Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Perfume of Contempt: Lancome Magie Noire

Magie Noire is difficult to talk about for several reasons:

1) It's so weird that you're unsure if it's actually supposed to smell like that or if your sample has gone off.

2) There's a good chance that it has gone off, because it's not a fragrance that seems to preserve well.

3) It was reformulated so many times even before the real heavy-hitting IFRA restrictions of the 00s that each iteration of it smells wildly different.

That said, I've owned roughly seven different bottles of Magie Noire over the years from many different eras, so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it. The really good stuff, that preserves the best and smells the most expensive, comes in the original orange and black bottle. It is a mind-blowing trip and should be smelled in 3-D under the influence of marijuana for maximum effect. It smells evil, and it's not just the marketing. It is disturbingly vegetal in the way that Yatagan is, but draped in feminine opulence-- stewing vegetables in an evening gown. Every real animalic in the book is present in large quantities, creating a rude honeyed dog foot effect. There is an addictive industrial gasoline cast to it all, like something it's unhealthy for you to be smelling.

 Magie Noire wasn't considered that glamorous or highbrow a fragrance in its day, which seems unbelievable to us now. It was common for suburban mothers to smell like this (what I'd give to go back and inhale that air...). It was sort of a knock-off less expensive Opium that places the resins and spices and musty mystery of that fragrance on the framework of the more prevalent sour green chypres of the 70s. It borrowed Opium's image of oriental languor and added to it a satanic angle, with dark, ghoulish, wonderful advertisements and a package design that incorporated foreboding hieroglyphs. Considering the recent ubiquitous popularity of putting satanic imagery and goats and pentagrams on everything, even clothing for unremarkable hipster good girls, Lancome was ahead.

The subsequent formulation with the black plastic mushroom cap is still excellent but seems slimmed down and cheapened. It is more peppery and conventionally woody, but still disturbing in its vegetable sourness. There is also a weird formulation packaged in a black plastic flask; do not buy this. Because of the cheap packaging, none of them have kept and they have all gone completely off. You will see reports of this anywhere there is talk of vintage Magie Noire.

After this it was briefly discontinued and brought back in a still-interesting version in a clear bottle that smells not unpleasantly like a drugstore knock-off. It's all sneezy black pepper and sour rose and, like everything else from the 80s that's still in production, doesn't have base notes to speak of. This version is still easy to come by and gives you a hint of what the real stuff was like, and it can be appreciated as a sort of "If you like Magie Noire, you'll love Sexy Magic" body spray.

As with Aromatics, I once thought Magie Noire was my signature scent. I spent untold dollars amassing vintage bottles of it on eBay to wear for the rest of my life. I quit wearing it cause I smelled like a lunatic. It makes an exciting appearance in Working Girl, the perfume-lover's dream movie. Melanie Griffith is sitting at Sigourney Weaver's vanity and applies extrait from the black and orange bottle.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Comme des Garçons EDP (1994)

"A perfume that works like a medicine and behaves like a drug."

The flagship  unisex Comme des Garçons fragrance was launched in 1994, the same year as unisex blockbuster CK One. I have never lived in New York and was born in 1987, but I like to imagine that I could've smelled a lot of CdG in avant-garde circles in the 90s in the way that fashion blogs mention Le Labo Santal 33 as the ubiquitous New York scent right now.

Comme des Garçons fragrances are famous for prominent cedar and incense, and these elements are present in the original under its overarching potpourri theme. The opening of CdG is a satisfyingly suffocating blast of cinnamon, clove, rose, and pepper that feels medicinal, like Tiger Balm. I would think that it was inspired by Diptyque's 1968 L'Eau, the original avant-garde unisex rich hippie potpourri fragrance. As time passes, the potpourri elements recede to the background and are overtaken by a sticky, intensely animalic honey. I usually don't see CdG mentioned as an animalic fragrance, but on me it is pornographic in anything but the coldest of weather. The honey is sticky, unclean, vaginal, anal--the smell of your upper lip after administering a rim job. It stays for hours.

The combination of dowdy references and pornography in CdG make it a perennial favorite for me. Perhaps it is my mental image of deconstructed, purposefully messy CdG clothing, but I feel like this is a very versatile everyday fragrance that's great when worn with sloppy normcore fashion. The brilliant print ad, with a woman on a NY street in a plain Guess sweatshirt brandishing the "uncommon object" bottle like a defense against the elements, a pomander against the plague, reinforces this image. Sometimes it can feel sticky and gross,like Angel, but other times it has a crispness that is just the thing. It functions well in heat and cold; in heat the honey comes out more quickly, and the potpourri sticks around longer in the cold. It is exceptional and still my favorite CdG perfume.

Forever Krystle

What's more boring than a queen doing a Judy Garland impression? 

A perfume blogger making a
Dynasty reference in a review of Giorgio or Poison. Here's my review of Forever Krystle by Charles of the Ritz from 2010. 

"My darling Krystle, I've had this fragrance created especially for you. I think it's as beautiful as you are. Every time you wear it, remember: I love you forever."

Imagine my excitement when I found a new bottle of this at a local pharmacy that also had a full display of Max Factor makeup from the seventies. I inquired about it and the pharmacist said that it had been sitting there since 1986...a year before I was born. He thought I was crazy when I bought it, but how could I not? I'm a huge Dynasty fan, and already have the nightmarish Linda Evans Rejuvenique facial toning system displayed proudly on my bookshelf.

It's about what I expected, meaning 80s drugstore, meaning still better than most of what is released for higher prices today. It's similar to Vanderbilt in that it's a loud, powdery vanilla rose, but what I like is the extreme muskiness of it. The composition feels to be about 50% musk, and a slightly foetid musk that they might not use anymore- it's certainly not detergent-like or clean-smelling at all.

