Back in art school, my friend Sara and I had this obsession with the concept of Incognito Chic. Incognito Chic involved sunglasses, a trench coat, a head scarf, a taxi cab, and a good reason for all of the above. It’s not a style so much as a still in the film that we were sure our lives secretly were, or would be someday. Every long friendship has its memes, and this was just one of many. Sara moved to Portland a couple of years ago, but we have been friends for so long that she doesn’t need to live nearby for me to feel close to her, something I accredit to the fact that we both still live in a world full of the accumulated ideas we have shared over the years. When she wrote and asked about Jean Couturier’s Coriandre, the first thing that came to mind was our old Incognito Chic.
I have to smile at our mutual naivete in thinking that disguises were not only useful, but the kind of thing we really wanted an excuse for someday. As if all the drugs and boys and dancing and Truffault films weren’t enough, in and of themselves. This perfume speaks of a similar spirit, Coriandre being the kind of quintessentially wise perfume that makes the most sense (to me, that is–lord knows what Sara thinks) when worn aspirationally.
Were I to go incognito these days, my perfume of choice would surely be a chypre, one of those moody and mysterious compositions of cool dark woods, old-fashioned hothouse-corsage florals, dry bergamot, and the compelling if not entirely pleasant vinegary bite that results from combining the three. I’m not a chypre girl, and as you see, that’s the point. These are the sorts of perfumes reserved for a woman far more private and controlled than I am, a woman who hides because it is her nature and not because she gets a kick out of it, a woman whose life is an endless succession of high stakes and just-in-time taxi cabs cutting through stormy city streets by night.
Coriandre by Jean Couturier is no exception, although I find it somewhat more approachable than the Mitsoukos and Paloma Picassos of the world. Perhaps that is because it is indeed cheap, at maybe $19.99 at your local beauty bodega for a big spray bottle with a fake-malachite plastic cap and spare, clean lines. Perhaps it is because its top notes perform the neat chypre parlor trick of starting off as something unabashedly dreadful before morphing into the fuller, rounder heart notes very quickly, leaving less room for the panic at having sprayed the wrong thing. When I give Coriandre a bit of time to develop past the strange prickling spice-rack top notes, I smell the kind of shameless red roses that a hooker might receive with a roll of her eyes from a smitten john resting on a base of mossy black velvet. It’s dark and spooky while also giving off the impression of bracing and possibly perverse good health. It is the kind of fragrance you can wear many times without ever being able to decide whether or not you like it.
I reach for Coriandre only in the Spring, and only on the right kind of gray, drizzly Sunday that is not too rainy for a solo mission to the museum or a used bookstore. It goes with the trench coat I wear on those occasions; goes with a black umbrella and the yearning to poke around someplace dusty. I would have liked to have known about it in college, the Incognito Chic times, where every day was an excuse for unironic Godard Girl drag and I had more time set aside for flea markets and emotional turmoil. Being slightly used was something I romanticized before it happened to me. Now I need the right gray, drizzly Sunday for it to feel cinematic.
It makes the world seem a very small and cozy place when I think of Sara, somewhere in Portland right now, wearing Coriandre and pearls, riding her bike through the rain in high heels, turning pseudo-famous musicians into her boyfriends, having her picture taken at art gallery openings, and living the kind of life everyone needs to have for awhile before they can settle down into something without quite so many jump-cuts.
Grace wrote: Do you know any lemon or citrus-based scents that don’t smell like household cleaner? I have this scent-memory I’m trying to track down. When I was in the hospital two summers ago, the sweet nurses would come in once in a while and rub my hand with some kind of cheap lotion that smelled like lemons in a warm, comforting, delicious way. I’d never liked citrus scents much before that, but now I’m a little obsessed.
