Filed under: Perfume | Tags: candles, leather, Matthew Izzo, Philadelphia
Matthew Izzo is the eponymous lifestyle store opened by a Philadelphia-based interior designer who has a refined taste for all things “cool.” The store sells things like skinny jeans, sleek sofas upholstered with tinsel-shot tweed, modern sculpture pieces that take the whole late-60’s Jetson’s aesthetic into the realm of a better, less kitschy future, and the even hippest haircuts in town in the tiny in-store salon. The kind of cool stuff that lets you know loud and clear when you’re not cool enough to buy it, a category in which I would include myself were it not for the huge wall of candles. This is a great comfort because nobody, I don’t care who you are, will ever not be cool enough for candles.
They are not cool things, candles. They are warm and inviting and cozy. At their coolest, they are an accent in a dark corner, suspended on some impossibly tall stilt or placed on a glass tray in the middle of a coffee table where they are never lit. At their least cool, they are the territory of frowsy spinsters who light as many of them at once as they can in order to romance their nine cats and dog-eared bodice-ripper collection. I personally fall somewhere in the middle, and this is only because I don’t have cats and read good books.
I think I discovered Matthew Izzo’s candles around this time last year, a time in my life when I was attempting to reclaim the word “spinster” as a positive self-identification. I painted myself as flamboyantly resigned to baking gourmet pastry and tatting lace, kicking boys out of my bed after their masculine duties were completed in order to spend some more quality time with my charmingly decorated one-bedroom apartment. As my friend Kendell pointed out shortly after last New Years’, I wasn’t really kidding anyone. But for awhile there, I really wanted, more than anything else, to at least affect some kind of purposeful contentment with my boyfriendless existence. Just because I was so tired of being sad about it.
My Matthew Izzo poison at that time was Boy. It wasn’t a real boy, but it was almost as satisfying. This candle was kind of thing I wanted to smell all the time, not just burning in the air but all over my skin, all over my clothes, all over my pillows, all over everything, constantly. I don’t know if Mr. Izzo himself sits down and invents the oil blends that scent the candles with his name on them, but I can imagine that however this blend was made, it was not by a sophisticated process. The other candles in the range, named after various Philadelphia hot spots like Rittenhouse Square, didn’t do much for me. And the scents have never been anywhere near consistent. When I first became interested in the Matthew Izzo range, most of them were simple, strongly-scented soliflores that, while pretty, were probably the result of someone pouring some outsourced oils into a vat of wax. Matthew Izzo’s candles are obviously a small, experimental operation. Boy, though… Boy is the one that Matthew Izzo got right the first time and continues to get right. I am obsessed.
It’s predominantly a true-to-life leather scent, the kind of leather that reminds me of going to a Wilson’s store in the mall in junior high and trying on the black leather bomber jackets. This is the same smell as a biker store, or a cowboy store, or dare I say, a leather-heavy gay bar minus the smoke and booze. The leather is balanced out with a smooth, unsweetened vanilla that gives the effect of being man enough to cry during sad movies. Then the whole thing is spiked with a fresh-from-the-barbershop splash of fizzy lime. The throw from even the $12 travel tin candle is enough to scent not only my apartment, but the entire hall of the building, for days. It’s glorious. I have never had a boyfriend quite as smooth yet rugged as Boy, and that’s probably a good thing. If there were a human equivalent of this candle, I would love him like a crazy girl and we’d both end up scarred for life.
Imagine my delight when I discovered that Matthew Izzo also puts Boy out in a fragrance oil, safe for use on the skin. I don’t know how one would obtain such a thing unless they lived in Philadelphia and could get to the store or emailed Mr. Izzo himself and begged for a special mail-order, but this addition to the candle line has certainly made me a happy, happy girl. I’m over rejecting the idea of actual, human intimacy at this point, but I’ll tell you this much: I will always consider spinsting it up in my apartment with Boy as time well spent. Whether it’s cool or not.
