OH, GOD ……………..ON RELIGION, PERFUME: AVIGNON by COMME DES GARÇONS (2000); CARDINAL by HEELEY (2006); LAVS by UNUM (2013) + MORTEL by CIRE TRUDON (2017)

 

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Religion has a hell of a lot to answer for.

 

 

Only this week, the so-called Buddhists of Myanmar are on the cusp of a successful ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority Rohingas, who are now stuck in an infernal quagmire of squalor and uncertitude. So much for karma. The supposedly devoutly Christian Republican American government, led by the vile, living epitome of amoral greed, is quite unable to show any real compassion, let alone life-saving action – possibly through pure racial prejudice – towards the victims of horrific double hurricanes in Puerto Rico, even though they are categorically U.S citizens. Strangled by the mutual financial interests of the National Rifle Association, ‘Christians’ vote for the loosening of gun control, despite massacre after massacre with assault weapons that need not remotely be there, in a truly civilized society,  in the first place.

 

 

Love thy neighbour!

 

 

 

I am from a country where Protestants and Catholics slaughtered each other in hideously cruel manners for centuries; where British born ‘Muslims’, brainwashed by those most barbaric of devilish, ‘holy’ serial killers, ISIS, gleefully decapitate strangers in the name of some glorious black-bannered war. I have an apartment in, and may possibly retire to, a country where six million Jews were pointlessly and systematically murdered, purely because of their religious identity. I live in a country, also, where, in the name of the heavenly Shinto emperor, millions were annihilated during World War II in a frenzy of ‘religious’ and nationalistic fervour, hundreds of thousands gleefully beheaded, raped and experimented on, often joyously,  all in the name of some shimmering ethnic religiosity, some mythical ‘rising sun.’

 

 

From many a perspective, then, the world is complete bullshit and people total assholes. And the world’s so-called Great Religions are quite often the source. All of them. No religion is immune to being poisoned, perverted and polluted by its very own practioners : Hindu nationalists are always ready to decimate Muslim Indians, Jews Palestinians, Shiites Sunnis, the list goes on throughout history interminably. The unimaginable suffering that we human beings have suffered for centuries and millennia because of ‘religion’ would almost be laughable if the sheer chasm between the original tenets of each of the world’s religions ( essentially love and peace), and their often deeply perverted reality (hordes of Catholic priests having sex with children!) weren’t so utterly contemptible, vile, and tragic.

 

 

 

Because if people actually read and understood their holy scriptures, handbooks and sutras, none of this would actually happen. If ‘the religious’ were more aware of the ultimate irony, the inherent blasphemy in acting like God and meting out punishments to those they deem unworthy ( instead of leaving the justice to their creator, now or in the afterlife),  then we could all, ostensibly, live in peace, no matter our beliefs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For the record, while we are in the mode of grandiose, sweeping statements, although I greatly respect anyone’s individual religious identity (not as common a stance as it really should be!), I personally could never commit to any one particular religion, myself, for three  basic reasons :

 

 

 

 

 

1. I do truly believe the doctrines of each scripture were written by humans, not the direct word of any particular divine being: hugely influenced by history, contingent events, bias and pragmatism, they should thus not ever be taken as actual, literal, gospel, no matter how divine the potential original sources.

 

 

 

 

2. GEOGRAPHY

 

 

I believe implicitly that the vast majority of people who adhere to any particular religion simply, and ONLY do so, because they happened to be born in a particular place. If they hadn’t been brought up there they wouldn’t have been exposed to it and would never have become one of the devout. If they had been born somewhere else, then they would have been following a different creed (can anyone counter this point?). The religion they so often mindlessly cling to did not come to them from on high, they merely absorbed it into their belief system because of education and their surroundings. It is so arbitrary, so random, so OBVIOUS ( to my own irrationally logical brain at least), that I can never understand why more people don’t seem able to relativize our differences, and realize that we are the way we are because of our immediate cultural milieu and the place we physically live, and this only, and thus everybody else as well, and so we are all the same, and yet the fervent; the chanting; and the febrile of eye are so often willing to slice another person’s throat, gun them down, or blow them up in a stadium simply for not believing what they believe in, that this lack of awareness of what I believe to be a very simple and basic truth ( that both religion and ‘culture’ are simple matters of individual accumulations of events and geography ) makes me burn with frustration, exasperation, and fury.

