Thursday, May 28, 2009

Off Topic - Life in the CyberSouk

There hasn’t been a real post on “Olfactarama” this week. This is because I’ve been trying to do some New Stuff, and it hasn’t been going well.

A couple of months ago, my good ol’ trusty reconditioned laptop crashed. Fortune intervened, I got a free MacBook with all the bells and whistles, well most of them, through a contest. I became a MAC user.

And oh how sweet it was. Finally, I thought, a computer that works like I always imagined they world. Intuitive. Logical. No need for manuals. You just poke around until you get it to do whatever you need it to do. “I’m in love,” I said to friends. And I was. But, as in love, disillusionment has set in.

It appears that Apple’s software really doesn’t like to talk to anybody else’s. Like the Snide Young Dude in the commercials snickering over the bloated old unhip guy in the suit. They have software for everything, so why step outside the hallowed “campus?”

Except that they don’t.

I needed some really first-rate image editing software, capable of resizing and layering and guess what -- iPhoto doesn’t cut it. So off I went and got Photoshop MAC. That was when the fun began.

Finally, I thought, I can publish my own website featuring images of my art work. (Why not use FB or somebody? Well, because there are issues of intellectual property rights, and right now, this week anyway, the word is that one really should have one’s own domain name.) But -- oh joy -- the MAC didn’t understand the format I had originally shot the photos in. I changed them all, realized they were still too big, fixed and resized them again and finally got them into shape to publish, once I captioned them and...never mind. Finally, I was ready. Finger quivering, I clicked on “publish.”

Guess what -- “publish” takes you to Apple’s “MobileMe” suite, which, if you subscribe, takes over your computer, thus allowing you to sync your Ipod and Iphone and Calendar and Contacts and all this other stuff I don’t have or need to sync. I mean, they don’t even want to hear about any other web hosting service; in the Apple Universe, personfied by the Snide Young Dude, what kind of idiot would venture outside the campus?

Except that I don’t want Total Apple Control. Guess what. Just try to publish your iWeb-designed site somewhere else. (Possible, apparently. I think.) Or retain your own domain name on MobileMe. Or figure out whether a site designed on iWeb can be published anywhere else but MobileMe. Or move images between Photoshop and iPhoto, who don't speak. Or resize them using iPhoto (nope; need Photoshop for that). “Help” is a joke. And on and on and on.

The whole world wants my wallet. I feel like I’m walking through a souk in, say, Fez, all the vendors are screaming come-ons at me, and I know they're all crooks. It’s cybertribalism. It’s a whole lot of software designers, and, yeah, they’re probably more clever than me, and they’ve figured out a way to make us buy and buy and buy because, damn it, we just need to get something done.

They know that not everybody considers arguing with balky proprietary software to be a fun way to spend an afternoon. We just want to work, and record our work and maybe even show it to somebody else. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It can be -- if you’re willing live your life inside those village walls.

Everybody’s in sales now. The guy who comes to service your furnace is really in the business of selling you duct cleaning. The vet insists that your (healthy, young) cat needs a complete (as in $200+) blood workup panel every year. You call to order a shirt and have to listen to endless “specials.”

Remember when only auto mechanics made you feel this way?

So, instead of sniffing, painting and writing, I’m tearing out my hair. I know I’m not the only one. At least I don’t think so. Bloggers, commenters, have you ever been here?

How did you deal with it?

(Back to perfume with the next post, I promise.)

Image courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


In the last “Olfactorama,” I wrote about artist Francesco Vezzoli’s installation concerning the launch of a fake perfume, “Greed.” Two commenters with better memories than mine mentioned that there have been other “Saturday Night Live” parodies besides the Gilda Radner “Hey You” that I dug up, and so off I went to fetch them.

It appears that these high-strung tycoons are a little bit, um, sensitive when it comes to this sort of thing! There was one SNL parody of the early Brooke Shields/Calvin Klein involving a cream pie and a face, but I couldn’t retrieve the clip -- anywhere -- and so can only assume that there was some legal involvement. (If anybody else finds it, please let me know, eh?)

But I did catch “Canis,” from 1992, and here it is, courtesy of our friends (I hope) at the Internet Movie Database.

That is one happy dog, and who doesn’t love a happy dog?

It turns out that doggie perfumes named after fragrances designed for humans have caused a bit of trouble, specifically one called “Timmy Holedigger” which Tommy Hilfiger did not think was funny at all. He even sued. Guess what: Timmy won!

Just goes to show ya: sometimes even the biggest dogs can be brought to, um, heel.

photo used under license from

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Below is the partial text of a review in the new Art in America of installation/performance artist Francesco Vezzoli’s show involving a perfume launch, complete with starry opening, fashion hype and a
directed by Roman Polanski.