“So Im back, to the velvet underground
Back to the floor, that I love
To a room with some lace and paper flowers
Back to the gypsy that I was
To the gypsy… that I was
And it all comes down to you
Well, you know that it does
Well, lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
Ah, and it lights up the night”
–From “Gypsy,” Fleetwood Mac
The last time Socs slept over at my house, we walked to the Jamaican Jerk Hut the next morning for some wholesome, spicy food to cure our hangovers. We had debauched the night away to the point where any restaurant genteel enough to serve what is known as “brunch” would probably have turned us away, and besides, we were too far gone for a sip of mimosa and a few bites of a precious goat cheese omelet to do us any good. Hangovers or not, though, it was a perfect September morning, all mellow sunshine and and that deep, clear blue sky that only happens in September. We were hurting, but happy. And on the way there, we realized that once again, we had inadvertently dressed like crazy lesbian twins from some other dimension.
I’d been up with the birds after about an hour’s sleep for an early waitressing shift from which I’d magically gotten to leave early, so I was dressed for some serious egg-slinging: a swirly low-cut black cotton babydoll dress and black lace-up Doc Martens. This outfit was good for waiting tables because the dress was cute and cleavage-y enough to make up for the comfortably butch footwear; customers were never sure which part of my outfit they should be judging. Socs was wearing a silky black pantsuit, the top of which was held up by the thinnest of halter strings. She had black high heels that clicked an aimless rhythm on the sidewalk and breasts that bounced loosely along inside her top a second or two later. Socs loves her boobs and hates bras. Her naughty jiggle is her most constant fashion accessory. I admire her guts, but my cheeks get red just thinking about accidentally forgetting to wear a bra in public. We both had crazy flyaway hair and no makeup and the kind of big, I-can’t-believe-I’m-still-alive smiles that suggested the worst was yet to come as far as our hangovers were concerned.
“Whoa, we look like creeps,” Socs said as another group of people on the street stared openly in our wake. We laughed. Being creepy, we have always agreed, is not only part and parcel of being free, but some of the best fun anyone can have.
Over fresh, homemade ginger beer and paper plates full of spicy rice and vegetables and plantains, Socs told me how, a few weeks back, she’d holed up in her Brooklyn apartment for four days straight, smoking pot on her fire escape, playing and rewinding a tape of Fleetwood Mac’s song “Gypsy,” and having epiphanies. I cracked up. This was, at least to me, the exact kind of behavior that made Socs Socs. It was also the exact kind of behavior that I normally held myself back from, or at least held myself back from telling people about. Socs and I share a birthday and have spent years marveling over how similar, yet different we are. And one of the major differences has always been that she has no problem doing and talking about the kind of things I normally suppress. This dynamic is such that for every hour we spend in perfect mirror-image understanding, there’s another where we drive each other absolutely nuts with frustration. Sometimes she thinks I’m a dogmatic, manipulative prig; sometimes I think she is an outright menace to herself and society. This time, though, I just wanted to hear about her Stevie Nicks epiphanies. My Fleetwood Mac song was always “Go Your Own Way.” In my characteristic literal-mindedness, its words pointed out a possible alternative to my long lists of various petty rules and scores to keep. But Socs got “Gypsy.” I was jealous.
Of course she couldn’t sum it up in a sentence after having spent four days listening to it on repeat. Its meaning had already been internalized, it was more like a meditation mantra or a black-magic sigil she’d put all of her energy into and then forgotten. After she went back to New York, I listened to “Gypsy” myself, trying to hear what she’d been listening to.
First epiphany was from the “lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice” part: Oh! Things happen that put your life into upheaval and it’s a natural part of being alive that you need to roll with.
The second thing I got from the song was an unanswerable question as to whether the “you” that it all comes down to is the gypsy herself or an outside person. I liked to think it was the first option, really saying that she knows it all comes down to her when lightning strikes, because–well, this has been my experience of life. It does.
Epiphany three was from the first verse of the song, about being “back to the velvet underground.” I equated this with the kinda-scary but kinda-good feeling of suddenly having a huge amount of space after someone close leaves your life. And something about embracing it because that feeling is you at your most essential.
