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.


  1. I'm so glad you posted a link to this blog on your Fragrantica profile! I have never thought about the class dimension of perfume that you have analyzed here -- really great stuff.

  2. Thank you, Clancy! I'm glad you found it interesting.

  3. I can't stop reading your blog. I found you on Fragrantica. But 32 is not "aging". The smell of the 80s you mention was what the whole world used to smell like from the time I was born. I just walked by an art school where, naturally, everyone was smoking and it smelled fantastic. I still smoke because that's what artists do. Realistically it was the cigarette smoke that made strong perfume acceptable or even necessary. Aromatics Elixir was fantastic; I couldn't believe how strong it was when I first smelled it at Sephora although I must've walked by a Clinique counter a thousand times as a child and should have known. I think Daisy Fellowes said it best when somebody asked "why do you sleep with married men?" And she answered "to annoy their wives". It can be very satisfying. But I often make myself sick, which is a problem. Many scents were never acceptable from the Get-go, Polo and Poison first and foremost, which isn't to say they weren't popular, because they were. Polo was inescapable. Being a teenager in the 80s it smelled like sex just because inevitably you or the other person would be wearing it. Not nostalgic for it though; learned to hate it real fast.
    I got so freaking bored with Fragrantica because everyone was so, stupid. When I read your review of Amouage Gold for men I was like whoa, finally. I really want to read the Estée book; I have always loved celebrity memoirs and biospheres. Started with Swanson on Swanson and Pentimento and best of all Haywire, all of which my mother had. I even read That Girl and Phil when a boyfriend gave to me. I was sad that he "thought of" me when he saw it but it was pretty good. Nothing though like the Marlene book by her daughter which was absolutely breathtaking, and still is. If you love songs about groupies you can't miss I'm With the Band by Pamela Des Barres; so much better than that movie with Goldie Hahn's daughter. (There's a website about the the most notorious groupies to fill in the picture since she mostly ignored her competition.) I can't believe how consistently sordid they all are. Estée's children and grandchildren are so respectable that it will be great to read what they probably wish you wouldn't. Dominic Dunne wasn't very nice to her in People Like Us. I am especially interested in her friendship with CZ Guest. I have tons of time now because I just became unemployed so I have been reading you posts and they're all great even if I do hate Rush Limbaugh like poison.

  4. Your compliments have made my day. Perhaps I'll be inspired to post more since I know someone is reading it.

  5. Oh pls do so Jack, we all followed the trace from Fragrantica here and find your writing absolutely interesting and with depth.
    I believe there would be many more people come and read here!

  6. Genius level comedy pathos. Thank you