"by cornelia lauf

ROME Greed may be out of fashion these days, but it remains very much on the mind of Francesco Vezzoli. Demure and self-effacing, Vezzoli claims to live out of a suitcase in Milan, and would seem to be far removed from the fashionable subjects that preoccupy him. He is known, however, for spectacular and very costly art productions, including theatrical performances that often grapple with themes of vice and virtue. For this show, Vezzoli staged a luxury perfume launch. The spectacle included a 60-second commercial directed by Roman Polanski and featuring a tussling Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams, an enormous crystal flacon filled with amber liquid and other supporting props.

True to the sleight of hand that characterizes many of Vezzoli’s productions, a real perfume was never produced. Rather, his installation dealt with the hype that drives fashion, commerce and art, and shapes the experience of desire. A slide-show version of the commercial could be seen on the Internet in advance of the show, a special color advertising supplement appeared in the London edition of the International Herald Tribune the day of the opening, and duped perfume bloggers eagerly speculated about the possible “notes” of this newcomer to the scent scene.”

C’mon, cornelia. Having just spent more than a little time searching for blog references to this version of “Greed” as a real perfume, I’ve found exactly...none.

I did find posts on the perfume blogs Now Smell This and on Scented Salamander, but they got the joke. So who are these “duped perfume bloggers”?

Let me suggest that perhaps they are a figment of an overheated art-writer’s imagination; a fabrication, if you will, as made-up as the launch itself. Perhaps the “duped perfume bloggers” were part of the show. I mean, why not?

Perfume-advertising mockery has been done before. Vezzoli himself admits the precedent to this work (Marcel Duchamp’s “Eau de Violette”). And of course there is the classic Gilda Radner “Hey You” piece from “Saturday Night Live” (watch it here ). And women fighting over a bottle of perfume -- seems like I’ve seen that somewhere. And and and and and.

Actually, Vezzoli’s campy idolatry has been done (um, Andy Warhol) and the whole concept feels, well, beyond postmodern. Vizzoli says that works like this are “an immodest attempt to mirror society’s silliest vices and devices.” He also said, in an interview with NPR’s “Marketplace,” “We are not wasting money. We are entertaining ourselves.”

The celebs and fashionistas seem to love Vizzoli. He’s cute, charming and lives without bothersome anchors like a residence, so that nothing will interfere with his art. (Presumably, someone else does the laundry.) Obviously, this has all worked well for him. If we’ve seen it before, well, what haven’t we seen before, any more?

So I would ask Ms. Lauf, the reviewer, were we part of the show?

Such company we keep!

Read the complete text of Cornelia Lauf’s Art in America review here.

Photo by SanSuzie at

For an image of the Duchamp bottle (in a sale catalog as part of Yves St. Laurent’s estate) go here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Where I Left My Brain

I’m not sure, but I think it’s under that black thing on the beach.

I’ve just returned from St. George Island, Florida, a skinny little key that skirts along the east side of that pointy thing that sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida panhandle. It’s my sixth time there; usually I don’t mention this place to very many people because, let’s face it, they’ll tell their friends who will tell theirs, and we don’t want it to be roooned, do we, but if any of you are interested in finding about this secret paradise, email me at olfactarama at gmail dot com and I’ll tell you all about it. Oh, and one more thing -- if you don’t think you look good in a bathing suit this appears to be the last place on earth where just about everybody is going to be bigger/blobbier/older than you.

Okay, then, let’s get to olfaction.

Oddly enough, the panhandle section of Florida really is only faintly olfactionary. In this area, there are some of the most spectacular oyster beds in the world, but there isn’t that brininess of the Pacific or Atlantic or other, colder oceans of the world. I haven’t eaten a raw oyster in years, but I do remember that that was pretty much the only appeal to them, and without that, I can’t imagine a reason why anyone would gobble down what looks and feels like -- well never mind -- but these are spectacular cooked, fried especially, as they do it down they-ah. Fried food? I can hear you saying with indrawn breath; yeah, I allow myself one fried seafood platter per year and that one platter -- shrimp, little bay scallops, oysters -- tastes pretty fabulous.

So, I thought, the last thing I’d want at the beach would be perfume, right? Wrong.

