty, a box of perfume mini's called Parfums de France (half of them leaked on the way in transit), and one mystery called Soir de Parfum by Vogue in a little round bottle with a white Bakelite cap. I estimate its from the 1920's. My nose is very naive and I don't know notes very well at all. I detect aldehydes firstly, decaying citrus, followed by woody moss and some sort of white floral, lastly traces of civet, maybe the real thing. It doesn't last on the skin very long and then poof it disappears. I don't know for sure, maybe this is the last of this juice in whole world? Maybe. There's no information about it online, none at all that I can find. The sad thing is, I don't even like it, and I might be the last person in the world that owns a tiny bottle just like this and I don't like it. Sorry, little guy. You might perish on my skin drop by drop every time I get curious, and you will be met by my indifference. You will most likely languish in my box of miniatures with your comrades until maybe in another hundred years you evaporate of your own accord. You're not long for this earth and neither am I.

Perhaps the sadness comes not from conversing with ghosts, though of course I prefer the living. Its those sad little faded bottles on ebay, in opshop display cases, always seeming so forlorn to me, so lost, reminding me of when my grandmother died and all her possessions were divided, her wedding dress, her jewelry, her best clothes from the 1950's, only the peculiar detritus of death remained. Ancient tins of scented talcum powder, yellowed lace doileys and dried flowers that disintegrated to the touch.
 Its the finality, the knowledge of the death of all things, the knowledge that that link to the past is lost forever. There's no way out of that, no escaping it, you can only prolong the inevitable. All pleasures are a distraction from death.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Smells Like Sluts - Etat Libre D'orange - Putain Des Palaces

Whenever someone talks about so called, perfumes for sluts, I clamor for a whiff, only to find them barely distinct from any other. I suppose Shalimar by Guerlain is the most famous sultry perfume, but if Shalimar is a slut she's an expensive one, and therefore there's quite a bit of pageantry to all that seduction.
Sometimes I worry that I'll run out of things to talk about when it comes to perfume, but then you come across something like Putain des Palaces (hotel slut) that just grabs me by the nostrils I realise that isn't going to happen... to me when people describe slutty all I seem to get is sweet or fruity, both of which are pretty demure to me.
For those of you not familiar with Etat Libre, they are probably one of the most prominent niche perfume houses. They specialize in hilarious, bombastic concepts that aren't always wearable, some of the most humorous perfumes are called: Philippine Houseboy, Fat Electrician, Jasmin & Cigarettes. Most notably Secretions Magnifiques - the concept being a fragrance that smells like blood, semen, urine and sweat. I haven't sampled it, but aparently it really does. You have to give them props for originality, even if it smells like things that people actively want to clean off. So many perfumes have hinted at bodily fluids, Shiseido's Feminite Du Bois sonnet to lady parts, Aramis and sweaty pitts but this is straight up, the real deal.
Here is my favorite review off fragrantica:
It reminded me of my little cousin who used to wet the bed. Now, it smells just like a neglected child who is forced to wear her mother's generic hooker perfume to cover up the fact that nobody has given her a bath or washed her clothes in a very very long time. To add insult to injury, the child has been eating wet catfood straight out of the can and has some of the food stuck in her hair.
Putain is far more... wearable. Perfume for me is about contemplation and imagination. They conjure up images of women, if a perfume really grabs me I have images of a woman, a type of woman, involved in some sort of scenario. Hotel slut is a bit derogatory. I imagine she's usually a rather serious woman, she's not young, not old. She is worldly.

She's almost forgotten she's got a body, a figure, but she does, she has long red hair, is wearing a silk evening gown, sits in a quiet bar all night sipping merlot all on her own. Her scent is animalic, lived in, there's a glutinous quality, a bit like rice, maybe it is her make up, her lipstick. Leather is the most prominent note, soft, buttery suede, the red leather couch she reclines on languorously. Then a subtle iris-rose, not prissy, just giving it a dewiness of moist, freshly washed hair. Amber sweetness binds it all, warm, syrupy and almost camphorous. Her face is intimidatingly beautiful and she can't bring herself to smile at strangers and so she sits alone all night and goes to bed, naked and drunk.
There's a gloomy vintage sadness to this one, like a sepia tinted memory of someone you fucked a long time ago that was actually really kind.
If I was a man and smelt this on a woman I'd be transfixed. Its so voluptuous and sexual. Its the antidote to sterility, she's a real living breathing woman with blood in her veins, sweat under her armpits, grubby underpants, and a brain full of desires and secrets.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Chasing Ghosts - Emeraude by Coty Review

I've recently become obsessed with the mad world of vintage perfumes.

