Friday, September 7, 2012

Art and/of Perfume

Caesar Boetius van Everdingen's Girl in a Wide Hat (oil on canvas, c. 1645-1650) symbolizes summer as convincingly as does the painting of lady Winter by the same artist, hung on an adjoining wall in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. This "girl" struck me as surprisingly modern of countenance and bearing, somehow, when I saw her last May, and I've been thinking of her with this week's weather. Someone put a basket of plums, just like hers, on the table in our faculty lounge this week.


Summer has been exercising her right to stick around until the equinox, keeping Autumn at bay with the sunshine and high temperatures that we've come to expect here for the first week of classes. Housed in the "poor cousins" building that Arts & Humanities seem so often to be confined to these days, we have no air-conditioning and I have to speak loudly to my sun-drowsy students for them to hear me over the fans, installed as an afterthought, an exercise in positive thinking, whirring away to stir the warm air around. The classroom's wall of windows face into the afternooon sun, so we open the four small panes, all directly above the daycare building's adjoining play-yard. The children's squeals and screams and giggles compete with me for my students' ears. By the end of an afternoon, Summer and I are not on good terms.

Still, it's lovely to hop on the ferry after work, ride it to Vancouver (it's the end of my first teaching week), into Horseshoe Bay where all the boats nestled against the mountains are dabbed golden by the evening's sunlight.

And where's the perfume, Mater? Your title says something of perfume. . . .

Here's the connection, then. In Amsterdam, I was trying out a new perfume, having grabbed a few of those small sample vials that Hermès sometimes gives out -- they seemed a good solution to the problem of fitting everything into my carry-on liquids limitation. I wasn't sure whether I thought Eau de Merveilles was for me, but there was enough in the tiny spritzer that I wore it for five or six days. And one of those days was in the Rijksmuseum.

I was interspersing the Eau de Merveilles days with days wearing perfume from other tiny vials, so the five or six days were spread out enough that we were in Bordeaux, perhaps even in Paris, 3 or 4 weeks later, when I put the last few drops of this perfume on my wrists, my neck. And immediately, I felt myself back on the wooden floors of that grand old Amsterdam Building. I could sense its particular light, remember the creak of a certain stairway, call up a charming conversation I had with a surprisingly knowledgeable security person. The scent flashed a huge painting of a swan in front of me, countless still lifes, particularly ones I had lingered in front of marvelling at their depiction of ancient leather-bound books.

So I bought my own bottle of this magic potion at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, then carried it through the Amsterdam airport where we transferred between planes -- thus not only did Amsterdam inspire my purchase, but the bottle itself has spent time in Amsterdam, polishing up its provenance. It's an intriguingly subtle scent -- I'm not experienced in describing perfumes, but I find it dry and crisp, with some peppery notes and only the slightest hint of floral, a wisp of citrus, something almost ocean-salty.  It verges on the unisex, which suits me fine, Terre d'Hermès--a man's perfume-- being another favourite of mine.

I even hauled out my neglected sketchbook to try to capture the bottle's sleek and sparkly art. . .

Today, though, I'm switching it up, the perfume currently in our Vancouver apartment being an old summer favourite, Lancôme's O.

Tell me, would you, what histories your perfume carries, if you wear one (or two, or seven . . . )? How much importance does the scent's associations bear in your daily decision of what to spray?

And may your Friday move quickly, and may it deliver you to a happy weekend!


23 comments:

  1. My husband wears Terre d'Hermes and I adore that scent.
    I currently am wearing Voyage d'Hermes but am thinking of trying a new scent.
    Over the years I have worn In Love, My Sin, Rive Gauche, L'air de Temps, Paris and a few others whose names escape me at the present.
    My Mother has only ever worn 2 perfumes all her 85 years...Shalimar and Chanel No.5.

    I'd like to sample your new fragrance as Hermes scents are wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I admire your mother's constancy -- and I imagine that those two scents immediately conjure her image and a host of memories for you.
      I'm more like you and the list I'd draw up would be quite a long one.

