Sunday, April 25, 2010

Perfume: texture

Perfume texture. I'm not sure how to talk about this, but to me, texture is a huge part of why or how a perfume is successful (or not). Instead of trying to explain how perfume can have texture (because I have no idea how to do that), I'll just write up some textural impressions I've had while wearing certain scents.

Wazamba: By all accounts, Wazamba by Parfum d'Empire should work for me. I should love the resiny-sweetness of the apple/frankincense mix. But there's something off about this perfume, something that makes it less successful than it should be.

The texture of Wazamba is chewy, caramelly but not in smell, in feel. And it's like when you heat up sugar for candy. Its texture is similar to the feel of heated sugar coating the back of a spoon. It's an odd texture, because in my experience, incense in real life is dry or only slightly resiny, smoking and/or burning. Giving an incense scent a chewy quality creates a cognitive dissonance. They don't completely go together. The way it feels affects my enjoyment of the smell. It seems too cloying, too chewy.

Le Baiser du Dragon: by Cartier is very feline. It wears like a sleek, living fur coat. It's totally smothering to me sometimes, and other times it's gorgeous.

Shaal Nur: I gravitate towards Etro perfumes, but I wonder if it's an aesthetic thing (do I like their perfumes?) or a generational thing (does the house just speak to my age group?). I don't wear Shaal Nur often, but I think what Shaal Nur does with vetiver is genuinely unique and refreshing. Vetiver can be dark, medicinal, sour, minerally, dirty. Shaal Nur's vetiver is light, airy. It's like vetiver that's been aerated into bright, sunny light. I don't think anyone would ever have described vetiver as sunny before Shaal Nur.

Le Temps d'une Fete: by Parfums de Nicolai. I love so many from this house. It took me a day to really get Le Temps. Probably because I'm not a galbanum fan (unless it's paired hand-in-hand with labdanum). Galbanum's sappy, bitter quality isn't my favorite thing ever. But balanced with a round, warming narcissus and drying down to a milky sandalwood, Le Temps reminds me of dandelion milk. Dandelion milk is sticky-viscous like green sap but still milky. This is exactly how Le Temps feels on my skin, in my nose.

What are some of your impressions of perfume texture?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Purge

This is a stage we all go through, right?

For two years, I've been amassing a ridiculous collection. Not over 70 but. There was a time when I was close. I owned things I'd never wear, for comparison's sake only (like the modern Mitsouko, Opium, vintage Poison, etc). I bought impulsively from TJ Maxx, Marshalls, the perfume discounters, ebay (shudder). I had bags and bags of samples I'd barely tested, just collected and brought out to sniff once in a while, pleased with owning even these little treasures of scent in such mass quantities.

Recently, I've started to feel overwhelmed by my collection. I'm never going to wear Paloma Picasso. Why was it taking up space in my room? So I started sending my friends and family stuff. The wonderful daughter of a friend of mine got my early Tocca purchases. Another friend got the Opium. Another, the 24, Faubourg and more.

And when the culling began, I couldn't stop. Was I ever going to finish a 100 ml bottle of Narciso Rodriguez for Her? I like it, I really like it? Well, I always have Lovely, if I need some white musk. Do I need Shaal Nur? It's a little too vetiver-sour on me. What about the Mitsouko? Will I ever wear it just because I feel guilty that I don't adore it? What about the vintage L'Air du Temps parfum? Just because it was such a fantastic find, does that mean I should horde it away when I don't enjoy the deep, milky woodiness of it on my skin?

So I've begun. Just giving/selling/trading it all away. My cupboard is startlingly bare now. And what's left isn't much of a fragrance wardrobe. I'm keeping the slew of Shalimars: old, new, Eau de, Light, cologne, parfum, etc etc. And the tiny vials of vintage Fracas parfum and Bandit parfum, which were hardwon and seem precious now. And the bottle of Sacrebleu, which gives me almost hallucinatory associations of my grandmother's house in the 80s. For some reason I can't pinpoint. And the Nombril Immense, which sometimes gets caught on my sweaters days later and adds so much more charm to whatever else I'm wearing. And then the Jubilation 25, which smells like girl-sex and a light powdering of cinnamon, mmmmm. I only have a 16 ml decant, but someday I'll own a whole bottle. /dreams

It's not a very well-rounded collection now, but it's well-loved. And wearable. I might become one of those signature scent types, but with like, 15 signature scents. Which probably still seems crazy to scent-outsiders, but is, let's face it, pretty chill by our standards.