 

 

 

 

3. I can only ever, and will probably only ever be, agnostic.

 

 

 

For the very reasons I have stated above, falling hook, line, sinker and machete for any of the established religions and taking any word printed in a book as a god-given truth is a total impossibility for me : I am just too global in my thinking. For all I know, all, or none of them could be correct (deep down I feel they are just regional variations on the same religious god instinct and that all contain messages that, if followed correctly, would benefit mankind). To me, it really is quite possible that there is nothing out there in the beyond; that we just get switched off like a light and that is that, as science and logic might suggest; and I do respect humanist atheists who just want to make our time here on earth as pleasant as it can be, unencumbered by the moralizing mumbo jumbo of conflicting religious cults and their haphazard, yet stridently proclaimed, dogmas that often don’t make people happy and in fact often instead make them quite miserable ( or, quite a lot of the time, actually dead).  I always have thought that this terrible nothingness after we die is a distinct possibility, greatly influenced by my French and Italian existentialist university studies, even if these days I am veering ( having read some very fascinating books in recent times about reincarnation, and just from my own observations and feelings) at times more in a direction that is a tad more optimistic and afterlifey. Oh well, it suits me anyway. We don’t know, though, and that is the point ( isn’t it?), so all I can do really at the end of the day is leave it at that- we’ll just have to see what happens when it eventually happens.

 

 

 

 

This does not mean that I am not afraid of death. I am. It is a human instinct. But compared to much of the first twenty five years of my life or more where it obsessed me, now I hardly give a damn. I don’t even (let myself?) think about it any more. I am too busy enjoying my life. I am not entirely sure what the catalyst for this change has been – I think it is various things, gaining a certain level of wisdom through experience being one of them, but I do know that these last ten years or so, and recent times especially, have been a release and a new epoch for me of almost spiritual and creative liberty that I cannot, categorically, say is entirely earthbound. My mind does, resolutely, remain open.

 

 

 

 

Religion still fascinates me – always has, always will, – despite the disdain I might seem to heap on it here.  I find it ridiculous in many ways (because of all the entrenched rigmarole and frippery that believers seem to think was ordained in stone), but then I feel that way about most of our cultural traditions too. They are so random. And people stick to them as though they were etched into their very own marrow. But we need something beyond the confines of our own, limiting brains – something bigger, more encompassing, be it a national day of celebration, for whatever historically random reason it may be, or a religion : and this feeling that there must be something beyond the toil and materialism of the daily grind is an impulse that is surely part of humanity, something universal.

 

 

 

 

And quite beautiful. The underlying feelings, impulses and goals are basically exactly the same, surely, wherever the specific religious faith that is practiced. In Java, when we visited an Islamic academy in a village near the vanilla plantation we were staying and studying at in Bandung, there was such a feeling of purity and benevolence among the attendees living and studying at the school that it literally brought tears to my eyes as we stood there talking to the people by a river and forest; in Melacca, Malaysia, the smell of vetiver khus khus paste, smeared over the entire almost naked body of a Hindu priest as he sat in quiet, absolute, meditation was breath-hushing, sacred, and one of the most pungently evocative scent memories I have ever had. Just a little further down the street, sandalwood incense burned in droves at the Chinese Tao temple as the local faithful sang beautiful, unearthly, religious hymns, all mingling with the soul-wrenching call to prayer from the tall, white minarets of the nearby mosque.

