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You might wonder about that decidedly vintage ad above: You might have had total hysterics over it, as I did, because just when I think I’ve seen it all and nothing will surprise me ever again, something like that Seventies ad for a now thankfully defunct men’s cologne will come along to shock me out of my complacency.

As one of my favorite Talking Heads songs goes: “And you may ask yourself – how did I get here?”

Once upon a time not so long ago, I was so poor I could not afford to buy perfume. Now, it’s true that strictly speaking, perfume is not going to make one iota of difference in my ability to survive. Not one.

But ever since my mother took me on a trip to Paris aged barely 14, and bought me not one, but two bottles of my very first grown-up seduce juice from the source, I had never, ever, been without. I moved on from those first bottles of Guerlain’s “Jicky” and “Miss Dior” on to other, more subversive stuff, and out of both habit and inclination, I wore it all day and every day. Several former boyfriends mentioned it was one of their favorite things about me – that haunting trail of pheromones and scented cloud I carried around like a badge of honor, a willing obligation and a shield against the world. No matter what happened or what vicissitudes life threw my way, because of that fragrant aura of whatever I was wearing that day, I could handle it.

In the meantime, I have given up on recreational drug use, most alcohol except at Xmas and casual sex, but not perfume.

The came that day, not so very long ago, when my six favorite bottles were empty. There was nothing left, and no money to replace them. I wished for perfume every birthday and Xmas, and my mother-in-law bought me socks, underwear and mommy jeans. I appreciated the socks and underwear, but the Mommy jeans went straight to the Salvation Army. Poor or no, I had my limits. Unlike the hips and thighs of those jeans.

The Buttkicker would have loved nothing more than to inundate me with perfume, but as I said, we were poor. So poor, we were often reduced to selling our own plasma just so we could feed our two cats.

But it was a matter of priorities. We had broadband. So I began to read perfume blogs, as if I could absorb clouds of scent by some weird osmosis interfacing between the words and my brain. Perfume by proxy. A shabby substitute for the real thing, but it would have to do.

Along the way, I became educated as well as entertained. I learned how to sniff like a connoisseur. I learned of the harrowing perils of niche perfume houses – the ones who hardly, if ever, advertise, who exist as a sensual secret among the the lucky few who know about them, smug in the knowledge that whatever they’re wearing will never,, ever, ever be on sale in the discount bins at TJ Maxx or Walmart. learned of a perfume house – in Paris, where else? – that, so said many, many reviews, had the unique ability to bottle emotion. Fancy that! Distilled emotion – good, bad or frustrated – in a bottle you could take with you!

I saw it in my mind’s eye. On my gothic days, I could waft melancholy and Proustian nostalgia, on other days, all-out take-no-prisoners va-va-voom sex appeal, on yet other days, spread the joys of intellectual arrogance.

It beat anything available at my local department store in the sticks well into a cocked hat. The possibilities were endless.

So, as time wore on and I eventually acquired a bottle or two in exchange for a couple of weeks or so of oatmeal and Rice-A-Roni, I saw it as my hellbent obligation to educate the unwilling. I mean, people, how can you not know?

Nowhere more evident than when it came to scents – and men.

Now, it’s well-known that with a few exceptions, not a few men have the olfactory sense of a wooly mammoth with a bad headcold. If men had their way, women would be perpetually wrapped in fried bacon. And in terms of what they wore themselves – forget it. They wore what their dads wore, or whatever fell out of the Xmas stocking, bought by a well-meaning (female) relative.

Two young gentlemen of my acquaintance were particularly clueless. One is fair, one is dark, and they both discovered they wore the exact same stuff. This would never do. I sat them down over the course of several smoke breaks and rearranged their wiring like some latter-day Frankensteena. Suddenly, their vocabularies included words like “headspace”, “heart notes” and “vetiver”. They found out there is much more on offer than anything labelled “Hugo Boss” or “Axe”. Old Spice is so VERY – old hat.

The test came some time later. After their synapses had been rearranged in an altogether more pleasing olfactory fashion, I sent them out with definite orders to buy something that went with their pheromones. Since one is a notorious lech and the other is notoriously geeky – and knows that playing Fallout 3 all weekend does not help much with the challenge of getting laid – they went for it.

I am pleased to report that the lech is now working on his own headspace in relative peace and quiet, and the geek is beating off the ladies with a very particular stick. They smell infinitely better now. They’ll thank me when they’re 50, at least for the memories.