Yes, it's gauche and cheap, but this is in keeping with the woman it's named after. I love that before Liz Taylor kicked off the celebrity perfume trend, this fragrance based on a soap opera character was released and garnered a faithful fan base. The commercial for it is a masterpiece of cheesecloth and syrupy sentiment. Now to seek out its male counterpart, Carrington--I bet it's lovely. Joan Collins also served as the face of Revlon's Scoundrel Musk and released her own fragrance, Spectacular, which is civety, powdery purple dupe of Elizabeth Taylor's Passion.

Incidentally, Krystle has much better taste on the show; it is mentioned several times that she wears Bal a Versailles, and at one point Alexis lures Blake to Rome, "bathed in Bal a Versailles," as she says, to seduce him away from Krystle.

Celebrate the love that lives forever.

Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs

Amazon recently put a ludicrous "trigger warning" before Tom and Jerry cartoons to comfort viewers who cannot handle the fact that all art and all people in the world have not always met the high standards of 2014 liberal propaganda. The "offensiveness" in question is the black mammy character. This rightfully irritated a lot of people, who were quickly shushed by think piece liberals who view any protest of political correctness as evidence that one is bigoted and racist and reactionary. While it's a good thing that the cartoons are still uncensored, I am definitively opposed to the framing of classic films with didactic apologies and excuses and explanations and trigger warnings. It poisons the mood and scolds the viewer into not laughing at things that were intended by the creators to be funny, because modern leftist academic arbiters of culture have decided that this is necessary. No sir, not for me.

Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs is a 1943 Merrie Melodies masterpiece directed by Bob Clampett. I have little interest in animation or anything intended for modern children, but I love Coal Black. It's one of the eleven Warner Brothers cartoons that was withdrawn from circulation in the 1968 because of its perceived offensiveness to blacks. Unlike many of the other Censored Eleven, which traffic in pickaninnies, big lips, and watermelon jokes, Coal Black is sophisticated, intelligent, hilarious, and technically marvelous. It is certainly one of the best black films to come out of Hollywood during the golden age, and it is remarkably ahead of its time.

Modern wimps feign shock and discomfort at Coal Black because it is a ghetto retelling of Snow White that uses darky iconography and jazz music. The same people get fidgety and uncomfortable at Ralph Bakshi's masterpieces of the 70s, Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin, because those feature not only darky stereotypes but hypersexualized, nipply females. The message, feeling, and artistic value don't matter to the politically correct; they just know that black people aren't supposed to be represented in cartoons with big lips.

I think what makes modern people object so strongly to films like Coal Black and Song of the South is the atmosphere of joy and exuberance and humor. They're uncomfortable with any film with black people that doesn't serve the sole purpose of subjecting white audience members to orgasmic race masochism and cultural guilt. Things as politically incorrect as Coal Black are popular in the present day, but they have to have been solely authored by a black person. Lee Daniels's Precious wallowed sadistically in campy black stereotypes--sexual depravity, laziness, fried chicken, morbid obesity--but it was framed as inspirational and uplifting so whites allowed themselves to enjoy it.

Bob Clampett said it best:

"In 1942, during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II, I was approached in Hollywood by the cast of an all-black musical off-broadway production called Jump For Joy while they were doing some special performances in Los Angeles. They asked me why there weren't any Warner's cartoons with black characters and I didn't have any good answer for that question. So we sat down together and came up with a parody of Disney's "Snow White" and "Coal Black" was the result. They did all the voices for that cartoon, even though Mel Blanc's contract with Warners gave him sole voice credit for all Warners cartoons by then. There was nothing racist or disrespectful toward blacks intended in that film at all, nor in Tin Pan Alley Cats which is just a parody of jazz piano great Fats Waller, who was always hamming into the camera during his musical films. Everybody, including blacks had a good time when these cartoons first came out. All the controversy about these two cartoons has developed in later years merely because of changing attitudes toward black civil rights that have happened since then."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Woman: Antichrist

Much has been made recently of Rose McGowan's comment in an interview with Bret Easton Ellis that gay men are misogynists.  Liberal faggots wrung their hands and attempted to deflect criticism of themselves by accusing McGowan of homophobia, a tactic that continues to look sillier and more censorious with each passing year as homosexuality is now pretty much universally  tolerated in America. Ellis himself is the subject of continual moral panics from liberals as he frequently says commonsense things that everyone thinks but has been trained out of saying out loud, so it is appropriate that McGowan felt she could be honest with him.

I'd imagine McGowan anticipated the ensuing kerfuffle, but then maybe she didnt; the media has been overwhelmingly preoccupied with the nebulous concept of "misogyny" for the entire year, and movie actresses are dubiously looked to as great minds, political leaders, dispersers of socially responsible leftist propaganda. Female celebrities that dare to publicly  refuse the feminist label are weeded out and subjected to intense criticism until they relent. The authors of apologist think pieces will attribute their mistake to an ignorance of the true nature of feminism and the unjust stigma attached to the word, listing ways that the woman in question is actually a feminist, against her will. If they are speaking of an outsider, a polarizing weirdo like Lana Del Rey who makes liberals bristle with her discomfiting visions of fetishistic, welcomed abuse that directly contradict the values of the Jezebel hive mind, they make fewer apologies.

What people are failing to realize is that feminism, in its earlier stages, did not differentiate between homosexual and heterosexual men when it came to discussing the male oppressor. Gay men were in fact a large and particularly devilish part of the threat, gravitating as they did to careers that trafficked in the aesthetics-obsessed bondage, enslavement, and critiquing of women, such as fashion and dance. This was the de facto feminist view of male homosexuality that lasted until the 1980s and the emergence of a militant, organized queer activist movement that took most of its cues from feminism and in doing so united women, people of color, and gays in the collective fight against a sole enemy: the straight white male. Millennials seem largely unaware that gays were ever historically considered part of the looming patriarchal male threat, barring the "check your privilege" meme of 2013, where liberals in comment feeds would attack the alleged "privilege" of those with opinions other than their own when they grew tired of articulating coherent arguments. This bit of acidic Uncle Tommery materialized on Jezebel earlier this year and hinted at what was inevitably to come.

