Boomtown Boudoir

Chanel No. 5
June 29, 2007, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: , ,

I don’t know about you, but Miss Piggy makes me very uncomfortable. It’s something about her simpering giggle, barbie doll wardrobe, penchant for bubble baths, and the fact that despite all of her florid femininity, she doesn’t understand that being a pig is not a good thing. I’m also really freaked out by her interspecies relationship with Kermit, a small, mild-mannered, and socially conscious frog. In this case, the gag is a little too effective, inspiring something of a literal gag when I imagine Kermit’s helpless expression and flailing muppet-arm as La Piggy, resplendent in the reverse-cowgirl position, crushes him. It’s not that I feel bad for Kermit. Kermit would. And the thought of Miss Piggy’s delighted mock-protests under the large-yet-gentle, furry paws of say… Fozzie… doesn’t sit any better with me (although, Animal, on the other hand…). So it’s not just her sex life. There’s something about Miss Piggy herself that makes me understand, uncomfortably, that she is based on a stereotype of women that has some of its roots in a reality I don’t like. Then begins the long downward spiral of second-guessing who I have chosen to become. By rejecting Miss Piggy and everything she stands for, have I automatically signed up for the opposite team, the feminity-rejectors, the butches, the women who say “that’s not funny” when a man tells a dirty joke and then wonder why they can’t get laid?

As I am loath to put myself into the equally undesirable second category, I spent years of my life trying to come to terms with Chanel no. 5, a bohemoth Miss Piggy of a perfume if ever one was made. This stuff is so ubiquitous among girly-girls of the world that twelve year-old boys everywhere probably think that this is what pussy juice smells like. To be fair, it is not Chanel no. 5‘s fault that it has oversaturated its market due to, among other things, Marilyn Monroe’s tragic endorsement of its possible substitution for pajamas. Things do not become grotesquely popular in a vaccum. There are reasons why women love this stuff. They just happen to be the same reasons that make me uncomfortable in the pink-powdery company of Miss Piggy.

My first Chanel no. 5 was a small bottle of the Elixir Sensuelle that I received as a gift from an infatuated strip club regular. The bottle was cute; a clean little glass rectangle with an old-school parfum-style stopper. And on my skin, the smell wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t… anything. A little soapy, a little flowery, a little powdery. It struck me as the epitome of a gift that a man gets a woman whom he doesn’t, and never will, know. After giving it a few tries, I passed the bottle along to my friend Sara, who didn’t like it either.

Fast forward a year; I’m fully obsessed with all things olfactory at this point and I wanted to give the pink stuff another shot. Sara was more than happy to pass the Elixir Sensuelle back to me, and I tried it again with the same results: meh. I went to a Macy’s and tried on the EdP from a store tester. Now this, this was something else: a huge pink beast, devoid of any beasty (or even, for that matter, human) characteristics while still maintaining the impression of being huge. Jasmine from Grasse, Rose de Mai, aldehydes, yadda yadda yadda… Chanel no. 5 smells like girl, pure and simple. Unfortunately for me, the girl prototype represented by Chanel no. 5 has nothing to do with the kind of girl I am, or, more importantly, the kind of girl I want to be. I felt like I was walking around in a mask all day, as though I had put on an elaborate and heavy Anna Nicole Smith wig and a pair of pink polka-dot kitten heels. Nope. Strangely enough, after smelling the EdP, the Elixir Sensuelle held new allure for me: it wasn’t good, but at least it wasn’t that bad. Sort of a Diet No.5 instead of the full-calorie version.

The final nail in the Chanel no. 5 coffin came when my friend Heather and I made candles one afternoon. Perversely, I bought an entire vial of a designer-impostor bodega oil scented with a close impersonation of No.5, and proceeded to dump the entire bottle into the wax for a giant pink three-wick candle. Heather and I were almost gassed out of her house. I kept trying to convince myself that I liked it. I didn’t. “It smells pink,” said Heather, her eyes wide and horrified.

This was somewhat comforting, because Heather is the girliest person I know. If she could reject the smell of Chanel no. 5, I was in no danger of butchdom by not liking it myself. That meant that there was a middle ground in there somewhere, a gray area between Miss Piggy and, say… Ann Coulter. And that eventually I would learn that this is an okay place to be.


Celebrity Perfume Reviews on Jezebel!
June 28, 2007, 1:24 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole

I wrote these, bitches. Proud of myself? Sorta. Sorta not.

Just Like a Woman
June 26, 2007, 7:34 pm
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: ,

There is still something thrillingly brazen about a woman appropriating a men’s cologne for herself, despite the fact that this has been going on since the invention of personal scent. It makes her feel like she is the kind of woman who could have a secret gun collection or a pair of brass balls mounted on the wall above her bed. She doesn’t, of course–but in a men’s cologne, a woman radiates a certain quality that says, “But you don’t know that.”