My money’s on: Jean Nate. It comes in packaging that looks like this. It is extremely cheap and extremely simple and lovely and I love it, especially the body powder. Jean Nate does not actually smell like lemons, although it recreates the bright, uplifting lemon experience with notes like lavender and lily of the valley. I think it would fit the description of warm, comforting, and delicious as well as forensically being something a nurse might actually have lying around her hospital station. Another option could be Razac Hand and Body Lotion. This smells more like soapy, woodsy grapefruits than lemons to me, and it’s more brisk than comforting, but it could certainly find its way to a nurse’s station.
I looked all over for a nice nurse picture to use with this post, but they were all either holding syringes or else they were “nurses,” that is to say, costumed strumpets. Neither seemed like an appropriate image to go along with a memory of someone’s much-appreciated competence and kindness, so I found some flowers instead.
Hope one of these works out for you, Grace!
So, to lay a little bit of casual groundwork: Joy’s claim to fame is that it is (or was) The Costliest Perfume in The World. Created by the French house of Patou to make American women feel luxurious even in the midst of the Great Depression. On one hand, awww, France… thanks! Between Joy and the Statue of Liberty, you guys have historically been grand buddies of the USA. I’m sorry that our leaders tend to get all butthurt every time you disagree with our politics, because you have for the most part been most excellent allies, both politically and culturally. Don’t listen to them. You are appreciated for all you have done and all that you are, France, including Joy de Jean Patou, which remains one of the great perfume big guns of history.
And lawwwd have mercy, what a big gun she is! It was suggested by Jae in the comments section that I try Joy on for size, and try her on I have. To be fair, I already had Joy in my stash before she said anything about it, but I took her out for another spin yesterday, a freezing stay-inside-if-you-can doozy of a cold, cold day. The parfum is amber in color, thicker and more sticky than the average parfum, and packs a stinging eau-de-vie wallop right out of the vial. Give it a few moments and it’s Grasse jasmine singing a dramatic soprano aria, joined a bit later by the earthy, mezzo murmurings of the Rose de Mai. These notes are so strong, distinct, and almost crudely rendered that it smells as though you’ve just put pure essential oils on your skin. Joy goes on like this for about an hour before the other part kicks in, and the other part is this mellow, honeyed, salty warmth that calls to mind nothing more than a clean but slightly sweaty ass crack. In the best possible way. I offered my wrist to a friend and asked him if it didn’t smell like ass crack. He sniffed me for awhile and finally said, “I don’t think ass crack is a bad thing.” That about sums it up. The ass accord is commonly attributed to civet, but since I don’t know anything about all that, it smells more to me like all the flowers in the opening have wilted slightly, sweated into their costumes, gotten very relaxed and sleepy, and are ready for bed after a long night of hard work. It’s lovely, and very human-smelling even if you don’t buy the ass crack line and haven’t personified perfume notes into opera singers. Also, all stages of this perfume are very strong. People will smell you if you wear this. They won’t be sniffing and looking around and wondering loudly who has swamp ass on the subway, but they might pick up on a bit of subliminal sex and start looking at you like you possibly have some for them. So basically, it accomplishes what the D&G Light Blues and Fresh Sugars of the world won’t: actual suggestiveness.
When viewing it all through the filter of Joy de Jean Patou, it’s easy to imagine that French sympathy for Americans during the Great Depression carried with it a wise, understated message: lighten up, take the ass crack with the flowers, and shit, if the stock market crashes, definitely pick up a bottle of the costliest perfume in the world to tide you over until happier days arrive. Joy is your birthright. Don’t let anything take your humanity from you, and don’t believe anyone who tells you they’ve never smelled an ass crack and liked it.