In case you aren't familiar with the scene this is a pretty good article on the subject:

And when I say obsessed I mean trawling through pages, and pages of trademe listings desperately searching for some dusty old bottle of Intimate by Revlon from the 1950's listed by some nana on her first computer, no idea what its worth, and poorly listed with no useful keywords. I did this for hours and hours.

The thing with getting obsessed with vintage is that you feel like you're hunting endangered species. Every day these things are evaporating or going bad or being used and the temptation is so strong to just open your wallet and pay ANYTHING because you never know if you'll ever see it again.

Luckily, I didn't get too carried away, my innate stinginess won. I did dip my toe and go for an entry level classic that's not too difficult to find or too expensive.

I a little bottle of Emeraude Pure Perfume - I think perhaps from the 70's?
I had already bought the modern incarnation of Emeraude and I was dying to make the comparison. Vintage snobs love to clutch their pearls and shriek that that reformulation is nothing like the original!
I'm really obsessed with Coty Adverts alone.

I already adored Emeraude... She is a stunning beauty. First off citrus notes, lemon and bergamot, but to me Emeraude is pure balmy goodness, its the oppoponax and benzoins that give it that classic 1920's heart - and why I think it receives so many comparisons to Shalimar by Guerlain. But Shalimar has a very prominent smokey top note, and an almost gourmand vanilla amber dry-down. If I was forced to only wear one perfume forever maybe I wouldn't mind if it was Emeraude. I did not love her at first, benzoins are used extensively to fragrance talc and I couldn't help the association with Johnson & Johnson's baby powder and therefore by extension.... dirty nappies! I might be a bit of a perfume creep, I may even admit to not minding the smell of a man's dirty armpit (if I love him!), but baby shit has got to be a universally disgusting smell - I don't know, I'm not a mum, its not going to appeal to me. It took a while for me to remove the association to appreciate it.
 My only beef is that it doesn't last much longer than 2 hours on the skin but a 50ml bottle of EDC is only $15 New Zealand dollars! Its hardly costly to reapply.

I just received my bounty in the mail yesterday, I went ahead and bought a little vintage bottle of Youth Dew by Estee Lauder from the 60's from the same seller. I love the name, Youth Dew - its neither youthful nor dewy, it smells bitter, ancient, an unguent for sacred rituals. I would never describe it as sexy.

 I was so excited opening the package... Thinking I'm getting the real thing! I did my usual ritual of dousing myself and forcing everyone in the house to sniff me while they dutifully say mmmm nice and feign interest.
What can I say? That the difference was like the difference between black and white and technicolor? That I had an epiphany? Emeraude smelt beautiful... it smelt... a lot like the new stuff! There were the same notes, perhaps fuller, richer, deeper - but that could be owing to the fact that its an EDP rather than the usual EDC.
 Perhaps I'm a philistine with an unsophisticated nose but I didn't feel let down in the slightest! I felt relieved because it meant I wouldn't have to go through the ups and downs of chasing down the final bottles of an endangered perfume. I can't handle the hunt or the chase, or the TIME SUCK. I can't go pure vintage, I wish I had the determination but I just don't - it feels like hard work. I don't think I could handle the guilt of actually USING them. I will admit Youth Dew smelt different. Where the new brew is sharply medicinal I find the vintage quite a bit more mellow, maybe she's lost her tang with age, but I want to believe its because the notes are probably the real deal, real oakmoss, maybe even real musk! I go through phases with perfumes and I think Youth Dew is going to spearhead my new fragrance obsession and that is with perfumes that smell like bitter herbs and poison. I'm going anti-gourmand - I want to smell the opposite of edible. If everyone is making themselves smell like cinnamon brownies I want to smell like dish washing tablets, broken light bulbs and anti freeze. A psychiatrist I saw for 2 years once pointed out to me that I seem to have a strong obsession with always being different to everyone else. This is no exception.
I have no interest in possessing something that no one else has just for the sake of owning something rare - I just have a mistrust of products that people ubiquitously like that coincidentally have an astounding marketing budget but suspiciously smell like Glade air freshener. I think the popularity of vintage perfumes really attests to the fact that peoples scent memories are so strong.
 Perfume to me is all about pleasure, reminiscence and contemplation and vintage hunting just feels like hard work. I feel so relieved that I can go back to the instant gratification of ordering off fragrancex.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Andy Warhol on Perfume

I have just stolen this off Yesterday's Perfume:

"I really love wearing perfume...