 

 

 

 

 

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Here in Japan, we are fortunate enough to live in the former twelfth century capital of Kamakura, when Buddhism and Zen flourished and temples and shrines were founded in the hills. Even if you know nothing of the history or the minutiae of the religions (both Buddhism and the indigenous, animist Shinto religion are curiously intermingled here ), the austere, exquisite visual aesthetic and nature-fused simplicity of the places of worship; the mind-taming otherness of the centuries-old incense tradition are immediately, whatever your background, spiritual : there is an incontrovertible timelessness in ‘listening to incense’ while hearing the solemn, heart-slowing chanting of the monks, flowing out from the temple precincts that can stop you in your tracks: transport you, for a time, to another place.

 

 

 

 

 

It is this double-sided aspect of religion – at once the sheer hypocrisy and evil that is generated by it, and the accumulated beauty and solemnity that appeals, innately I think, to something in human nature, that so fascinates. The intolerance; the contradictory hatred, and the rituals and mesmerizing gilded trappings all inextricably linked, and yet, despite my deep loathing of the former, I still appreciate the latter, for the interior resonances these ceremonies generate, the sense, imagined or otherwise, of the tranquil immortal ; of soulfulness; even, on occasion, the possibility of the divine.

 

 

 

 

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Last year, on a Saturday morning, for no particular reason, we decided to go to the Russian Orthodox Church in Ochanomizu just to spend a day in that neighbourhood of Tokyo, but also to experience the atmosphere of St Nikolai – a chill of lingering frankincense and Byzantine mosaics and iconography that, as I entered, immediately soothed and altered the temperature in my mind. Scent, incense, perfume, they are a vital and fundamental part of all the world’s religions, and I sometimes wonder whether my obsession and fascination with phials, vials, bottles and elixirs: liquids trapped within flacons and their transformational properties; the secrets of the crypt, the release of a drop of fragrance that is like a momentary feeling of transubstantiation, a pure release of spirit from the body, is not linked to this aching, ancient need for there to be more; that a love of scent, of all art, in its yearning for pleasure in spiritual clarity, is, in its own way, almost religious. Yes, there is a Dionysian, decadent, wanton side of perfume too, and I revel, unapologetically, in that also, but I still do believe there is a deeper, yet ethereal connection to the eternal in our sense of olfaction, that is embodied in the strangely sensual chastity of such ancient, Middle Eastern resins and essences as benzoin, frankincense, camphor, galbanum and myrrh:  lulling, trance-inducing : breath-slowing, and spirit-piercing.

 

 

 

I think even as a child I was always quieted and slightly awe-inspired by the smell of cold, whispered vestiges of the censer, hanging like the shadows of saints in the stain-glasses rafters of churches: it echoes, like silent music. Sinister, too, transgressing the mundane and the everyday : unfamiliar; the other side. L’Artisan Parfumeur’s brilliant L’Humeur A Rien, from 1994 – the same year that Etro released its groundbreaking, softer, more crepuscular, but equally Catholic Messe De Minuit ( or Midnight Mass ) – a stark, almost grim, evocation of the rain-soaked steps of church on a winter’s day, was the first ever incense perfume that I smelled, and I remember it blowing me away so much at the King’s Road original boutique in London, all curtained off in black (as part of the Sautes D’Humeur, or Mood Swings, box set released as a limited edition) that I simply had to buy it on the spot. It was chilling. Almost too evocative. This was an unwearable scent, for me in fact, death -ridden and depressing;  nihilistic, even (the ‘rien’ of the name like a void, a nothingness), yet it was marvellous for solo moments of back-of-the-hand contemplation, a temporary portal to another sphere.

 

 

 

 

Six years later, and to great, predictably iconoclastic success, Comme Des Garçons of course released the soon to be classic (and far more wearable) , Avignon, the first holographic church perfume that made me gasp out loud the first time I smelled it as it was so accurately redolent of actually being in a Catholic church (the days I would spend just gazing at Caravaggios in different locations around Rome; sneaking into mass at the big basilicas on occasion just to drink in the Latin incantations; settling, unobtrusively, into the dazzling, frankincensed air…….) ; this was obvious quite a brilliant and original piece of work, even if smelling it again recently I do still find it a tiny bit flat in the middle and base notes, now a bit generic, overfamiliar, despite its everything-in-the-pulpit-sink-including -the-pews-and-altar-and even-a- black-leather-bound-Bible vibe.

