The appearance of The Hyacinth Girl in T.S Eliot’s The Wasteland is probably the most memorable part of the poem the for the budding and swooning flower acolyte, and many a romantic seventeen year old English student is probably sighing and dreaming on discovering her as I write this ( I know that I most certainly was; that age when I was blooming into consciousness).
The flowers in the first part of the work, ‘The Burial Of The Dead’ (lilacs, hyacinths) speak of desire, death, and romantic loss (the cruelty of spring), and Chamade, Jean Paul Guerlain’s great masterpiece of 1969 – inspired by a tragic love story by Francoise Sagan, ‘La Chamade’ – reflects this: it is an exceptionally tender, sensitive perfume; a perfume to own just for its own beauty even if you don’t…
Would you please comment on the rise of gender-fluid fragrances these days? What do you think of the trend?
The rise in the popularity of gender-fluid fragrances is a natural response to changes in society in which many people are not content to be limited by traditional gender roles in all areas of their lives, from the way they carry themselves to the way they dress. Fragrance is an inevitable extension of this as a form of self-expression: like choices in fashion, for those wishing to experiment with the new forms of gender, a new perfume is a way of testing the boundaries you are comfortable with. This trend can only be liberating.
Tastes in fragrance are changing. There is a growing openness to new directions in perfumery, related partly to the rapidly expanding changing world of fragrance surrounding us. In the last decade or so, there has been a marked increase in the use of scented fabric softeners and ambient fragrance for the home. As a result, men have become much more accustomed to floral, fruity fragrances or ‘clean’ smelling laundry musk type smells than in the past, and this has influenced how they view perfume and what constitutes a pleasant smell. Flowers, especially rose and white florals, now feel more familiar. Likewise, the rise in popularity of incense and woody fragrances for the home (as well as global smash hits like Le Labo’s Santal 33, which totally redefined how women should perfume themselves) has had an effect on how women view scent: many are no longer content with the stereotyped, ‘cute’ floral gendering of the old fragrance binary as it simply doesn’t reflect their inner nature and how they feel about themselves.
Clean, and stripped-down fragrances appeal to a new generation who value subtlety and understatement: houses like Maison Kurkdijian have capitalized very cleverly on this trend by producing quality haute parfumerie that takes some inspiration from the trend for smelling freshly laundered but takes it to higher levels: the Aqua range from Maison FK is the apex of such perfumes: Aqua Universalis, an appealingly hale and clean scent full of optimism, and Aqua Celestia – la blue glacier of waterfall freshness have expanded the concept of what perfume can be. Rather than simply worn for sexual attraction, these perfumes smell comfortable, more ’loveable’ than purely erotic, without the predatory elements of more obviously ‘seductive’ perfumes. Tokyo Brand Tobali’s Innocent Love, another example, is a stunning neroli: like light glinting on water, it is a new generation of cologne with notes of bright citruses, lavender and jasmine that goes the extra mile. It makes you feel that you can rise above anything no matter how you gender-identify. One of the keys to this trend is that the perfumes make you happy first: only then, in my view, will you be attractive to other people.
How do you define the notion of gender-fluid in perfume?
The word ‘fluidity’ is usually seen as a positive attribute, similar to a feeling of flowing and creativity, something that is always in flux, like a river. We are all a combination of feminine and masculine, in a balance that differs from person to person but also at times even within one person. Fluidity is something that is not fixed, like some outdated notions of the ‘for men’ and ‘for women’ typical fragrances. Rather, a gender-fluid fragrance is a scent that a person of any gender feels at ease wearing, one not instantly marcated by the usual recognizable man vs woman traits (ie. aggressive woody fougères for men, sweet and sugared vanillic florals for women). With these new, more ambiguous perfumes you can just smell like yourself – not another person’s definition of how you should smell. Gender fluidity to me means being free to do whatever you want, unshackled by predecided cultural cliché.
Do you think there are some common characteristics or penchants in so-called ‘gender- fluid’ frangrances? If you do, please tell us what they are.