      Delete
  2. Mater - Ô de Lancôme is my summer scent. I first came across it in a magazine ad in the '70s. I was on a fun week-long language workshop at another secondary school and there were lots of foreign magazines available. I think that this ad (a photo of a girl on a bike wearing jeans, cognac leather boots and a floaty white top) was in an Italian magazine, along with a fashion feature on leather boots and bags, also in the most gorgeous cognac colour. (I do believe that those boots and bags would still be fashionable today!) I've loved the perfume and cognac-coloured leather ever since! That week was one of the best of my school career, as we were a small group of students from all over the city, and we were with the foreign language assistants (French, German, Italian), who, of course, were indescribably cool! The magazine was quite an eyeopener for me too - everything in it was SO stylish.
    There was a time when I experimented a bit with perfumes, but now I mainly stay with Ô de Lancôme for summer and Chanel's Coco for winter.
    How amazing that you had such a reaction to the perfume even after such a short acquaintance!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is what I'm looking for, Patricia, exactly! These stories that have perfumes stitching our past and present together. What a wonderful, life-opening week that would have been for you.

      Delete
    2. Life-opening indeed Mater - I still remember that magazine so clearly. I had always loved magazines (starting with comics as a small kid - Dandy, Beano, Bunty, Judy, I had one for every day of the week!)and at that point I was reading 'Jackie', a popular teen magazine - the fashions were as you might imagine for the mid-late 70s. This Italian one was my first experience of real grown-up style. Coincidentally, my best friend was/is part-Italian and went to Italy every summer. One year she brought me back a beautiful leather belt, which I still have. That belt really shows the passing of the years - when I first got it it was too big for me, now it barely fits!! :0)

      Delete
  3. http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.ca/2008/05/o-la-la-how-fresh.html
    By the way, I just tried to find the ad (a long shot, I know) and came across this review. It mentions that the first ads featured girls on bikes, so although I couldn't find the particular ad I meant, I'm pleased to discover that my memory was correct!! P.










    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wouldn't it be fun to see that original ad again and see just how your memory has photoshopped it!

      Delete
  4. I love Eau de Merveilles! I too, fell in love with it among my Hermes samples when I bought my scarf. It's such a beautiful, luxurious scent and lifts my spirits when I wear it. The last time I felt that way was when the original Marc Jacobs perfume was released about ten years ago. Though it seems to have been discontinued as he's released several others since.

    I like changing up my scents with the seasons. For the summer I was wearing a light, citrusy scent from Guerlain — one of its Aqua Allegoria scents. But missing my Eau de Merveilles so will switch back to it for fall.

    I'm one of those women that doesn't feel completely dressed without my scent. I've been wearing perfume daily from the time I was a teenage and have found my tastes have gone from very simple, citrusy, flowery scenes to more complex ones as I've gotten older. Loved your post and description of the perfume!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel as if perfume completes my outfit as well -- and it's such a treat to myself to catch a breath of it unexpectedly during the day.
      I find the Eau de Merveilles is dry/crisp enough to suit me in the summer, although complex enough that I suspect I'll also like it through the fall & winter. Like you, though, I do like to change for the season -- especially after an episode many years ago in a French parfumerie when I bought the (now-discontinued) Fleur de Fleurs by Nina Ricci, a beautifully light summer scent.

      Delete
  5. I love Eau de Merveilles; seems to be perfect any season and never tire of it. Now I will think of you when I spray mine. I also wear Jardin Sur Le Nil and Caleche as well as some from other houses. Fragrance definitely lifts my mood. If I am not sure others enjoy it (b/c of sensitivities) I wear L'Artisan Parfumeur's Cote d'Amour, which is all natural.

    ReplyDelete
  6. That is a beautiful painting.

    And I'm still wearing Rose Oudh by Kilian, when I'm in the mood:).

