Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Toiletries Trap—or is it a safe haven?

Arts and Crafts and the Status of Perfume

The status of perfume continues to be debated, but it seems that the reigning climate these days is inclining people to join the “perfume is art” camp. There are many possible sociological, economic, and psychological explanations for this phenomenon relating specifically to this moment in history, but the question whether perfumery is really an art may be but one iteration of an age-old dispute regarding the distinction—or lack thereof—between arts and crafts. Is an accomplished potter an artist or a craftsman? What about a gourmet chef?

Is a genuine object of art essentially useless, serving no mundane function? Does an artist whose medium is clay become a mere craftsman on the days when she produces bowls and mugs? Should what she does be judged by appeal to what other people may or may not do with her creations? If she drills holes in the bottom of her mugs, making it impossible to use them for the purpose for which they appear to be intended, then will this act—senseless to some—elevate her, the creator, to the status of artist? Or will she just be a bad (mad!) potter?

The genre fiction writer offers another useful example for reflection. Authors of detective and mystery, science fiction, and romance novels are producing books which fit into certain predelineated categories and which follow certain basic conventions. 

The readers of such works have a set of expectations which must be met in order for the work to succeed. A mystery novel without any suspense is a failure because being suspenseful is essential to being a good mystery novel. A romance novel with no hot and steamy scenes of love and betrayal would be a flop. A science fiction novel which made no reference to the current state of technology and possible future developments would crash like a rocket with a faulty O-ring.

The Toiletries Take

To many, indeed most, consumers, perfume is a toiletry. Perfumistas have been known to bristle at the suggestion that the object of their olfactory love might be anything less than the most exquisite work of art. Nonetheless, like it or not, perfume is regarded by many people as a toiletry because it is a consumable product just like soap, lotion, and toothpaste. 

Such products all serve functions and offer certain very specific benefits to the user.

People generally perfume themselves in order to smell good. Often the goal is to smell attractive to other people. Some wearers, at least judging by comments in fragrance community website forums, appear to care more about others' receptions of their perfume than they do about their own perceptions of their own scent. 

Whether those who perfume themselves care more about their own opinions' or the opinions of those with whom they come in contact while wearing perfume, they appear to be united in their commitment to the idea so often recited in perfume reviews, that Perfume should smell good. From this perspective, if a perfume does not smell good, then it is either a bad perfume, or it is not perfume at all because it is unwearable.

Bad poetry has its own name: doggerel. Bad perfume is sometimes referred to as swill or dreck. Bad food is slop, but food which cannot even in principle be consumed is really garbage in disguise. In this way, perfumery is obviously similar to cuisine. A meal, no matter how painstakingly prepared by a chef, must be edible, in the end. If it is utterly inedible, because it is repulsive or poisonous, then the chef has failed. Food should taste good, and perfume should smell good. Does this not imply that niche perfumery is completely analogous to haute cuisine? Blasphemy of all blasphemies...

Consumable Crafts

Unlike most other crafts, cooking and perfumery are united by the fact that the products of the craft are consumed. We might consider wine in the same group and place oenology on an equal footing with other crafts the ultimate objective of which is to produce consumable goods. The artisan may and often does aim to produce fine, excellent, beautiful, even transcendent goods, but they must, at the end of the day, be consumable all the same.

What I find especially interesting about these crafts is not just that the goods produced are consumed, it is that the goods must be consumed in order to be experienced. Perfume appreciation, like fine wine and cuisine appreciation involves destroying the very object of appreciation through an act of ingestion. There is no point to food which is not eaten or wine which sits in a cellar never to be imbibed. Similarly, perfume in a capped bottle may hold potential for appreciation, but it is not truly appreciated for what it is, the unique combination of notes which unfurl before the nose, until it is sprayed.

This is, in part, it seems to me, the basis for the claim sometimes made that large perfume collections are ridiculous. If the person who owns hundreds—or even thousands—of perfumes cannot even in principle wear them all, then is she really any different from the notorious hoarder, who amasses and clings to objects in a desperate attempt to create meaning from an otherwise meaningless existence?

Perhaps we can think about large perfume collections in a more charitable light. Perhaps what they reflect is a desire—widely shared by perfumistas today, or so it seems—that we should be able to have our perfume and sniff it too, so to speak. This would seem to be the guiding idea behind the Osmothèque, an institution established in order to preserve perfume which however, in reality, can only be experienced through its very annihilation.