Egoiste EdT by Chanel is one of my newest full-bottle acquisitions, and I’m still figuring out how, exactly, I feel about it. While the drydown is all cinnamon toast presented on a polished sandalwood platter next to a vase of long-stemmed roses, the opening has a medicinal-smelling lavender/coriander accord that tends to announce “Silly girl, Egoiste is for men” a bit too loudly for my comfort. Sometimes when I catch a whiff of it on myself, I think, “where’s the dude?” and experience a briefly unsettling mind/body dysphoria. I’m pretty sure that no one has ever thought that there is even a slight possibility that I have a secret gun collection or a pair of brass balls mounted over my bed, and Egoiste makes me acutely aware of this.

With Egoiste, I fell in love with a concept rather than a smell. I wanted, even if just for a day, to be the kind of woman who stalks coolly through her life in a men’s shirt and a pair of cufflinks, garnering the kind of sexual attention that has its roots in respect and fear. I wanted slow whistles that I never had a chance to hear because I had already left the room, wafting a mysterious and disarming trail of expensive shaving kit in my wake. I wanted to go to a bar by myself, order a scotch, pay for it with my own money, actually enjoy the taste without being reminded of old sneakers, and be so intimidatingly aloof that not one man in the place would have the balls to approach me.

This intangible quality of haughty power that I sought in Egoiste is not one I actually possess. I smile too much. If I go to a bar by myself, I usually drink a beer, and within seconds, the most obviously alcoholic and down-and-out man in the bar will not only plop right down next to me like he has a shot, but I will go on to have a twenty minute conversation with him. I am the worst kind of Egoiste fraud.

This doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. The rich, dangerous exotic-spice trader quality coupled with the soothing vanillic sweetness present in this scent will keep me coming back. Almost by mistake, I’ve discovered that the stuff actually smells good even when it doesn’t match up to my (ever so) slightly hysterical expectations of it. And if someday, I succeed in living up to my (ever so) slightly overblown expectations of myself, I’m going to need my bottle of Egoiste handy. Not to produce an effect, but to celebrate one.

The Last Orange Blossom
June 26, 2007, 5:35 am
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: , ,

Like many girls, I thought I was hopelessly unattractive when I was seventeen. My reasons for thinking so now seem achingly naive in the context of the things I should have been caring about: my hair didn’t lie right. I occasionally had a pimple. I wasn’t a skinny little nymph, nor had I come to terms with my curves. I hadn’t figured out how to dress myself yet. I didn’t have a boyfriend. Looking back on my senior year of high school, I wish I could go back in time and smack some sense into myself. When I see pictures of myself from that period of time, I realize that I was indeed beautiful despite all of my perceived flaws, the way all but the most unfortunate of seventeen year-old girls are.

Fleurs d’Oranger wasn’t invented yet when I was a senior in high school, nor would I have had the resources, growing up in the tiny town of Upper Black Eddy Pennsylvania, to ever come across Serge Lutens’ exclusive French niche line of perfumes. If I’d had some of this back then, though, I have a feeling that my senior year would have been a completely different beast.

I’d have been her:

Except maybe nicer. Although probably not.

Cybill Shepherd in The Last Picture Show portrayed Jacy Farrow, the high school bombshell of a small town just coming to grips with the repercussions of being part of a larger world in the 1060s. Jacy spends the entire movie seducing every man in sight, on purpose, just to see if it will work. Despite the hearts she breaks, you can’t help but feel that she’s doing it more out of innocence than actual malice. Even when she kicks her bewildered teenaged boyfriend out of bed after recruiting him to take her virginity, you can’t help sympathize with her frustration in still not knowing how to have sex properly afterward. Or maybe you can. I couldn’t.

Fleurs d’Oranger hits the same spot in my personal mythology as The Last Picture Show and my own senior year of high school. It’s hard to explain why, except that the fragrance is so achingly, horribly, beautifully innocent that you get the feeling it’s going to have a long life of mixed blessings and sorrows. Based around the orange flower and supported by notes of white jasmine, tuberose, white rose, green orange peel, musk, hibiscus, cumin, and nutmeg, Fleurs d’Oranger plays out all of the combined freshness and sweat of that long, hot summer right after high school graduation.

The orange blossom sings out most strongly, but it’s far from being the tepid and sticky kiddie cologne sold in Spanish bodegas and health food stores. This orange blossom is hot, lush, itching for trouble, and counting down the days until she can get the hell out of this two-bit town. The cumin and nutmeg suggest not sex and danger themselves, but a pulsing, palpable, frustrated desire for it. It’s sweet and juicy to the point of bursting, which would explain why it reminds me of a time when I still lived at home with my strict parents. I think if a seventeen year-old were to actually wear this perfume, some concerned neighbor would be doing the right thing by calling her parents. It’s for a woman, not a girl.

Yeah, I know it’s just perfume. But this is why I’m so obsessed with it: it tells its story to the obsessed, and probably only the obsessed. And Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger is one of my most obsessed-over obsessions. Not because it’s trying; because it can’t help it.