 

 

 

 

Cardinal, by Heeley, strikes me as a more single-minded incense perfume ; dry, a more commanding frankincense ; quite severe, quite masculine, despite its alleged lightness and transparency. I think I prefer this, as I often do with woody and incense fragrances,  on a girl (far more mysterious); the harsh, furrow-browed ministrations of a black or scarlet-clad cardinal used in a hipster, urban context just not particularly appealing:  too aggressive, too obvious – even though when worn by the right person, discreetly, and with the right knowingness, there is an edginess, even a humour, to Cardinal that  accounts for its continued, cult popularity.

 

 

 

 

LAVS, by Unum, perhaps the ultimate frankincense perfume in some ways, is truly quite fascinating to me from a number of angles. The back story to the perfume – that this is actually the scent worn by the present and previous popes (and thus in some ways the ultimate celebrity scent), was enough to make me really want to sample it; the perfume itself indeed, extraordinarily episcopal; garmented, ordained.

 

 

 

Strangely,  LAVS ( for Laboratorio Vesti Sacre), apparently started out as an ambient fragrance in the cloakrooms used to scent the vestments, airspace and costumes of the pope and other clergy with an instantly recognizable sacred air (and is there not something rather ersatz about this, even if practical?) ;  rather than the pope’s clothes being genuinely perfumed with the incense smoke that surround him in his chambers and places of worship, an idealized, almost celestial frankincense and elemi perfume was created to lightly spritz his person in his dressing room before then appearing in public. The fact that this indeed extremely religious smelling perfume is then available for the man on the street to buy strikes me as extraordinarily curious, as I would have assumed that there would have been Dan Brown levels of secrecy and exclusivity surrounding such a product – even denials of its very existence.

 

 

 

In fact, LAVS, as its name might suggest, does have a peculiarly laundry-like aura to it, a very high-planed, aldehydic, cherubial dryer-sheet aspect to its composition alongside its crystal-ashes of illumined frankincense tears; spectral, translucent, the holiest of holy washing machines in which the sacramental garments are cleared and plumed with soul-purging candor and released, unblemished, to the wind. It is a very interesting perfume, actually, having at once an impeccable, almost repellent cleanliness; yet also an almost spooky, ghostly aura of religious aloofness.

 

 

 

 

Mortel, from the generally impressive new range of perfumes by Parisian candlemakers Cire Trudon, is yet another religiously inspired perfume perfume chock full of frankincense, but is far more human than all the perfumes I have described above, less infallible. While the sacramental elements of its myrrh and benzoin based formula are immediately apparent and set quite a familiar tone, this perfume is ultimately more bound in our earthly, more bodily realities, the warm, erotic basenote of cistus absolute quite a vivid and candid expression of human desires. This is a man. A real person with skin. A touch retro masculine perhaps in its leanings ( but in this case, convincingly, sensually so ), Mortel represents, according to perfumer Yann Vasnier,

 

 

 

 

 

‘The artist, living between shadow and light …. a mortal creature.

 

Halfway between the religious and the revolutionary, with an unquenched thirst for eternity, Mortel is a revolutionary drive that combines virile force and natural harmonies.

 

A fatal attraction.’

 

 

 

 

This, for some reason, speaks to me. I don’t know why. I am not even entirely sure what the creator of Mortel is trying to say here exactly, in truth, but it does seem to be intimating and touching on,  nevertheless, the eternal dilemma that I have described above – the ever continuing struggle between the cruelty and brutality of our greed and power driven world, with its blinkered hatred, bigotry, and intolerance masquerading as love and pious ‘religion’ –  and yet, simultaneously – always – our inner, ancient, inexorable, inextinguishable, never-ending drive towards the unknown……………….the godly, the angelic, and the mystical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OF TOKYO: PLAY SERIES (BLACK) (2012) by Comme des Garçons + HINOKI (MONOCLE 1) (2008)

I found an exquisitely deep and evocative hiba cypress oil the other day and thought that I would repost this. Autumn is here: it is the time for forests.