Segue: Sometimes I like to look at the Rochas Man bottle and laugh. What were they thinking?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I very rarely get a chance to go to my local Nordstrom's perfume counter because I'm usually wrangling a 15-month-old and 7-year-old full time. When I do get a chance, it's with baby in tow or for a few, breathless seconds to myself. I don't often go to buy right away, but to try new releases, smell old favorites, plan my next purchase. I very seldom ask for anything in return. I don't request samples from the SAs, ever. I just like to smell perfume! It's pretty casual.

But the SAs are like sharks there, and that has really turned me off of the whole fragrance counter experience. It's completely awkward and uncomfortable for me to see them power-playing each other for my attention. And when they get it, it's not usually to drop any real knowledge on me about scent, so I end up having to politely wave off whatever they're trying to sell me. (Today was my favorite: "Oh, you like Shalimar? You'd LOVE She-Wood then!" ???)

Anyway, one of the ladies gave me her card a long time ago and I've just happened to purchase things while she was manning the counter. Now, she seems to assume we have some kind of partnership or relationship. And whenever she 'catches' me talking to other SA's in the odd half-hour I get to swing by, she seems frustrated with my disloyalty and gives me this passive-aggressive talking to, about how she was there yesterday, why didn't I come in when she didn't have a meeting? or Jeez, I've been wondering what happened to you. You don't come in here anymore! Or maybe you just come in when I'm not around.

It's completely irritating to me because this is my free time! To do something totally frivolous and fun, when I don't have to be on anyone's schedule. And it's something I can only work in here or there. It's such a cliche, but being a mom is a 24/7 job. I don't get like, a regular break where I can schedule time with this SA. I get stolen hours. I get frantic, last minute rush-throughs. I spend all day considering the every need of two people, I do not feel like being responsible to the woman who sells me perfume. Maybe that's selfish! But that's just it, that's my selfish time. And when someone is trying to mess with it, I get really frustrated and defensive.


This whole rant is totally a oppressed mother rant, isn't it? SIGH. Lame.

Friday, April 9, 2010

White Privilege and Perfume

So first I want to clear up, I'm a white girl. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable when they approach race discussions, asking "Why does it matter if you're white or not?" and I think it always matters. Acknowledging I'm white in this discussion is a way of admitting that there are things I don't know, everyday experiences I am ignorant of, a point where my own knowledge will come up seriously lacking.

I've been involved in other online communities that have been critiqued for unexamined white privilege issues. Last year (or the year before) the scifi community offered a wealth of thoughts and discourse on cultural appropriation and the unfortunate ways white authors co-opt and/or stereotype minority experience, etc. It was a mind-opening, incredibly educative moment in the community.

Since then, I've moved into the perfume community, mostly as a silent reader (though I've just started this blog for my own thoughts). I want to say that, by pointing out problematic quotes here, I'm not trying to offend anyone or pass judgment on anyone's moral character. I quote only to say, look. These are problematic. And there are a few of these problems. Making the community accessible to anyone should be everyone's concern and goal. By quoting, I'm trying to open a discourse on the ways we might be failing to do that. Unexamined white privilege is insidious. Talking about it could never be more offensive than ignoring it.

Recently, while reading through a blogger's perfume reviews, I came across this passage comparing two scents: they both possess that most coveted of feminine real estate: acres of creamy white flesh that they use to their advantage in manipulating men. This is not the first time in the community that I've seen 'white skin' being admired as the most coveted real estate. Who can forget the release of Banana Republic's Alabaster, the ad campaign of the pale-white model that left no wiggle room for what 'alabaster' was meant to evoke and the subsequent outpouring of criticism? Well, a lot of people probably don't remember that, because it was isolated to a few journals and articles, and most of the criticism I found was angry criticism against the critics for 'being too sensitive' or for 'looking for offense where there was none' or, more offensively, for having 'white-fright'.

