Interview series: Evie

Evie and I met in the store I manage. We bonded on our passion for perfume, and how, by seeking it, we find solace in its ability to transport and expand our consciousness at times of hardship, or weariness. Perfume shoppers are thrill seekers, too. We sat down, drank tea, walked, and explored fragrances together one evening. Here is the interview with Evie, and a video discussing one of her favourite perfume, Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake/Shiseido’s classic, ‘Féminité du bois’ (click here to watch).

1. What brought you to perfume, and/or smelling?

I have an old friend from high school who I sometimes ‘catch’ hobbies from. She spoke one day about a perfume she had found, maybe in a second hand shop or the discount section of a department store; John Galliano. She loved it so much, and spoke about the notes. I smelled the same thing as she did. I had never really thought about perfume before, and started to pick-a-part the notes and composition. I then revisited perfumes my mother used to wear, and tried to figure out what made them beautiful.

2. Was/is there something that you are searching for in fragrance? Something of a passionate need, perhaps.

I suppose balance in a fragrance is important, but more than that to be surprised and feel wonder. Scent has a close connection with memory – a power that can be disturbing, funny, or emotionally stirring. Often a combination of ingredients or notes will form something strange and dynamic that changes on the skin or in different weather, or smell different to each person. Beauty is slippery, and this invokes wonder and forces a person to be flexible.

Scan 334.jpeg
“Beauty is slippery, and this invokes wonder and forces a person to be flexible,” Evie S.

3. You like to create/recreate perfume…what have you discovered in your creations, your way of alchemy?

I am at the very beginning of learning to create perfume. Some ingredients are very powerful and will take over without careful use. Balance is a challenge. The first perfume I made I was very happy with. I had an idea in mind, and it wasn’t too complex. It unexpectedly had a note that my nose registers as hot metal. It hasn’t gone as well since. Intentionally creating something more abstract that might evoke wonder is going to be a journey. I should probably expect to learn a lot about ingredients, spill tenacious materials, and make a lot of interesting mistakes. 

4. What did you discover that made your mother’s perfumes beautiful? 

The first time I realised that those fragrances that my mother wore were really beautiful was when I discovered that they and the impressions they made were totally unique, and sometimes elusive. For example the scent of Clinique Aromatics Elixir is in the background of many memories of growing up. Occasionally I wore it myself. I have a memory of wearing it on a hot day. It had a sweet shimmering facet, and others noticed. I am not sure what produced this effect, and I haven’t experienced it again in the same way. I am not sure if my nose or the fragrance has changed, or if my memory exaggerates.

5. Your way of talking about notes, compositions, ingredients, and the “interesting mistakes” you mention has this openness and non-judgment about the creative/creating process to me, where do you see this taking you? 

I hope that all the mistakes I make have something to reveal, but I know this isn’t always possible. Looking for wonder in things, I often lose focus, get distracted, disappointed, or disappear into very specific knowledge rabbit-holes. I have never thought of these detours as necessary or even useful parts of the creative process, which doesn’t make much sense on reflection.

“I am not sure if my nose or the fragrance has changed, or if my memory exaggerates.”

 

Interview series: David

With the need to take the focus away – for now – from my personal accounts of smelling, here is the first of my interview series.

David, a teacher, and friend for nearly twenty years, is someone I talk to about perfume. We have developed our sense of smell since meeting at L’Occitane En Provence, but David renders perfume into words that are palpable and real, sensual and intelligent, and, to my poetic reserve, always beautiful. I encourage him to write reviews online, but he prefers his anonymity, so I am grateful to David for sharing his thoughts, as well as allowing me to film him briefly for the video accompaniment to this interview, where he shows us one of his favourite perfumes, Guerlain’s ‘Mitsouko’ (click here to watch).

1. So much is said about the connection between memory and scent … what are your thoughts on this? 

Memory is at the crux of scent – I think it’s memories and recalling past moments and experiences that endow fragrances their transportative nature. For me, when I smell something, I immediately link up the experience with something in my past, it just happens automatically.