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: Bond Chinatown, Chan Marshall, Jovan Fresh Patchouli, patchouli
So, ever since I wrote this post on Jovan Fresh Patchouli, it has generated far and away the most traffic of anything else on this site, with the occasional exception of this one. It is searched for and viewed many times a day. I have no idea why. My only clue comes from my own comment section, courtesy of one Chan from Toronto:
YES. YES. DITTO! i cant beleive tht someone is able to put WORDS 2th way ths stuff-is!? idunno…and its th 1st time since th 1960s-70s tht i had tht, ‘i’m friends w/tht chick cuz we both luv levijeans’ feeling tht kids get when they really wanna be a part of th club. pre-sex,-drugs,etc. its th patchouli club!!! and every single girl i’ve ever met who wears ths stuff [or wild musk by coty] is th kinda girl tht guys can laugh with but wanna make out with 2 yet other girls dig her! lol thnx 4 th trip! i’ll fav ths and pull it out when i need a high. cheers! ps~btw, i cant find it anywhere anymore! been looking for 3 weeks now. i just took 7 empty bottles, broke off th tops and put it into a weee bottle. i’m in toronto canada. do u have any idea where i can obtain it? [a case?] teeheehee..kinda like a dry spell o’magic mushrooms,eh?!!! LMAO
Well, Chan, I wish I could relate more. As it stands, I am a very infrequent visitor to the Patchouli Club’s fragrant compound. But I was really taken with the idea that the Patchouli Club was some sort of teenybopper precursor to actual sex, drugs, and et cetera. Like if marijuana is a gateway drug, Jovan’s Fresh Patchouli is the gateway to the gateway drug. That sounded absolutely spot-on to me, believing as I do that perfume is an indicator of identity as well as remembering firsthand all the Patchouli Club kids from my own adolescence. On top of that, Jovan Fresh Patchouli is sort of a training-wheels version of patchouli scents in general. It’s nowhere near as raunchy as the hard shit straight out of an essential oil vial. No one’s going to tell you that you smell like an armpit or a heavy session if you wear this. Instead, it uses patchouli to add an appropriate wet, funky note to a grassy meadow, or perhaps even a plain old All-American baseball field. This is exactly what perfume you’d wear if you were screwing up your courage to try a cigarette in the girl’s bathroom someday. I feel you, Chan. Wait, you’re not this Chan, are you?
When I first started messing around with Fresh Patchouli, my friend Heather said that it reminded her of strawberry incense. I was like, you’re crazy, it smells nothing like that. But after she said it, I began to smell what she was talking about in there. This faint, sweet, burnt-fruity note that I suspect is not actually strawberry, but a happy, impressionistic accident. Now the strawberry incense is the whole reason I like the perfume. In fact, I almost wish someone would take that idea and run with it. In my mind’s nose, the perfect Fresh Patchouli variation would smell similar to Bond No. 9’s Chinatown but with strawberry instead of peach. Punk sticks, patchouli, sandalwood soap, hay, that teenage bedroom-rot smell, and just a little bit of that sickly strawberry head shop oil. Fucking yum. Make this for me, someone. Me and all of these Jovan Fresh Patchouli Clubbers that blow my site up daily.
But back to my Patchouli Clubbers, I don’t know what else to tell you about this perfume. I wrote this post to help scratch your seemingly insatiable itch a little further, but the fact of the matter is that this stuff has become very rare. I found mine at a CVS, but it’s not in the other CVSes. This is about all that comes up from an internet search other than my review and a bunch of E-Bay shysters trying to sell this stuff for way too much money:
I know it’s not much to go on, especially when you have a monkey on your back. But I’m trying to be an advocate for y’all here, and who knows, maybe someone is listening.
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.
Body Fantasies Vanilla Fantasy: Smells like a Chips Ahoy, or any of the other brands of cardboardy store-bought chocolate chip cookies that come in a package. Serves its purpose, but there are better versions of this out there. Such as…
Body Fantasies Iced Cupcake Fantasy: Warm and creamy where plain old Vanilla Fantasy is hard and stale, this one smells like gobs of butter and sugar that you just want to smear all over your face and maybe your best friend, too. Tacky and overly sweet, but infinitely charming. Exactly the kind of thing that goes over big in the strip club.
