Decadence is relative. It can be Nero, Fellini, ‘The Last Days of Sodom’, or Otto Dix. It can be thick, sweet aouds, like the new Tutti Frutti collection by Roja Dove. It can be the classical Guerlain parfums – their very nature powdered and liquorous, sensual and indulgent; Caron, vintage Dior or Patou, or the modern, Roman equivalents in the Italian houses of Profumum, I Profumi Del Forte; Nasomatto. Strong, come-to-me fragrances redolent of ransacked flower beds and steeped, ancient woods: skinned, animalic musk;, sloe, sweet-fingered unguents, and the lavishness of unbridled sexuality veering into putrescence.
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘decadence’ in two different ways. The second, more common contemporary definition is ‘luxuriously self-indulgent‘, in which case I plead guilty. I always was. I live for beauty and for pleasure, I am Dionysian, and perfume, as the ancients knew, is a bridge to the divine: a way to escape the mundane, grey realities of the daily grind, to bypass the stultifications of the physical, caged strictures of the world and to be transported in a second to an alternative sphere of reality in which your soul sings and you transcend the barriers of matter (a decadent description, perhaps, but that is what perfume is to me). When I spray on Vol De Nuit, or Tubéreuse Capricieuse by Histoires de Parfum – now there’s a decadent perfume house for a good current olfactory example of this concept – I am embellishing the moment, transforming it; twisting it in my direction and lacquering it in art, because though the smells out there in nature are pure, triumphant and ecstatic – where we come from and where we will return – the man-made, to me at least, is equally beautiful (which is why I choose to live near cities). Forced to live in the stark terror of mountains and their spirit-choking ‘purity’, I would surely choose to throw myself off one.
Which brings me to Marc Jacobs’ first supposedly ‘mature’ release, ‘Decadence’. Although that second definition, that ‘go on, be a devil’ trope used in chocolate advertising, has taken precedence in the current parlance, the first, and original, definition of decadence is, according to the Oxford, something ‘characterized by, or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decline‘. Which seems very appropriate to me, given the absolute lack of decadence in a fragrance with that name, and the general plunge into sickening cheapness and triviality that is the current domain of most mainstream perfume. Like Lalique’s appalling Living or Balmain’s dire Extatic, Marc Jacobs, ‘purveyor of women’s dreams’ and seemingly ever relevant in New York fashion and beyond, has taken an extremely tame and very standard current fixture – here the vanillic woodsy (‘warm liquid amber, vetiver and papyrus wood’), and then packaged it up into a glittering and clasping handbag shaped bottle that will appeal to the unthinking masses; a sweet, brain-melting accord that I expect to soon be smelled in many a dress-coded club under EDM speaker pounding lasers…………..smooth, inviting and both familiar enough yet appealing enough for him to self-consciously lean in; run his strong but manicured hands over her immaculately depilated and beautifully toned little body and and invite her – a shine-buffed and long haired creature straight out of the fashion pages – back to his hotel room.
This section of the perfume is fine, in a way, if intensely mediocre and dull – but only ‘decadent’ in its relativity to the mindboggling banality of ‘Dot’ (Dot for god’s sake: I could never get over that name – the tweeness of Carey Mulligan and ladybirds all chemicalized up in a dainty little carbuncle of a bottle); Daisy, and Lola, all of which I loathe with an absolute passion. Yes, the vague hint of something a bit more ‘oriental’ is a bit more ‘sensual’ than the other workaday fragrances in the Marc Jacobs lineup, but, despite the alleged existence of ‘rose, jasmine sambac, orris, iris, saffron and Italian plum’, the perfume, in the head and heart notes, smells cheap as shit. Confused and ill-blended: ‘Oh my god that’s stomach churning’ says Duncan as I proffer up the bottle.
Which means it will be a hit. In the blandly homogenized culture in which we live: conservative, under surveillance; morally prissy, commanded by conglomerates, the exigencies of the dollar, the yuan, the euro, that sleek of bulimia (no: listen – real decadence is enjoying the food; savouring the vine, the moment, the grape, the skin, the sex, not recording it on your smartphone and photoshopping your perfect ‘happiness’ into a fucking selfie as the Zuckerberg lens hones in on you and ‘tags’ you in your pretend, one dimensional universe of pre-ordained tastes and ideas of beauty. It is surrendering, animal-like, to the human passions, the natural beauty that lies all around us (and, far importantly, within.) LIVING. And not like Lalique.
Yes, there can be no doubt. In this cheapened, wizened universe of exquisitely manipulative ‘trending’, three-second attention spans, and gloss, ‘Decadence’ – this chemical, riskless, dull and soulless, perfume – will, I am sure, for the aeons of brainwashed ciphers out there in the world, probably pass, indeed, as something dangerous and beautiful……………………. as ‘luxurious self-indulgence’.