My distinct impression is that most people, even sophisticated perfumistas, have not really thought through the very many different kinds of judgments which they make regarding perfumes. The term 'art' has been appropriated to express approval, without any real examination of what it could mean for perfumery to be an art. It is unclear in what aesthetic principles of judgment applicable to perfumery might consist. People appear to judge perfumes solely by appeal to their own idiosyncratic tastes. Are there principles of perfume criticism? No one has yet to make the case. We can of course use language in any way we like and, yes, we may express our approval of a perfume labeling it a masterpiece or a chef d'oeuvre. But that just seems to be code for: “I love it!”

Certain nagging contradictions need to be addressed, if we are to get to the bottom of this question, it seems to me. On the one hand, many perfumistas seem to want to exalt perfume to the status of an eternal, immortal art. Most notably, in his Untitled series, Chandler Burr has been exhorting people to smell perfume as an art object. A sentence from one of his introductory texts at OpenSky reads: For the first time, experience perfumes in a way that will allow — in fact encourage — you to rethink each scent by freeing you from all visual cues and marketing techniques.

Burr appears to be addressing the unwashed masses most of whom have never participated in the sorts of Mystery Scent Vial Trials which have been hosted by perfumistas for years now. But even people who sample perfumes from vials, independently of the bottles, have already been experiencing perfume as perfume, not as marketing hype. 

To be perfectly frank (quoi d'autre?), it is not at all clear to me what smelling perfume as a work of art is actually supposed to mean. Does smelling a perfume differ from smelling a perfume under the label objet d'art? In what might the allegedly distinct experiences inhere? Both would seem to involve ingesting molecules through the nose which transmit messages to the brain. How does calling a perfume a “work of art” change any of that?

Another problem with such an idea is that perfume is the only example of an alleged art which leaves no traces of itself behind having once been experienced. We must first purchase perfume for our personal consumption before we are able to appreciate it—whether as an objet d'art or something rather more mundane, to wit: a toiletry. Because it must be acquired and destroyed to be appreciated, perfume is essentially commodified.

Of Rules and Shopping Carts

Further evidence for the craft status of perfumery may be found in considering the complacent adherence by perfumers to the IFRA regulations restricting the use of certain materials. Perfumers appear, by and large, to be abiding by these regulations or guidelines. But since when did artists follow the rules? The attitude of perfumers themselves toward the IFRA, their willingness to line up in a row even as this severely restrains their own creative potential, suggests that perfumery is not really an art, at least not as practiced by the vast majority of professional perfumers today. Olfactory art is possible because any kind of art is possible, but perfumers do not, for the most part, seem to be engaged in that enterprise. Most of them are, instead, “noses for hire”.

Successful professional perfumers such as Alberto Morillas and Yann Vasnier secure contracts with a variety of different houses because they can be depended upon to create perfumes which consumers will wish to wear and, by extension, buy. Of course, the same is true, mutatis mutandis, for successful chefs. They are not hired by restaurants unless they have demonstrated their dependability at producing pleasing food which patrons will want to consume. The similarity of the vocation of successful perfumers and chefs suggests, then, that whatever one wishes to call what these professionals do, that label—art or craft—should apply to both cases.

It is worth underscoring here that the Untitled Series being “curated” by Chandler Burr is being carried out under the auspices of the social shopping site OpenSky. The scare quotes are intended. The word 'curated' has become fashionable of late and is now applied to any collection of just about any goods being offered up for sale. I recently received an advertisement from Henri Bendel touting the virtues of its “curated” gourmet snack collection!

The mission of OpenSky, like that of Henri Bendel, is clearly to get people to consume more and more random things as quickly as possible. Nothing else can be reasonably inferred from the frequency of their emails to me in an incessant campaign to get me to buy n'importe quoi, above all, whatever I may have been looking at most recently. If I only browse and do not buy something from OpenSky but make the mistake of placing some item in my cart (to avoid wasting time at the only shopping site I've seen which actually lacks a search button—at least as of today), then I am rewarded with stalking messages until such time as I either buy the item or purge it from my cart.

Once my cart is empty, then I am enticed to return to OpenSky to fill it with more random objects recommended by my “friends” Bobbie Flay, Ming Tsai, Chandler Burr, and anyone else whom I've “shopped with” before. Every so often I am sent a “free shipping day” message, and I also seem to be regularly rewarded for my reticence in closing out deals with “credits” of various amounts, which lately have ceased to be applicable to clearance items and now only apply to purchases of at least $50.