Gender fluid perfumes often combine elements that are considered masculine and feminine within the same perfume (for example woods and flowers). Your own personal skin type, your ‘canvas’ if you like, will then bring certain aspects of the fragrance to the fore. You personalize the fragrance with your own DNA so it becomes your very own, with more of a sense of mystery than with the more stereotyped fragrances where your social role smells pre-defined.
The new, more youthfully uninhibited perfumes open up new landscapes of possibility, exploring nature: forests and woods; flower gardens; herbs and spices, fresh air and the sea. Oceanic, salty aerated perfumes remind us of light glittering on waves and are very uplifting: after a year stuck inside, we need such fragrances. A fragrance like Louis Vuitton’s On The Beach can be enjoyed by anybody – zestful notes of yuzu and neroli combine with solar notes that smell like sun-kissed skin on hot sand: like the suntan oils we all share by the ocean, this kind of perfume is suitable for anyone. A breath of positive air.
Similarly, though herbal, aromatic perfumes have traditionally been considered masculine, green and herbaceous notes are very gender-versatile. Most people enjoy spices and herbs in a culinary context – so there is no reason these ingredients can not be experienced in fragrance also. Chanel’s Les Eaux De Chanel Paris-Edimbourg inspired by Coco Chanel’s frequent trips to Scotland where she would go for tweed-suited walks on the Scottish Highlands, is perfectly androgynous. This scent takes the green and herbaceous notes of a vivacious cypress and juniper heart accord, brightened with bergamot and lemon further than would ever be expected in a standard feminine release, but also making the woodier undertones of cedar and vetiver less aggressive than in a typical masculine. The result – if you are attracted to the idea of a foresty fragrance, like a stroll in nature – is a new departure in how genderless perfume is marketed. I hope this is a trend that continues as it really opens up new possibilities for everyone.
Spices are also eminently suitable for any individual, and have been used for millennia by men and women in most human cultures. Whether you are drawn to spicier fragrances is more a question of personality and temperament than your gender. The new warm, and welcomingly gingery sandalwood-ambroxan blend that is My New York by Bond No 9 celebrates this inclusivity without the heavy, ‘fur-coated diva’ of spiced orientals from the past. Lighter, spice perfumes such as Serge Lutens’ comforting nutmeg and clove-studded orange perfume Des Clous Pour Une Pelure or Heeley’s uplifting and zingy Gingembre, focus on one or two spices in a drier, less cluttered context that can suit any gender. Likewise, incense is wonderfully genderless because of its original, unearthly spiritual connotations: by its very nature, incense is unbodied – a perfume for the mind.
Long before the rise of gender-free notions, there were frangrances like CK One which can be worn by both men and women.
What do you think is the difference between these old-school unisex fragrances and the current gender-free fluid frangrances?
CK One was revolutionary in that it was a direct and controversial challenge to what had come before (the granite-jawed macho fragrances for men and the sweet, florid, big-haired glamorous silhouettes of women’s fragrances of the eighties). It scythed through the past and represented a brand new era with its clean, crisp, tropical fruit and synthetic musks that smelled of linen. You could almost argue it was anti-gender – making everyone smell like a freshly washed t-shirt.
The term ‘unisex’, in my view, feels slightly more limiting than ‘genderless’ or ‘gender fluid’, as unisex seems to mean something ‘meeting in the middle’: one sex — something that doesn’t offend anyone and is suitable for everybody. A fragrance that is ‘safe’. On the other hand, ‘gender fluid’ feels more adventurous and unafraid. You wear what you want, when you want, and it can cover a much wider range of olfactory characteristics. Men can wear flowers. Women can wear drier, darker olfactory accords based on woods and incense and spice.
I think the main difference between what has come before and the new genderless fragrances is that they don’t necessarily have to smell of citrus. Eaux de cologne such as Guerlain’s Eau De Cologne Impériale, created in 1860 and still in production – have always been considered unisex from the very beginning, bergamot, lemon, rosemary and neroli naturally suiting almost anyone. Audrey Hepburn is said to have worn Acqua Di Parma on a handkerchief: women are often erroneously assumed to want to smell of flowers, but in the 1960s, the men’s classic Eau Sauvage – a woody citrus chypre with notes of basil and jasmine – was so popular with women that Dior felt compelled to create a ‘female’ equivalent, Diorella – which I personally prefer and wear. The two are in some ways almost interchangeable.