The last epiphany I had before I gave up on this exercise was that Stevie Nicks probably wrote it as a “fuck you, you will always love me even after I’m long gone” kind of song dedicated to one of her incestuous bandmates and that, historically at least, it had about as much to do with freedom as the song “Amie” by the Pure Prairie League has to do with love. But that’s me; petty and dogmatic.
I was thinking about this today, the time Socs listened to “Gypsy” for four days straight, and got the sudden urge to put on a spray from my mostly-unused bottle of Dana’s Tabu. My next thought was that I needed to send Socs some Tabu, because like the song “Gypsy,” Tabu had somehow become, to me, about her. The obvious associations with the name of the perfume and her propensity for wildness made me smile with gentle exasperation at myself, much like the time I dreamed I was at an all-you-can-eat buffet and woke up crying because I didn’t know what to put on my plate first. And I don’t know if she’d like Tabu at all. It’s kind of a tough customer.
At first, Tabu smells like someone was playing with a bunch of essential oils and added every single one into the same pot just to see what would happen. There’s a citrusy freshness, floral sweetness, a vanillic warmth, and a whole lot of headshoppy heavy-hitters: patchouli, amber, musk, oakmoss, sandalwood, and god knows what else. It smells like someone who’s been up to some serious witchy stuff knocked over the cabinet where all the raw materials and incense and oils and perfumes were stored. And mama, this is some strong stuff: raunchy and sexual, distinctive and distracting, deep and thick. I adore it for being balls-out, for refusing to compromise and smell like anything other than capital-P perfume. The spray cologne comes with the kind of old-fashioned sprayer that sends out a long, fine mist instead of an easily controlled squirt, and this is a fragrance where control is needed to avoid gassing yourself out of the house. For these reasons, it seems to be a fragrance intended to freak most people out. To my smug pleasure, I can wear Tabu well. It’s one of the times when having perfume-eating skin works in my favor. Sprayed on the inside of my wrist, I can tame Tabu into a milky, soothing amber with just a little powdered patchouli dust in the space of an hour.
This will be my fragrance for when I want to spray a little Socs on, a gypsy potion to remind me that regardless of how many times lightning strikes, I will always have myself, the only person I really need to answer to. Maybe in exchange for all she has done for me, I will help Socs find a perfume that is like spraying some starchy old me on her wrists, some fussy, powdery number that will keep her safe from her own adventures. That settles it. The next time Socs sleeps over, I’m chasing her around with my L’Heure Bleue.
Sorry I haven’t had more time to write, but I’ve spent most of the past week languishing in the bathtub. Like Johnny Depp, I’m kind of a delicate flower. You know the type: soulful, but basically useless. Anyway, earlier this week I found myself faced with the task of completing one of those tedious chores that we all must face sometimes in life: dragging my fragile, wilting butt (on a cold day, no less!) to the LUSH store all the way down the street. It had, until this day, been a major source of irritation to me that I, of all people, had heretofore failed so miserably to understand what was so great about LUSH. All I could think, upon flipping limply through the catalog, was “bad fonts.” On another occasion, I entered the store with a friend only to have some irridescent glitter speck or chunk of organic free-range seaweed fly up my nose and send me out onto the street in a violence of coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and wailing. Even after I figured out that bath bombs are meant to be sniffed gently, I was still overwhelmed by the unweildy array of colors and cutesy names and weird products like glittering jelly meant to be used for the purposes of bathing. LUSH bewildered me, and furthermore, I suspected a major scam. I just don’t trust beauty products that come with a little cartoon sticker of the person who made them pasted to the side of the container, and I am even more suspicious when these very same products come with an expiration date. I mean, it’s shower gel. It’s not supposed to go bad, even if it’s been harvested by Tibetan monks on the third Tuesday in January under the northern lights during a waxing moon.
It’s not so much that I experienced a change of heart during this most recent visit to LUSH. I just was in that “buying” mood. So I got some stuff, and I have been home playing with it ever since. I’m not even entirely sure that LUSH doesn’t suck, only that I have now experienced enough of it to form a somewhat educated opinion. My problem is that I just don’t want to. It wears me out.
