Boomtown Boudoir

Moe’s Fracas Effect
October 25, 2008, 1:02 am
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , , , ,
Gilles Balmet, from Untitled (Rorschach-2005)

Gilles Balmet, from Untitled (Rorschach-2005)

“To the extent that I wear skirts/ and cheap nylon slips/ I’ve gone native/ I wanted to know the exact dimensions of hell/ Does this sound simple? Fuck you!”

Sonic Youth, The Sprawl

It must have been almost six years ago, the day my friend Moe was sitting cross-legged on the floor of the bathroom of the Walnut Street Barnes and Noble, trying to pull herself together. This sounds extreme unless you know Moe, who exists in a perpetual state of trying to pull herself together as well as being in a general habit of sitting down on the floor of places that most people would not. “Shit, I have B.O.,” she said after putting her face down the front of her shirt and sniffing loudly. She pulled a bottle of perfume from her briefcase purse thing and sprayed herself down good. I took the bottle from her and sprayed some on myself too. Moe was putting on dark red lip liner while talking, not bothering to look in the mirror, and she was talking about how a married Nike exec man-friend she’d met while doing a piece for the Wall Street Journal had just sent her, of all things, perfume. “Do I seem like I would wear perfume?” she asked, using her finger to blend the lip liner. The bottle was small and black and severely square. The entire bathroom reeked of gardenias and bad-idea sex. I didn’t know whether Moe seemed like she’d wear perfume or not, but it was a fascinating question for its lack of an immediate and precise answer. The perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas.

It wasn’t that Moe is the sort of person who seems like she wouldn’t wear perfume, it is more that she seems like the sort of person who wouldn’t wear Fracas. Fracas, you see, is a very serious tuberose-heavy fancy-lady bombshell of a perfume, renowned for its favor with the likes of Madonna and Princess Caroline of Monaco. It goes on strong and gets continually stronger as it wears on, blooming like some illegal hothouse hyrid on its wearer and sending out gigantic, glorious plumes of sillage. And Moe is a girl who defiantly buys her shoes at KMart and is so busy doing her job, which is writing about economics, that she frequently forgets to shower. Moe and Fracas seemed like a mismatch for the ages, but somehow it wasn’t. It was freakishly just right on her, sprawled out indian-style on the floor of a public bathroom, wondering objectively if this meant that Nike guy would possibly leave his wife and wreck his entire life over some kiss in a different state that didn’t mean anything except that she was lonely and he was there, and only in between various musings about the stock market and inflation and which rapper was endorsing which pair of sneakers. In her own messy, haphazard, too-smart-for-her-own-good way, Moe is exactly the kind of Killer Queen Fracas is meant for. It was one of those glorious synergistic mistakes that works out in the end: Moe’s Fracas Effect.

Becoming a perfume nerd involves something of a typical process. You remember something you used to wear in middle school, go on a hunt, realize it isn’t made anymore, and start trying to track it down on the internet. You stumble across websites that tell you all about other perfumes similar to the one you can no longer have and realize that there is an entire quantifiable universe of knowledge that one can have about perfume. There are more of them than you ever imagined, and there are so many shortcuts to figuring out what kinds of scents you like in order to locate them that you pretty much go crazy trying to pinpoint things like which family of scents is for you, which notes you consistently like, what kind of mood you’re going for–all in the name of the Holy Grail, or Signature Scent. You didn’t sign up for a new hobby, see. You just want The One. But as with men, once you realize how many of them are out there and how many of them will be perfect in a given moment, The One becomes buried under an avalanche of possibility. Maybe you just aren’t the monogamous type, after all. There are orientals. And florientals. Chypres! Musks: white musks, dirty musks, vanillic musks, Egyptian musks. Which is to say nothing of the pure florals, the green florals, the gourmand florals, the white florals, all of which have their charms. You attempt to sift through all of these scientifically, until you realize that selecting a perfume is not a scientific process at all, it’s a way of asking yourself, who am I?