Back to that ad. As I said, I had hysterics, and it usually takes a lot more than the sight of a cologne bottle to induce it. But really, folks – what were they THINKING? “Macho – it’s ba-a-a-a-ad”.

Anything in THAT bottle would have to be, wouldn’t you say? Are these the lengths men went to in the late Seventies to assert their (temporarily) misplaced/emasculated masculinity, and to such a degree that they had to have a bottle to prove it? Or is it just the product of an enterprising designer and art director who had two days to work through a brief and resorted to alcohol AND cocaine to get the right idea and meet their deadline?

You wonder. I know I did!

Remember that arcane Parisian perfume house that bottled emotion? Well, as events proved yesterday, it’s true. I can attest to the fact.

Last week, I summoned up the courage to email this rarified, august presence and request samples. They arrived, three days later, wrapped in odiferous black tissue paper and with an eloquent handwritten note thanking me for my interest and looking forward to my patronage.

The Buttkicker and I have been married too long. I know this because in .2 seconds, he had homed in on a sample and said “that is SO you!”.

A few I have tried, and discovered that there IS such a thing as bottled emotion. Some I look forward to trying later, and one that is such a flesh-eating monster I would never test even if my arm were located in Ulan Baator and the rest of me in LA. (My sister, however, would go ape over that one)

But yesterday, to give myself a lift, to give myself a challenge, I sampled one. It sounded like a good one. If I didn’t like it, well, it hadn’t cost me anything. Not so bad, considering this stuff retails for around 120$.

On it went. I checked my email. And a few seconds later came – happy. Exuberant, even. I’d call it “Joy”, but Jean Patou’s edition had nothing on this one. If you could encapsulate “happy”, “womanly”, “bubbly” “sexy” and “mature”, all in one word, and pour it into a bottle, that would be it, exactly. I had to leave, and went over to the Buttkicker to give him a goodbye hug. It was nothing short of a miracle that he let me go. He refused. He buried his wooly mammoth nose in my neck and wouldn’t budge. “I don’t care what it costs – I’m BUYING that, right effing NOW! I want to smell it on you, on our sheets, everywhere! Oh! Man!”

Over the space of the past nine years, he’s been subjected to a lot, nose-wise. About 98% has boiled down to “you smell so good!”

There are two exceptions. Yesterday’s was one. He even threatened to send off an email to that august Parisian establishment of refinement and thank them personally.

Happy in a bottle.

Pas mal, as they say in Paris!

And worth at least a month of oatmeal!

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Not much can get a woman motivated to shop like a broken underwire, no matter how well-padded the ribs beneath it. It’s your ribs, your sanity, or your vanity at having to tie your mammalian protruberances around your neck in twenty years. It might be much less, but something must be done – now.

For you gents who don’t know, this is a serious issue. We’re talking about something that might, if done right, take off ten pounds and five years and add a whole new wiggle to your walk. My mother never left her daughters with much in the way of stellar advice on womanhood, but I distinctly remember one of her sayings.

She said it in Paris, right before she was about to enter the Guerlain store on the Champs Elysées with her gobsmacked 14-year-old daughter, who had just had her bottom pinched for the first time in the Paris metro.

There we stood, mother and daughter, perched on the threshold of one of the ultimate high temples of femininity. I was about to graduate from using drugstore body sprays to the serious stuff. A quantum leap on a par from going from cigarettes to cocaine – in less than 24 hours.

“There are two things to remember about being a woman,” she stated with all the solemn intent of a priestess of Isis to a novice.

I held my breath.

Never underestimate the importance of a very good bra – or a killer perfume!”

All these years later, on a standard August Saturday, I remembered that day – the Belle Epoque opulence of Maison Guerlain, the staid, hushed atmosphere at Caron, the Dior face I received at Galeries Lafayette, the sensory overload of breathing in Jicky parfum for the first time and promptly bathing in it.

Meanwhile, all these years later, there was this broken underwire. Serious stuff.

Nothing focuses the mind quite so effectively as the thought of an impatient four-year-old waiting outside a lingerie store. I was in and out of changing room and shop and in possession of two pretty underwired over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders in less than 10 minutes, and it was all the four-year-old’s fault. If not for him, I wouldn’t have ended up with 36DDs to begin with.