In his ad-copy for Serge Noire, Serge Luten's wrote "Pour vous belles éthérées! Peaux blanches et serge noire...", which Perfumeshrine pointed out was a visual contrast between white skin and black cloth, evoking 'ethereal beauty'. Pink Manhattan was one of the only bloggers to criticize the inherent white privilege of this ad-copy. Her comments in other blogs about it were erased, though they were not offensive, and she was ridiculed for being too 'PC'.

And then there's always Elizabeth Arden's White Shoulders, with every pale-pink bottle decorated with a woman's back and shoulders.

So the problem here is that when white shoulders are coveted or desirable or beautiful, then by implication, non-white shoulders are lacking, unwanted, not beautiful. This isn't a problem without historical precedent or context, but by admitting so should not lessen our community responsibility to talk about these prejudices when they come up and are before us.

Another example of white privilege I've noticed is the continual legitimacy afforded to the theory that scent smells different on different people sometimes because of their skin color. I've seen this discussed more than a handful of times in threads, and have each time been surprised by the honest belief people have in this theory. Here is one example I saved, from a Victoria's Secret perfume review: I first smelled this on a black woman who shared my dormitory. It smelled marvelous on her, and I bought some for myself. Somehow on my Asian skin, it changed to a quite different smell -- sour and totally annoying. I never wore it again! I've notice some white women wearing it, and it doesn't smell the same either. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with body chemistry.

I'm not arguing that individual skin chemistry doesn't play a role in our perfume aesthetics and experiences, but by making that phenomenon about skin color is another way of exoticizing 'the other'. There is nothing mysterious or different or weird about other people who have different skin color than you. They have no magical way of changing their perfume based on their skin color. The ongoing rehash of this theory only promotes ignorance. It's white privilege that allows us to bandy these thoughts about with no real concern or awareness of how they affect people or isolate them from engaging with the community, that lets us do these things with no real consequences.

Another thing I've found was the use of problematic, privileged language, like when in a perfume review for a Le Labo scent, a perfume blogger compared the charry smoke of Patchouli 24 to the heart of a tar-baby. I call this 'privileged language' because it is utilizing a term that carries a lot of weight and historical meaning for a group of people, but isn't acknowledging that or contextualizing it. You can't use the word 'tar-baby' without evoking a certain response. It is then irresponsible of the reviewer to use it in this fashion, without acknowledgment of the ways tar-baby is problematic and hurtful.

So what can the average blogger/person in the community do about white privilege? We can't make Serge Lutens change his ad-copy. That's probably not going to happen easily. I think what we can do is talk about these issues when they come up, make it a subject that we all realize is necessary and ok to discuss. I think people are afraid to approach race subjects because they don't want to 'get it wrong' or be 'ignorant'. But to not discuss them is much more hurtful. One of my favorite critical reviews was Legendez's review of Idole de Lubin. Not only does she critique the scent on its own merit, she also examines race issues with Lubin's marketing campaign and the way it exoticized African culture and experience to give the perfume a 'story' for predominately anglo-western consumers. It was not only a great perfume review, it was an interesting and informative read.

So white privilege is a universal problem that needs to be approached where ever it's found, even in our online perfumes blogs and communities. There is no example of white privilege that is too small or seemingly petty, even if it's 'just about' perfume ad-copy. By dismissing these criticisms or discussions as being 'too fussily PC,' we're reprimanding others for their desire to be heard or for their frustrations to be recognized. These are legitimate problems. If we want a community that is open to all people, we need to be ok with addressing white privilege and how it affects our perception and the people around us. We need to be ok about being called out sometimes or being the ones responsible for calling out. We need to be honest and air out our dirty laundry for anyone to see.