Perfume is a commodity, which Chandler Burr is attempting to sell at the same time that he wishes to exalt perfumery to the status of an art. Many perfumistas appear to have jumped on the Burr bandwagon—which is not to say that this whole movement was his own idea, for it was not—but they also want to consume the perfume paid for with their hard-earned cash. Even more striking, they want to have their perfume—as an art—while retaining the ability to consume it on the cheap, applying pricing standards appropriate to toiletries in deciding whether a perfume is worth its price tag or not.

Fine Art at Toiletries Prices? 
Wake Up and Smell the Chemical Soup!

In an earlier manifesto relating to this topic, PERFUME IS NOT MILK, I pointed out that perfume is an affordable luxury or self-indulgence to anyone well-off enough to dine out, drink wine, or to drive a car where that is manifestly not a necessity (as in a city with an excellent public transportation system). Following upon a feisty exchange with Kankuro (of Parfumo fame) over at Fragrantica, I would like to approach the economic question from another angle. My answer, you may rest assured, will remain the same—not because I am a dogmatist, but because my opinion has yet to change!

I have been struck recently by the importance of this question all the more as I have attempted to wrestle with the question of whether or not perfume is an art. As we have seen, there are good reasons for skepticism about the status of perfumery as one of the beaux arts, but I would like to consider what the likely consequences of a widespread affirmation of perfume as an art form would be. Specifically, what would the economic effect be?

As a preamble, let us consider again the somewhat alarming revelations of the Daily Finance article “Behind the Spritz,” in which the breakdown of the cost of a $100 MSRP bottle of perfume is displayed. On first read, it is mindboggling to discover that the perfume itself accounts for only 2% of the cost of an average massmarketed designer perfume. The article no doubt incensed many perfume lovers, confirming yet again in their mind that the price being asked for by houses is far too high.

I'd liked to dig a bit more deeply into this issue. First off, the assumption being made in the article and by anyone who is troubled by its revelations, is that the price of a good should be more or less the same as the combined price of its constituent components, plus perhaps a small profit margin to those who peddle the product. It seems like common sense.

Let us take a simple example. No one really thinks that a pizza should cost the sum of the cost of flour + yeast + tomatoes + cheese + oregano + olive oil + the heat needed to cook it. If that is what a pizza cost, its price would be something like $1. Add some sausage or anchovies, and maybe it would cost $2. Instead, pizzas cost ten times that much. Part of that price difference is due to the cost of labor to produce the pizza.

Somebody had to harvest the wheat to make flour, to mix with yeast and water, to knead and punch dough, to roll or throw it out to form a disc, to adorn the dough and to convey it into an oven for it to bake. Someone else had to grow the tomatoes, chop them up, transform them into pizza sauce. Yet another chain of persons was needed to milk the cow, to make the cheese, to catch the anchovies, etc. In fact, the costs involved in each of these separate chains to the production of the various components of a pizza is already embedded in the cost of the end product of that chain. So if wheat flour costs $1 for a pound, that price already includes the cost of producing it, along with the profits enjoyed by the various persons employed within the chain.

If one were to produce all of the components of a pizza from scratch—don't try this at home!—that would be another matter altogether and an exercise which would swiftly demonstrate the virtue of the divisions of labor which have arisen in the modern world. Once one reflects upon the chain of labor involved in the production of a pizza, its price no longer seems exorbitant at all. Restaurants buy their basic ingredients in bulk at a significantly lower cost than the volumes typically used by individual consumers. Consequently, to make a pizza at home, which would require first purchasing all of the separate ingredients, would probably cost quite a bit more than the finished pizza parlor product itself—even without the (paltry) wages paid to the restaurant workers.

Turning now to the case of perfume, the consternation over the cost breakdown of a bottle of perfume arises because the aspects of the perfume which we truly value account for the smallest portion of its price. Everything else, much of it extraneous—or so it seems—costs more. Even the bottle, at an average of $6, costs three times more than the juice inside, at $2. On its face, then, the case of perfume seems rather different than that of pizza. True, some pizza parlors do advertise, but many do not—or at least not in the way that Chanel and Dior do—and we are confident that most of the money which we pay for a pizza covers the cost of the pizza itself, not its box!