Next stop, the killer cloud of perfume. I located it, sprayed myself down to convince myself that I really, truly, badly, madly needed the US equivalent of 180 dollars worth of fragrant alcoholic juice with which to slay the unsuspecting, and just because of that broken underwire, I also walked out with the first tube of anti-wrinkle serum I have ever bought in my 46-year-old life.

Some day, I fully expect Aerin Lauder to thank me. Meanwhile, I thank her for putting the va-va in my voom today.

The virgin ingenue on the Champs Elysees in 1977 was very far away. The harsh reality of MoltenMetalMama in the mirror at 5 AM an aeon or so later, with broken underwire, crow’s feet and a lifetime habit of lifting my left eyebrow at the ironies of existence, was, on the other hand, all too close.

It is, as a character in the Effing Book thinks at one point in my story, a losing battle. It’s all headed in the general direction of the magnetic South Pole anyway, but I do want to delude myself into thinking that I haven’t slipped too far from the Equator just – yet.

The Buttkicker had bribed Damien with a Pixar “Cars” racetrack. he was kicking back at a café with a beer, Damien was being four and happy with his new toy, and as I settled down with a monster caffè latte, wafting slay ’em sillage in all directions, he found the tiny tube of snake oil.

“Anti-wrinkle serum???” he roared. “But you don’t HAVE any wrinkles!!!”

We have been together for nine years now, the longest relationship in either of our lives. Now you know why.

Ah, but it’s not entirely true. I may not give Catherine Deneuve any sleepless jealous nights, but life has writ itself on my face in spite of all I’ve done to avoid it. A South Florida childhood spent mostly outdoors and often on boats – check. Teenaged sunburn – check. SPF anything not yet invented – check. The times a friend and I tried to drink our way across Scotland in a Copenhagen bar – triple check. And Triple Sec. We were always done in by the Loch Ness Monster.

One day in 1990, I came across an article stating that if you slathered yourself with sunscreen every single day, you could quite possibly avoid 90% of all the wrinkles you were doomed for. I decided to give it a whirl.

Almost twenty years later, the habit is now so ingrained that I never go anywhere outside without burrowing beneath a thick layer of SPF 25. I have been carded in bars and liquor stores and had to prove my decrepitude. I swear on that hotly coveted bottle of Tuberose Gardenia that there is no painting of Dorian Gray hidden in my basement. A good thing, given that although I may not look it, I am, I can assure you, thoroughly corrupted!

Can’t take the Goth out of the girl, doncha know.

But now I’m a lapsed gothaholic metalhead Mommy with a brand-new tube of anti-wrinkle serum. I’ll let you know if it works. I might even start kissing on my mirror again.

One thing it can’t do, no matter what it claims.

Take the wrinkles out of life.

Thank the gods for small mercies!

Image: Auguste Toulmouche, “Vanité” (1889)

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I have always ascribed to the notion that having only one vice was for wimps. Why have only one when you can have ten? Twenty? Hell, have an entire rehab center catalog! Vices are nice. They have been my friends for a long, long time. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I have been forced to give most of them up, and not just for Lent.

Among the ones I no longer have: recreational drugs, splatter movies, Lycra, sparkly or black lipstick and Bananarama. It hurt to see them go. I’d love to give up casual sex, but I’m still not entirely convinced it’s not possible. I’ll let you know.

Among the ones I still have: pop astrology, chick-lit (due to an appalling lack of estrogen in my life), chocolate in any form except Hershey’s and the kind with built-in booze, books in general, French cosmetics, literary erotica, Irish whiskey, Burgundy, Champagne, Armagnac, Calvados, testosterone bombs with or without tattoos and long hair, bands so obscure they’re only known in two villages in Slovenia, and – perfume.

That last is a biggie. It’s a good thing I don’t own a credit card, since I know exactly how I’d spend $10000 – in ten minutes or less. Much of that would be blown on perfume. Not just any ol’ Walgreen’s special offer, either. Like I’ve said before. if it ain’t made by Florentine nuns according to a recipe they made up for Catherine de Medici, forget it. If you can only buy it in one store in the planet, and that’s in Paris, I’ll want it. I’ll not only want it, I’ll want to asphyxiate everyone else with it, too.

It goes without saying that my idea of a living nightmare would be perfume allergy. But it hasn’t happened yet, so I’m not too worried. My dead mother exposed me to so much of the stuff growing up, I’m probably immune for life.