 

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Source: OF TOKYO: PLAY SERIES (BLACK) (2012) by Comme des Garçons + HINOKI (MONOCLE 1) (2008)

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pay day

 

 

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Today was my first pay day in four months, solid evidence in my pocket that I have, in fact, been working.

 

It has been exhausting. So much so that even starting to write this, whatever it might turn out to be, feels like an enormous effort. I thought that I should check in though, lest you think that I have disappeared from the face of the earth.

 

It has been a tremendous change. Good, in many ways (my teaching has never been better); I feel valued, welcomed back; liked: there is a certain societally accepted pleasure in the ‘dignity of labor’, I suppose- I am bringing home the bacon.

 

At the same time, the physical toll, on these pathetic legs of mine, has been quite considerable. My dreams also became immediately more turmoiled, violent ( as well as the love and the mutual energization there is also a certain violation of the psyche in the act of teaching – I have always felt that).

 

It is just so damn HARD to thrust yourself back into the ‘swing of things’ when your joints hurt so terribly from the effort of it : yes, increasingly I can walk without a stick and can even pick up a pace when I eventually get going; but standing in front of a class then sitting down, standing up again is like tearing limbs off a crustacean, like a bulldozer swearing through earth, a painful stretch of metal and atrophied muscle and ligaments and stiff, cartilaged tissue that leaves me feeling broken, ancient, and embarrassed.

 

And really tired. The first week, after the immense, soul-leavening effort of ‘communing’ with new students, walking distances with my backpack full of text books ( and perfumes materials, water; and sundries), when I finally got home from Yokohama to the handicapped bed in the kitchen, so depleted I felt despair, unable to move, I felt like throwing in the towel.

 

I HATE this new reality. My confidence and self-image have been significantly damaged. A stick is so incredibly aging. My gait has irrevocably altered. I feel ungainly, fat, and old.

 

And incredibly, ever more so, aware of smell. To a maniacal, Patrick Suskind, level of critical consciousness. My god, the breath and body odour of some of the teachers. The horror at the knowingness of my own smell, how it lingers like an Other now that I am in my new suits and my rosy, profiled template ( today I miraculously found two bottles of Parfums de Rosine Roseberry,  reportedly discontinued, just as I finished my what I thought might be my last bottle – I snapped both of them up on the spot and am really delighted ).

 

I need nice perfume now more than ever. It acts as a buffer, and a bridge. It restores a modicum of self dignity, it floats around my senses ; reminds me of sturdier, younger days.

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on O S M A N T H U S

it’s two weeks early :

(and have you ever thought of making an osmanthus jelly?)

 

 

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Source: on O S M A N T H U S

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TOM FORD OUD WOOD INTENSE (2017)

 

 

 

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Sometimes you smell a perfume that, despite your inner misgivings, for whatever reason they may be, just totally hits the spot.

 

 

 

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PERSONA & PERFUME : ANGELINA JOLIE / MON GUERLAIN (2017) vs KRISTEN STEWART / CHANEL GABRIELLE (2017)

 

 

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But back to Gabrielle.

 

It seems that some people who read my corrosive review of Chanel’s latest ‘blockbuster’ the other day felt that I was overstating just how bad Gabrielle is as a perfume in and of itself: Persolaise chided me for exaggerating its alleged ‘vileness’ and suggested that the perfume is perhaps more simply disappointing than objectively awful.

 

 

Maybe he is right.

 

 

I should state here, before I go any further with this, though, that when it comes to perfume writing, I rarely do things properly. Though I will, on occasion, do things the ‘proper’ way, testing the scent out on skin, observing the scent in all its development and incremental stages throughout the day, smelling it on scent strips to get different perspectives, all of that, on the whole, I am much more reactive and decisive when it comes to perfume. I decide in seconds. I know immediately. In fact, last Thursday’s Gabrielle review, from smelling the perfume for the very first time, to pressing publish, took a maximum of eight or nine minutes, possibly even five. Lift: experience : write: print.

