One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Cool: Comme des Garçons Series 5, Sherbet

But first, he rambles endlessly, and talks about heavy, unsummery oriental scents from a few decades ago.


I was idly thumbing through Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez' "Perfumes: The Guide" when I chanced upon this opening sentence for her review of Caron's Le Troisieme Homme:

For eye candy, both men and women look at women: men are simply not decorative, as everyone knows.

Everyone knows no such thing. What a stupid, mindless assertion that is.

Either she means that men do not decorate themselves in Western culture, which is a commonplace and so obviously true as to be not even worth mentioning (although throughout history of course they did, and in cultures other than our own of course they do), or she means that women are inherently decorative and men are not, which is insulting to both men and women as viewers and as the viewed, and also completely wrong, as a quick tour of the Internet would demonstrate. Clive Owen is much more decorative than Juliette Lewis, whatever they happen to be wearing.


Having said that, though....

When we were in New York recently, Jim and I saw the movie L'Amour Fou, a documentary about the lifelong relationship between Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. "Amour Fou" means "mad love", but this was the least mad thing you can possibly imagine: dull, placid, stodgy, napworthy (unless you consider expensive furnishings to be pornography).

The movie of course had to make a mention of Saint Laurent's sensational 1977 perfume Opium, so it showed this ad:

Well, perhaps it hasn't aged well and is a silly thing. But I have always found its star, Canadian model Linda Evangelista, to be impossibly beautiful, quite possibly the most beautiful woman who has ever lived, in no small part because she was perpetually changing her look, and no matter what she changed it to, she always looked extraordinary — she could and did wear any hair colour or style and make it look good, and you know how rare that is. I mean, just look at this:

So if someone wishes to claim that women are somehow simply more decorative than men, I'd say that person is an idiot; but if someone wants to claim that Linda Evangelista is more decorative than mere mortals, I'd have to give them that.


And speaking of old perfume commercials, you must have at least heard of the infamous quartet of Obsession TV ads from 1985? For the longest time there was, as far as I knew, only one on Youtube, the one with the boy:

Last night, on a mission, I hunted a little harder, and found two more. Here's the first in the series, with the older man:

Here's the second, with the younger man:

(I never have found the fourth ad, with the woman; perhaps it's carefully hidden away, or perhaps it just isn't there. Yet.)

And maybe you're choking with laughter, maybe they are ridiculous and overwrought, but they still give me a shiver. When Obsession was launched, a local department store had the four commercials playing on a loop on a TV screen, and I am pretty sure I watched them over and over again for half an hour; it might have been more.

There is something fearfully oneiric about these ads: the way they are trapped in a little isolated fragment of the universe, the arch, elliptical speech, the symbols so full of meaning to be teased out (the flower, the chess piece, the little book of secrets). Perhaps they are ridiculous and faux-Freudian, but I love them nonetheless, because for me they capture not only a time and a place, but a smell.

I put on a little spray of Obsession this morning, a recent vintage, and shouldn't have bothered; it has been altered nearly past recognition, not remotely what it used to be, and what a shame that is. It was once great, in a vulgar, deliciously trashy way, and now it's just cheap.


Since it's summer and the days are warming, I assume we've all put away our winter fragrances and broken out the bright, cooling scents that make the heat more bearable. I recently discovered in my box of samples all three of the Comme des Garçons Sherbet scents, and couldn't believe I hadn't tried a single one of them. What could be summerier than sherbet? (If you pronounce it "sherbert", you will not be able to tell but I will be wincing inside. It's "sherbet", please, from Arabic "sharbat", only one "r".)

In North America, sherbet is a frozen dessert based on fruit, with a very small dairy content that gives it opacity and a slight creaminess, distinguishing it from sorbet, which is the same thing except without the milk. I was therefore expecting the CdG Sherbets to be fresh and a little creamy. I was not counting on the fact that Japan is not big on dairy products, and so the unisex Sherbets are not remotely sherbety or even sweet, but fairly clean, stripped-down fantasy scents, an alien's idea of Earth sweets.

Peppermint is a nasty thing, a combination of the bright fresh synthetics that CdG seems to do so often with a sharp muddle of peppermint, spearmint, undefined spices, and an indiscriminate greenness that suggests someone walked into an herb garden and began whacking everything with a stick. It is genuinely horrible, with overtones of industrial soap, scrubbed tile, and possibly insecticide or herbicide or at any rate some sort of cide. After a while the generalized awfulness fades away and is replaced with a soft, not altogether unpleasant minty woodiness, but it's not enough to erase the memory of the horror that preceded it. Some people love this, though I can't imagine sitting through that opening, even once, ever again.

Cinnamon, on the other hand, is delightful, a soft little cloud of spices and wood, and though "inoffensive" sounds like damning with faint praise, it is inoffensive; an ideal summertime scent when you want to smell like more than yourself, without projecting at all. Someone would have to get close to you to smell this, and I think they would want to. It smells like your own skin, cooked a little in the summer sun, only better, of course.

Rhubarb is certainly the best of the lot, with a real charm — a unisex fruity floral (there is such a thing) done right: a little zing of citrus, a freshly snapped rhubarb stalk, a dreamy haze of unnamed flowers, a blurry warmth that never overpowers. (If you told me it was the newest of Guerlain's Aqua Allegorias, I wouldn't be at all surprised, although I can't imagine what they would call it.)

The official notes, for whatever that's worth to you:

PEPPERMINT: Curly Mint, Peppermint, Bay Rose, White Pepper, Cardamon, Amber, White Musk.
CINNAMON: Cedar, Bergamot, Cinnamon, Saffron, Carnation, Benjamin, Vetiver, Teak Wood, White Musk.
RHUBARB: Bergamot, Rhubarb, Litchi, Orchid Sap, Japonica Flower, Vanilla Cream.


  • Ha - love your foray into the old Obsession Commercials....I, too, was fascinated (obsessed) with them when they came out - and I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who stood at Macy's and watched the entire 4 commercials over and over again for at least 30 minutes!

    I tried to find the very funny SNL parody "Compulsion" to share with you, but alas, it does not exist online.....but I did find the script - enjoy.


    By Blogger Marko, at 1:04 PM  

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