Sweet baby Jesus, not that again. And as with men, you begin to realize that you have probably screwed up your chances of finding The One by refusing to remain naive and passive about it and letting it come to you. You are now among the faithless and calculating. You cannot duplicate the magic behind Moe’s Fracas Effect anymore; you know too much.

I now know, for example, that there are several perfumes I could have worn happily for the rest of my life had I not understood how vast and deep the rest of the perfumed world is. Shalimar is one of them. Kiehl’s Original Musk is another. If I’m only picking three, the third would have to be Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger. And I could probably forgo wearing Shalimar entirely if I knew I could still smell it regularly, stick to Kiehl’s during the day and bust out the Lutens for hot dates and lazy summer evenings. So there you have it; my holy trifecta. It’s fully possible that all of my other dalliances are just aborted attempts to recreate Moe’s Fracas Effect. The problem with that kind of thinking behind Moe’s Fracas Effect is that it seems to be contingent upon the concept of One and Only. If you go back to Shalimar two weeks later, it just doesn’t count. And I very rarely wear the same perfume for more than a week straight.

I know this is the reason that I have failed to associate myself exclusively with any one particular scent, as opposed to a simple belief that The One does not exist for me. I have not forgotten the way I was claimed by the deep nostalgic undertow of Shalimar,  the slow, steady way that Kiehl’s Original Musk grew on me, and the way I was smitten at first sniff by Fleurs d’Oranger and spent the next month desperately plotting a way to have it. It’s just all been so… labored. The appeal of Moe’s Fracas Effect was that it was ordained by someone other than her, almost at random, and all the factors came together by chance. I forget that it was for me and not her that this chance effect was meaningful, and that she doesn’t even wear Fracas anymore. This thing I want isn’t something that anyone else particularly has, or at least has in the way that I would like to have it. This thing being, what now, identity?

I think it’s high time I went to bed.


The Favorite Game


Hey, assorted blogosphere readers, Boomtown Boudoir here. I have kept my silence for far too long about this pressing issue that concerns us all. That issue is Gossip Girl, most notably the most recent episode that aired earlier this week, Chuck in Real Life.

So, in a charmingly self-conscious riff on Choderlos de Laclos’ Les Liasons Dangereuses, Blair tries to pull off a half-assed Marquise de Merteuil to Chuck Bass’ fully-functional Vicomte de Valmont, suggesting that if he “seduces and destroys” Brooklyn gamine Vanessa, she will give him (gasp!) her body in exchange. Thing is, Blair’s motivation for this kind of thing is sorely lacking. Her problems with Vanessa are hardly enough to warrant this kind of subterfuge, and Chuck has always been ready and willing. Blair is just in the age-old hard spot of wanting Chuck only after he has proven himself to her on her own terms.  In the end, Blair is so jealous at the sight of Chuck actually attempting to seduce Vanessa that she aborts this mission before it’s been completed and tells him to meet her in her room in an hour. Chuck rewrites the ending to this story by telling her that unless Blair can tell him that she loves him, effectively calling off their longstanding game, she can’t have him. Dude, the implications of this are major.

Blair can’t do it, doubtlessly inspiring a frustrated chorus of, “Nooooo!” to rise from the collective couches of Gossip Girl’s viewers. I do not mind speaking for all of us when I say that we want Blair and Chuck to get together. We alone understand them. We alone know how happy they could be.

It has to do with the way Blair always shows up on the set of an Audrey Hepburn movie in her own dreams, and the way the camera flickers like it’s showing an old-school movie reel whenever she is living the life she is supposed to live. It has to do with how badly she wants the various things she wants, whether it’s getting into Yale or seeing some innocuous freshman socially annihilated. It has to do with the time Serena called her incessant WASPy headbands stupid, and we could see on her face that this was the part that really stung because in a lot of ways, Blair really believes in everything her stupid headbands stand for.  It has to do with Dorota, the Waldorf family housekeeper, and how she revels in the role of being Blair’s real mother figure while not letting her get away with too much shit. It has to do with her pedastalizing of Nate, a kid with maybe half of her IQ and double her good nature, who did as all of those kids must and bit the hand that fed. Over the course of the series, we’ve seen Blair struggle with something wild and dissolute in her nature; something that scares her; something that keeps threatening to blow her whole Blair-deal because at the end of the day, she believes that her own human emotions are the biggest and most embarrassing social gaffe of all.