I think it is important to remember that the last century’s gender divide in perfumery is a relatively recent phenomenon and is culture specific. Gender-free perfume has been the norm in many places around the world for millennia: flowers are for everyone. The very origins of flowers are bi-
gendered: In ancient Greek myths, many flowers – the narcissus, hyacinth, anemone, orchid, and dianthus (carnation) sprang from males being transformed into blooms, while the rose and the iris were female. In India and in Arab cultures, florals are considered entirely appropriate for men to wear; women have long worn perfumes based on oud, vetiver, and sandalwood. In a sense, in many countries, most perfume has naturally been gender-fluid without needing to be labelled as such.
Are there any up-and-coming genderless fragrances that you’re keeping your eye on? Please tell us your pick from the new products.
I am looking forward to smelling Dior Eden Roc on the air in Tokyo. This new release from Maison Dior is a very cool and atmospheric, saline scent that smells like sea air, with the faint scent of distant flowers floating on the breeze of the promenade. It is elegant and calming, and perfect for hot weather.
A Drop D’Issey is a tranquil flower – very pure and white as a freshly opened magnolia flower.
Diptyque’s Orphéon, celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the famous French perfume niche house – who have been ungendered in their perfumery since their first launch, L’Eau in 1968 – with gentle tobacco notes and cedarwood is very relaxing, almost like the hinoki soap you get at the onsen – the soft powdered ‘savon’ effect with wood; comfortable and grounding.
Another intriguing and enigmatic woody perfume that is perfect for a particular personality type than a gender (someone who is thoughtful, complicated, possibly slightly melancholic) is Byredo’s Mixed Emotions, which takes a fruity and hight pitched blackcurrant/cassis accord and blends it with smoky black tea notes, gradually deepening to a very distinctive woody note that really lingers in the mind.
Realistically speaking, here in Japan, people love traditional floral scents like Miss Dior. Would you please give you advice to the aspiring fragrance lovers in Japan, who are determined to take a step forward, how to make a smooth transition from these floral scents to the gender fluid ones? (ie to start wearing a new fragrance on specific parts of the body while still using the older one on other parts)
The first step is to go to the perfume counter with an open mind. Base your choices on your true instincts, not on what you think others expect of you. One definition of gender fluidity is the fact that you feel differently about yourself in relation to gender and how you want to present yourself depending on the day and your mood. At some times you might feel more feminine, at other times more masculine or simply human. Thus, it is not a question of having to give up your cherished, classic feminine or masculine favourites if they still work for you on particular occasions,
but expanding your scent consciousness and building your scent wardrobe to include the newer gender-free scents when you are feeling in the mood for something different.
It is not always necessary every time to actually put the perfume on skin if you are not completely comfortable with wearing perfume or worry about it being too strong. To experiment with this, I advise spraying some scent on a tissue, cotton wool or a handkerchief and putting it in the inner pocket of a coat or jacket or shirt, or even discreetly tucked away in an inner trouser pocket. This way, the scent still diffuses in the air around you subtly when you get on or off the train or are walking out in public, but you can also remove it when necessary if you feel it is too insistent.
In terms of layering, it can be quite interesting to mix and match, to play with scent and gender a little: for instance, wearing a woodier oud or patchouli on the body – perhaps a crème or oil or other product of your favorite scent under clothes, and then a complementary, lighter scent like a rose blend on the neck and wrists so that you emanate both simultaneously. By doing so, you are taking the concept of your own ‘personalized’ smell to another level as it will be completely your own.
To have more control over the timing and effect of your perfume, rather than spritzing on alcohol- based perfumes, which sometimes take a while to ‘settle’, a tip I would recommend is using roll-on balms, such as those available at Le Labo, which you can just touch on the back of your hand, the wrists, the collar bone, or the back of the neck before meeting someone for an immediate, but subtle, burst of scent. Bergamote 22 is a multifaceted and mood-boosting woody citrus that is an almost guaranteed crowdpleaser for last moment ‘touch ups’.