    ReplyDelete
  7. My fragrance list is long. When I find one I like I am usually faithful for a year or so then hunt for a new one. I secretly always wanted to have a "signature" scent. One that people would associate with me. But I've not stayed with one long enough. That being the case, my past fragrance affairs bring memories of time and place rushing back when I revisit them. Today it is 31 Rue Cambon and Bois Des Iles for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, I have that same push-pull thing with the signature scent. That 31 rue Cambon sounds like something I'd like and the descriptions of Bois Des Iles are intriguing as well.

      Delete
  8. I like perfume but with so scent sensitivities among people I know, sadly I seldom wear it. Sometimes I'll put a little dab on my nose so I can secretly luxuriate in it. The Hermes freebies are treasures! I just discovered them a couple of years ago. I used to wear men's cologne - I liked the tobacco bold spice scents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmmm, I've never tried dabbing any on my nose -- a direct route to happiness!

      Delete
  9. My mom was strictly Chanel No 5, and even though she passed away twelve years ago, I still have her last perfume bottle. I breathe in my mom, holding her hand that used to hold the same bottle, at my highest & lowest times. Some objects truly are priceless.

    Personally I use Chance, by Chanel as well. I suspect that I'm drawn to the brand because of my Mom. It's amazing what true sensory experiences can do for the retail industry, as well as for our mental health. :)

    robyn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for adding this comment about your memories of your mother, Robyn. That perfume bottle must really be a treasure -- makes me want to rush out and get my mom a bottle -- she always wore Chanel No.5 and Lanvin's Arpè, but I haven't noticed her wearing any this last while. It might be just the thing to prompt her failing memory . . .

      Delete
  10. So late to comment on this, but to my surprise I cannot summon any positive connections to perfumes. So many treasures in the natural world--sweet peas, sea air, the pungency of low tide, freshly mown grass, the hot dry crispness of a late summer meadow--and in the human world of baking and cooking and wood fires--and baby's heads and familiar love(r)'s pull. And again sweet peas! And infinitely more....

    Elle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Late or not, I'm always pleased to have your comments, Elle, especially this poetic one. What a litany of scents you've compiled here. With all these, one wonders why the need for perfume, but I still love the alchemy of a lyrical combination of fragrances. 'though nothing is more compelling than the scent of a baby's head.

      Delete
  11. Long ago I was a single scent girl, but in the last few years I seem to have become enamored of many scents. Each one is something I fall madly in love with and they all have strong associations for me, although not necessarily with places, some have very emotional connections, others represent a mood or a feeling to me. I may cycle through them and come back to them, and I can't imagine getting dressed without a touch of scent somewhere, although I am not sure if I pick the scent because of the mood I am in when I choose, or the mood of the scent affects my day. I think it is a little of both.

    At the moment I am madly in love with the newest riff on Eau de Merveilles, L'ambre des Merveilles and have pretty much worn it exclusively since I received a sample (and now I own a bottle). I haven't yet pinned down any association, just pure love. It starts out much fruitier and sweeter, strongly so but not overwhelmingly so, and then seemingly out of nowhere an hour or so later it starts to evolve into a magnificent spicy that can be austere or warm and inviting or with edges of both at once before settling into a long soft finish that is sometimes soft, sometimes fresh, but mostly reminds me of a long hug or holding hands with someone you love. This lasts a long time on me, the drydown hangs on all day and is still lingering when I wake up the next morning.

    There I guess I've pinned down my associations for this perfume in my mind: it is like a mental abstraction of love. First there is the overwhelming first flush, followed by the intense sexy bit, sometimes dry and abstract, at other times just warm spice, almost like a working out of boundaries before the long settling in when it becomes almost protectively refreshing, calming, steady and secure but not boring or bland.

    I was going to tell you about my summer perfumes, but I've already gone on and on.

    ReplyDelete
  12. What a marvelous piece of writing about perfume -- wonderfully thoughtful, analytical, and then surprisingly lyrical on the drydown (which has a long and lasting finish).
    I'm definitely going to ask for a sample of L'ambre.
    And I'd love to hear about your summer perfumes as well -- perhaps you might write a post on them at your place?

    ReplyDelete

I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...