I switch perfumes all the time. If I've been wearing one perfume for three months, I force myself to give it up, even if I still feel like wearing it, so whenever I smell it again it will always remind me of those three months. I never go back to wearing it again; it becomes part of my permanent smell collection...

Smell really is transporting. Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting are just not as powerful as smelling if you want your whole being to go back for a second to something. Usually I don't want to, but by having smells stopped up in bottles, I can be in control and can only smell the smells I want to, when I want to, to get the memories I'm in the mood to have. Just for a second. The good thing about a smell-memory is that the feeling of being transported stops the instant you stop smelling, so there are no aftereffects. It's a neat way to reminisce...

I get very excited when I read advertisements for perfume in the fashion magazines that were published in the 30s and 40s. I try to imagine from their names what they smelled like and I go crazy because I want to smell them all so much."

— From The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) by Andy Warhol

I love piece. I love how he has a discipline about giving up a certain perfume for the purpose of future reminiscence.
He really describes so well how the memory just stops the second the perfume is removed... I know sometimes when I'm walking around downtown and I catch a whiff of my mums, now discontinued perfume in a crowd my nose sniffs around hungrily wanting the memory tape to run its course. I'd probably follow them down the street if I could identify the source.

Supporting the habit
I love this woman's writing. She's funny, and doesn't go on with the purple prose, straight to the point. I love that its both entertaining and informative.

 "This glorious leather chypre starts off with a wonderful fresh/bitter herbaceousness combined with a very prominent body odor note from cumin. Please note: the cumin here doesn't suggest just your run-of-the-mill body odor, either. The BO note in Aramis is the smell of a man's arm pits who's been exercising for a while and possibly hasn't bathed in a couple days. It has that almost metallic sharpness that accompanies the aroma of an especially ripe pair of pits. Jarring — but sexy, in the way that smelling the body odor of someone you're attracted to can be both repellent and erotic."
Aramis by Estee Lauder (1965)
I love how in the perfume world you can just be like YES I love the smell of a sweaty armpit, what's YOUR problem? Stinky stinks is a blog topic for another day...
 I'm so blindingly jealous of her vintage perfume collection too. I often wonder how perfume junkies afford their habit. I can see that she's soliciting donations - and why not! Its better than stealing your nan's VCR.
Personally, I feel this duel emotion, like nothing is more exciting for me than the knowledge that new perfumes are in transit and will be arriving on my doorstep soon, meanwhile I experience great guilt every time I drop a wad of cash on some new stinks. I've limited myself to $90 a fortnight - which isn't that much considering I don't drink or smoke or buy expensive clothes or buy my lunch!
I love buying presents for myself - it's like Christmas but better because I don't have any laden anxiety that I might unwrap something that I don't like but will have to pretend to like in front of some obscure aunt, and will have to use it conspicuously in front of her for the next few months. My parcels always come in at 9 am or so on a Saturday. I literally leap out of bed. Through bleary eyes, I sign whatever the courier waves in my face, and then I spend a good long while playing with my new toys. Perfume is actually pretty nauseating on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning - but like a kid insisting on having birthday cake for breakfast, I just don't care. Then I get back into bed and thrust my perfumed wrists and elbows under my husbands sleeping face and order him to sniff me and give a nuanced commentary and comparison.

So, in an attempt to economize and not end up with full size bottles of perfume I don't even like in the end - I just purchased three vintage perfume samples off of trademe (ebay in New Zealand)

It was a choose three off the list kinda deal. I picked:

L'Aimant by Coty 

Orient Parfums - Which I actually know nothing about and cannot find any information about it online but it is vintage, oriental and inherently mysterious. It ticks all my boxes.

Soir de Paris by Bourjois - I was told by a Tabu collector on fragrantica: "the scent is just exquisite.The kind of perfume one would be careful with - it smells so precious, so well balanced, like a beautifully rendered piece of baroque music by The Academy of St Martins in the Fields."