Lastly, what specific role do you think scents are playing the world during this COVID-19 pandemic?
It has been a stressful time, but perfume has been a form of escape. It is a proven fact that scent is mood-altering: sometimes we need to be taken out of ourselves when our circumstances are not ideal; to let our minds ‘float’ somewhere more fragrant and idealized – this is important in helping us to change how we feel. You can create your own ‘private space’ with a scent that you love, one that soothes frayed nerves and stimulates positivity. Also, as you can’t dress up as before or use make up in the same way (with most of the face covered), perfume is a way of still being able to express yourself when you do go outside, of augmenting your aura to appeal to to others. It’s a form of silent communication. Given the stress and fear of illness that have been felt by so many worldwide, smelling healthy – green, crisp scents, like the new gender-bending Hermès 24 with its bright notes of narcissus, rosewood and clary sage – are perfect if you want to present a fresh face to the world. They represent a new start. A refresh button.
After a blessedly long sleep that refreshed the senses and washed away some of the strains of the classroom and the repressions of office politics this week, I woke up this morning to a piping hot cup of Earl Grey tea and a new package of perfume vials from London. Maya Njie is a Swedish independent perfumer and designer of West African heritage who lives, and has her own studio on the Isle Of Dogs on the Eastern Thames: the collection, released in 2016, consists of five fragrances. Concise; delicately mellow, with what she describes as ‘nostalgic, addictive trails’, I particularly like Tropica.
It is not easy to combine pineapple and coconut in the same perfume without it becoming tacky. Here, in probably the best example of a tropical fruit perfume I have come across, an opening accord of fresh piña colada, deliciously fresh and photorealistic, needn’t overstay its welcome: the perfumer sensibly withdraws the luscious tropicalia gradually and lets the scent cede almost imperceptibly to a warm, but gentle, iris, Mediterranean fig and light sandalwood/cedarwood accord; an unanticipated further fruit element of rhubarb – often used in Swedish cakes – that is is energizing and relaxing simultaneously (all of the scents – also comprising Tobak, Les Fleurs – read as ‘casual wear’ to me; mood boosters with aura).
Another very traditionally Swedish component used in the range – essential as an ingredient in Scandinavian confectionary, in hefty and noticeable proportions, is cardamom oil, which graces the beginnings of both Vanilj and Nordic Cedar, two perfumes that are described as being closely related: the former the more gourmand (‘the less feral, slightly sweeter and more softly spoken sibling’). I like the forthright, less sugared Nordic Cedar more, a warmly woody scent that opens with a healthy spiced rush of cardamom and cinnamon, before softening down to a very skin-centric snuggling ambergris, cedarwood and musk scent that is unobtrusive, sensual; pleasing up close.
On Bibi’s recommendation, I decided to stop off briefly at Nose Shop, Yokohama on my way to work yesterday to have a quick sniff of some of the perfumes by Perris Monte Carlo, a well regarded perfume house whose wares I had somehow deliberately neglected – probably because of the overly patterned gold flacons that don’t really appeal to me aesthetically. I had imagined they would be too loud; thick; synthetic.
