Wednesday, October 22, 2008
A Debunking and a Drawing
"Wear your love like heaven” – Donovan
“We must be in heaven, man!” – wasted reveler at Woodstock (possibly Wavy Gravy) from the film “Woodstock”
“Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens” – Talking Heads
So many perfume forum participants cite "Heaven Sent" as their first. I’m one, although, to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t really my, uh, first, exactly.
Heaven Sent is still around, but don’t be fooled. The modern one has little to do with the Heaven Sent of so much fond recollection. The original was made by Helena Rubinstein, and came out in 1936. There was another version – from Mem Cosmetics (also home to English Leather, Love’s Baby Soft and Love’s Fresh Lemon) in the Sixties, and that is the one so lovingly remembered. Sometime later, the 70’s probably, the company was sold to whoever is making it now (and who cares who that is).
I managed to get a small bottle of the original Rubinstein version awhile back, on fleabay. It looks to be from the 60's, paper label, robin’s-egg-blue plastic lid. The scent itself – it’s an EDP – has lost some of its fizz over the years, but it’s still the heavy, flowery, powdery elixir I remember. I bought it because I wanted to have one of those olfactory Moments one expects to have in these situations.
In his new book “What the Nose Knows,” the sensory psychologist Avery Gilbert addresses the beliefs surrounding this nose-to-emotional-memory pathway. He contends that the Proustian legend, upon which many olfactory hypotheses have been based, is something of a myth. Modern research, he says, has produced mixed results. In some study results the strength of a smell-induced memory among test subjects is no more, and in fact sometimes is less, than a visually induced one. This is a major and daring debunking. But smell-memory, Gilbert continues, is subject to cognition like anything else. “It’s time to retire the soggy Twinkie,” he says.
So, back to Heaven Sent, my personal Soggy Twinkie. I got to thinking, really thinking, about why I remembered this one so much more strongly than all the others (then, as now, I was perfumely promiscuous, only the venues and outlays have changed.) What do I really remember most about it?
“Wear your love like heaven.”
The advertising! Oh God no! Say it ain’t so!
Got to go watch “Mad Men” one more time.
What is your Soggy Twinkie? The one that brings it back for you? Leave me a comment, and two of you (drawn at random) will win a sample of real, Honest-to-God Helena Rubinstein “Heaven Sent.”
For a detailed and much more erudite examination of “What the Nose Knows,” visit The Perfume Shrine – link to the left.
“What The Nose Knows – The Science of Scent in Everyday Life” by Avery Gilbert is published by Crown, c 2008, ISBN 978-1-4000-8234-6
Scent notes for Helena Rubenstein’s “Heaven Sent” include jasmine, magnet, rose, apple blossom, musk, patchouli, sandalwood and opoponax.