Monday, March 31, 2008

minor perfume rampage, part one

My nose is still a little bit stuffed up, but I went on a minor perfume rampage last weekend anyway, on account of I was having the withdrawrals. Went seeking out two different types of perfumes: CB I Hate Perfumes and Bond No. 9. Some of the I Hate Perfumes line is carried by a little boutique in Berkeley, and I had heard that Saks carries Bond No. 9. So off I trotted, with about $7 in my wallet and $2.30 on a BART pass, and a stern self-admonition not to use my credit card (it’s the end of the month).

The owner of the boutique in Berkeley was deep in consultation with another customer when I got there, so I occupied myself at the little shelf holding about nine or ten of Christopher Brosius' creations. A word here about I Hate Perfumes: I frickin' love the way they smell. Another word: I love the way they look - the packaging design is easily the most minimalistic (home-made, even) of any I have encountered in the perfume world. Although I do recognize that it is a gimmick in and of itself, I appreciate the zero-flash approach to marketing that some of my favorite perfumers employ. Frederic Malle (Editions de Parfums) and Jo Malone are two other examples of perfumers with similarly stripped-down styles (although you could argue that Jo Malone's package design ripped off Chanel's classic white-box-with-tasteful-name-in-neat-black-font look, if you wanted to be nasty). At any rate, there’s so much more scope for the imagination in sniffing a perfume that doesn’t have a picture of a naked celebrity on the box, is what I always say.

On the wall behind the I Hate Perfumes shelf was a printed copy of Christopher Brosius' manifesto, which you can also read on the I Hate Perfumes website (a website with a minimalistic design, natch). A few choice bon mots:

"People who smell like everyone else disgust me."

"Perfume is the weather of our inner world bringing life to a personal landscape."

To me, the latter statement is a pretty good summary of the scent aesthetics of this line. I Hate Perfumes presents seemingly simple, un-perfume-like smells - like apple, or dirt, or crayon, or burning leaves - directly. This is perfume as place, with the perfumer letting us use our memory and imagination as the bridge. A Guerlain fragrance, by contrast, might venerate a particular idea of a beautiful woman, or man - Guerlain perfumes are ornate, opaque creations of real art and beauty - but they are about something that is often, to me at least, largely fictional. CB I Hate Perfumes is about the real. It has a certain power which is difficult for me to define any further, but it commands my respect.

And the beauty of these perfumes on the skin can take my breath away. At home, I have In the Library - my gateway I Hate Perfumes scent, which smells great but I haven't really worn it - Tea Rose, which smells, not like a tea rose, but like black tea with cream in it next to a sweet flower; while I like both scents and I really like the combination, this one isn't my favorite, maybe because the milk part starts to smell a little curdled in my nose after a while - Memory of Kindness, a perfume with a strong personality that I had a dream about - and Black March, which smells like potting soil, rain, and fresh green shoots, and is one of my all-time favorite perfumes so far. At the boutique, I sprayed Burning Leaves, Wild Pansy, Mr. (sic) Hulot's Holiday, and In the Kitchen (among others) on several paper strips. They were all great, and Wild Pansy and Mr. Hulot's Holiday were terrific, so I ended up putting one on each wrist. Mr. Hulot's Holiday is supposed to smell like an old-fashioned holiday by the Mediterranean, complete with old suitcases, and it was my favorite of the two. It seems to me to be in the "salt and leather" category, and it is an excellent, though fairly subtle, example of this class – the perfume is mostly woody and actually pretty delicate, with some fresh, breezy notes, and those nice, supporting notes of salt and leather. Wild Pansy smelled like sweet, dirty, green flower shoots – like spring flowers busting through the forest soil. Not unlike the smell you might get if you took some wild pansies and mashed them up, flowers, roots, stems and all, in a sort of joyful, Spring-inspired frenzy. Delicious. Both perfumes have pretty good lasting power. Not so good as the perfume I tried later that day. But I get ahead of myself.

I liked Mr. Hulot’s Holiday enough that I wanted to purchase a bottle, so I looked over towards the boutique owner, but she was still deep in it with her other client, and I figured that was a sign (or at least a chance for the credit card in my wallet to yell DON’T USE ME in a tiny plastic voice only I could hear), so I slipped out and bought myself some fries for lunch.

Later that day I met J in the City for a proper sensory overload. Next post!

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