McGowan was absolutely right: gay men are shockingly misogynistic. This is because homosexual men follow a markedly different life path than heterosexual men. Male homosexuals exist in the world of women in their developmental years. Typically second or third in a succession of more conventionally turned out siblings, they stick close to their mothers, who adore and coddle them and give them their first exposure to the glamorous accountrements of femininity that they will continue to fetishize as adults: high heels, dresses, makeup, perfume. In school the homosexual surrounds himself with female friends, who tend to be more intellectually driven and understanding of his nonconformity.

Before the pubescent kick-in of testosterone, straight boys seem dull, opaque, ill-mannered, unpleasantly associated with the systemic torture of sports. After puberty, the straight man cements himself as the eternal unattainable sexual ideal. The homosexual both wants to be the straight man and wants to sexually possess him. He will spend his life coping with this desire in a variety of ways: the fetish of  masculine "working man" signifiers and clothing, the pursuit of older men that resemble his  probably disapproving father, the masturbatory casting of himself in an Internet-driven drama of "masc" versus "femme." After he has accepted his deviant status, he will develop pride in it. In an important way, he is more masculine than all straight men combined: once he enters an actual gay community, he can isolate himself in a decadent brotherhood of men, untouched by the stabilizing, maturing influence of women. He can indulge himself in the aspects of women he finds interesting via transvestism and diva worship. These things are inherently misogynistic because they involve the worship of nonexistent women too perfect for this world, divorced of ugly physicality and murky reproductive function. This article from satirical site Christwire has a ring of uncomfortable truth. If this seems shocking, consider the way that lesbians tend to similarly branch off into an all-female world founded on physical disgust of men.

Are we in need of correction? I don't think so. The concept of "misogyny" is largely pointless to me, as behind it is an implication that there is something wrong with art that expresses the artist's hostilities towards women. The critiquing of art in this way is fine as long as it does not devolve into calls for censorship. Strangely, while critics are highly attuned to smaller surface signifiers of "misogyny" in film and literature--sexualized nudity, shrew archetypes, femme fatales--sometimes a film with an explicitly misogynist thesis evades criticism, perhaps out of disbelief that that's what a popular film could actually be about.  I'm thinking of Lars Von Trier's Antichrist.

Antichrist is so transparently about the perceived inherent evil of women that it is impossible for me to imagine anyone interpreting it as anything else. This may have something to do with the fact that it's regarded as a shock picture, a famous endurance test, and that it is a horror film that is more Bergman-arty than scary and thus leaves the typical horror viewer disappointed, bored, and distracted from the issue of what it might "mean." Von Trier has been attacked for misogyny because of the religiously tinged noble suffering of his heroines in Breaking the Waves, Dogville, and Dancer in the Dark but Antichrist, which literally classifies all women as Antichrists and biologically determined torturers of men, somehow doesn't enrage the politically correct in a similar way.

The plot of the film is that Charlotte Gainsbourg's character, who has been putting together a dissertation about the persecution of women throughout the ages, begins to believe that what she is reading is true and that women are inherently evil. After the death of her son, whom she is revealed to have deliberately crippled, she and her husband, Willem Dafoe, retreat to the cabin where she went to write. She gradually goes bananas and supernaturally summons the destructive forces of nature; her husband, a psychiatrist, continues to believe that she is grieving normally until she drives a grindstone through his leg, castrates him, and cuts off her clitoris in front of him in guilt. Nature is on her side in the form of some ominous woodland creatures that rat Dafoe out when he tries to hide from his her. Dafoe eventually succeeds in strangling her and seems on the verge of escape, but an army of faceless women are seen descending upon him in the final shot.

It is evident from the interviews and press materials accompanying Antichrist that Von Trier was terrified of bringing something this inflammatory to the screen. He did not seek out actors; the perverts came to him.  Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe are both notorious for their seeming desire to appear in as many sexually depraved, disturbing roles as possible. Von Trier insisted that his actors not ask him about the "meaning" of what they were making. He knew full well the risks of releasing a work that indulged in all the "misogynist" myths, linking woman with a cruel, biologically deterministic vision of nature, having her literally and figuratively cripple the men in her life, and topping the entire thing off with a sensational and ambiguous one-word title that would lead viewers to believe it would be about a more conventional, less politicized kind of Hollywood devil. While the film got a big reaction for its misogyny at Cannes, American reviewers seemed more focus on the gore and shock aspects of it than its message. It became very popular because it was so undeniable.

Von Trier followed Antichrist with two films that were comparatively gentle about women, Melancholia and Nymphomaniac. Both feature sympathetic, unconventional female leads that seem more obviously to be surrogates of Von Trier himself. I view this progression as evidence of his guilt and effort to apologize, in his own way, for the implications of Antichrist.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Perfume of Contempt: Thierry Mugler Angel

Here is my review of Angel from 2010. There isn't much more to say about it. Like Aromatics, Angel's impact has been dulled by reformulation. I refilled my bottle a year ago and what I was given was about 6/10 the strength of what I had purchased the first time. The patchouli is greatly reduced, probably because market researchers look at reviews online and notice that idiots consistently complain about patchouli--Britney Spears Believe, formerly a budget favorite of mine, seems to have met a similar fate and had the patchouli completely removed.  Interestingly, however, Angel smells more unclean than ever, like the reorchestration has been done to emphasize its sticky, popsicle at the bottom of a trashcan, garlicky armpit qualities.  I'd recommend the body cream over the current EDP because its patchouli is green and vibrant and out of this world. 