The concerns raised in “Behind the Spritz” are precisely why people have decried the price of perfume, and often complain about it in their reviews. But what, my fragrant friends, is the cost of anything—and why? Why does a professional baseball player earn millions of dollars a year for donning a costume, hitting a fast-moving ball with a stick, and running around a parallelogram as fast as he can? And why in the world do people pay hundreds of dollars for their families to be able to sit in the stands and watch him do that? For heaven's sake, they could be spending that money on some very fine perfume!

In some cases, a vast disparity arises because the objects in question have an emergent value, which far transcends the value of their material components. Consider a painting by any famous dead artist. Obviously, the cost of the canvas + paint + labor does not add up to the millions of dollars which such a work may command at Sotheby's.

When perfume reviewers complain that they would never pay so much for this, they mean a type of perfume which can be had for a much lower price. We perfumistas demand a lot of the perfumes said to be worthy of our wallet share. We want beautiful and original compositions which wear well and have excellent longevity and which will not spoil before we reach the bottom of the bottle. Many people also want all of this on the cheap. They seem truly to expect original masterpiece perfumes at knock-off prices.

I myself believe that the originality requirement has been grossly overstated and thoughtlessly applied in the case of perfume. Perhaps this is in part a result of the rampant charges of plagiarism made through The Holey [sic] Book. Many reviews by perfumistas seem keen to dismiss as redundant perfumes whose sole demerit is to have reminded the wearer of another perfume created earlier—and often with a lower price tag. To call a perfume a “clone” or a “knock-off” is to allege a conscious act of plagiarism on the part of the perfumer who created it.

I do not understand nor have I ever understood, first, why people derive such a sense of smug satisfaction through leveling such (fully unsubstantiated!) charges, nor, second, why this slander/libel has not been recognized for what it is by nearly anyone—save sherapop—to date. Instead, this condemnation of the efforts of hard-working, well-meaning perfumers continues in a spate unlikely to abate until The Holey [sic] Book is so badly out of date that people stop turning to it at all.

The strident tone and fervor with which this perfume is denounced as a clone of that one, far from establishing the validity of the charge, diminishes the reviewer, not the perfumer, in my mind. How many Beyond Paradise clones exist? Let us count the number of entries in which this manifestly preposterous assertion is made about perfumes which really smell nothing like Beyond Paradise at all! (Marc Jacobs Essence? Really?)

A Modest Proposal

The irony of the knock-off and clone complaints by perfumistas is that often some of the very same people complain from the left side of their mouth that perfume is too expensive and, from the right side of their mouth, that perfume has not been adequately recognized for the art that it is. In reality, the reason why perfume remains affordable, and is by far the least expensive among all luxury products, is precisely and only because the vast majority of consumers regard it as a lowly toiletry.

We may wish to duly acknowledge the greatness of transcendent perfumes, but we'll be much better off if we keep the artistic quality of our cherished elixirs a closely guarded secret among fragrant friends! When was the last time that an art collector picked up a masterpiece for $100 or $200 or even $300? If the word gets out that niche perfume is really art, then the market price will skyrocket and all middle class perfumistas will suffer as a result.

This argument against exalting perfumery as an art is diaphanously pragmatic and self-serving. But I wonder whether those who insist on characterizing perfumers as artists and perfumery as an art have ever thought this matter through and entertained what the consequences would be, were they to succeed in exalting perfume above the (other) toiletries. I recently read a review in which the author expressed “deep regret” at having shelled out all of $15 for several perfume samples from a house whose wares were not to her liking. Need I say more?

When was the last time, O Gently Scented Reader, that you picked up a painting at Sotheby's—or even drained a bottle of vintage wine? My Fragrant Friends, I humbly enjoin you to abandon your vain and self-sabotaging insistence on labeling perfumery as one of the arts, for we will only be able to continue to have our perfume and sniff it too so long as the secret doesn't get out!


  1. Now that I think about & prompted by blog, perfume is closer to WINE than to ART. After all, perfume & wine are rarely OOAK (one of a kind), whereas ART usually is. Perfume & wine are commercialized & marketed, whereas ART isn't in the same way or on the same scale.

    Hmmmmm ...

    Perfume ain't art, it's wine.

    ~ awesomeness

  2. There is this lovely little cheese shop that's on a private farm in Southern Indiana. They raise their goats, which is the basis for their cheese, on some of the most idyllic hills you've ever seen. Even better than that, there cheese is the best quality, and they have the most unique flavor & name combinations. Ever.