In fact, this high quality line of scents may be bold and unhesitant, but most of the perfumes I smelled yesterday were also quite rich, well-crafted and impressive. Tubereuse Absolue is fantastic – a proper, full on, head-turning trumpeting tuberose that combines all the Greatest Hits of the flower in one bottle; you get the green biological aspect of Carnal Flower in part of the opening act but also the buttery nightgown fabulousness of every other niche or classical tuberose you can think of in the mix. This is a DECLARATION ( I was certainly not going to be spraying this on to go to a windowless classroom yesterday afternoon (it’s still such a horror!), but the sheer exotic splendour of this number will certainly have me going back to try it again on skin. Rose De Taif, a dark, concentrated rose, is also very full-bodied: a crimson affair, dense and inchoate, impressive, but something about it didn’t quite grab me (is there some shrill citronella in the mix with all the roses that was bringing me down?) Likewise, the ylang ylang perfume in the lineup piqued my interest initially in some ways but proved ultimately indigestible. Meaning ‘big island’ in Malagasy, seeing this name on the bottles of both Patchouli Nosy Be and Ylang Ylang Nosy Be gave me a slight pang – as I wrote in a post long ago, we were once on the verge of going to Madagascar, D about to hand over money for our extremely expensive air tickets from Japan, when we decided to cancel at the last minute because of a giant swarm of locusts that was blighting almost the entire nation and could have turned the journey into a nightmare. We were going for the vanilla – but ending up going to an organic plantation in Indonesia instead. Still, although – I was quite shocked to read this – the island off the north coast is now off limits due to violent attacks on tourists – it is not possible to go to the famed ylang ylang distillery in the now aptly named town of Hellville as you might get killed, something I would be passionate for as I do love this note – we can but dream.This perfume though – odd, ambery, spiced and offputtingly aquatic in places – doesn’t work for me. Too complicated. Too many elements. And I don’t need the cardamom. I still believe that there has never been a perfect ylang ylang perfume (discuss) : for me, the best use of this creamy yellow floral probably remains as the chief player in Nº5, but I have never encountered an ideal, fully realized solo performer. No one ever quite fully captures it. The patchouli was quite good, as was the Vanille Tahiti – solid, monothemed elixirs – but not exciting.
More impressive for me was Jasmin De Pays. It is interesting to see how artists, perfumers, can evolve and be unleashed when released from the restricting commercial pressures of giant behemoths. And yesterday I could immediately sense, internally, a feeling of unshackled liberation in the new work of Jean Claude Ellena in this recent joyful and unbridled floral. Yes, the Hermessences were very exciting for perfume freaks when they first came out – before we were drowned in so much niche in the intervening years we could no longer see the wood for the trees. At the time, all these exclusifs from the major French houses were watched closely by every overexcited fumehead such as myself because they represented a potentially exhilarating luxury alternative to the mainstream, some polished unconventionality, something soaringly unique, but in eventually always hewing to the pallid transparency that seemed to be required by the French leather giant in all the uninspiring perfumes that came out one after the other such as Le Jour D’Hermès. Kelly Caleche, Voyage etc etc etc, for me at least there was always an unpleasant, metallic wanness; something sharp and glassy that got on my nerves.
Previously, in his earlier, more full and orchestral phase, the perfumer had been freer, less constricted, making such gorgeous perfumes as Van Cleef & Arpels First, Sisley Eau De Campagne – so original, so green and perfect in summer – as was his Eau Parfumée au The Vert for Bulgari which I still wear on lazy Sundays, and the incredibly beautiful Eau Du Navigateur for L’Artisan Parfumeur, one of my personal holy grails. In La Haie Fleurie – a honeysuckle jasmine that was so bounteously romantic it made your eyes water, Mr Ellena, as with First, painted with much thicker brushstrokes, yet still always preserved a certain elegant mystery, delving into his great love of jasmine (as a boy, he would actually gather and distil lroses and jasmine in the fields of Grasse – the man couldn’t possibly have better credentials in this regard), so I was delighted to smell his jasmine for Perris, which is FULL ON. A Total Flora. Jasmine, with jasmine, jasmine, and then more jasmine. Indolic, sunny, full, with just hints of clove and marigold/tagetes, Jasmin De Pays is a somewhat straight and linear soliflore (possibly too simple), that nevertheless has an air of summery triumphance. Similar in impression to Serge Lutens A La Nuit, that perfume feels slightly flat in comparison with Jasmin De Pays, which is more rounded : robust: and full of light. Like his other recent creation for Perris, Mimosa Triannon, which is a brisk and ethereal French country side road take on mimosa wedded gently with rose and hawthorn (with some nods to the strange coolness of Mimosa Pour Moi), but fluffier; less melancholy, quite poetic, I need to go back and give some of these a proper blast.