 

I trust my nose brain in these matters. I feel that I can ‘get’ a perfume, top to bottom, in less than a handful of initial inhalations. I don’t need a whole day with it ( do you?). I am a very spontaneous person. I feel a perfume in its totality. This is what a perfume does : yes, a good one has changes, gradations, revelations on the skin as time passes, the top, middle and base, but simultaneously, in one spray, you also experience all of these elements as a whole; at once, an entirety. Therein, in this fleeting complexity, lies the beauty.

 

With people, admittedly, I can sometimes be too judgmental in my initial, instinct-based reactions and am often proven wrong at a later date. And with perfumes, this sometimes happens too. You can revise your original opinion of a scent, discover new depths or facets, both appealing and otherwise, that draw you closer or push you away from the perfume for good. Since rediscovering my Parfums de Rosine, for example, and finding new aspects within the compositions that I had hithero ignored, I have been loving them to death : my bottles are almost empty. So I certainly am not stubborn enough not to be dissuaded from negative opinions of a perfume by new angles, viewpoints, and particularly by smelling it on another person’s skin, when you realize a perfume you didn’t like before really suits him or her (I actively enjoy being proved wrong in this particular instance). And perhaps this will happen to me with Gabrielle, you never know. Coming back from the Shima hot springs in the mountains of Gunma prefecture yesterday ( such a tranquil, pleasing and beautiful place), in our local train station, there was a fashionably attired Japanese woman in her late twenties, all in white, who was wearing Coco Mademoiselle, in just the right amount, and, I have to say, effectively: I didn’t actively enjoy the scent of it ( as I never do), but I could definitely, in that moment, appreciate that this was a well constructed, populist perfume with a modern, vaguely ‘sultry’ self confidence that she carried off with a particular, nonchalant kind of perfection.

 

 

That now well established perfume, and a continuing world bestseller, was released in 2001, we might remind ourselves: a perfume still, like so many others, in thrall of Mugler’s Angel (1992): the refractured patchouli candy floss devil that changed perfumery forever and provided the basic olfactory template for virtually all the sickly sweet, vanilla-choked vulgarities that have followed in its wake. It has a lot to answer for, that creation.

 

The thing is, though, Angel, quite brilliant in its way, really was a true original : audacious, outrageous, iconoclastic, a slowburning mainstream perfumery game changer that took big risks that could have ended in failure but that ultimately paid off big time. REALLY big time. It has never left the airwaves since. However, having two ‘purified’ patchouli popularity-wave perfumes on its roster already – Chance and Coco Mademoiselle, I naively assumed that a brand new fragrance from such an esteemed house of perfume – the first in sixteen years – might leave all of that behind; contain some surprises, some newness, at least a small hint of innovation, some CHARACTER, and I think it is this : the utter timidity involved here, the extreme banality, the fear of offending, the homogenization, that so offends me. To take a quartet of such luscious white floral essences but then to mute them so unequivocally under the blinding white toxicity of the make up counter so that they end up a mere colour strip of general, anaesthetized glow, is what so utterly appalled me when I smelled Gabrielle for the first time, last week; the sense of defeat, the exasperating contrast with what perfume can ACTUALLY be: something transfixing; mysterious, exciting, enigmatic.

 

With tuberose and gardenia being on point ingredients again right now- see Stella McCartney’s Pop, or Gucci Bloom –  and taking into account as well the huge popularity of Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino, a big burst of orange blossom, it seemed to me that Chanel truly had the opportunity here to create a real paradigm shift away from the now nightmareish ‘patchouli’ factory gourmands I thought we were all sick of, into more exotic, fresher, more temptingly floral climes, while still remaining Chanel, naturally – this house always reigns in and masters its ingredients to make them fit perfectly into the formality of its palette –  but more youthful; uninhibited; sensual, even capricious.

