Boomtown Boudoir

Matthew Izzo Boy
December 15, 2007, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: , , ,

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.

Provence Sante Tilleul
November 15, 2007, 12:37 am
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , , ,

One look at his face and I knew the whole story before it even happened, but that’s not the kind of thing you can just walk up and say to some boy sitting in a coffee shop. What freaked my twenty-one year-old mind was that he felt the same way. When after months of stilted, difficult conversation we finally made the journey from my front porch to my twin bed, he said, “I have dreams about you.” And I knew exactly what he meant because of course I had dreams about him too. Looking back, only a complete dummy or the extremely arrogant would believe that things would just be that easy; that our commingled dreams would simply manifest themselves in our current reality as seamlessly as a bird landing on the tree branch its been thinking about all winter. But that’s not right, either–too cerebral, without allowances made for that mushy-headed side effect of constant, obsessive sex.

Back then I had this little blue plaid jumper that had once been part of someone else’s school uniform. It was a kid’s size 12. Let’s just say that I was always sure to wear nice underwear when I put it on with my black Doc Martens and stepped out into a spring so full of soft-focus life that I was petrified at the thought it would end. Had I been more Bridgitte Bardot than Jean Seberg, some stranger on the street would probably have called me a whore and put a stop to the dress much sooner. As it was, the draft felt good and my man had these big hands that would fit over my butt cheeks like they were baseballs every time I wore it. Plus, I was fairly certain that the world would end at any moment and in that case, I wanted to go out fucking. This certainty became more and more pathological as spring turned into summer. By July, I was as brittle as a cicada husk and the only time I felt safe was when I was snuggled against H’s enormous chest.

But listen, the spring will make anyone crazy. There’s a week every year, right when the city’s tame little treelets break into a wild froth of sperm-smelling white blossoms, that you start seeing dead baby birds on the sidewalk if you’re looking for them. Here’s the gentle sun making filigree of the cement through the flowers, here’s that sweet warm breeze tickling your legs, here’s the whisper-quiet rustling of new promises–oh, and down there? A fluffy little gray and yellow casualty, crushed by its own meager weight after a fall from a tree barely bigger than a grown man. That spring, I felt like the bird and the flowers and the sky as well as myself in a slutty school uniform dress trailing on legs shaky from all this shit behind a man who seemed, with his stooped shoulders and Brothers Grimm plaid, to be the only terra firma I’d ever known. And, well, we all know the one about the bird and the sidewalk.

All this has less to do with love and more to do with the excruciatingly beautiful torture-by-sweetness that is Provence Sante’s Tilleul Eau de Toilette. It’s all right there in the bottle: the dried-honey brittleness of hay, the startling lewdness of a lot of flowers blooming at the same time, the tender wafty kiss of a miniskirt draft, the comfortingly sad promise of the old story being told exactly as it was and exactly how it was always going to be. And thank God I found a new perfume to not wear in honor of my upcoming twenty-seventh birthday, upon which I am giving up tragedy forever.

Illustration from Stories and Fables: Childcraft #2: The How and Why Library. Maaaan, I was raised on this shit and had forgotten about it until just now. The next time I’m in my parents’ house, I’m taking all of them back with me.

Guerlain Samsara
October 23, 2007, 11:08 pm
Filed under: Drugs, Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , ,

I put on this old Betsey Johnson dress I’d bought secondhand and worn to a New Years’ party or two because he was coming straight to my house from the airport. It was black stretchy velvet, long sleeved and high necked and swirly-skirted with a sober crocheted lace collar, buttoned up the chest by what seemed like a hundred tiny pearls. I loved this dress but I never expected anyone else to, particularly not a boy. It was more 1992-mall-goth than I normally felt comfortable being in public; perhaps a little too close to home. I wore black tights and my Doc Martens and sprayed myself all over with Samsara, which seemed to strike the same chord as my dress. This was last October.

Anyway, the boy came home and I gave him chocolate croissants and a backrub because he’d had the presence of mind to say, “wow” when I opened my door in my inappropriate party dress. It was too late to go anywhere fancy or even anywhere gross; he’d come in on a late flight from I think L.A. The dress was purely for him, equal parts tribute and test. This boy was crazy. I knew that. Everybody knew that. Years ago he’d given me what he’d called an engagement present that involved a random pair of not-new socks, a red light bulb, an extension cord, a skateboard catalog, a heavy brass paper clip, and a paperback novel based on the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” I had not been particularly receptive then, but whatever slow-acting voodoo he had infused into this gift apparently decided to work three years later. He didn’t seem crazy to me anymore, but maybe that was because he’d voodooed me and I’d always been fluent in Crazese to begin with.