It's summer, and you know what that means? I'll be wearing gigantic orientals, their sillage amplified by a quarter inch of sweat. It's considered gauche to wear loud fragrances in summer, but I completely disagree; all the big orientals--Youth-Dew, Opium, Angel--seem positively designed for this kind of sweltering provocation. A good layer of sweat really brings out their come hither, you big man qualities. Speaking of Angel, I think it might have surpassed Youth-Dew as my all-time favorite perfume. I got my star refilled at Nordstrom last week for the nice price of $45 and I've been wearing it continuously for the past week. It's just such an endlessly fascinating and disturbing fragrance, and it's impossible to categorize or understand.

It was released in '92, well into the onset of what Chandler Burr calls the "anorexic oceanics of the 1990s," yet it is a throbbing, room-filling fuck-off power-woman scent in the 80s Opium-Poison-Giorgio style. It straddles the line between male and female despite being intended for and worn mainly by women; an ultra-femme pink cotton candy note is strangled to death before your eyes by a virile, throaty patchouli. It is one of the most successful perfumes in history and is available at Wal-Mart but it does not in any way comply with the American imperative to smell "clean"--in fact, it smells positively raunchy, as though body odor and sweet musky shit-stained panties were layered with rotting fruit and topped off with a post-apocalyptic stripper pole. Its advertising is counter-intuitive and designed to distract potential customers from what it actually smells like; the packaging is light blue when the juice smells a sinister glittery brown. Sales associates will inform dimwitted women that it smells of chocolates and sweets when it actually smells of death and the infinite beyond. Ad copy refers to the "tender notes of Angel" and "memories of Thierry Mugler's childhood"; Angel wearers clearly lost their innocence long ago and now confront everyone they meet with the olfactory tenderness of snorting jagged shards of blue sugar glass.

Angel is worn equally by conservative women (allegedly it is the signature scent of both Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton) and women of the night (numerous sources have told me of its popularity among erotic dancers). And it was a huge hit! More disturbing is the nicotine-like addiction that Angel induces in the wearer, necessitating the purchase of hundreds of bizarrely named ancillary products ("Celestial Showers Gel"? "Perfuming Hair Mist"?) in an effort to preserve the scent on skin for the rest of your lifetime. The addictive part of Angel, the really good part, is that first blast of body odor and rotten fruit that fades within a few minutes, so the wearer is forced to continually reapply to get that kick. The more you wear it, the more you become anosmic to it, so you keep putting on layer upon layer upon layer, achieving a Baby Jane-like flaking pancake makeup effect and making you smell truly filthy, truly like you have been living on the streets and selling your unclean body for weeks. As Anais Reboux says to Roxane Mesquida at the beginning of Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl, "You reek of loose morals."

They have soda fountain-style refill stations at all major department stores, for Christ's sake. I indulge in dreams of taking foot-tall Slurpee cups to Nordstrom and demanding that an effete, tittering male sales associate fill them to the brim, at gunpoint. How on earth did you get away with it, Mugler? Around the time of its release, sales associates were instructed to forcefully spray it on the arms of confused women, look directly in their trembling eyes, and tell them, mantra-like, "This is a fragrance for a unique woman.No one else will smell like this. A unique, uncompromising woman would wear this.It is unlike anything else." I'm not kidding, this is how it became a success. They still talk like that at the department stores, too, when they find out you're an Angel fan, in the thick, lascivious tone of a depraved Madame speaking to a whorehouse patron with particularly exotic, violent, and possibly illegal sexual tastes. They'll spray you with the latest seasonal version ("Angel Soleil au Fraiche Summer Fraicheur Energizing Oil Cream" or some such nonsense, available for a limited time only) and hold your arm with their lacquered dragon talons, hissing that there are lots of people out there who like Angel and you needn't feel guilty or immoral for it. And it was a huge hit!

One of my best friends who happens to be a mortician told me an amazing and frightening story. While preparing a corpse for its funeral, she was handed a bottle of Angel and instructed to spray it all in and around the coffin because it was the deceased's favorite scent. Angel, which already smells of death, follows its wearers to the grave.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Perfume of Contempt: Clinique Aromatics Elixir

How does a man go from proclaiming a fragrance to be his favorite, his life essence, for years depleting large bottles with alarming frequency, to a total purge and bitter dismissal of it? Aromatics and I had a torrid Last Tango in Paris love affair, if you could call it love. This is the story of my sadomasochistic obsession with her.

I purchased my first bottle of Aromatics Elixir from Sephora in 2008, along with my first bottle of Angel, another Perfume of Contempt that has since distanced itself from me with reformulation. Aromatics had gotten my attention because my friend Monica told me it smelled like dirty pussy.  After one sniff of the tester bottle, which gave the impression of patchouli and vinegar, I purchased 100 Ml and took it out to the car, where I sprayed a bunch on my arm. If you think the current stuff is strong, you should smell what it used to be like. It famously comes out of the bottle with a disturbing and addictive vinegar astringence that immediately renders you unable to smell it or anything else. 

There is a massive sour, soapy floral accord with jasmine, rose, and all the usual players petrified in a highly synthetic aldehydic chemical spill that prevents it from ever smelling natural. The chypre base smells how all the Estee Lauders used to smell when they had access to as much oakmoss as they wanted, with a distinctive dry, powdery "Lauderaide" that ran through all of them from Youth-Dew to Knowing but with a pronounced marijuana effect. Aromatics has a gorgeous, rich patchouli, which is the only thing that smells natural in this perfume that ironically was marketed to appeal to the first wave of hippies clamoring for "green" products.

Estee Lauder created Clinique as the 70s-spirited "natural" branch of her cosmetics empire. Its phony Francophile name, like the pseudonym Josephine Esther Mentzer gave herself, was conjured for a sense of European glamour and authority. The employees were made to wear white lab coats in a  charade of medical seriousness. Pristine still-life photographs by Irving Penn were used as advertisements and solidified the chic minimalism of the products. The products themselves were hyped for their lack of fragrances and suitability for allergic people. It's a lovely irony, then, that Clinique launched as its flagship one of the strongest perfumes of all time, which has a reputation for inducing severe allergic reactions in the perfume sensitive.