These are the products from LUSH that I’ve tried so far:
Flying Fox Shower Gel: Oooh, this a screechy, peachy cantatrice of a jasmine from hell if ever I have smelled one. Or not really peachy… more…. poopy and mothbally. But definitely screechy. I like it because it purportedly contains three different kinds of jasmine, including the most expensive. And also because it is meant to be sexy, and also to cure PMS. There’s a big clump of what is supposed to be honey at the bottom of the bottle, so it requires a shaking more vigorous than I ordinarily have the strength for. But chances are that if I am already standing up for a shower, I can pull it off. I would like to carry this around on a handkerchief to replace my usual smelling salts because it is pungent and soothing at the same time.
Dream Cream: Meant for “troubled” skin, well, I liked the sound of that. My skin has troubles. Dry patches and rough patches and scaly patches and well, just… patches… of no good. This rich lavender-scented lotion sinks right in and goes to work on the baddies, leaving me with skin as soft as Johnny Depp’s bottom. Oh, I’m still troubled. Sometimes I think I’ll always be troubled. But meanwhile, it’s nice to have a support system as luscious and easy-going as Dream Cream.
Buffy: This strange and exotic product is a bar of grease that suspends large particles of ground rice, almonds, and aduki beans. You rub it all over wet skin and then shower off the remaining scrubby thangs. While I do like the sound of “aduki beans,” I do not like an exfoliator that leaves me with scratch marks and a thick coating of grease that takes hours to soak in. On the upside, Buffy smells lavendery and lemony and like that indefinable powdery-good-for-you thing that I am coming to think of as LUSH-y. It was a free gift with purchase. I am still hoping my shower melts it before I think it is a good idea to try using it again.
Green Green Bath of Foam Bubble Bar: Millions of bubbles atop a turquoise bathtub-lagoon! And it smells kinda like the dearly departed GAP Grass! Did not irritate my sensitive skin, nor did the bubbles dissipate for the entire duration of my endless bath. Shaped like a little Christmas tree with pink peppercorn ornaments. I think I like it because I know it’s a limited edition and I will almost certainly be too lazy to go to the store again before they run out.
Titsy Totsy Bath Bomb: Another freebie, gifted to me by a former co-worker. This didn’t really do anything for me. It has a sweet, light, lovely rosy fragrance and six or seven tiny closed rosebuds that float around in the tub and look very pretty. It didn’t make me fall in love like it was supposed to, though, or turn the water any interesting colors. I think my attention span is too short for this one.
Blue Skies and Fluffy White Clouds Bubble Bar: Cinnamon and patchouli-scented bright blue water with bubbles. What more could anyone possibly need out of a bath? Except maybe a little bit of In the Nude thrown in there with it.
In The Nude Bath Melt: Has that sandalwoody, herbal LUSH kind of smell to it. Melts in the bath and makes it all slippery and good. I like to make the water really hot, so this bath melt helps me convince myself that I’m not really drying my skin out. Emollients, don’t you know.
Floating Islands Bath Melt: White cupcake-looking thing with big hunks of melty cocoa butter inside. This one is even more emollient than Naked. Again, it has that generic LUSH-y smell, but maybe more sandalwood than herbs this time. That’s a good thing, I think. Turned the water all silky and sexy feeling, which almost made me want to get out of the bathtub and go to the bar. Almost. It’s good, but it’s not that good, and I need to stay focused on my lounging this week.
So, in summary, I’m not sure if LUSH products are whatsoever worth the money spent on them, but I am also so relaxed after a week of indulgence that I also don’t care. And that’s pretty much all I have to say about them. Will I be participating in any further LUSH orgies down the line? Maybe. I feel as though these products call for a specific kind of cold, miserable week with nothing better to do, a pile of good books to read, and the nagging beginnings of a cold that refuses to either turn into a proper illness or go away.
Oh, except for Dream Cream. That one goes straight into the permanent arsenal.