Having never given perfume much (if any) thought, I went down the fragrance wormhole in Christmas 2019 when I came across the Bois de Jasmin blog. Since Covid-19 hit the UK in March 2020, I’ve been scouring eBay for secondhand bottles, obsessively reading, sniffing, and compiling wish lists.
I keep questioning myself about this pastime. Surely I can find something more productive to do with my time and money than buying, smelling, reading and writing about perfume? Shouldn’t I should be campaigning, protesting, or exercising instead?
However, the longer covid-19 drags on, and the more depressing and surreal our predicament becomes, I have changed my mind.
I think whatever we can do right now that makes us happy, matters.
I think focusing on experiences that are beautiful, pleasurable, transient, and outside of ourselves is a good thing.
I love culture and the arts. I love cinemas, museums, galleries, history, heritage, books, TV shows, podcasts, photography, theatres, live music, comedy shows, festivals, pubs, shopping, fashion, design, restaurants. I am scared that many of the things we love – that add colour and make life worth living – won’t survive covid-19, or won’t recover fully, and that we will lose huge chunks of our cultural infrastructure. The boredom, anxiety and isolation of lockdown for many is bearable partly because we have access to books, music, and films, or can cook a delicious meal. This experience really hammers home the essential humanity of arts and culture. Science preserves life, but the arts make it worth living. At the same time that people turn to the arts for escapism and reassurance, these sectors are being absolutely hammered. Businesses and organisations fighting for survival, people losing their income, theatres, pub, film shoots closed down.
The more I learn about perfume, I can understand why perfumers and fans describe it as an art form. It is an incredibly complex and skilled task to create a beautiful scent, meld it with product and visual design (bottles, advertising) to create a coherent sensory landscape, and then launch it into the market.
Perfume is a small scale, intensely personal, portable piece of art. In a way, it is a perfect art form for lockdown. You can enjoy it quietly by yourself. When you are bouncing off the walls in your home, or going for yet another walk round the same local park you know inside out, you can at least change your perfume to suit your mood, or have an extra cheering spritz. You can choose a dramatic, over the top perfume to wear when you take the bins out, pick something bright and sassy for a video call, or ponder in detail the scent you will wear on your first proper night out When Things Are Back to Normal, with dancing and hugging and everything. Why the fuck not?
A really good perfume can open up a little imaginary world just for you. Many will leave you cold, are boring, and just smell ‘like perfume’, but some are intriguing, rich and complex. They can bring up memories, emotions and sensations, remind you of colours and experiences. When I enjoy a good perfume, it feels like reading a poem, seeing a painting, a photograph, or watching a scene from a film. I love how exploring a new scent and reading about its history and components opens up so many references, to history, art, psychology, and the natural world.
The name of my blog is an adaptation of Nirvana’s lesser known tune about Smells. The song was inspired by Cobain’s favourite book, Patrick Süskind’s bizarre disquieting and addictive 1985 book Perfume; later a passable film adaptation.
I don’t use ‘old lady’ as a fragrance descriptor. It is unimaginative, and sexism and ageism piss me off. Furthermore, from reading the online perfume community’s collective mourning of scents from the 1920s to the 1980s that have been discontinued or reformulated, I gather old ladies used to smell pretty rad. I heard one podcaster complaining that she hates Chanel No. 5, it is like “being smothered to the bosom of a desperate 50 something divorcee trying to seduce the pool boy to assure herself that she’s still got it”. Well, I hope that divorcee did indeed shag her pool boy, and they both had a great time.