    There is considerable creative effort that goes into their cheese, which is sold worldwide and coveted by top-flight restaurant. It's artisanal. It takes creative effort and technical know-how.

    As I see it, this little goat cheese farm & shop is no different from indie shops and small niche perfume houses. The only difference is that this little goat cheese farm & shop calls it like it is ... They are a BUSINESS.

    ~ awesomeness

  3. Dearest Awesomeness,

    In two pithy posts, you may have summed it up with this provocative equation:

    Perfume = wine + cheese!


  4. You know how I try to balance with my left foot on "art" and my right on "not art" (the right foot being the one I lean for comfort) but all your arguments are spot on.

    It all boils down to your remarks about needing to consume more, faster and without discrimination but at the same time maintining a facade of eclecticism ("curated food" really killed me). The right to choose based on personal taste is persecuted. One must have a good reason for liking something, they must have arguments and criteria. And in case they don't have the knowledge to form them they can borrow those of the curator. The curator is the new artist. Because the actual creation is not important in art anymore. What is important is the appreciation of art (meaning putting on a price tag). As much as we hate to admit it we are living the last days of western civilisation as the dominant culture in the developped world. Right now you can send off a photo to China and in a few weeks you will receive a large oil painting depicting your photo, hand painted for a few hundred dollars. You are the curator. The artist's place is taken by the craftsman but the real artist is the curator. This is trully happening as we speak!

    I guess the real answer to all this is to simply forget what we were taught about science and how the objectivity of science can save the world. We need to retract to the values of individuality and subjectivity to find the real values of our culture that have been lost in ages of science worshipping. Science is useful but it cannot replace everything. Most valuable things in life, who we love, how we decide to live, cannot be base on other people's knowledge and values. They have to come from within each and every one of us and are for pure personal us. So is perfume. Everyone is allowed to like whatever they want and they do not have to justify this through their logic or through what experts have to say. Perfume, the most primitive materialisation of feelings, doesn't "have" to be anything. Beauty is in the nose of the beholder.

    Your point on perfumers complying to regulations and thus automatically being exempt of artist status is probably the strongest logical argument in your piece. I was surprised to see that one of the talks during the MAD Perfume exhibition is hosted by the Prokter and Gamble, the well known art patron!!!

    And finally, if anyone claims that perfume has to smell good then automatically they cannot consider perfume as art. Because art is not meant to look good. Art is meant to express the artist and make the others think. Otherwise Bob Ross is the biggest painter of al times.

    1. It's always such a pleasure to read you here, Christos (descendant of Plato), and your comments on the above matters are literally music to my ears.

      Yes, science has ironically been deified! How in the world did this happen? In philosophy, it began (in my view) with the logical positivists of the early twentieth century (the “Vienna circle”), who ridiculed metaphysics as akin to voo doo. But their guiding assumption, that hypothesis testing is necessary for a proposition to be meaningful, is itself an article of faith and, therefore, according to itself, it's just a bunch of bunk!

      Consider their assumption:

      “Only statements capable of empirical confirmation or refutation are meaningful.”

      What is the status of that statement? Well, it cannot be empirically confirmed or refuted. Therefore, it is itself a statement of metaphysics and utterly meaningless, according to itself!

      How so many people have been taken in by this world view is something that I'll never fully understand. It's a combination of expert worship and insecurity, in the end. But many disciplines have been sucked into scientism, above all, the social sciences, which have ceaselessly attempted to emulate the natural sciences, as though human beings were like billiard balls, when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth.

      Other areas have also been affected, and you are right: even perfume lovers seem to have fallen prey to this reigning model. This is why people care what self-proclaimed experts say about perfume, when in fact they should care only about their own experience, since that is really all that is relevant to them.

      Plenty of things in life, as you again quite rightly observe, lie beyond the realm of science and are not susceptible of empirical confirmation or testing. The core of human experience is itself subjective, and while we may agree about testable scientific theories, this does not mean that they exhaust the universe!

      In the case of perfume, the variations among human beings, and the importance of those variations in receptions of perfume, make it highly improbable that other people are going to share our own experience. We all have different histories and memories (a point made so eloquently by the very existence of your blog!) and, what is equally important in the case of perfume, our sensitivities to the various components making up a perfume cover a broad range. I have suggested in “Everything You've Heard and Read About Perfume Is True” that it's actually quite miraculous that any of us ever agree about perfumes at all!