It’s Not Bad, It’s Just Drawn That Way
June 26, 2007, 4:31 am
Filed under: Perfume, strippers | Tags: , ,

Christian Dior’s Hypnotic Poison is the kind of scent I can’t help but kind of love even while every fiber of my being screams out that it is wrong, bad, and evil. It’s sort of an olfactory composite of everything women’s magazines tell you that men like turned up another 10 notches until it becomes this scarily effective fem-bot on a rampage to steal your boyfriend.

Bitter almond, jasmine, vanilla, and sandalwood are blended here to create a high-pitched shriek that is part rootbeer float, part lapdance, and all it’s own phenomenon. No particular note sticks out to me, rather, it’s the sum total of its parts working together to create a distinct and unforgettable effect. It’s not a rootbeer float and a lapdance, rather it’s a seductive pull on the straw stuck in a rootbeer float while performing a lapdance. It’s a mean-spirited comedy sketch about frumpy suburban women so desperate for a man that they dab vanilla extract behind their ears after reading about it in Cosmo, performed by a twenty-two year old Russian supermodel in a spangled garter belt. Hypnotic Poison’s genius lies in its cruel sense of humor. Hating it is beside the point. It’s a lot more likely to make you hate yourself.

Part and parcel of Hypnotic Poison’s “funny” little joke is the way it sticks around literally days after you’ve put it on. While most perfumes seek to avoid offending, Hypnotic Poison courts it. Spray it on your clothing? Well… remember that roommate you used to have who was hotter, skinnier, better with boys, and smarter than you to boot used to like to borrow your shirts sometimes and you’d end up letting her keep it because it looked so much better on her than you? It’ll be kind of like that. If this stuff gets on your clothes, it will own them.

Wearing a fragrance like this one requires a lot of guts. You can’t be afraid that it smells too strong, or that its distinctiveness is off-putting to others in your proximity. You need to make up your mind about Hypnotic Poison before spraying it on, because if you haven’t, you’ll spend the next week feeling self-conscious and writing apologetic emails.

Christian Dior is one of my favorite fragrance lines for this reason. No pussyfooting around. They’re an entire line of love-em-or-leave-em’s that stick around long after their welcome is worn out and you would like to move on to something subtler, tamer, and more appropriate for the office or the boyfriend’s parents. They have a new one called “Midnight Poison” coming out sometime this year that apparently makes good use of patchouli. I can’t wait.

Kiehl’s Original Musk
June 26, 2007, 3:56 am
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , , ,

jules et jim

There is something brisk and responsible about the Kiehl’s store. It has to do with the lab-coated sales associates, apothecary-styled packaging, no-nonsense displays, and the way you feel as though you were doing something good for you, like climbing a mountain, simply by shopping there for beauty products. To walk into a Kiehl’s store and buy a vial of their Original Musk oil or a big glass bottle of the EdT feels as wholesome as a therapy session or sports massage.

Given this context, it is somewhat discordant to discover that Kiehl’s Original Musk goes on with all the subtlety of the rose air freshener hanging in a truck stop restroom. It is a thick, opaque floral tempered by a blast of citrus that seeems to be trying to disguise the dirty load in its drawers. Kiehl’s generous sample policy is an all-important in the case of Original Musk fragrance–this is a fragrance that needs to be brought home and given time to settle.

Back when I was just starting to get into perfume, I thought it would be a good idea to spray some of my Kiehl’s EdT sample directly into my then-man The Red Guard’s gamey armpit. This wasn’t the bitch move it sounds like. I was infatuated with The Red Guard’s gamey armpits and thought that spraying a unisex fragrance into one of them would only make it smell better. Something to do with pheremones, or the already-funky aroma of the Kiehl’s itself which I had not liked on my own skin during initial testings. I didn’t know what I was doing, and the effect was not particularly pleasant, but I will always hold the image of the two of us lying in my bed with both of our faces pressed into his fragrant armpit in my mind as one of those bathetically poignant moments where all is right with the world.

This was in the summer. By Fall, The Red Guard was in (where else?) China, and the weather had cooled down enough for me to dislike sleeping alone. One rainy Sunday afternoon, I missed him enough to spray myself down with the dreaded Kiehl’s in hopes that I could olfactorily summon up a little piece of the armpit-perfume memory to snuggle up to. This time, it worked. The rough-and-ready topnotes melted down into a wistfully human-smelling skin scent, like the back of a much-loved neck. There was a little bit of dirty hair, a little bit of freshly-washed laundry, and a lot of smooth warmth.

The oil strength of Kiehl’s Original Musk is very strong and very oily on the skin, but I like its uncomplicated coziness better then the more-complex, sharper EdT. It’s a little dirtier, a little warmer, and a little closer to the effect I’m looking for. The EdT is similar-smelling enough to the oil to layer the two, though, for when you really want to smell yourself, which I usually do.

This scent’s carnally evocative tendencies, when married to Kiehl’s briskly unisex marketing, makes me think that this is a scent for people who need a little comfort at the top of their various personal mountaintops. The photo above is a still from the Francois Truffaut film Jules et Jim, whose main character (played by Jeanne Moreau) has always seemed to me like someone who still needed a hug even with two boyfriends.