I took down some 4711, a little O de Lancome, the remainder of a sample of Jo Malone Grapefruit that I had, and some YSL In Love Again (don’t spray this on a white shirt, btw). But there was something about the heaviness of the Gulf air that seemed to require something more substantial, especially at night, especially at the local beach bar that looked as if it was constructed of driftwood somebody had nailed together. I wanted to smell like magnolias or gardenias or jasmine. Maybe because this part of Florida is still the South. But something about it transcended the Beach Cologne Rule -- you know -- lemon/citrus/light. No one ever wears anything more formal than shorts and an unstained T-shirt, but still. Snarfing down cold boiled shrimp with horseradish sauce while drinking a pint or two would seem to require something lemony, I wanted one of my divas. SL’s Fleur d’Oranger comes readily to mind. Jasmine -- they have a plant there called Confederate Jasmine, which has a lighter fragrance than, say, a la Nuit; maybe a mixed floral in which jasmine predominates? Or Fracas. Even Mitsouko, vintage extrait, with that heavy peachy-beer note. Or a Rosine; Poussiere de Rose, Twill Rose, Rose d’Homme.

I do love these kinds of surprises.

What do you wear to the beach?

photo by Patricia Borow
All rights reserved

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Special Edition -- Winner!

The winner of the "Breath of God" sample is: (drum roll please) Rappelyea!

Winner was chosen using

Please send me an email at olfactarama at gmail dot com with your postal address so I can send it to you!

(Special note: I'm going to be away, so try to do this within the next couple of days if you can.)

Congrats! Let me know what you think....

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


A reminder: the drawing for the "Breath of God" sample ends Wednesday, May 6th, US midnight EDT. Commenters will be automatically entered, so get your comments in now!

Am I cheap?

Been shopping lately. (Perhaps this should be posed in the form of a question.) Been shopping lately?

Since the whole IFRA thing -- relax, no more rants, we’ve done what we can do -- I’ve been thinking that I really should make sure I have all the old chypres and florals and so on that I’ve meant to buy one of these days, because who knows for how long I’ll be able to get them. So, off to fleabay and the discounters. Last week I bought -- roughly -- five or six full bottles. They were: vintage Woodhue, a drugstore classic my mother wore in the daytime. EL’s Knowing, a floral chypre that I can’t help but love even though I don’t even like most Lauder scents. Halston Couture, on a recommendation from a perfume buddy. It’s vintage by default, as it’s not made anymore. Patou 1000 EDP, also vintage. Madame Rochas (modern) an aldehydic floral, office-appropriate and pleasant. Vintage Intimate, another chypre; I wore this in high school, before I knew what a “chypre” was. A vintage tester of “First,” by Van Cleef & Arpels, Jean-Claude Ellena’s first professional product, as far as I know.The cost of all these added together would still be less -- a lot less -- than one 50 ml bottle of a Lutens or Luxe or, God forbid, Amourage. But Ubar does sound so interesting, doesn’t it?

I’m pretty happy with most of these. The Woodhue, of course, brings up old, old associations and I guess I’ve finally reached the point where I’m happy to have them. And you know what? It’s a nice fragrance! Earthy, vanilla-orange-spice-wood and I can swear I smell some real nitro-style musk in there somewhere. The first spray of the Halston Couture reminded me of nothing so much as opening a bottle of celery seed, but that appears to be gone now; it’s dark and rich, but the jury’s still out on this one. The Intimate is powdery and sweet like I was in high school (hah)! The First is an elegant French perfume with some early Ellena strangeness in there (the DH hated it’s opening, always a promising sign); the Patou is high and dry. And the Knowing will, like all Lauders, last forever. In fact, I’m quite sure that this bottle will outlive me.

Still...except for the First and the Patou, these aren’t exactly scents for the cognoscenti. Which makes me feel a little weird in the company I now keep here in PerfumistaLand.

My household isn’t loaded, but we’re comfortable. It’s not a lack of cash that makes me reluctant to spend seriously on the niche and the high-end, because I can cut other things, like clothes, shoes and food. It’s your basic all-American bourgeois guilt. And, I’m thinking, as are many of you I’m sure: it’s time to put the money where the mouth is, to support the niche and the indie perfumers by getting those full bottles instead of just a decant, especially if it’s something I love. And so many of them are.

But I have put myself on a budget, wise in these times, I think. And my budget would allow maybe one 50 ml niche purchase a month, as long as it’s not an Amourage; in that case, maybe one every two months.

One bottle purchase a month?

I know, I know, bottle splits, swapping, MUA, decants, annoying trips to TJ Maxx. It’s just that sometimes you want that big bottle. Big enough to spray with abandon. Big enough to scent the whole house if that’s what you want to do.

Time to make the inevitable confession: I get off on buying perfume. Don’t you? Don’t you love it when the UPS van stops in front of your house? When that box hits the front porch? When you open the mailbox and there’s a package in there?

Niche, specialty and indie perfumers would do well to consider bottling in smaller sizes, perhaps; 25 mls or even large samples of 10 mls. Because it would help us early-adopters/fragrance fans/let’s-face-it-we’re-addicts feed our, um habits, and we do want to support the brave, the groundbreaking, the little guy giving Goliath the finger.