Then there’s Chuck, a character who, at the mention of his fictitious name, almost makes you want to cross yourself and then throw some salt over your shoulder just for good measure. Chuck is terrible. He’s at his most warm and fuzzy when he’s lying his ass off to Dan Humphrey about how his birth killed his mother, and that’s only because we understand by now that this is the only way Chuck is able to communicate his emotional state without his pride suffering. No one else has to understand him, and they usually don’t. Some of the most painful moments in this series have been Chuck’s; all the parts where someone calls him out on being disgusting purely because he did, in fact, do something disgusting. The worst ones are when his father does it, because Chuck just takes it. Bart Bass is the one person Chuck won’t tangle with, and it’s excruciatingly sad, because his father is the last one to pick up on this. Then to contrast this with the scenes where someone is giving Chuck some kind of chance to be an okay human being and we can see how happy and surprised he is before he fucks it all up somehow?  Ouch. The kid is one big weeping wound in a Savile Row suit.

But the real reason we want Chuck and Blair to join forces romantically is because we remember Season One, Episode Seven: Victor/Victrola. The one where Chuck proposes the acquisition of a seedy burlesque club to his father and ends up making the old man proud for about five seconds before all that gets ripped away. The one where Blair joins Chuck there one night in an attempt to escape from the shambles of the rest of her life, gets on stage, takes her dress off, does the sexy dance, and ends up losing her virginity to him in the back of his father’s limo. Damn, that was out of nowhere, yet made such perfect sense. We saw them as they were in that episode, when no one else was watching: Blair shucking her brittle nice-girl image along with her clothes and revealing the kind of sultry sensuality no one ever saw from Audrey Hepburn; Chuck standing there with a bigger and brighter lightbulb going off in his head than was ever inspired by one of his evil revenge schemes. It was a simple character reveal that took place within a few minutes: Blair is the way she is because she is passionate and this characteristic has no place in the life she thinks she wants. And Chuck, well, he’s a connoisseur. Someone coming at him with anything less than that top shelf vintage crazygirl gleam in her eye is simply not going to get him where he needs to go emotionally. Who could forget the way he asked her “are you sure?” after she kissed him in the limo? Chuck and Blair are each other’s only hope for redemption.

Watching Season 2 Episode 8, I was surprised that the Les Liasons Dangereuses plot had not been used earlier in the series. Both Gossip Girl and de Laclos’ novel take place in an ornate social universe of rich people doing things to each other because life is otherwise completely boring. But waiting until the show and its characters had matured into something more than obnoxious stock puppets serving mostly as paper dolls to wear elaborate wardrobes was a wise move, because it served to illuminate a major thematic difference between de Laclos’ grim and despairing send-up of society and Gossip Girl’s most compelling hook: can these characters be saved from themselves? They are, after all, only seventeenish.

Blair and Chuck are fucked up, but they’re not quite Merteuil-and-Valmont fucked up, making one of the most interesting things about this episode the characters’ struggle with the boundaries of this fact. They’re headed in a Merteuil-and-Valmont direction, sure, and moreover on purpose, but the way the series sucks you in is by making us watch these characters perpetually question whether or not it’s worth it. The terrifying thing about Merteuil and Valmont is their complete assuredness that their games are worth any price. The terrifying thing about Blair and Chuck is that they might go ahead and throw away everything good in their lives without ever being completely assured it is the right thing to do or even what they actually want for themselves. And we are on tenterhooks as the show’s producers dance with this distinction week in and week out, hoping that these characters redeem themselves while knowing that if that were to happen entirely, Gossip Girl would not exist.

So what’s it going to be, Blair? Chuck just threw down the exact kind of gauntlet you don’t want to deal with; the kind you need to deal with. None of us here at home blame you for being unable to trust him, which is the reason you have to. How else are we going to get Portrait of a Lady with a different ending up in this series?


Boomtown Boudoir