Our landlords and ‘Japanese parents’ had their vaccinations yesterday at a specially designated centre in Kamakura. At 80+ they were prioritized, and ours are a long way off despite the encroaching Olympics, but our neighbour to the other side is about to get her shot too, and this opened a fissure of clarity and hope into the fog of suppressed hysteria that embodies everything here, conjecture crystallizing to reality. I am happy and relieved they are protected.
I have been quite tired recently from work and the amassing of everything in my veins : not especially creative or perfume minded, more in the mood to absorb passively. I watched the Halston miniseries and read a painful autobiography – a brilliant, if very bruising book called Once In A House On Fire by Andrea Ashworth that D handed over solemnly once he had finished it. The tears started flowing when I reached the end of it myself yesterday evening, and continued when I was cooking, listening to Side 3 of my record of Bjork’s Vulinicura Live, which I think is one of the most beautiful things I have ever bought. These tears felt cathartic, fresh, cleansing – there was buildup.
On Saturday morning I suddenly found myself craving something chypric, with patchouli, and sprayed on some Orion by Terenzi; sharply aromatic with a pineapple top note I rather enjoy, although the final note of oudish white musk on my skin left me dissatisfied. Not so on clothes ; the next morning I smelled what I had been wearing the day before and had that thrilled feeling when you know you really want to EMIT that precise smell when you go out.
I ended up reeking. When we walked to the shops to buy vegetables for dinner, bumping into the Mitomis on their way back from their injections, I was wearing some Rose De Siwa, sprayed on a sweater; on me it is flamboyant and a bit too pansyish perchance, but it formed an interesting contrast with Orion. I had a little Histoires De Parfums Noir Patchouli sprayed on my trousers, and some Spirit Of Dubai Majalis – a Turkish rose glinting aromatic, as well as another – Ajmal? – that was rich with dates, cinnamon and labdanum. If it was all a bit much, I didn’t think so, even if, as I teared up uncontrollably to Bjork’s ode to willing unravelling, Undo, it occurred to me that in the later stages of all these perfumes, though nice, enjoyable, and perfect for an unseasonably cold misty day( and D had complimented the assemblage as a whole), something wasn’t entirely right. Close —- but no cigar.
Halston was the legendary, infamous and 70’s iconic American fashion designer that most British people have never heard of. On Saturday night, When I started watching Netflix’s latest large-scale-reconstruction-of-a-key-person-or-moment-in-gay-history-oversaturated Ryan Murphy creation (the next is going to be Jeffrey Dahmer)
D came in and said ‘Who?’ He didn’t recognize the name. More importantly, the slightly miscast Scottish actor Ewan Macregor, who plays the man himself, admitted in a New York Times article on the series that he had never heard of him ever either. Despite his ‘legendary status’ among fashion historians and cognoscenti of the ins and outs of the end of 70’s discotheques, the designer simply didn’t make an impact in the UK, at least not in my generation’s consciousness. Halston’s archrivals Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, of course yes. Hugely (and surely the bottles for Obsession took some inspiration from the Elsa Peretti designed bottle of Halston’s signature fragrance? -I don’t remember it being on the shelves of the department stores I scoured maniacally as a teenager. A flacon like this would have caught my attention. I have never smelled it.)
Ryan Murphy productions/ affiliations (Glee, Hollywood, American Horror Story, Hotel, Pose, The Assassination Of Gianni Versace) are always big, melodramatic, campy, technicoloured, no-expenses-spared sentimental artifices that draw you in with the subject matter, splashy mise-en-scène and homosexualist titillations (he is never afraid to show handsome naked men going at it down a back alley or in the gallery at Studio 54, the only reason I had heard of this designer because Grace Jones mentions him a few times in her brilliant autobiography on the disco era, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs). At the same time, despite the gangbusters, maximalist approach and imploring politicitizing, his series can sometimes transmit as a little bit shallow: hollow.
Acting-wise, I thought Krysta Rodriguez was good; believable as Liza Minelli, Halston’s plus one and best friend. The beautiful Rebecca Dayan was also effective and real, a convincingly late seventies model, muse, artist and all round fashion inspiration as jeweller Elsa Peretti, swanning around the offices exquisitely in Halston’s creations.