2. As far as you can remember, what scents come to life for you?

Come to life … that’s interesting. I suppose you mean, once I wear them? So it’s me, in a sense, that brings them to life? It would depend on what mood I’m in. I would say Serge Lutens ‘Ambre Sultan’ warms and wakes me up.

“So it’s me, in a sense, that brings them to life? It would depend on what mood I’m in.”

3. Last year you discovered a vintage Dior perfume … what was it? What were your thoughts? 

It was a ‘Dior Dior’ edt, discontinued in the 1970s I think. Of the same ilk as Edmond Roudnitska’s green ‘Diorella’ but less sharp, softer. I don’t wear it, but when I saw it I thought to myself, “I must own this.” One for the collection.

4. What is, perhaps, one of the most memorable perfumes you own, and why?

Memorable – well, ‘Vetiver’ by Guerlain. Although I rarely wear it, it’ll always be a part of my wardrobe. All my Lutens, particularly ‘Tubereuse Criminelle,’ as it’s so loud. I get lots of comments on that one. And of course, ‘Homme’ by Costume National, perhaps the most ‘me’ of the lot.

 5. Take me through a few of your collection …

I’ve been going wild with the Lutens over the past year – I’ve eight now. I’d say my collection’s eclectic. I’ve recently purchased ‘L’Eau Trois‘ by Diptyque, and it’s a new kind of scent for me: a very dry frankinscense, with a mouldy kind of background to it. I’m enjoying it. I’d also say that I’ve really become more open to fragrances I would’ve, years ago, considered sweet: Lutens’ ‘Cedre,’ ‘Myrrhe Ardente’ by Annick Goutal. I’m really looking forward to winter so I can enjoy my heavier scents (not that I don’t wear them at other times of the year). Byredo’s ‘Accord Oud‘ and ‘Rien Intense Incense’ by Etat Libre d’Orange are so beautiful, heady, woody, smokey. A scarf and a coat and I’m happy.

fullsizeoutput_543
“Memorable – well, ‘Vetiver’ by Guerlain. Although I rarely wear it, it’ll always be a part of my wardrobe,” David C.

Kouros Crush

I

At five-, or six-, years-old I had my first crush on a teen called Bax. I sat on the middle of the staircase one night – our single-mother family lived with his single-mother family – when he and his girlfriend ran up to his mother’s room. They rushed back down, as fast as memory would serve me, and I smelled something minty in the air surrounding these joyful teens. I wanted that: whatever it is they had. I walked into his mother’s room – the door was open – and searched for that scent. On the vanity, its mirror as wide as the room, I saw a white, opaque, squarish bottle edged with shiny metal. The words on the bottle read ‘KOUROS‘. I felt the matt, curved skin of the bottle and lifted the nozzle to my nose. I don’t remember spraying it in the air, but the next thing I know is I spray it in my mouth, the nozzle directed at the back of my throat like some primordial act. My face contracts – squishes, even – to an uncomfortable axis. Was it bitter? Was it poison? It was alcohol. It’s not mint I smell – that was from the little green-coloured can of breath freshener spray she carried around, I later observed. What I smell is the burning, pink flesh of my throat. My open mouth, stunned.

Did his mother wear KOUROS? I don’t remember. I do know she wore YSL’s Opium. She was a Gemini, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that bottle was hers. I watched her get ready for work sometimes. She was a singer, like my mother, and I watched her apply makeup – like I watched my mother – in bold colours. I first saw in her the comedy and the tragedy masks of theatre discovering her transformation from a tough single mother holding down the fort to a physically-demanding stage performer. I often caught her sleeping with one leg bent and an arm above her head, just like I had caught him, her son. Only I never looked at her the way I looked at him. I couldn’t comprehend the symbol of this back then but it was the first lesson in creating experiences from the invisibility I felt. Mistaking a bottle of perfume as breath freshener I understood, as a forlorn crushee, pulled me further from ‘them’.