Aromatics (the "Elixir" part of its name was added later) was marketed as an early form of aromatherapy and capitalized on the hippie fashion for single-note oils of patchouli and musk. Its first print ads were psychedelic sketches of a Cher "Half Breed" type in solitary D.H. Lawrence communion with nature, a  popular 70s aesthetic that was also used for Clairol Herbal Essence shampoo and Eve cigarettes. Aveda, also launched in the 70s and later purchased by Lauder, appealed to a similar demographic, and is known for its products' distinctive Aromatics-like essential oil fragrances. A diluted companion cologne for men, Aramis 900, was released soon after. Customers have always complained about how strong Aromatics, sold only in a bluntly named, skunky "Perfume Spray" concentration, is, so Clinique salespeople were told to tell people it was meant to be sprayed and walked through, a method still proselytized by flibbertigibbets who are frightened of being noticed for their fragrance. 

My first real experience actually  wearing Aromatics was in a film editing class at community college that took place in a small computer lab. I used about ten sprays of it, that was just the way I did things then. The nebbish professor looked sick mid-lecture and excused himself to go out to the hall. A Perfume of Contempt had been born. During my four or five years wearing Aromatics I got many compliments, mostly from those who liked patchouli, incense, and pot. After my first bottle there was a big change, and I began hearing comments about bug spray. Because of the reduced presence of oakmoss or the replacement of treemoss or whatever they did to it, it never entirely settled on skin, just got sourer and sourer.

I told myself that it was still great, but I was in denial. I also steadfastly denied that it gave me a dull throbbing headache, even when worn in minuscule amounts, for years. Monica said that the original Herbal Essence shampoo, with its nefarious cocktail of chemicals masquerading as Garden of Eden naturalness, would strip your hair down to a straw-like texture, and it felt like Aromatics was doing this to my mind. Nonetheless, I went through four large bottles of it in as many years, two pots of body cream, one tube of lotion, one tube of body wash, one solid perfume, and three candles. My self-image was deeply entwined with Aromatics and its 70s strangeness. One of my crowning achievements was when a boyfriend bought his own bottle and wore it in lament even after I had broken up with him, to the consternation of all other faggots he encountered.

Then one day I just grew out of it. I'd been wearing "old lady" perfumes that repelled men for so many years and had such a schizophrenic fragrance identity that I thought it was time to wear things that might make me more approachable and wouldn't make me feel vaguely ill. I pared down my collection to essentials and shockingly kept no Lauders, almost all of which I had owned and worn for years. I also had to finally admit that Aromatics had been destroyed by reformulation. It's still an interesting perfume and worth smelling as the most intact ghost of classical French chypre perfumery still available in department stores, despite its American origins. With the ban of essential ingredients, however, Clinique has seemingly streamlined it into a more conventional rose-patchouli accord in the Coco Mademoiselle realm while maintaining an approximation of the vinegar astringence Aromatics is known for. Like most reformulations, it just refuses to sit comfortably on skin because of its weak base notes.

Aromatics has always appealed to women who are a little off, a little different, a little perverted: art teachers, French teachers, hippies. It inspires dogmatic loyalty in its users in the way Angel does, and when you meet another Aromatics lover it's like meeting another member of your secret coven. You instantly know more about each other than many people who've known each other all their lives.

Aromatics and I learned dark things about ourselves through each other while it lasted, though. We went right up into the ass of death. She wanted to kill me by the end. She was going to shoot me, claim self-defense, and say that I'd raped her, but I got away. I have passed her on the street, but it took me a minute to realize who she was.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Perfume of Contempt: A Manifesto

Perfume of Contempt is a column that will explore perfumes that signify the wearer is an antisocial deviant.

Early on in my perfume evolution I started telling people I enjoyed fragrance's ability to shock, to defy expectations of propriety and manners and gender.  The more of everything the better, I said. At that time I was into wearing copious, layered amounts of Youth-Dew and Bal a Versailles in Texas summer heat. I didn't have a job so I'd sit out on the lawn in a Speedo with a pot of Youth-Dew body cream and no sunscreen (I got a melanoma at twenty-three) and marinate while reading Estee Lauder's great lie-filled memoir, Estee: A Success Story. This was 2008, so men still felt obligated to wear American Apparel deep V-necks, a garment more unflattering and bizarre than the much maligned shoulder pads of the 1980s.  The deep V, on fat guys, gave you saggy, pointy little tits while clinging to and emphasizing your glob of underarm tit fat, right under your pit stains.  The neckline didn't stay in place--men were not likely to buy J.Lo Versace dress tit tape to alleviate this problem--so the shirt rode up over your shoulders, giving you a creepy boat neck and the illusion of poor posture and a humpback. It also made your flabby arms look extra frail and ghoulishly feminine, and if you had a limp wrist it would highlight that as well; your limp wrist would automatically spring up to tit level and it would be more apparent.  The idea of the deep V was to give off an air of mid-00s Brooklyn and electroclash and that ugly shaved-pube twink androgyny that was the ideal for most at the turn of the century. This was what I looked like when I was layering Youth-Dew bath oil, body cream, deodorant, and powder and whore-bathing in Bal a Versailles, so the overall effect must have been quite disturbing, like some prematurely aged, spooky gay uncle.

One time a female friend set me up on a date to see Antichrist with a big bad tattoo-scene white guy who had the whole National Geographic native negro deal, big disc jewelry shoved into split lips and every inch of his face covered in black ink and some deeply buried, probably sexual personal tragedy in his past.  "He's the type of guy where your mom would flip her shit if she saw him," my friend told me excitedly. I wore whatever my butchest clothes were but I still anointed myself with the full spectrum of Youth-Dew body products like a sociopath. I met the guy briefly at his tattoo parlor and he looked perplexed and a little embarrassed. We did not end up seeing Antichrist, and I never talked to him again.