I love Tabu, it will always be my classic favorite but the girl who sits next to me at work doesn't seem all that impressed I suspect... Might have something to do with the fact that she exclaims "I can smell you from here!" while fanning the air or "I don't want to get too close to you in case some of your perfume gets on me!" She's subtle for sure. I'm thinking I ought to migrate to something more work friendly. Dousing myself with Tabu seems to have totally crossed the line to downright offensive. I don't mind, any excuse to buy more perfume is fine.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Everything used to be better

I find it hard to write about NEW perfumes because I find 99.9% of what is out there to be totally uninspiring and completely banal (Serge Lutens aside). The shop ladies at Smith and Caughey's probably know my face by now, one of those sample sniffers who never forks out. What is passed off as perfume these days is really nothing more than a body mist. Especially cheaper celebrity fragrances that have such poor sillage and longevity, they really sum up our consumer culture at the moment - immediate gratification and an attention span of about 10 seconds. Most start off pleasant enough, those fruity-florals that hardly knock your socks off - most consumers will only be giving a few seconds of attention to each fragrance before another sample is being sniffed, they can't afford for anything to be too bold, especially when the younger crowd are buying them on name alone. So what if the scent hardly lingers? They're cheap enough to re-apply and re-buy.
 The grand dames of yesteryear: Poison, Opium, Youth Dew - Could they get away with them now with all their excesses and barbed edges?

 I love visiting these ladies. I sprayed Opium on my wrist last week and went to the library - that's my favorite place to try on a perfume, there's something about the ambient temperature in there and something about those old pages. Its quiet too, so long as I hightail past the noisy bogans and teenagers using the free computers. I feel like I can really get to know a perfume in there, like I can really pay attention to the shifting layers. What amazes me, when I try out a classic, is how the notes really shine out, one by one, they strip back, ohh cinnamon! Oh - Patchouli! Every few minutes its a totally new stink.
They were all trying to convey this sort evil vibe, of forbidden pleasures, drugs, sex - even Angel's cotton candy sweetness had a dark decadent heart - while the top note was cotton candy - its more a gluttonous bulimic binge than childhood trip to the fair. I truly believe that for a perfume to be truly great it has to convey something about humanity; death, sex, drugs, addiction, all the best perfumes have a hint of something repugnant. Maybe why all the complex perfumes lend themselves to the colder seasons and the introspection that accompanies.
 I imagine that women used to put a lot of thought into their signature fragrance, about a certain  persona they were attempting to construct be it mysterious, powerful, professional, assertive, sexy - there was a certain intentionality there, a commitment.

Fast forward to 2013. Or look outside your window! Here is a new stink by Givenchy, it's called Play.

 It looks like something I'd be embarrassed to own. It certainly doesn't look expensive, which it is, at least way more expensive than it should be. The problem with it, for me, is that a smart phone or an mp3 player is a banal, mass produced object. Their marketing department seems to have been like 'what do kids like?' music! They took it really literally and just ran with it.
The banality doesn't stop there though.

Look at this image. Just LOOK AT IT. I'm picturing it in my mind. Crowded party at a New York loft apartment. Everyone is rich and or famous and or supernaturally attractive. Two beautiful people scan the scene - their eyes lock, wordlessly one motions to the balcony, the other follows. Without exchanging names they find themselves secluded from the party. He reaches into his coat pocket and retrieves his Ipod, he nods in her direction and offers her the right ear bud. She accepts. Silently, they listen to Nicki Minaj on random shuffle.
That sounds like fun, said no one ever. And it smells utterly generic to boot. Play is NOT playful. I've noticed with so many of these fragrances, they smell flatly flowers at first, then poof its gone, leaving only a slight musk/sandalwood base, because they're the least offensive base notes available. You have to stick your wrist right under your nose to detect them.
Look at this poster from the same house, Givenchy in 1984 for Ysatis

That looks like a party I want to go to. First off, looks like the secret orgy society from Eyes Wide Shut AND they're playing chess. Second thoughts no, I don't really like chess.

I wonder where its going to go from here? Maybe all the interesting juice will be manufactured by indie labels and everything else will smell like Glade air freshener. Probably. How else can it go? Even if Etat Libre d'Orange went ahead and made a GG Allin celebrity fragrance, there's no stopping this train, and no one would get the joke - the people have voted with their dollars, this is what they want.