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Serge Lutens


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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