I was once slapped, really hard, across the face, because a girl’s taste in perfume differed from my own. As my cheek smarted, and her boyfriend and mine, and other onlookers (at a mutual friend’s wedding) sat gobsmacked in anxious silence wondering about what would happen next, it struck me quite forcefully how the conservative U.S sense of perfume can be so wildly different to the European. To rewind… The girl (whose name I am not allowed to use; I can still hear her drunk, screaming at the top of her lungs, “I will sue you! I will fuck you! I will fucking take you down if you print my name!”) was sitting across from me, and being the quintessential sassy American blonde, I knew I would have to interview her on her perfume tastes, as, all irony aside, I do love how American girls smell: so peachy clean, so apple-fresh ( I remember almost swooning when my friend Theresa wore Tiffany at a bar one night…somehow we Europeans can never quite catch that strawberried, faultlessly clean halo of shower-gelled hygiene..) Yes, as this girl and I downed beers at the marriage after-party in a Yokohama Mexican restaurant, we quickly grew a fun and flirtatious rapport, and I remember us standing in the steaming cold outside, laughing and joking, as she smoked a cigarette, talked perfume and Texas, and her boyfriend wondered what she was getting up to. Excited about a project on perfume I was hoping to start, she was going to be the U.S correspondent: we would expand, we were going worldwide, baby. Back inside, my Nº 19 was quickly, rudely, dissed as too ‘woodsie and girly’ (she was a firm believer in men smelling like men, and I won’t even go into what her favourites were….) and, anyway, perhaps she was right. The Chanel doesn’t work every time on me as I am always waiting for the leather and vetiver to make itself known, not the powdery iris and neroli which sometimes predominates instead, and even I knew that on that particular evening I had made the wrong choice (a familiar agony for true perfumists, when you know you have selected the wrong scent on a particular occasion and you can’t relax for the rest of the evening….) However, her own choices also made me laugh out loud : every ‘clean’, ‘fresh’ ‘sexy’ perfume in the book that I ferociously, but good humouredly (or so I thought) dissed back. Ralph Lauren Romance? Give me a break. Vera Wang? Oh, don’t make me laugh… It was a body lotion she was carrying in her bag, though, something she thought was exotic and alluring and pretty, that caused the assault. It was so bad, so truly vile ( Bath And Body Works ‘Japanese Cherry Blossom’ I think, so pink, so chemical and not even remotely related to the smell of the sakura) that I just had to tell her my truth, not expecting for one moment that her exquisitely manicured hand would then coming smashing down across my face…..
In all of this the only perfume we had managed to agree on was Happy, still one of the most popular perfumes in America and something of an institution in the ‘clean and perfect’ type of fragrance that renders a person so radiantly scrubbed their sexual organs are smoothed out into flesh-pink Action Man Barbie mounds; skin marbellized, made acrylic; immaculate laundry halations that mask the flesh beneath and create idealized, perfected, holograms in their place. For this girl, Happy was summer, and girls in short white dresses heading out on the town; clean, confident, sexy, radiating wholesomeness. For me, it is the same, basically; a very cleverly blended citrus floral of grapefruit and orange and a whole bouquet of imaginary flowers (mainly ‘living headspace’ flowers, that apparently include morning dew orchid, West Indian mandarin tree blossom; melati blossom; high altitude laurel; Chinese golden magnolia and Hawaiian wedding blossom… ) and it all just smells lovely, especially from a distance. Under the complex beginning of the scent there are no woods, or musks, or any other bother, and once the initial, rather heady (and very Lauder) top accord dissipates, you are left with nothing more than a beautiful, very chemical trail of flowers and skin scent that screams
I AM HAPPY!!
I HAVE NO PSYCHOLOGICAL GLITCHES!
I AM BALANCED, FOCUSED AND HAVE NO INTESTINES!!!
I can imagine that there are people reading this who have direct experience of this fragrance, either from wearing it themselves or smelling it on colleagues at work, and I would love to know your thoughts on the subject. Admittedly, the scent is extraordinarily conservative, safe, almost monstrously synthetic, and easy to hate if you prefer the more inner-thigh fragrances, but for me, after a long hot shower, and worn with a clean white shirt, there is nothing better for work. It suits my Japanese olfactory double life perfectly and would probably be in my own top ten of day scents, if it didn’t, unfortunately, cause me such excruciating migraines. I got through at least five bottles of the stuff in my time before I realized that it was poisoning me, perhaps literally (I saw an internet article about Happy which was very alarming, but it is not my aim to be libellous, so I might save that for another time……) It is, in my view, when all is said and done, a small work of quite original genius from certain standpoints – few perfumes have gained as many compliments from Japanese people on me, girls at school literally following me down the corridor crooning about how beautiful I smelled – and I have to say that, ultimately, this toxic, insidious beauty is something of a classic, if a dangerous one. I wonder if Lisa or whatever her name was, somewhere across the Pacific ocean, still wears it when she goes out at night, strutting the Dallas boulevards in her shorts, blouses and clean-pressed whites, trailing Happy, punching strangers in the face.
For more on Happy, see my post on my strange, schizoid perfumed life here: ‘Jekyll and Hyde and the colognes of Gandini…’