So it was October and my emotions were doing the same thing the foliage was: going out in a blaze of glory. This boy made me unbelievably happy, like whatever I was doing at any given moment was the best possible thing in the world for a female human being to be doing. We spent hours upon hours Practicing Restraint from sex, which is what we did the night he came home from L.A. Practiced Restraint, that is. Practicing Restraint feels a lot like doing ecstasy when you do it for a long time, like weeks of near-constant contact, and don’t give in. It’s excruciatingly pleasant. I think we thought we’d invented some new kind of drug or something.

Samsara is a Sanskrit word that means the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, used with a negative connotation by those seeking nirvana, or the end of all that. Finding the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth about as excruciatingly pleasant and frustrating and wild as Practicing Restraint with my sleepy-eyed nutcase, the two concepts are forever entwined in my mind as one in the same. Along with, of course, the perfume by the same name and my black velvet party dress.

Samsara smells like sandalwood and ylang ylang while managing, for all its strength, to convey a murky softness that speaks of dark bars, lingering kisses, and assorted existential aches and pains. This boy disappeared without a trace or word of explanation shortly after I met his parents and we made Thanksgiving plans. Restraint was Practiced until the last. You’d think this would make me hate the perfume I wore for him, but I don’t. It just sort of reminds me to hope that wherever he is, he’s okay. It sounds callous to suggest that I might need this perfume as such a reminder, but such is samsara.

Guerlain Shalimar
August 4, 2007, 3:55 pm
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: , , ,

“I had an ornamental veil, but I couldn’t bear to use it.
When my hair was cropped, I craved covering, but now my hair itself is a veil, and the scalp inside is a scalp of a crazy and sleepy
Comanche lies beneath this netting of the skin.
I wake up. I am lying peacefully I am lying peacefully and my knees are open to the sun.
I desire him, and he is absolutely ready to seize me. In heart I am a Moslem; in heart I am an American;
In heart I am Moslem, in heart I’m an American artist, and I have no guilt.
I seek pleasure. I seek the nerves under your skin.
The narrow archway; the layers; the scroll of ancient lettuce.
We worship the flaw, the belly, the belly, the mole on the belly of an exquisite whore.
He spared the child and spoiled the rod. I have not sold myself to God.”

–Patti Smith, “Babelogue”

Shalimar is the smell of any number of artificial wombs I have created for myself since leaving the original one. It is waking up hot and stifled but free in the tent that was set up in my childhood backyard for the many inevitable occasions upon which I felt like running away. It is my best friend’s mom, so like my own mother yet so undeniably different in her lack of actual blood relation that she was therefore safe. It is the musty interiors of boys’ cars and their hot metal seat belt parts pressing up against my cheek on the last day of school, vanilla air freshener, a waft of skunky pot smoke. It is the ammoniac tang ever-present in the studio where I practice Bikram yoga, the heavy air swirled around by the passage of myself and other students through the inside of what feels like a hot, wet July thunderhead. It is recuperative without being convalescent; like that first day you start feeling like your old self after a long illness and wake up seized with joy even though you still can’t really go out and do anything yet.

Shalimar also speaks to me of the artificial womb inside yourself for others; the shelter and protection and nourishment and inspiration that is necessary for a creation that is shared by both the womb and the person inside it. It is the perfect stillness in which a long-bothersome problem is finally allowed to just be, the night you and a friend decide to get as drunk as possible instead of studying for that final exam tommorrow, the timelessly appropriate whisper that everything will all be okay if you leave it alone for a little while.

But let’s not kid ourselves that safety is a quantity that we can know. These situations and actions have more power tensed and curled inside their apparent stillness than that of an entire army, and they are equally as dangerous. When Shalimar, whose name in Sanskrit means “house of love,” first made the perfume scene in 1925, it was deemed “indecent” and practically banned by the same people who thought prohibition was a good idea. Despite, or perhaps because of its conceptualization by Jacques Guerlain as a fragrance celebrating the love story that built the Taj Mahal, Shalimar’s reputation was that it was for women who smoked, drank, and blasphemed. We’re now only a scant eighteen years away from Shalimar’s one hundredth birthday, where we will find it the still-popular olfactory hallmark of four generations of mothers and grandmothers and daughters and other secret hellraisers everywhere.