      But the real mystery to my mind remains—and I thank you for raising this issue so incisively, Christos—how and why so many very smart people bought into this scientism (= religious worship of science), and agreed to reject all consideration of anything which does not comply with the requirements of scientific hypothesis testing.

  5. I believe that the purpose of religion is to comfort by explaining the inexplicable. At some point in history monotheistic religions proclaimed that man was created as an image of god. At the same time though man was born with certain obligations towards the deity that created him in its image. In reality this was the gateway to immorality. If god created man in his image and man had to work hard to be god-like, then we have a vicious circle of self proclaimed and at the same time unattainable perfection. We have an obligation to reach perfection and since we have so much of god inside us there is not much we are not allowed to do. Without this firm conviction wars cannot be supported, empires cannot be built, money cannot be worshipped, nature cannot be violated. It is all done for a good purpose. In search of perfection.

    Sceintism is an attempt to explain things putting man back in control. The next "logical" step. Science is perfect and it offers us the means to reach perfection. Everything can be explained an thus made real. People who "know" things can help us "understand" what we do not know.

    1. I think that religion serves the function more to call a halt to dialogue than to offer an explanation—at least in our ordinary sense of explanation. But it is true that people seem to find the "explanation" that "God willed it" more satisfying than the Parmenidean insight that "What is, is." (-; Of course, as you suggest, there's a lot more packed into the answer when the robust religious theory includes an afterlife and a man with a beard who confers "eternal salvation" (whatever that is supposed to mean) upon those who attempt to be like him, etc., etc.

      I'm glad that you mentioned war, the reigning paradigm of which (just war theory) embodies the worst of both worldviews: religion and scientism. On the one hand, the entire paradigm is based on the religious faith of Augustine and Aquinas in the eschatological rectification by an omniscient and omnipotent God of injustices committed here on earth—hence the alleged moral innocuousness of so-called collateral damage. Political leaders in ancient and medieval times were thought (certainly by Augustine and Aquinas, the primary architects of just war theory) to have a direct and veridical connection to God, and that was what supposedly gave them the warrant to wage war—in apparent contradiction to the teachings of Jesus Christ. With the Protestant Revolution, all of that went out the window, but oddly enough the just war paradigm has survived.

      On the other hand, the "scientific," "objective" accounts of wars given by warmakers excludes altogether the first-person perspective of the victims, perfunctorily written off as collateral damage.
      It's easy to see why warmakers play both sides, reaching for whatever vestige of past cultures will support whatever they want to do. And the same is true of course for those who profit from wars.

      Well, I could write a whole book on this topic (lol), and this is taking us a bit far afield from the ostensible topic of this blog (perfume!), but I'll email you to follow up. Below, in separate comments, I'll respond to the other excellent points in your first post regarding perfume proper... (-;

  6. Reply 1b to Christos

    I wanted also to reply to your incredibly insightful observation about the rise of the curator and the decline of the artist. What you are describing is reflected perhaps most dramatically in the case of perfume, because, at least when it comes to mainstream launches, the least important person appears to be the perfumer! It's so ironic that the perfumer is the one who comes up with the actual creation, but it is the perfume's packaging and promotion which ends up mattering the most. Why is that? Because most consumers buy on the basis of packaging, not product, at least initially. This explains the absurd cost breakdown of a mainstream launch, with 98% of the price going to non-perfume-related "packaging" (in the many senses of that term). This also explains the “curated sample sets” offered by Sephora, which include a voucher for a free bottle of one of the perfumes being sampled (whether in a vial or a mini). I was surprised to learn that LVMH owns Sephora—but imagine what this means when it comes time to “curate” those little collections...

    As a tangential point on packaging: I myself think that bottles can be worthy objects of our attention—why not? Are they automatically disqualified because they hold perfume? In my view, a beautiful bottle can only enhance the whole experience of removing the cap, spritzing on the perfume, and then setting the bottle back down while one enjoys the unfurlings of the scent. A perfume has to come in some vessel—why not make it a beautiful one?

    The same argument holds for one's manner of dress, it seems to me. It takes as much energy to throw on an ugly old t-shirt and tattered threadbare corduroys as it does to put on beautiful clothes. So rationally speaking, I do not understand the former choice. I find it especially puzzling that so many fashion designers dress poorly, in a rather grungy way. I guess that it's supposed to be cool for a designer to wear old jeans and tennis shoes. But to me it says that they are not really so much into aesthetics. To give an example from perfume: I read that Honoré des Prés Vamp à New York was “served” at its launch in plastic cups. Yuck—I hate plastic! But I digress...