The first time I was asked directly about my reasons for wearing antisocial amounts of unfashionable "old lady" perfumes was by an aging (thirty-two) faggot hipster alcoholic I was dating, who blogged about drinking the urine of strangers of the street, drank Skohl vodka all day, and was a pathological liar who told people he knew Quentin Tarantino and had dropped out of Harvard.  "Why do you wear so much? Is it cause you hate people?" he asked me pointedly one day, trying to make me angry.  He wore tasteful amounts of Fahrenheit and Nemat Egyptian Musk.

"No!" I reacted defensively. "It's because I find them beautiful and don't believe perfume has a gender."  I'd gotten into perfume through the Turin/Sanchez guide like everyone else and this was the big revolutionary thesis of it. I knew that I was extreme in my choices, but I viewed it as transforming myself into walking installation art. Regardless of whether people liked how I smelled, great and interesting art would be forced on them. It was (and is) an olfactory privilege for anyone to be in my vicinity, because they were not going to smell this stuff anywhere else in their lifetime.

The man might've been full of shit in all other areas but he was onto something here.  In a potent bit of symbolism, he was also the first person to purposefully fart in my face while I rimmed him.  It wasn't until some time later that I realized that yes, I did wear perfume because I hated people. This wasn't the whole story, of course, but it was the facial fart of awakening I needed to begin exploring the psychology of my Obsession ("Oh, the smell of it!").

I wore these fragrances because they were beautiful (or ugly) wearable art that gave meaning to my day and could shape my identity and the perception of me in important ways. I also wore them because I had a stubborn reactionary nostalgia and fascination with the past, with the evolution of social customs and the propriety of scent and the power dynamics involved. Big scent personalities were once exalted, were the rulers of the space. I have some memories of the smell of public spaces in the 80s when I was a small child, the cigarettes and the electrifying fog of perfume that left little room for air.  It was incredible. My whole life has felt like an attempt to recapture that smell and throw it in the face of those who are so adaptable and welcoming to insidious change, to the transition from defiant scent personalities to "seen and not smelled" liberal puritanism and piety. 

I am the first writer to dare link fragrance bans and the censure of scent to the spread of victim-worshiping liberalism and political correctness, but to me it is obvious cause and effect. At the heart of liberalism is a trust in bureaucracy and regulation and an obsession with victims, real or self-appointed. Unaccustomed to anyone having a personal scent, modern Americans make a fuss over perfume and throw around lies about being allergic, immediately casting themselves in a tragic narrative of victim and oppressor. They transmute the behavior they have learned from smoking bans to any scent that is voluntary, that is being emitted willfully by another person. With smoking bans, society has given people permission to be assholes about it and make a big production of how what once was tolerated with complete indifference is ruining their life.  This is because the self-appointed politically correct victims of today worship this kind of control.

There is a class struggle involved with scent. Socially responsible college-educated upper-middle-class people are not supposed to have a strong smell, out of concern for possible victims. Strong scents are ironically associated with the lower classes that liberals worship from a safe distance.  One might be wearing perfume as a "cover-up" of actual dirt because of a lack of access to a shower! Take a look at any perfume forum; they teem with this class paranoia, that someone might mistake clean, upper-class fragrance  use with a low-class person covering up actual dirtiness. A story about a grisly encounter with a particular plebeian, popular perfume that the masses have access to will be recounted; the storyteller will say how they were confronted with someone on the subway once, a dirty person, whose human filth could be smelled under a cloud of Eternity or Red Door or Angel. The perfume in question is always ruined for them forever.

Whenever there is a manufactured controversy resulting from "cultural appropriation," a ridiculously broad and sensational definition of rape, or a celebrity making an insensitive comment, the instigators feed off of moralistic control they are enjoying. When one comes to this point of the discussion about the propriety of perfume, it is usually required that you amend the harshness of your argument with a sort of "seeing all sides" apology to those who are authentically allergic. I'm not going to do that, because I don't care. I will always champion the art against the oversensitive, the easily offended, and the allergic.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lena Dunham is an Exhibitionist Pervert Visionary

Lena Dunham is the greatest new filmmaker in at least a decade. She's abhorred by liberals and  conservatives alike--mostly liberals--and the attraction of hostility from both sides of the political spectrum is almost invariably a sign of great art.

When Tiny Furniture came out it was popular to dismiss Dunham in a sexist fashion with words like "twee" because she was a girl and had tattoos and Boho friends and the marketing of the film and the word "tiny" in the title made it appear sort of cute. Boring people on Criterion Collection forums, the people that have thought it novel to complain about the presence of Armageddon in the collection for nigh on two decades with no sign of stopping, pitched a righteous fit when Tiny Furniture was made part of the collection. It was smartly packaged in a case that created continuity with Criterion's edition of Fassbinder's BRD Trilogy--square close-ups of the heroine's faces, and in Dunham's case, with a subtly unflattering pixellation effect. I stupidly fell in line with this brand of thinking until I actually watched Tiny Furniture, was blown away, and proceeded to re-watch it four more times that week.