Shalimar unapologetically carries with it all the smoke and dust and sweetness of these long years fighting the woman-fight, making it often difficult and oppressive, exhausting to smell and even more exhausting to wear. The top notes are agreeable enough: sunshiny hesperides glow around the edges of a thick, doughy orris-vanilla haze like a dog-days skyscape. Wait a few minutes, however, and Shalimar reveals her secret core of sorrow and wisdom. It’s a dark, musty oppopanox blast straight from the umarked desert graves of all who have tried and failed, or succeeded, and died anyway. It tingles and itches and finally catches fire, its smoke rising to create oily heat-mirages against the outline of the sun, and they’re burning the witches again, again, again. The vanilla-orris accord holds calmly steady, though, reminding us that the sky will always be there no matter how many times in history this happens. And in the end, it smells no more sinister or less familiar than your grandma’s lap.

You can wear Shalimar with pride, or fear, or self-loathing, or power, or in the ecstasy of creation, and know that you have never been alone. In fact, you’ve always been in the best of company.

Narciso Rodriguez for Her EdT
July 23, 2007, 2:31 pm
Filed under: Perfume | Tags:

This is my perfume for when I want to hang out between the lines, taking no recognizable stance except that of my own strictly unaffiliated interior scaffolding. Perhaps this is because Narciso Rodriguez for Her itself seems to take no stance, preferring to lurk in the hazy middle ground between dark and light, a place of muted yet eerily bright colors reminscent of the sky fifteen minutes before a spectacular thunderstorm. You also get the feeling that this fragrance is the only knowable by-product of some intense, inarticulate, and private process that can only be sensed around its edges. Narciso Rodriguez for Her is that old abandoned industrial site that only you have seen at exactly the right angle, the right time of day, under the right set of circumstances to makes it look like it grew that way, out of the ground. It’s the unintentionally revealing expression on the face of a stranger that leaves you with a frozen-frame snapshot of what the word “solitude” really means. It’s a room that has existed for itself with no people in it for a very long time. It hits that lonely, ecstatic point of “hover” just right, that heightened state of relating to the world as an autonomous party that turns everyone into a secret photographer.

This effect is largely due to the neither-here-nor-there quality of egyptian musk scents in general. They all smell a little bit like a lot of things, probably because musk has been used to fragrance a range of products that go far beyond those offered up at cosmetic counters. Bathroom soap, incense, laundry detergent, probably even things like toilet paper. Narciso Rodriguez for Her adopts musk’s utilitarian omnipresence and doctors it up with an ethereal sunshower of orange blossom, a furry honey note that somehow manages to smells more animalic than the musk note, and an enchanted swamp of stagnant, fermented amber. All this provides the perfect set for the weird apocalyptic creatures that are going to come crawling out of this everylandscape, this Ridley Scott location, this moonage daydream. Narciso Rodriguez for Her stops there, though, and lets you come crawling out instead, population of one.

Swimming Sweet Eddy
July 21, 2007, 9:08 pm
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , , ,

I didn’t smell like any kind of perfume that day we all went tubing. I smelled like Bullfrog sunscreen and the gray-black silty river mud that claimed so many dubious prizes for our little town: rusted carburetors, golf clubs, plastic ice-cream spoons, an old push-mower no one wanted any more, and maybe little pieces of the people the river claimed over the years, a watch here, a finger there, a set of keys. This didn’t scare any of us; anyone killed in the river was probably not only an adult, but not from around here. We knew about all the stuff buried in the mud around the pilings because it was right under there, for anyone interested to dive down and dig up. My little brother made an entire month’s worth of obsessive hobby from this very practice the summer before I left for college.

I didn’t put any great thought into you or what you were thinking that day. My main concern was whether or not my hand might brush up accidentally against any lampreys. Eels were one thing. Lampreys have teeth. My hair was short and sleek against my head like an otter’s and the sunscreen wasn’t working. I would go home that night with a classic tubing-sunburn: thighs, shoulders, tops of feet, and nose. We were all stoned and full of ice cream. The river was so low that summer that we could drag our feet in the mud from our comfortable stations in the black inner tubes that we dragged out of Ben Hallowell’s garage. There was probably innocent hand-holding and threats of getting naked. I didn’t know what I was doing then when I did things like that, and any titillation this caused you at the time would be no more or no less than that caused by any other girl we went to high school with.

Except that if we were high, every second of everything that happened was impregnated with an oversaturated sense of both jump-out-of-our-skins beauty and paranoid importance. So who knows. Maybe we touched by mistake and I flinched because I thought you were a lamprey. Maybe we touched and I thought about it while I was falling asleep that night. Maybe a little bit of both. Did you make that crazy bong-contraption out of pipettes stolen from the high school chem lab doctored up with tinfoil, or was it Josh? Did we have a name for that thing? I think we must have, but I can’t remember it.