IMG_2499.JPG
Kouros. Photo from ancientrome.ru

II

‘Youth’ is the ancient Greek translation of kouros. Its modern translation is of a freestanding sculpture, of a young man standing naked. Inspired by a trip to Greece, Yves Saint Laurent named Pierre Bourdon’s 1981 perfume after the strapping and broad figure.

I rarely smell it on the streets. Only on a few occasions have I smelled it on the commute to and from work, a busy ground floor waiting for an elevator, or a party, but on men over 55-years of age. Or, perhaps something like it – Eucris, Aramis (which I love), Paco Rabanne, Drakkar Noir, Tuscany per Uomo.

For me, nothing has changed in KOUROS. It smells the same as when I first smelled, and tasted it. I savour its layers of camphor/pine, metallised skin (think of licking someone’s chest or armpits that use aerosol deodorants), and fresh piss on sweat pants (no judgment). Its impact, and tenacity, is still special. Breath fresheners are fleeting. KOUROS stands the test of time. There is no substitute.

IMG_2498.jpg
Advertisement, 1996.

Featured image of study by Mart Basa.

Memories to the future

“I smelled it endlessly until there was nothing left to understand,” Luca Turin, September 2009 ‘Serpent’, Folio Columns 2003 – 2014.

 I think a lot. This poetic quote makes me think of smells that confound and transport my curiosity in the everyday beauteous nature of life. Yesterday, I was reminded of Aphrodite’s birth from spume as I crossed the harbour. As the ferry cuts against her I hear her fizz in the emerald water. Beauty enters our lives from the mundane.

Preceding weeks have singed thoughts on what I smell endlessly just to understand. What exactly? The world, my immediate environment, and how I relate to it. Smelling the violet-scented, green-coloured Palmolive Original dishwashing liquid, for example, satisfies my domesticity. Something about this brings to mind the practicalities of the everyday, and the kind of maintainer I am in the grand scheme of things. On another occasion I endlessly and deeply smell a Belgian friend’s armpits as we talked before dinner. He said he wears no perfume or deodorant. On the opposite side of the table sat our Spanish friend wearing Givenchy’s Very Irresistible. As the night wore on it was his musk that turned my mind with an image of me retreating in his lithe body and personal scent as my shell. One morning, upon waking, my eyes to the ceiling, I smelled the air in a room after lovemaking. Morning breaths absorbed my elastic mind. These thoughts bring to mind past and present desires that linger in both reality and dreams.

What circles the top of my mind though is Andy Tauer’s refreshing Lonestar Memories. It has taken me some time to enjoy this scent because it challenged me: I couldn’t place it to a time and place in my life. It made me wonder about smells that don’t come from a memory, or the past, but sparks the imagination to create one’s future. Perhaps. This sense of wonder, this smelling to understand carried me into the future – the death of my mother.

“I smelled it endlessly until there was nothing else to understand,” Luca Turin says.

Life and death are intertwined, if not one and the same. Turin’s words made me think about the depth of a life, of one’s love for another, and the mystery of what brings us closer and farther away at odd times in our lives. When someone you love dies you think it’s unfair. You ask “why them and not me?” You trace worm tunnels of deeds and words exchanged when they were alive. You question how you could’ve done things differently. And, it’s too late. Your loss has unplugged a cork out of your being that spills out. There I imagined smelling her clothes, her house, everything she touched and sat on. I could smell her character, the attributes she loaded on to me – one of her children – unawares. In the rare instances of being physically close to her, I got the chance to smell her hair again and again. There was something in its blackness that brought everything together and undoes it all in one go, like an ellipsis. I questioned the nature of parent-child relationships as I breathed her hair in, fraught with its endless aching beauty that leaves me with nothing more to understand but tears.

IMG_2006.jpg