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- WILDLY! – different to the European.
But 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 genuinely love how most American girls smell: so peachy clean, soft, so apple-fresh ( I remember almost swooning with pleasure when my friend Theresa wore the original Tiffany at a bar one night…………somehow we Europeans can never quite catch that strawberried, faultlessly clean yet strangely sexy halo of shower-gelled hygiene and fresh-pressed laundry…)
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 started to wonder 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, over enchiladas,my Nº 19 was quickly, quite rudely, immediately dissed as too ‘woodsie and girly’ (she was a firm believer in men smelling like men) and, anyway, perhaps, on that occasion, she was right. The Chanel doesn’t work every time on me for whatever reason – temperature, that day’s body chemistry, and I am always waiting for the leather and citric vetiver to make itself known, not the powdery iris and neroli which can sometimes predominate 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 : such thoroughly dreadful . Every ‘clean’, ‘fresh’ ‘sexy’ perfume in the book that she thought were god’s gift to perfume and humanity but which I ferociously, but good humouredly (or so I thought) dissed back as they basically proclaimed her to be an olfactory moron. 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 actual assault. It was so bad, so truly and utterly 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, hard, across my face…..
In all of this controversy the only perfume we had managed to agree on at any point and to any extent 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 wash machine halations that mask the flesh beneath and create idealized, perfected, desexed holograms in their place.
For this girl, Happy was all about summer, and girls in short white dresses heading out on the town; clean, confident, sexy, radiating wholesomeness.
For me, it is the same, really (though I find it more asexual) ; 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’… ) ha!
– and it all just smells lovely, especially in small doses from a distance. Really. 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, it pains me to admit, 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. As in, full, back of the head pulsating agony. Pierced cranium shootings. I got through at least five bottles of the stuff in my time before I finally 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……)
Despite its hazardous nature though, Happy 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 (honestly: can you believe I am even writing this?): girls at school literally following me down the corridor crooning about how beautiful I smelled (“flower! Flower!”). I have to say then, 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…’