Now, let’s face it, people. In this day and age of excessive personal hygiene, perfume these days, as opposed to, say, 250 years ago, is about one of two things. You can be out to put yourself into a particular mood or mindset. I have one perfume in my personal hall of fame that landed me not one, but two jobs, I’m sure of it. Or else you’re basically looking for that elusive Holy Grail of the perfume world known as:

Sex in a Bottle

This is where it gets interesting, because one woman’s Obsession is another woman’s Poison. (And both are on my all-time barf-list, along with another Eighties stinkaroo, namely Giorgio). What we want to do, at least in our twenties, is to knock down the guys – or gals, depending on your perspective – like so many bowling pins, in one nice and elegant strike. We’re all on the prowl for something besides a plastic razor that not only will bring out our Inner Goddess, it will make the opposite sex positively swoon with lust.

And ladies – or gents, or something else entirely, I’m openminded – let’s face it – it ain’t happening, because Nature in her infinite wisdom has with a few notable exceptions given the male gender the olfactory abilities of a woolly mammoth with a bad headcold. Sock it to ’em with a heady floral, and it’s “nice”. Soak yourself in a skanky Oriental scent, , such as Shalimar, or something a bit more unusual, like Cabochard, and it’s “sexy”. Which is rather disheartenening. You just blew your rent money on Absolute Essence of Afrodite, and you want a bit more appreciation than just – “nice”. You want “please, let me rip off your lingerie with my teeth before I die of longing and a permanent hard-on”, is what you want.

Back in my bad-girl days in my late teens and early twenties, I wore one perfume that divided my male friends like the Berlin Wall. They would either head in my direction like so many brain-hungry starved zombies, or they would run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. It was what is known today as an all-time classic, beloved by Gothaholics on at least two continents: Narcisse Noir, by Caron. And you’ve likely never heard about it, because this is not something you’d find on sale at your local CVS. My mother wore it, but not for long, because I stole it. So did Anais Nin, and I figured, if it worked for her…

Today, I can’t stand it. It’s stunning, but polecat-in-heat is not an aura I need to project any more. I’m past 35, so I’m not even projecting. Me, I slide across the floor every day, and count myself lucky if anyone notices. If they’re under 40 with a pulse, they’ve made my day. If they’re under 30, they’ve made my year.

But now, I think I’ve finally figured it out. Ladies, save your pennies – or your rent checks. If you want to amp up the sex appeal, if you want to turn that pathetic couch potato who’s buried himself alive with his Playstation into the Towering Inferno of Rampant Lust, if you want to have him rip off everything Victoria never did keep secret, forget the esoteric essences of Afrodite. Throw those costly Carons right out the window. Chanel will go out of business because of this. You will never need Calvin or Ralph again. Armani will never decode it.

Not so long ago, one rather occult French perfume company launched a perfume that was supposed to be Sex in a Bottle. It was even called – in French, when anything sounds better – Magnificent Secretions. (Trust the French). If you ever had a Night to Remember, the kind where you leave in the morning, still in your silk and heels, trailing stray dogs and strange men and a certain je-ne-sais-quoi fishy aroma – that’s pretty much it.

That’s taking a literal interpretation too far. Really. We’re women. We’re not stupid. We’re certainly not so stupid we’ll pay over 100 € for a bottle of liquid dirty underwear.

Well, maybe if we’re French.

So, you’re still looking for Love Potion nr. 11, since numbers 1 through 9 didn’t quite work out, and no. 10 was already trademarked? Have I got news for you! You’ll thank me later. Really, you will.

No. According to all the recent studies of males ranging from their twenties to their sixties, the ultimate, the complete, the non-plus-ultra nasal turn-on of all time is – drumroll, please!

Bacon.

I know, That sucks if you’re a vegan. I’m not, and know only devoted carnivores, and even a band called Carnivore, but that’s a blog for another day.

That’s right. Get yourself to your local supermarket, invest in the best smoked pork belly you can afford. Fry it up. If that hasn’t brought out the Number of the Beast by then, well hey – rub it all over your pulse points.

Some time later, when the couch potato has returned to what passes for reality, he might, if he knows what’s good for him, ask you what you’re wearing – apart from a tattered and battered body by Victoria/La Perla/Dior/H&M.

You can look up at him with dewy eyes in postcoital bliss and say, in your best breathy voice:

“Love Potion no. 11”.

All’s fair in love and war.

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