Body Fantasies Cotton Candy Fantasy: Lord have mercy. My best friend in high school used to wear this stuff. Actually, she’d chase me around with it, threatening to spray it on my person until I was all but crying. I wasn’t kidding when I told her that it was awful, and I haven’t changed my mind since then, either. Trying to be slightly more objective, I gave it another sniff. Well, it lives up to its name. Cotton candy. Pink. Sticky. Rots your teeth. I like cotton candy, but this stuff is foul.
Body Fantasies Sexiest Musk Fantasy: Well, I’ll be ding-dong-damned if this isn’t the poor man’s Musc Ravageur. More gooey cinnamon bun than sweaty armpit, this scent combines the best things about a gourmand fragrance and a more straight-up skin musk note and comes out with what might be the ultimate stripper pussy spray known to man. It is sexy indeed, as well as sweet and hot and dirty and all the other adjectives channeled by those bad bitches who might as well give out the champagne room as their mailing address. If only I’d known then what I know now, I’d have been all over this one.
Coty Wild Musk Deodorizing Body Spray: I couldn’t find a proper link to it online, but this stuff is often sold in the big cardboard displays in drugstores with all of the other deodorizing body sprays. I don’t know how helpful that is, but I swear it exists. And it’s the best thing possible for eliciting that, “I like you because you smell like a woman” reaction. It doesn’t matter how thoroughly you drench yourself in this stuff, because it doesn’t smell like a traditional perfume. It smells like warm skin, Flex balsam and protein shampoo, and good times, baby, good times.
Bath and Body Works Hello Sugar!: Probably the only body spray I’ve ever bought post-stripping, this one is a cheaper version of Laura Mercier’s wildly popular Tarte au Citron fragrance. It’s the same buttery sugary cupcakey deal rendered in Iced Cupcake Fantasy, but with the addition of big old tart lemon note. Smells like a lickable birthday cake and like any good pussy spray, sticks to you all day. The only downside of this one is a poorly designed square-shaped bottle that, while cute, is hard to get a good grip on while you’re spraying it.
Bath and Body Works Velvet Tuberose: This is a ripe, tropical floral that smells a lot more expensive than it actually is. It doesn’t have the bizarre rubber-and-bad-butter quality of a true tuberose, but is rather a jasminey floral bouquet backed up by a nice dose of musk and some assorted woody accords. But true floral scents, I’ve found, are tricky in the strip club. They smell too much like other people’s wives to create that aura of exotic comfort that strippers rely on to weave their magic. Wear it, but save it for the boyfriend at home.
Victoria’s Secret Lovespell: The original pussy spray! If you have worked in a strip club, chances are the inside of your lungs have already been coated in this fruity-sweet concoction more than once (or no matter how quickly you moved out of its way). It’s grapefruit and berries, as far as I can tell, and it smells like stripper. I could theorize all day on why this is the pussy spray of choice for so many ladies of the pole, but probably this scent is so popular because it is perfectly inoffensive. It’s too tart to be cloying, too juicy to be sour, and too reminiscent of a fruit cocktail to be threatening. Fits in perfectly with my theory that Victoria’s Secret is the largest mass-market stripper store in the country.
Strip clubs do not smell good; I don’t care how nice they are. They smell like smoke and beer and bad breath and old carpets and body odor and the dusty smell of fog machines and the unmistakable auto-shop tang of the metal poles. Strippers, on the other hand, are supposed to smell good. But taking a shower is not really enough. Nor is dabbing a demure little drop of something expensive behind either ear. To cut through the thick haze of strip club funk, a stripper has to go on the offensive. The sweat and adrenaline of a job well done in the strip club are no joke, the kind of thing that the advertising team behind Secret deodorant’s “made for a man, but P.h. balanced for a woman” campaign could have used as an example. Only you’re not just supposed to smell acceptable. You’re supposed to smell like an expensive hobby or guilty pleasure. A new friend once asked me shyly how strippers got their hair to smell so good. I almost said, “pussy spray,” but caught myself.
“Body spray. Multiple applications of it. The cheap stuff. It cuts right through everything.”
