1. We mean well. Which sometimes drags on to the edge of politeness. But eventually we honor our commitments.
A reader of Privilege wrote me back in December of 2009, asking me about High WASPs and perfume. Today, October 4th, 2010, I honor my commitment. A more revealing test of ‘better late than never’ we cannot imagine. Jessica, if you’re still out there, um, sorry. And here goes.
2. When we look back, we realize we have come far from our origins. We also see that American culture has wandered far from the world of dressing tables, signature scents, and Grandmama.
My grandmother, the Artsy Grande Dame that she was, had a signature scent. Diorissimo. Lilies of the valley. Very sweet. My mother wore Miss Dior. My Aunt Priscilla gave me Caleche, when I was in high school, and then Paco Rabanne’s Calandre. I wore them constantly, until, one day, I just didn’t. For the past 30 years I have assumed that I hated perfume, that I was allergic to it, that it made me feel ill. I have also watched, and wondered, why anyone would want to smell like Britney Spears.
3. We do research, relying on decades of retail experience. Which more often than not brings us to our spiritual home, also known as Saks Fifth Avenue.
When I finally, finally, organized my various and remaining competencies enough to get myself to address perfume, I thought I’d go to Barney’s New York, in San Francisco. I drove up our unscenic Highway 101, and parked at Union Square. I stopped by Saks, “just to look.”
3. High WASPs succumb to adventure.
I walked by the Saks perfume counter. And paused, a bit. The saleswoman began to talk to me immediately. I could barely hear her, so overwhelmed was I by all the shiny bottles and waiting scents.
Once the saleswoman began to dab me with perfume I was lost. Drowning. You might think I’m exaggerating. I wish that were true.
This was a newish perfume line called By Kilian. Kilian is apparently the heir of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy fortune whatsit. One can imagine that amidst all those Ls and Vs he needs to spell out his name like a 6-year old. This does not improve the brand for me but I was far beyond logos and marketing by this point.
She dabbed onto my unsuspecting skin (skin is always unsuspecting, that’s part of its tragedy, don’t you think?):
- Prelude To Love
- Beyond Love
- Love and Tears
- Liasons Dangereuses
- Cruel Intentions
- A Taste of Heaven
These names offered me no guidance whatsoever.
Did you know that to smell perfumes for purchase you should:
- Wave your wrists to dry them off after first spraying?
- Use each wrist, each elbow, the back of each arm, and a few fingers for different scents?
- Lie your face against your wrist sideways, to breath it in indirectly, not snort it right into your nostrils.
- Walk away and come back 20 minutes later for the final version of your scent? This is called the “dry down.” But had I walked away I would never have returned, thus failing to honor my commitment. So the dry down had to wait.
One bottle smelled like the good part of bugspray, and gasoline. Mixed with rubber. And in the background, sweetness. A tired sweetness. The saleswoman said it was made of something called, “Oudh.” And rose. Rose attar, maybe.
All I knew was that I liked it and I had to get out of there or fall down in public. High WASPs do not like to fall down in public.
5. Our senses call us to experiences we cannot predict.
$400 later I owned a large black bottle of scent. Named “Rose Oudh.” Which appears to require its own lacquer box adorned by a gold-colored plate engraved with a fancy “K.” Oh, and a key. I am still not sure why to lock a box that one can simply put into one’s backpack if one is a robber, but I have told you before and I will tell you again, I am at heart too Sturdy for much high concept retail.
4. We call home for comfort and discover that the old High WASPs had some priorities very straight.
When I finally made it to my car I called my sisters. Only to discover that my sisters don’t wear perfume at all. I called my mother.
Me: Mom, what’s that perfume you always wore?
Mom: I don’t know. I don’t wear it any more. I hate it.
Me: Well what did you use to wear?
Mom: I don’t know. I used to keep the bottles on my dressing table but I thought they looked trashy so I put them away.
Me: Well, Mom, could you do me a favor and go look and see what they are? I’m trying to write a blog post.
Mom: OK but I have to go back across the house to the bathroom.
Me: That’s OK. I will wait.
Me: Yes Mom?
Mom: I found it. You tell your blog people I had to crawl back into my bathroom cupboard to to get it. (Note. The bathroom cupboard is under her sink.)
Me: OK Mom, I will. What’s the perfume?
Mom: It’s something called Hermies.
Me: Hermies? *laughter* Mom, it’s not Hermies, it’s Hermes!
Mom: Well I had to crawl into the bathroom cupboard to get it.
My mother doesn’t care one bit for brands. Or labels. I doubt she would understand the phenomenon of young Mr. Kilian.
5. We keep anything that dizzies the senses far away from our reading glasses, our well-flossed teeth, and our pearls.
In the past few weeks I have discovered that I have to wear Rose Oudh behind my knees. Anything closer to my face is too much. Good thing too. Perfume oils are bad for pearls. Everyone knows that.
Everyone knows that perfume was invented to disguise the smells of human life pre-plumbing.
Everyone also knows that perfume is just perfume. But they’re wrong. The Three Kings knew what they were doing. All that myrrh and frankincense was the original Trojan Horse. Rose Oudh is the original bomb.