Boomtown Boudoir

Perfume Recognition

In one of my many would-be fantasy incarnations, I am a strict disciple of the Cayce Pollard rules of fashion. Pollard, a character dreamed up by William Gibson in his 2003 “marketing thriller” Pattern Recognition, is a twentyish cool hunter whose sensitivity to the world of labels and logos is a literal and visceral part of her basic character. Her job is to be a sort of psychic dowsing rod of a marketing consultant; being called in to offices all over the world to speak on her gut feelings as to whether a bit of advertising works or does not work. As a side effect, she cannot stand any sort of identifying insignia on or near anything she owns. Cayce wears Levi’s but has the buttons sanded down so that they do not say “Levi’s.” She cuts the labels out of even her collection of deadstock private school uniform sweaters. She carries a laminated envelope that is referred to as a “purse-analog” and her prized possession is a black Buzz Rickson’s MA-1 bomber jacket (pictured above) that is a Japanese-constructed reissue of the classic military design.

“CPUs. Cayce Pollard Units. That’s what Damien calls the clothing she wears. CPUs are either black, white, or gray, and ideally seem to have come into this world without human intervention.

What people take for relentless minimalism is a side effect of too much exposure to the reactor-cores of fashion. This has resulted in a remorseless paring-down of what she can and will wear. She is, literally, allergic to fashion.  She can only tolerate things that could have been worn, to a general lack of comment, during any year between 1945 and 2000. She’s a design-free zone, a one-woman school of anti whose very austerity periodically threatens to spawn its own cult.”

This is all very appealing to me because I am not one of those women who is effortlessly stylish, possibly due to the fact that my clothes are often costumes. I have Grace Kelly days and Kim Gordon days and Jane Birkin days and Mary-Kate Olsen days and Jessica Rabbitt days, as well as days where, like Cayce, I want to be as far away from anything you can identify as possible. My external surface is and has always been my favorite toy, something to manipulate and tweak and mess around with depending on the whims of my internal fancy. I like to be a lot of different things. I could never commit to Cayce’s austerity for that reason, but there’s another major one that I’ve been tossing around in my head for the past few days.

One of the best things about this book is the way that William Gibson uses Cayce’s external surface to not only signify, but to instruct. After reading it, you know how to do “relentless minimalism.” You know where to get the clothes. You know what to do with them after you buy them. He’s packaged a sweet anti-brand, an alternative style to the ones posed in fashion magazines and on red carpets and your favorite old movie stars or musicians and given the reader all the tools to go out and rebel, themselves, against using their bodies as a cultural signifier. The point being that everything signifies something; everything is available as a package; everything is consumable.

But what I want to know, Mr. Gibson, goes something like this: what on earth is in Cayce’s bathroom? Because you really left all of us would-be disciples hanging on that one. An attempt is made to address this problem when Cayce, staying in a Tokyo hotel for business, is treated to a full spa service she refers to as “the fabulous fanny treatment.” She gets a massage, haircut, makeup application, manicure, pedicure, the whole nine yards… but what color does this girl get on her toes, if any? And are we supposed to believe that she simply eschews grooming whenever a company-funded Japanese hotel is not in some way doing it to her? Does she sand the Lubriderm label from her body lotion,  too? And of course, my first burning question, what about perfume?

It would be too easy to imagine that Cayce Pollard would be against scent entirely. She enjoys the “fabulous fanny treatment” a little too much, and displays a wily adeptitude at making her rules work in a high-end department store on the company dime shortly thereafter. She would know how to incorporate something into her regime. It could be something impossible for anyone else to find and use, something super-vintage decanted into a plain container, but the thought of the minimalist Cayce wanting to smell like one of the baroque, animalistic old vanguards– Schiaparelli’s Shocking or one of the Weil scents–seems wrong. Comme des Garcons’ Odeur 53, with its olfactory reenactment of nail polish, babies’ breath, sand dunes, and the spirit of Antarctica, comes in a bottle that would probably be tolerated on Cayce’s bathroom shelf, but something about it seems a bit too obvious, a bit too plainly marketed to someone with a more inorganic and pretentious version of Cayce’s design standards. Likewise, while one of Escentric Molecules’ woody Iso E Super concoctions might appeal because they’re pretty much one chemical ingredient, the bottle is a bit too… well, it has… stuff on it.  My best guess is that Cayce might be tempted into something from her fellow New Yorker Christopher Brosius’ CB I Hate Perfume line, either one of the more aquatic, spare offerings or else something bespoke-ish mixed up just for her. Either that or she wears Fracas just to be ornery.

It’s great fun to go perfume shopping fictional characters that you just know would, if they wore perfume at all, have an ever-elusive signature scent.  Something about the signature scent just seems so neatly final, so summarily disciplined, so enviable to someone like me who goes through life in a constant state of low-grade Guess Who I Am today? If you can say who you are and say it firmly through your wardrobe and perfume choices, then you must really be that person; you must really be convicted about it. Since I read Pattern Recognition, Cayce Pollard has been something of a beacon of singular personhood for me, a state that I have thus far found laughably unattainable. While Gibson portray’s Cayce’s marketing sensitivity as something of an affliction, it is, at least a stylish one, and one that seems to look superiorly down on the rest of us who are conversely afflicted with the perpetual state of too many options.