Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: Fleurs d'Oranger, Fracas, Kiehl's Original Musk, Serge Lutens, Shalimar
“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.
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