    I do agree with you that the artist in the case of perfume (and beautiful bottles, too, when they are used) has become nearly beside the point in the case of mainstream launches. No ordinary consumer (nonperfumista) has any idea who the perfumer or the bottle designer was when they buy a mass-marketed perfume. The boxes and bottles indicate only the name of the house, not the person(s) who created the perfume. Isn't that more evidence for the toiletries take? Paintings are sold in galleries, but the artists' names are not effaced and replaced by the gallery owners'!

    This diminishment of the creators in the case of perfume helps to explain why companies can reformulate with impunity: the contracted perfumer appears to have no say in what is done with his/her perfume once the product has been delivered to the client. So this is yet another argument for the claim that perfumers—at least most of them—are not artists. Girasole first raised this excellent point in a comment on an earlier post here at the salon.

    Girasole also got me thinking about what you indicate above is the strongest argument against the claim that perfumers are artists: that most perfumers have agreed to comply with the guidelines (dictates?) of the IFRA. I mentioned in a reply to Girasole that in an interview with Calice Becker she indicated that she is constrained by a computer program which precludes her use in the composition of a perfume of materials in violation of the IFRA restrictions. Girasole scoffed at the idea that such a person could be an artist.

    Despite my agreement with much of what you wrote above, I want to resist your apocalyptic projection that “the artist is dead” and curators now rule. There are still pockets of resistance, after all! (-;

  7. Don't forget, drama flows in my veins :-)

    One last comment on the rise of the curator: the name of the artist is not erased but I have seen many exhibitions were the exhibits are not promoted through the names of the artists but through the name of the curator. And the presentation of the exhibits has become almost more important than the exhibits themselves. I think the reason behind this is that people are discouraged to (or incapable of?) casting a critical eye on many things. They have to have half of their food chewed for them in order to appreciate things. Personally I find both Mugler Cologne and Insfuion d'Iris (or Infusion d'Homme to be more precise) very beautiful and I really do not see why they have to be curated in order for people to appreciate them for what they are: beautiful everyday colognes. But somehow it takes to much time and effort to form one's own taste in perfume, art etc. It is much more convenient to "follow" a curator (did anyone say Twitter?)

    1. Surely not your last comment on the rise of the curator! (-; Did you watch Chandler Burr's reveal of S01E04 yesterday?

      Once again, the self-proclaimed experts disagree radically about the value of the perfume: 06130 Yuzu Rouge garnered a measly two stars and a dismissive review from the Royal[ties] Coup[le]. I gave it a positive review a couple of years ago. So far I'm seeing more convergence of my tastes with Burr than with the authors of The Holey[sic] Book. (Although I really disliked Mugler Cologne--would you like my decant? (-;)

      However, The Curator has some funny ideas which will be addressed here at the salon soon. For example, he poo-poos the idea of talking about notes. He seems to think that notes are ingredients, when in fact they are metaphors! That confusion will have to be addressed in an upcoming post, and I'll look forward to your input.

      You are, after all, the one who first stood up against the note hierarchy tyranny by pointing out at your blog, memoryofscent, that we need not smell what the marketers want us to smell... But you do not deny the importance of what it is that we actually smell. In fact, what else could we really talk about? Photorealism and architecture? (What?)

      I agree with you: why do we have to say that Infusion d'Iris is a work of art rather than a beautiful fragrance? I honestly do not see where any art criticism is being done in any of these reveals. Burr did spend a bit of time sniffing his wrist and admiring the next scent up for sale at OpenSky (lol)...

  8. Ok, so I know that this is a really old post, but I had to comment. You say that:
    "perfume is the only example of an alleged art which leaves no traces of itself behind having once been experienced."

    I wish to give a correction, dance is an art that disappears as soon as it is performed. One can film it, but never really capture it in its entirety.

  9. Thank you for this comment, Anonymous! The same could be said of theater, or any performance, no?

    My point was precisely that perfume *cannot* be filmed or recorded, as can performances. Films and recordings capture admittedly but a glimpse of a live performance, but it is still a "trace", is it not?

    I appreciate your criticism and will think about it some more! Thanks again.


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