One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Intermission: Somebody Stop Me!

The Sunday before last, as I was heading off to work, it occurred to me that Monday the 5th of September was a holiday, I had Saturday the 3rd off, I would probably have Sunday the 4th off, and I would be able to switch my schedule around so that I wouldn't have to work on Friday, so I could theoretically have a four-day weekend, and I said to Jim, "This is a crazy idea, but how much would it cost to take a little trip?"

Not much! By the time I got to work, Jim had already booked flights and hotel and texted me with the details, and that is how we spent the Labour Day weekend in Montréal, flying up on Friday afternoon and returning Monday midday.

When I was a child growing up in Newfoundland, I swear — and my mother confirms this — that on the first day of school, it would be cold enough that there would be frost glittering on the ground, and you could see your breath in the air. Well, climate change, or different geography — Newfoundland is after all dangling in the Atlantic ocean like a piñata awaiting the weather's merciless beating — but the first week of September in eastern Canada was pretty damned hot. Fortunately, Montréal has an underground city; you can live and shop and work without ever breathing unprocessed air, if you have a mind to do such a thing. After seeing the weather forecasts, then, our plan of attack was to go out in the mornings and do whatever we needed to do, and then retreat to the underground and just kind of shop and mosey and whatever, only coming to the surface when we had to.

I did a little research and discovered that Ogilvy carries Serge Lutens, my one and only, so I e-mailed their customer service department to see if they had any Vitriol d'Oeillet in stock. Not only didn't they, I was told that it wasn't available in Canada, which is just wrong. But I figured I would go there anyway to see what they did have, and I promised Jim that 1) I would spend no more than five minutes there (as I had done at Hermes in New York) and 2) that it was the only scent shopping I would do on the trip. And I was almost as good as my word, too.

We popped in on Saturday afternoon and Jim headed downstairs to the café while I made a beeline for the Lutens counter. After eyeballing their selection and confirming that they unaccountably didn't have Vitriol d'Oeillet, I tried a few things on blotters to see if there was anything I couldn't live without. Cuir Mauresque is still as boring as I remember: maybe I have to smell it on my skin, but it just doesn't do anything for me. I was sure I had smelled Borneo 1834 before but I didn't remember its being so overwhelmingly patchouli-laden; absolutely not me. And then I tried Chergui, and it all came rolling back in a wave of memory: how I had loved it and disdained it, used it up and forgotten it, and now somehow couldn't live without it. So I bought it. I bought it! Why did I do that? What was I thinking? I am out of control and Serge Lutens runs my life.

Of course I asked for some samples: the somewhat confused saleswoman (who did not speak a colossal amount of English) was going to wait for another salesperson to help her decide which Lutenses were for women and which were for men, as if such trivialities matter in his world, and I said, as I usually do, "I don't care: I'll wear anything as long as it smells good," so she grabbed a bunch of them and chucked them in the bag. You can never have enough free samples, even when they are things you have already tried, or already own. Chypre Rouge? A spare for my knapsack! Louve? Have to give that one away! Rousse? High time I tried that in its original form!

And that really was going to be the end of my sniffing, but we ended up in The Bay on Sunday afternoon (underground!), and Jim was doing some clothing shopping, so of course I headed to the stench department to see what was what. Did you know that Mugler has done a series of food-related flankers, called The Taste of Fragrance, for Angel, A*Men, Alien, and Womanity? They're the same formulae but dosed with bitter cocoa powder, chili pepper, salted butter caramel, and fig chutney, respectively. I tried the A*Men and Alien; they weren't different enough from the originals to make me even think about buying them. (Now, if they had mixed a large helping of salted butter caramel with A*Men, I think I would have been helpless to resist.)

Then as I was waiting for Jim, the woman at the Gaultier counter started talking to me about the Gaultier exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts, which we had seen that very morning. I had a little card which we had gotten when we bought our tickets but hadn't looked at; it entitled me to a sample of, not the latest men's Gaultier, but the first one (had they given all the new ones away?), which of course I took, because, again, you can never have enough free samples.

Oh — the Gaultier exhibition! In June we went to New York where we saw the legendary Alexander McQueen exhibit, thrilling, a real roller-coaster ride that takes you to any number of dark places. The Gaultier, though, really has only one mode: giddy amazement, pure happiness. When I said a while back, "What fun it must be to be Jean-Paul Gaultier," I wasn't kidding: his sense of childlike joy (coupled with his absolute mastery of couture and the human form) shines out through the entire exhibit. Mad corsets with dozens of panels of lacing everywhere except the one place you'd expect to find it (the front has two rows of fake lacing with a zipper between them); demented beadwork depicting Paris as the city of lights, or an entire faux leopardskin pelt (a thousand hours' worth of hand-sewn bugle beads in the most finely gradated colours you can imagine); punk jackets re-created with lavish applications of beads and rhinestones; a mermaid dress of hand-made gold lace, mother-of-pearl bra cups, and a corset of narrow, delicate, bepearled piano hinges. It was such a pleasure: you couldn't leave the museum without a smile on your face. (I was a little surprised that the gift shop didn't have the fragrances: various incarnations of the Classique bottle were rightly part of the exhibition. As curator I would have insisted on it, and as attendee I would have bought something. Perhaps there were licensing or environmental issues.)

As for the Chergui, I wore it yesterday morning before showering, and I briefly thought that I had made a huge mistake in buying it, because all my doubts and misgivings about those unpleasant facets of its dual nature that I had perceived before were there in abundance: its oversweetness, its slightly spiny aggression. Today I put it on again and I found it breathtaking, and what's more, durable beyond anyone's expectations: a couple of sprays before noon, and now, twelve hours later, I can still smell its drydown clearly. And I see upon re-reading my first description of it that I managed to write an entire fragrance review without actually saying what that fragrance smells like, so here goes: a leathern pouch of best pipe tobacco, a curl of smoke, a dollop of honey, one bite from a sugared date, a single rose, a puff of incense, a fragment of amber heated until it glows like a coal. When Chergui behaves, it is beyond beautiful.

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2 Comments:

  • Thrilled to read your review of the Gaultier exhibit. It's coming to Dallas, of all places, in November, and I'm driving up from Austin to see it. I'm even more excited about it now!

    By Blogger StyleSpy, at 9:26 AM  

  • You will LOVE IT. Try not to read too much about it beforehand if you can help it: the show abounds in surprises, none of which I've ruined for you.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 10:36 AM  

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