Last night I attended one of Chandler Burr’s “Scent and Savor” dinners, held in suburban Atlanta, as part of a book and literacy celebration.
I was intimidated, of course. But Burr was much more at ease than I expected him to be. What did I expect? A New Yorker with his nose in the air, using perfect French pronunciation like a club to smack these hillbillies upside their last-year’s-hairstyled heads?
It wasn’t like that at all. He was charming, funny and down to earth.
I also expected the room to be filled with perfumistas, but it seemed that there were just a few. The rest were people from the foundation that arranged the event. Here were the lovely, well-preserved Southern women and their somewhat confused-looking husbands you’d find at any charity event in Atlanta. The women were fascinated. The men sniffed their blotters, some enthusiastic, some self-deprecating, some furtive, no doubt praying that none of the photos being taken would be of them.
Mr. Burr asked that we not reveal the molecules he used or the perfumes he featured, so I won’t. I will say that most are niche, but there are a few mass-market surprises in there, scents he likes, that you can buy just about anywhere. And, of course, the pairing of scent and taste is so obvious, so pleasurable, so perfect, that it’s amazing that no one thought of it before.
I do disagree with him on one subject, though (with all due respect, of course)! That would be old v. new perfumes. He says that the older ones wear you, and the newer, more conceptual ones, you wear.
Sure, the classics sit “up” on the skin more (if you’re lucky). What’s wrong with that? If perfume is art, and a particular scent is a masterpiece, should I mind being the support?
He says that the newer, more conceptual scents soak into the wearer, become him or her. I say that’s fine, if you’re looking for your signature scent; it would be perfect, in fact, to find The One. But I’m promiscuous, at this stage of the journey. I’m much more interested in how a particular perfumer’s work makes me think and feel.
Does it make me feel different than before I put it on? Does it bring up different thoughts, associations? Does it summon ghosts?
Vintage perfume does that. It summons the ghosts of past women who were proud and forthright women, not girls. Who wore hats and gloves and owned every room they swept into. The chypres, especially, summon them, and the leathers.
Miss Dior, Jolie Madame, Mitsouko, Cabochard. Can the explorations of pepper, the conceptualizations of lime or carrot, do that, at least for me? No. But I’m not yearning for those better days. I wasn’t even alive then.
It’s just that I have yet to find one of these transparent, conceptual scents that can make me feel like a vintage fragrance does. They’re fascinating, but am I really so interested in spraying myself with material for later deconstruction?
Not right now.