I know that I used to give myself a good dousing. Back at Club Wizzards, where it was called “pussy spray” for reasons that remained elusive to me for far longer than they should have, I’d see girls standing off to one side of the room and spraying every single inch of their bodies with the stuff. I’d always heard that men didn’t like perfume, so I was careful with it at first. But after a few weeks, I caught on. I’d take whatever outfit I was planning on wearing and lay it out on the dressing room table and spray that down. Then I’d flip my head over and spritz a good three or four sprays through my hair. Then I’d do a walk-through. I’d do it all over again several times a night; every time I changed outfits.
These are the ones I used, over the course of my career, in chronological order:
Healing Gardens Lavender Bath Therapy: This one was the first, the one I bought after my first week of day shifts at Club Wizzards, the one I bought after I realized that not only was I coming back the next day, but the day after that, too. It was, like the rest of the gear I picked up during the earliest days of my G-string career, a totally misguided purchase. See, this smells like beautiful seashell-shaped grandma guest soap, with the kind of herbal astringency that makes sure you know that it is meant to be clean. I used up a whole bottle. “You smell so good,” guys would murmur into my neck. I took this personally because I didn’t know yet that they always say that, no matter what.
Bath and Body Works Cotton Blossom: This was the second bottle of pussy spray I went through at the Wizz. My obsession with squeaky-cleanliness had yet to ease up, and this was another soapy little girl-next-door number. It smells like fabric softener and warm sun and a little bit of musky skin. It was a sleeper hit with the other girls. They were always trying to nuzzle up on me after I put it on. After I’d used it up, they fought over who got to buy it for themselves after me, because we didn’t fuck around on another girl’s body spray flavor like that at this club.
Bath and Body Works Coco Cabana: My man up in the DJ booth hated the shit out of this one. “You smell like flowers,” he would tell me, glowering at me beneath a furrowed brow. “I don’t know what this is, but I don’t like it.” It was definitely a departure from my usual fragrance style and truth be told, kind of nasty: pina colada mixed with cocoa butter. Thick, unctuous, and undeniably tropical. I liked the smell of it, but wearing it was akin to being bodysnatched. If asked, I will deny, deny, deny that I stopped wearing Coco Cabana because a man didn’t like it. I stopped wearing it because he was right, it wasn’t how I was meant to smell.
Blue Q Miso Pretty: I picked this stuff up right after I made the transition from Wizzards to Cheerleaders and was trying to class up my game a little. This costs like twelve bucks instead of seven, you get it at Urban Outfitters, and it smells like peonies, fresh cut grass, and a delicate aquatic note. Lovely for a twelve year-old or a boardwalk date, but it didn’t really cut it in the strip club. Meaning: it wasn’t strong enough. It didn’t cut through the smoke in my hair or the musty, metallic smell that clung to my dance outfits after they’d been in my dance bag for a few shifts. I think I ended up leaving this somewhere before I’d used all of it up. I switched to Dior’s Hypnotic Poison after that, and that one is most of what I remember about Cheerleaders.
Bath and Body Works Night Blooming Jasmine: This one smells almost like a proper perfume, floral notes of lilac and jasmine balanced out against fresh, powdery underpinnings. But since it’s from Bath and Body Works, it packs the same weird fruity-alcoholic punch that all of their body sprays do. I’m convinced that whatever the thing is in body sprays that make them all smell like that is the magic ingredient that makes them so thoroughly effective at masking the permeating funk of strip clubs everywhere. But since the notes in Night Blooming Jasmine are not in and of themselves cloying fruity-weird ones, the fruity-weird body spray hallmark served mostly as an anchor. The house mom at the Crazy Horse was enamored with this one and I would spray a mist of it for her to walk through every time she saw me use it. I was mostly into “real” perfume by then, but I remember that this one tempted me back into pussy spray territory.
I’ve been sniffing around at the body spray display in my local drugstore a lot lately. This might have to be a mini-series.