Afterward, there must have been secondhand cars with the leather seats still hot from the sun against our wrinkly, goosebumped skin. We would have taken showers somewhere, probably my house, in and out while you entertained my parents because unlike the rest of us, you were comfortable with adults. I put on a too-big thrift store T-shirt and a pair of wide-legged khakis that made me look like I was floating inside them. We smoked more pot and drove around, and I stared at the last phosphorescent smear of a firefly that got too close too fast to the windshield while Steve Malkmus spoke in tongues that I understood only when stoned.

Later, when we finally kissed I saw the same firefly smear against the inside of my eyelids, had the same sensation of finally making sense of some fine thread of substance that had until then been only smart-kid jibber-jabber. And everything opened up and sang, all the away-game sunsets over some other town and the novels I propped inside my math textbooks and why the food served at the prom has to be bad and the way the boulders in the field at Ringing Rocks sound like Tibetan gongs if you hit them with the right kind of hammer and the car crashes and the wind in my hair and the terrible, unspeakable tedium of it all when you’re sixteen and trying your hardest to be wild. And I knew you knew what I was feeling because I knew what you were feeling and this was nothing mystical or crazy, we’d both just been to the same place and seen it for ourselves. And I wanted to give you something essential and solid as a relic, some rusted carburetor or golf club or plastic spoon or discarded push-mower or some part of myself that you’d claimed–my watch, my finger, my set of keys.

Upper Black Eddy painting by Paul E. Temple, shamelessly gleaned from his website:

Jovan Fresh Patchouli
July 9, 2007, 1:59 am
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: , ,

To wake up craving the dry, pungent astringency of some proper hippie-oil patchouli first thing in the morning is alarming enough to make me wonder if I’m not pregnant. I mean, I always think I’m pregnant right after things don’t work out with whatever guy, and I’m totally not actually pregnant, but the patchouli thing was weird. I’ve heard stories of the recently impregnated being tipped off to their fertilized state by olfactory hints; things like being able to smell electricity when an appliance is plugged into the wall or finding their own skin scent suddenly and completely foreign to their sense of smell. Female perfume-heads are forever relating to their own menstrual cycles through perfume: much like the taste of food, some things smell better or worse depending on whether you’re ovulating or flush in the middle of Aunt Flo’s consanguine company. It’s not that farfetched to seriously question what’s going on with your body when a perfume component you’ve never gotten along with is suddenly the only thing that makes sense.

Patchouli, in this case. I got home from work last night after thinking about it all day and I needed some right then. I wanted it pure, I wanted it as sharp and bitter and bracing as only patchouli can be. So I went to the all-night CVS and came home with a little 1.5oz bottle of the $13.95 cheapness that is Jovan Fresh Patchouli. I sprayed it on and waited for the moment of truth.

The truth is that this stuff smells a lot more like a horse stable than a head shop. This fragrance packs a blast of ephemeral, strawlike coumarin bolstered up by the peculiar good/bad/weird all-at-the-same-time underpinnings of the patchouli I’d been fiending for all day. The effect reminds me of raisins: something that once was wet is now dry. It’s the smell of a bale of hay drying out after a heavy dewfall on the farm, the smell of that dedicated hour you wake up before school starts to go brush your precious pony, Muffy.

I kind of love it. I’ve never been one of those pony club chicks, although I have been on a horse enough times to be jealous of the pony club’s thinly veiled and completely genius excuse for masturbating all the time. But Jovan Fresh Patchouli, to me, smells like a very specific type of woman that saw its apex of public popularity in the 70s. It’s Katharine Ross in The Graduate and pictures of young Jane Fonda and enjoying the freedom to be “outdoorsy” without having to stop shaving your armpits. You know, you have rich parents but you took acid that one time in Aspen and have taken great pains to discover life beyond your trust fund and the pictures of your backpacking trip through Europe to prove it. You have a bunch of fancy French perfumes that various people have bought for you over the years, but when you discovered Jovan Fresh Patchouli you were very relieved that the one thing that smelled like you in a bottle is actually dirt cheap (so none of your friends know about it).

I mean, it doesn’t smell like me in a bottle. But you know, since I enjoy pretending so much, I’ll probably still pull it out from time to time. Something about it makes me feel kinda thumpety-thumpety-thumpety, like learning how to trot. Hey…. at least it won’t get me pregnant.