I immediately knew myself to be in the presence of an outsider, a rebel thinker, a true nonconformist. Tiny Furniture was fresh and addictive because it wasn't asking any of the questions movies about girls normally ask and its conflicts were not located in places the viewer would expect. The Dunham surrogate in this case, Aura, did not register as particularly spoiled or insensitive or pathetic to me, as the media characterized her. She was someone real that I wanted to know, someone cool, as were her friends. I certainly wanted to "take an Ambien and watch Picnic at Hanging Rock or Christiane F." with them. Aura was literary and cultured in an effortless way. She could handle being around men and fetishized the sort of masochistic interactions that unimaginative feminists would be frightened of, while making all of the men in the movie realistically disappointing and flaky. When the hipster deadbeat chef Aura works with begins talking about cum omelettes and tentacle rape, Aura laughs good-naturedly and seems turned on. Conversation of this sort, seen through the eyes of lesser feminists, is usually present to bludgeon the audience with the artist's notion of the inherent "badness" and "creepiness" of men. Jemima Kirke's character, Charlotte, has a great speech about embracing the more disturbing aspects of sexuality:

“When I was sixteen, I was absolutely in love with this man. I was head over heels. One time, we were in Soho, and we broke into this residential park, and it was raining, and it was so romantic, and I was so sure he’d kiss me, and then he just reached over, and he just grabbed my cunt, and I was really traumatized, and I was super sad for a long time after that, and then one day I just got over it, and I realized that that’s what you call spontaneous.”

There was also the issue of Dunham's purposefully sloppy appearance, which has been talked to death. Everyone has it wrong. Liberals champion her for beating the audience over the head with images of a "real" woman's body, framing her work in the context of insipid body positivity campaigns by Dove and Hanes.  This is a reductive and silly reading, typical of citizens trained by dour leftist academy to read "decapitation" and "gang rape" and "dismemberment" into advertising images of thin women. Conversely, conservatives tend to just dislike her because they consider her ugly, and they Twitter-harass her accordingly. What none of these people understand is that Lena Dunham is a pervert exhibitionist in the manner of Madonna. On my first viewing of Tiny Furniture, I was fascinated by my inability to properly categorize her style; she wasn't Mary-Kate-and-Ashley Boho like her friend Jemima Kirke.  There was something specifically trashy and whorey about her but not in the usual "hip" interpretations of those concepts. This is most notable in the scene where she is preparing for her job interview and chooses to wear raccoon eyes and enormous hoop earrings, the sort which weren't remotely fashionable, ironic or otherwise, in 2011. She looked authentically cheap and slatternly and seemed to enjoy rubbing it in the audience's face, highlighting it by framing herself in the pristine, spacey 2001 modernity of her mother's apartment in Cinemascope widescreen. Her physical presence is such that people walking through the room as a Dunham production is on the television will recoil and make a fuss, just from seeing her for a moment. My mother, who has watched and enjoyed all of Girls with me, still moans during every episode that she wishes Dunham would wear some makeup. Leftists are trained out of expressing things like this directly, but their hostility comes out in other ways.

For three years, Dunham has been the subject of wild moral panics instigated by the left. The reaction to her from conservatives has been relatively subdued--they dislike her for being a liberal pro-choice feminist symbol and that has been the extent of it.  The left, however, has conjured a continuous stream of shrill controversies on the level of what Marilyn Manson attracted from Christian evangelicals in the 90s, but with added heft and staying power because of the insidious viral aggregation of news stories and opinions that is unique to the age of social media. Jezebel, largely responsible for the popularization during the last decade of 70s-style militant second-wave feminism via their lacquering of its tired "rape culture" formula and victim obsession with a glaze of au courant Daria sarcastic smugness, led the crusade by constructing a straw man argument about how Dunham's white privilege and the absence of a Burger King Kid's Club-style ethnically diverse cast meant the show was both worthless and racist.  This agenda was transparently driven by the sour grapes of the Jezebel-Gawker writers, who are members of Dunham's general  demographic but lack her artistic prowess and capability for transgressive vision. This mattered little, because the race card had been played.  The received opinion among liberals (men and minorities in particular) was that Dunham was a twee spoiled racist unworthy of their attention. None of this criticism would ever have befallen a man, but that was beside the point.  For those that actually watched the show, there was something off about it, something bothersome. They might admire Dunham's commitment to body positivity and abortion and various leftist causes, but why did she have to be so unlikable in her execution? Why the unflinching focus on aberrant, miserable sex, which contrasted sharply with the Babysitter's Club way the show was marketed?

The second season of Girls addressed these controversies in a defiant way. A black Republican boyfriend was added to the cast and pointedly disposed of, after Hannah subtly breaks the fourth wall while fucking him, telling the audience that "this is what [they] wanted." Her nudity became so relentless it achieved a surrealistic quality when Hannah was shown wandering the streets pantsless in an oversized "Life is Good" T-shirt; even her supporters could be heard constantly saying that they'd "gotten the point" and that they didn't want to see her naked anymore (I, of course, loved it, and hope the nudity becomes even more pervasive).  Most significant, however, was when Dunham slyly toyed with liberal feminist notions of rape in "On All Fours," the penultimate episode of the season.  Adam, a character who has been the embodiment of brutal, uncontrollable, alluring male sexuality since the beginning, got drunk and fucked his new (thin, conventionally pretty) girlfriend played by Shiri Appleby in a way that would read as degrading to the anti-porn feminists of the 80s. He licks her ass against her will (she says that it's dirty), tosses her around, and comes on her tits. She expresses that she didn't like it and looks jarred. This is brilliantly crosscut with a Polanski-esque parallel plotline where Hannah ruptures her eardrum with a Q-tip, and the effect, particularly when it was actually airing and had not been talked to death, was truly thunderous.

The Internet reacted in bafflement. Liberal women thought that Dunham was making a party-line point about rape that would be explored in the next episode and screeched at anyone that thought that what the show depicted was ordinary bad sex. They were proven wrong when, in the season finale, Adam the "rapist" and Hannah reunited in the most conventionally romantic scene of the series. These are buttons of orthodoxy that only the truly rebellious have the desire to push. It was a provocation, not an accident. Girls has the kind of split appeal that Paul Morrissey's Trash/Flesh/Heat trilogy has--Morrissey is a social conservative that was operating with the specific aim of making Warhol's coterie and the hippie generation at large look depraved, stupid, and unappealing, but the films have a camp sensibility and homoerotic transgressiveness and an association with Warhol and "coolness" that attract the left.  Some social conservatives even like Girls because it depicts the promiscuous lifestyle of urban millennials as dreary, disease-ridden, spiritually bankrupt, and miserable.