 

 

And so, being an optimist at heart (honestly), and liking the idea of a soft, surreptitious white floral that I might even get away with as a work perfume on my brand new white shirts for a while, I somewhat excitedly, stupidly, approached the Chanel counter with a wide-eyed hope of pleasure, only, immediately, incontrovertibly, to be greeted by a thick, invisible miasma of boredom. The very ESSENCE of banality, clogging the air; Japanese sales assistants lackadaisically lacing their plastic panelled environs and ubiquitous scent strips with this familiar, nothingy smell that I and you have smelled a million times before: a smell that invades your exhausted, airport dreams, without a single tuberose or jasmine or ylang ylang flower in sight. In other words, the thing had been focus-grouped, pasteurized, and business- convened out of all potential originality ( who knows what Oliver Polge’s initial sketches were like?) into resignation; smoothed down into a lobotomized, mundane humdrum of consumer palatability: a mean; an average. Consumer tested beforehand, for months, for years even, to the edge of its very death.

 

 

With such a reality, I also believe the imagery and advertising will have been chosen for the presentation campaign for Gabrielle in a very similar fashion. Quite carefully. Because a nondescript perfume needs a celebrity. A celebrity, any celebrity, who is riding the moment, popular, and not necessarily one who would even conceivably like or wear the perfume ( there is no way that Kristen Stewart is wearing this, at least not of her own free will ); but someone ‘hot’, of the times, who can attract the attention of the desired demographic; a face, if you like, for facelessness.

 

 

 

Of course, perfume advertising, to a large extent, has always worked this way. The only real way to magnetize a largely smell-illiterate public to your product (especially if it doesn’t even smell very good ) is to bypass the lesser sense  – smell – with the far more modern and developed one – sight – and forge a presumed connection with the celebrity in question so the buyer at least subconsciously thinks to herself, well if she can wear it, so can I.

 

 

Julia Roberts, homely, relatable, ‘normal’, yet also beautiful and glamorous, was a very canny, if expensive, choice by Lancôme for La Vie Est Belle: she is a talented, natural actress and mother who ‘speaks to the people’ but maintains a career as a world renowned superstar. She has an absolutely killer smile. And even if she has faded from view a little in recent years, it is not too far fetched to imagine Julia Roberts wearing a sweet gourmand floriental like Lancôme’s uber popular bestseller, at home, playing with her kids, much as you can just about imagine Charlize Theron: blonde, goddess like, fresh as a rose flower, clad in the better and more expensive editions of J’Adore Dior.

 

 

But just as I do with actress Angelina Jolie in the advertising for Guerlain’s latest mainstream release Mon Guerlain (less said about that name the better), with Kristen Stewart at the helm of Gabrielle I also feel a very big smell/visual disconnect indeed (am I alone in this?). Stewart is still very much one of the fashion and film world’s ‘it’ girls, graduating from her morose vampire teenager/ Robert Patterson’s girlfriend in ‘Twilight’ days to her current pansexual, but largely girl-loving ( and label hating) incarnation as party gate crasher, indie actress and generally ultra trendy lesbian fashion icon. Quite liberated. A new template, in a way, for girlhood, womanhood. Someone who makes their own path and walks it. Refreshing. Absolutely none of which, none at all, though, is to be found in ‘her perfume’.

 

 

 

I personally actually quite like Kristen Stewart, as I do all of the actresses mentioned here.  In fact, I had noticed her in a few films that she made before her caterpult to teenage superstardom, enough to pause the film during the credits at the end and make a note of her name. She somehow stood out to me, both with her idiosyncratic beauty and peculiar acting style, so I am confident that she pretty much is the real deal, not just some vacuous cipher.  She knows what she is doing. She was great in Clouds Of Sils Maria, a French film she made with Juliette Binoche and directed by Oliver Assayas that D and I saw at the cinema and really loved; she was charming in Woody Allen’s recent Cafe Society. But from her image –  spikey, sharp, and with her quite boyish,  ‘directional’ sartorial choices, you just KNOW that this young twenty seven year old hipster would never, ever, give herself a big dose of dullard, sorry a spritz or two of ‘Gabrielle’, before leaving her apartment on the arm of some rake thin model: no no no – it would be something far more edgy and androgynous, cool –  if she even wears scent at all.