So am I cheap? I guess that would depend on the difference between “cheap perfume” and perfume that I got cheap but isn’t really, er, cheap perfume, it’s just, well...good stuff and I got it for a bargain price.

In other words, I got it cheap.

Perfumers: This information is hard to find! I hope this is accurate:

Nothing on Woodhue except the name “Elida Gibbs,” an Irish company that had something -- what is not clear -- to do with the 1949 version. Elida Gibbs eventually became part of Lever Faberge and then was gobbled up by other corporations. “Halston Couture” -- none of the perfumers who worked for Halston Fragrances list this one; anybody know? “Madame Rochas” -- the original was done by Guy Robert in 1960, the 1989 reformulator is unclear. “Knowing” -- Elie Rober. “Intimate” -- original by Jean Philippe; reformulated somewhat by Revlon in the 60’s. “First” -- Jean-Claude Ellena. “!000” -- Jean Kerleo, who was the house nose for Patou.

photo of Courtney Love by...I can’t find the photographer’s name but it’s a great picture isn’t it? So sue me.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fragrance and The Sensory Police

Here is the text of a letter I sent to Jeb Gleason-Allured, Editor of the trade publication "Perfumer and Flavorist," this morning.

"I once knew a man who insisted that his newspaper be delivered to him without any scented products; no scent strips in the “Style” section; no samples of dryer strips, no little boxes of scented detergent. This particular newspaper accommodated him, albeit at additional expense, until budget cuts forced them to discontinue the “odorless” edition. After that, he cancelled his subscription.

Here’s the punch line: due to a war injury, he was almost completely without a sense of smell. It wasn’t the scents themselves that bothered him. He could barely smell these scented products at all. It was an issue of control.

This, in my opinion, is the crux of the anti-fragrance crusade. It’s not about chemicals. It’s about control. In a world that appears to have lost its moorings, there are people who will use whatever they can afford -- whether that be hysteria, activism, letter-writing, bad science, mitigation or, ultimately, litigation -- to attempt to regain some control over the anomie and perilousness of modern life.

This is a battle the fragrance industry can’t win. As Denyse Beaulieu, editor of the prominent scent blog "Grain de Musc" so gracefully points out, these people don't just want fragrance to be chemically neutral. They want it to be gone.

In the case of fine fragrance, an entire industry’s willingness to bend to the will of this no-scents crowd can never be anything more than a stopgap measure, because, no matter what is done to accommodate them, it won’t be enough. Apparently, the European Union is highly concerned with the idea of placating these people. I lived in pre-EU Europe, and found the laissez-faire attitude there refreshing. In the U.S. we’ve been dealing with these we-know-what’s-best-for-everyone types -- let’s call them the Sensory Police -- for a long time. It saddens me to think that this is now spreading across a continent with a longstanding tradition of individuals simply putting up with one another. And that an ancient art may fall victim to them, as an industry apparently is not willing to put up any sort of fight to protect its own heritage and future.

In short, as Ms. Beaulieu also points out, the fragrance industry is about to shoot itself in the foot.

There are thousands of active fragrance bloggers, consumers and collectors who are outraged over this. There is a significant section of the blogosphere devoted to the pleasures and wonders of fragrance. These are some of the most cultured, cosmopolitan and intelligent people I’ve ever met. It is a shame that no one has thought to consider their presence as any sort of anti-fragrance hysteria countermeasure.

By engaging in the secretive practices of the last few years in particular -- the reformulating of classic scents which are then sold in the original packaging with no mention of any reworking -- the mainstream fragrance industry has alienated its own most enthusiastic supporters.

There is little point in going into things like lethal products (cigarettes, for example) still being available everywhere; the benefits of patentable synthetic molecules, the simple solution of cautionary labeling, as is done with so many products, and so on; there is discussion about this all over the fragrance blogosphere, and I invite fragrance-industry professionals to explore it. Here is the point: are you purposefully deceiving customers? If so, why? Now that you know the perfume blogosphere exists, wouldn't it be better to engage it in some way?

Do you actually believe that taking out a few substances that might cause a rash in a tiny group of people is going to placate the Sensory Police?

I very much doubt it.

I think the time has come to lift the veil.

Thanks for your consideration.

Patricia Borow

editor, "OlfactaRama" ("

If you are concerned about this issue, and would like to participate by writing to the editor of "Perfume and Flavorist," the email address is Denyse Beaulieu's letter is featured on her blog, Grain de Musc (link to the left.)

The image is the painting "American Gothic," by Grant Wood, from Wikimedia.