Since Girls' inception, I noticed that Dunham remained relatively silent about the content of the show and her intent. She is adept with handling press and remains admirably stoic in the face of continuous criticism. Because of the relentless attacks from liberals, however, she has cultivated a social media presence that seems to have nothing to do with her art and feels like it is curated by someone else. On it, she curries the favor of the liberals that despise her or like her work for the most facile of reasons and issues robotic pronouncements that appeal to the left's lowest common denominator. She has fashioned herself an ill-fitting identity as establishment feminist symbol and Democratic party operative, releasing a series of "Rock the Vote"-type awareness ads that are rightfully ridiculed and seem to resonate with no one. Her leftist lesbian sister Grace, whom I've always thought was an insidious influence on Dunham and who ironically is the reason for Dunham's current "sexual abuser" ill fame, encouraged her to turn her book tour into a partnership with Planned Parenthood and a "place for women to share their stories."  I recoiled when I saw the tour positively described as a "chatty feministy party" somewhere, wondering how the maker of something like Girls could be responsible for such an atrocity. She was not always like this, as I recall reading not long ago that she was a registered independent (but was now proud to identify as a Democrat). Her hatred of men, which is abundantly obvious from both her filmed work and her book and which I have no problem with, is mobilized in the form of feminist tweets about the stupidity of men, how her castrated feminist boyfriend is the only man she likes, how "creepy" and "rapey" all vestiges of male sexuality are. I have no problem with man-hating in her work, just as I have no problem with so-called "misogynist" art that expresses the artist's negative feelings about women, but in the context of Dunham's Stepford Wife Twitter presence and passed off as feminism, it's annoying and alienating to much of her audience.

Since the release of Duhnam's excellent memoir Not That Kind of Girl, there have been two media talking points, and both involve the current popular obsession with "rape culture." The first was that a story in the book about a gray area bad sex situation of the type depicted on Girls was reported as Dunham "coming out as a rape survivor" by the media. Nowhere in the story does she say she was raped, but she silently went along with this media reading of the event, which coincided in a timely fashion with the tireless left-wing hysteria over rape on college campuses. The other controversy was set in motion by Kevin D. Williamson in National Review and ironically utilized leftist/feminist "rape culture" dogma to assert that Dunham molested her sister when she was seven, based on a passage where she looks in and touches Grace's vagina paired with a joke about being a "sexual predator." I had guffawed at the boldness of this passage when I read the book but I didn't imagine that it would come back to get her, focused as the media was on her new status as "rape survivor." I read the Williamson article before it was aggregated and turned into a big thing and greatly enjoyed it because it was trashing my idol in a new and original way, and because it gave Dunham a taste of her own leftist medicine. I've resented that she only cares what Jezebel types think of her, her casual dismissals of men, and her constant framing of her work as some sort of exclusive club for women only.

I instantly knew what Williamson, who hates Dunham for his erroneous perception of her as a universally beloved liberal symbol, was doing: lobbing a bomb at her that would turn the left against her using its own nonsensical ideology. It worked, and the Internet has been aflutter with anti-rape activists taking Williamson's insincere accusations with leaden seriousness, as they take everything, because none of them know the source of the controversy and few of them have read the book themselves. Even those defending her are investing their words with a wildly silly "Perhaps we should investigate these events further" air of sensitivity and seriousness and concern. Her brief response in Time was abysmal and missed the point; she merely apologized to rape victims for using the phrase "sexual predator" as a joke. The problem is that she's a radical artist, and the left with its dogma does not understand this, or want to. Her vision of human sexuality is infinitely more realistic, sophisticated, funny, politically incorrect, and complex than liberal censors will allow. She is so mired in her identification with corrupt establishment feminist ideology and rich East Coast liberalism that she cannot see (or will not state)the injustice in this situation beyond her having possibly offended rape activists. She should have told everyone that if they think small children touching genitals is an example of sexual "abuse" worthy of investigation that they are idiots.  She should have told them that anyone who doesn't admit to doing strange sexual things as a child is plainly a liar with selective amnesia and no understanding of human nature or sexuality. Sadly, few have the courage to say this, even fewer who identify themselves as liberals and thus must kowtow to the ideological whims of anti-sex, anti-art, anti-man Puritans or else be publicly shamed and defamed. In the present climate, all it takes is one nutcase arbitrarily framing a "creepy" sexual behavior or incident as abuse for it to become an unquestionable fact. The victim-obsessed see abuse everywhere, want to see it everywhere. Lena Dunham and most people my age are still fighting an outdated battle of left (good) versus right (evil). Having become politically aware during the big bad Bush administration, millennials cannot conceptualize or identify the signs of totalitarianism from the left.

Dunham's work is sadly bereft of references to perfume and I'd imagine she doesn't wear anything--socially responsible progressive young people are mortified of fragrance and especially prone to psychosomatic reactions to it. A small square bottle of something that looks fleeting, expensive, and natural is seen on the bathroom counter in Tiny Furniture.  In Girls, Marnie is the only character stated to have a smell, and this is used to mock her and point out how square and fake and repressed she is, something Dunham subtly does to Allison Williams in interviews; in one commentary, Dunham says how perplexed she is that Williams "still smells like vanilla" after a long, sweaty work day. As for Williams's character, Ray tells her rudely in the first season that she's making the coffee shop smell like a Bath and Body Works and to get out.  The familial origins of Marnie's abundant use of fragrance are seen when her mother, even more extreme than Marnie, lights an abundance of scented candles to fumigate her new apartment and Marnie comments that it "smells like Sephora," that it's too much even for her. Adam makes a reference to being disturbed by Marnie's perfume. I'm sure he and Hannah are an especially dirty, gross, "natural" couple. Imagine what their bedroom smells like.