The Criterion Collection essay on Jean Cocteau’s final film, The Testament of Orpheus (1960), the inspiration behind this peculiar new scent by Brooklyn based CB I Hate Perfume, states that the plotless, surrealist film is ‘simply a machine for creating meaning’. The same might be said of Christopher Brosius, with his willfully abstruse desire to create a ‘perfume with no smell’ (but still with, ironically, a price tag).
Before we cry the cynical emperor’s new clothes, though, it is worth looking closer. While I can’t say that I really like this fragrance, it is most definitely quite interesting. Brosius has taken the basic classic template of natural jasmine + sandalwood essential oils, used in all the traditional Indian attars, as well as being the main theme of Guerlains’ 1989 great foghorn Samsara (which could literally be smelled from great distances: I distinctly remember a friend’s mother descending the staircase back in the day and being astonished that I could smell her well in advance of her coming into view) and almost stripped them of their singing voices by locking them within two powerfully effacing synthetic accords, ISO E Super Hedione and a special accord of ‘invisible musk.’
The effect is rather like Lady Gaga arriving at the American Music Awards, encased in her giant, acrylic translucent egg – life, a heart, beating somewhere within, hidden from view by a carapace of lab-created ectoplasm. Mysterious, perhaps, but also rather silly.
‘It is completely intangible, and almost undetectable. Yet it has great presence and allure. Like the ghost of a flower, it touches the subconscious of those who wear it – and those who encounter it’. So goes the press release for Where We Are There Is No Here, and to a large extent it is spot on. When the harsh, IKEA-like top notes dissipate (probably the brash combo of the very detectable, high quality sandalwood and the synthetics that bring to mind cheap wooden cabinets fresh out of polyurethane), there is a very real tenderness at the heart; an embodied character, possibly female, approaching, looming, receding, with a breath of unwashed body and hair. Touching, almost unpleasantly invasive, despite its attenuation. A person you feel you already know, somehow; an un-perfume, a ready made, artificial sheath of identity. Slowly the jasmines (Egyptian, Indian), make their floral presences felt and the scent begins to make some kind of sense with its air of down to earth familiarity, of a life in the process of being lived.
At the same time though, the scent, is emphatically not, as claimed by the company, ‘the world of poetry. The world of the imagination and of the surreal’. While inventive, and strangely persistent, I find it utterly lacking in any kind of beauty. Perhaps I am simply behind the times, however, stranded in some Elysian fields where perfumes simply smell good. Maybe such heavily elaborated concepts are the future, and Christopher is not just a practitioner of pretentious fashions, but of art. As Cocteau himself said,
‘Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion, on the hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly’.