Halston himself, however, struck me as rather one note. Too dry and brittle. As though there was nothing inside. A nicotined encasement, ‘moody and snappy’: ‘fey’. I have nothing, in principle, against actors ‘playing gay’, as all acting is acting – playing another human being – and after all, it is usually the quickest ticket to award success, so who can blame someone wanting to jump on the oppressed sexual minority bandwagon and play a tragic gay? A limp wrist here (so many cigarettes smoked mimsily in this saga), a feminine toss of the head there….this is why Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Sean Penn in Milk, Matthew McCanaughy (is he really running for the Texan senate?), Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer and so many more all scooped up Oscars for their depictions of gay men, a topic ‘the academy’ seems to hold dearly, but which I personally sometimes find limiting, even patronizing. Although a seed of truth is sewn into every stereotype, a bit of flamboyance needn’t necessarily end up in fag-handed caricature, even if – according to those who knew him – Halston was rather affected, a complete re-invention of his original Iowa boyhood self; his phoney Manhattan Mitteleuropa accent an immutable part of the whole shebang.
At the time all of this was going on I myself was just a child dancing around my bedroom during the Disco Era to my Abba and Blondie and Shalamar records and so wasn’t an active participant in all this withering decadence and excess (the series does work well as an advert against cocaine: how boring it all looks, how exhausting needing that to just get through the day). I did absorb it all greedily though through the television and the radio, from school and just living, and ‘Halston’ does a pretty good job I would say of recreating the outfits, hairstyles, and general vibe of that decade, although in general I must say that they never, with their heftily priced costume departments and overprocessed ensembles, quite nail the flicks and the gungy feather fringes, the glitter and the gloss – it always looks somehow too neat ; the 70’s, in England, at least, surely grubbier, hairier.
Still, even if atmospherically there are some lacks, ‘Halston’, as a whole, is still fascinating, engrossing. For me, just witnessing how an artistic talent and persona can whip up a cultural frenzy and then be tossed aside when the muse is poisoned by reality and commerce; the fickle rise and fall is enough to keep me hooked. Episode 3, ‘The Sweet Smell Of Success’ is also required viewing for any Perfume People who are interested in seeing the genesis of blockbuster perfume back in the day – the eponymous first fragrance was extremely successful in America and the reason the company was able to stay afloat for so long once the designer’s star was on the wane, Calvin Klein stealing the cultural mood with his Brooke Shields ‘nothing gets between me and my Calvins‘ scandalous jeans commercials. We see how a representative from the fragrance company responsible for coming up with and making the scent visits his New York premises on 101 East 63rd Street week after week with test vials of olfactory components, judging his reactions to them, trying to get him to genuinely include some of his own inspirations in the blend; important associations he recalls from his childhood; the fierce rejection of initial bottle ideas: the snobbish horror he feels that ‘his fragrance’ will be promoted and constructed by Max Factor, a mass market brand that Halston practically spits on with appalled shudders. He simply won’t budge or put his name to the perfume unless it is done his way (ironic: later he loses all rights to his own name, but at the dizzying heights of his fame and infamy his signature logo was everything). Overridingly, one thing that definitely comes across throughout the series, despite the stress and neuroses, is the man’s unwavering belief in his own taste. Going from 1960’s fame in creating Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic pill box hat, to successfully riding the wave of a later, completely different zeitgeist, takes real talent and steadfastness : outright rejecting his backers’ initial ideas for a perfume, he continued to stick with his guns, selecting an unusual and asymmetrical glass blown sculpture that Elsa Peretti had created, inspired by sea shells she had collected near his beach front home. Considered unproducable in a factory, Halston stood firm, declaring it was ‘that bottle or nothing’, a stylish and hypnotic flacon which was an intrinsic part of the perfume’s appeal for a great many people aside the smell of fragrance itself: leading it to immediately start ‘flying off the shelves’ and instantly become one of the ubiquitous, essential super hits of its day.