 

 

 

On the same note, the mad, good, but dangerous to know Angelina Jolie, one of the fiercest women around in showbusiness, director of war films, divorcer of Brad, fearless campaigner of mastectomies and hysterectomies as preventive cancer measures for genetically vulnerable women such as herself, badass bitch in such films as Wanted, Salt and Girl, Interrupted, is EXTREMELY misrepresented, in my view, by the pink, fluffy teenage bunny rabbit that is Mon Guerlain.  I have only spent marginally more time with this sweet little tchotchke than I have with Gabrielle (who in comparison, acts strangely middle aged and scarily conformist so long before her time : at least Mon Guerlain does actually smell like a sweet young girl about to be kissed on her first date); but although it wasn’t for me personally –  and I am definitely not the target audience! – I thought that, though too pralined and caramellized for me to bear for too long, the segue from a fresh, natural lavender note to a perfected, vanillic new generation Guerlinade, is, in many ways, the idealized, sweet, sugared almond scent for a young girl of thirteen or fourteen, still with braces on her teeth perhaps, leaning in, blushing, at a French country fair, closer to her equally blushing beau. In this context, Mon Guerlain could, I imagine, smell very pretty, beautiful, even. Imagining it on Angelina Jolie, feral, Olympian, Earth Mother, psycho, however, is more difficult. More like a joke.

 

 

 

There was a time when an outstanding new fragrance release by one of the big fragrance houses – Poison, say – could rely on its scent alone to bring in the money; aided, of course, by an artistically provocative advertising campaign (often featuring unknown models ) to augment the mental associations and imagery of the perfume. Alternatively, a relevant actress or other celebrity could be hauled in for this, one whose persona chimed with the smell of the potion : Jerry Hall, darling of the Studio 54 set, reclining among tiger skins and souks for that ultimate 70’s perfume, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium. Paloma Picasso for Mon Parfum, appearing as herself. Scarlett Johannsson for Dolce Gabbana The One, all red-lipped and curvaceous. Perfect. I quite liked Nicole Kidman for Chanel No 5 also, a successful combining of the classy, the classical, and the present (and Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis’ daughter for the new L’Eau – ideal).  Or Kate Moss for Calvin Klein’s CK One, who perfectly personified the contemporary waif-like nineties grunge chic of the times in the clever black and white advertising campaign from which, if you lived in the city, there was no escape.

 

 

The thing is, that perfume was actually really new and original at the time. And the photography used on those billboards and in glossy magazines complemented it to the point that the smell and the imagery coalesced successfully in your mind – you BOUGHT the hype. Well, a lot of other people did, anyway. But when the smell in the bottle itself is subpar, or just bland, generic, boring,  as an ever greater numbers of perfumes are these days undoubtedly are, tempered by such a fear of overstepping the mark (ie. being creative or too different), I feel that much, much greater powers of visual persuasion are now required to rope in that great majority of perfume consumers who, sadly, know not what they do, lost within all the department store madness ; the artificial lighting, the dross and fragranced sameness. The viscous, sugared dirge in the ‘air’.  The All-seeing ‘Perfume’ Pushers, knowingly, cynically, blindly leading the Blind. Making you look: not smell. Because without the structure of a celebrity endorsement or expensive modelling contract, a mainstream perfume, it would seem now, cannot survive on its inherent olfactory qualities alone. No. Right now, far more than merely ‘putting a face’ to a perfume, for a perfume like Gabrielle, or even Mon Guerlain, the art of manipulative celebrity fronting is, for the major perfume houses, in actual fact, more like subterfuge; a cover up ……………………a mask.

 

 

 

 

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hot spring dreamer

 

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