Thursday, June 27, 2013

FRAGRANCE IS FUNCTIONAL: How I learned to stop worrying about art and enjoy my perfume for what it is

Summertime presents a propitious opportunity to reflect upon the nature of perfume. Why? Because it's damned hot outside—at least here in Boston—and a good cologne can vastly improve one's oppressive and muggy and sweaty and otherwise unpleasant afternoon. How does cologne work its mood-elevating magic?

First off, it smells good. From bright citrus to clean musk to grassy green to violet leaf and lightly spiced tea, colognes manage to cover the gamut of scents found in the larger olfactory sphere spanning all perfumes, but the lower percentage of key ingredients makes cologne perfect for the summer months.

Yes, cologne cools and refreshes the body, particularly when applied as a splash, which is possible because of the lower concentrations of scent-making ingredients. More of the liquid which hits the skin is alcohol and water, proving yet again that hydration is good. With a few spritzes or a gentle splash, the spirit is immediately renewed as the air spinning off that ceiling fan suddenly seems twenty degrees cooler than it did. The action of the fan and the cologne are collaborating in a small piece of deceit: neither changes the temperature of the ambient air in the room, but together they fool the body into feeling much cooler than it was before.

My favorite colognes are those featuring a large percentage—preferably 100%—of natural ingredients. That's because in extreme weather conditions newfangled chemical soups sometimes morph in unexpected ways, just as I imagine perfumes do more generally when exposed to heat and light. Because the temperature is elevated even while the cologne is worn, I have found that the more natural it is, the better it tends to hold together and consistently smell nice. 

Cologne used in this way is obviously functional fragrance. Is it anything else? To be honest, my unedited response to this question is: Who cares? Is not fulfilling one important function enough to justify the existence of cologne? Why must it also be something else? Who says that it must be, and why?

I began thinking about this question recently while soaking in a scented tub and listening to one of Beethoven's string quartets. It suddenly dawned on me how much more complex and interesting even a single passage from a work of classical music is than even the most complicated of perfumes. Sure some of them (albeit fewer and fewer these days...) unfurl in interesting ways, transforming from one to another scent over the course of a wear.

In the most dynamic of cases, the perfume may undulate as its component scents wax and wane, leading one's nose to take note of different features of the composition at different moments in time and permitting a form of olfactory reflection and refraction to take place. But even in those rare cases of the most complex of perfumes, probably the closest comparison to complexity in music would be something along the lines of a four-chord pop song.

Perfume simply cannot, even in principle, scale the heights achieved by music, first, because it is so much simpler and, second, because our perception of it is so very subjective. I admit that I am pianist, trained in classical repertoire, and so my apparent disparagement or belittling of perfume may seem unfair to someone who, instead, has spent his life creating new combinations of scents. There may be some truth to that criticism, but I still believe that a finished perfume is considerably less interesting than any sonata or ballade, or prélude or mazurka or étude—or even two-part invention by J.S. Bach. I truly believe that even the profoundest of perfumes is nowhere near as interesting as even the simplest piece of music which I've ever played or heard.

Perfume is there to be enjoyed, a number of scents combined together in a small volume of space and usually not found together in exactly that way in nature. (Exceptions to the rule include realistic soliflores.) If masterfully composed, the combination of these scents will play out over time, but there is nothing even approaching tonal counterpoint to be found in a bottle of perfume. Even worse, owing to a variety of features peculiar to perfume perception in human beings, we cannot even seem to agree what we are talking about!

In approaching music, we have something to point to. There are key signatures and tempos and voices and refrains and codas. These are all written right there into the score, so no one can deny their presence. We can have a conversation about all of those aspects of music in the way in which we cannot so much when it comes to perfume because people do not even agree about what they smell, and its significance appears clearly to be determined by their idiosyncratic past history, values, and beliefs.

Judging by the reviews I've seen online, many people are affected by the note pyramids offered up by the house, even though it seems obvious that they are often a part of marketing the perfume and may or may not have any objective validity. My distinct impression is that many reviewers feel that they must perceive the official notes, and this may lead them to offer a narrative about the perfume which features those notes, even in those cases—such as highly abstract designer fragrances—where nothing even approaching the essences of the named flowers is present. What is in the bottle does matter, but it is mediated through an amalgamation of entirely subjective associations—and market-induced expectations. People are influenced to different degrees by marketing, and since no one else has lived our own life or walked in our shoes, no one else will perceive a perfume in exactly the same way that we do. Yes, you can tell a story about a perfume, but 99% of it derives from inside your head.

One might retort that the same can be said about music, which is just as subjectively processed, and it is true that people have different tastes in music and different levels of sophistication when it comes to understanding music theoretically. But two people who have been trained classically—say, two pianists—can talk about the objective features of a sonata written into the score. In stark contrast, two equally knowledgeable perfumistas may or may not agree about what they smell or whether it is any good.

While sitting in my tub listening to beautiful music and enjoying a pleasant scent wafting off the water, it occurred to me that the value of perfume has absolutely nothing to do with whether it will ever be exalted as one of the beaux arts by Western culture. It simply does not matter, at the end of the day, because the only reason why I really care about perfume is because I use it. My enjoyment of perfume is not different in kind from my enjoyment of the scent wafting off the bath water, even though the two scents may have been produced in entirely different ways.

Let me repeat the above confession: I use perfume, and I value it only insofar as it serves my purposes. It has no importance beyond its capacity to serve my purposes, to be used by me. A perfume never spritzed may as well not exist. I use perfume to scent myself, to cool off, to derive a sense of pleasure. But wait, there's more.

Not that we need any more, but I came up with a new argument against the “Perfumery is art” thesis. Here's how it goes: Home fragrance is functional. But home fragrance differs from perfume not in kind but in degree. We occupy our home, and when we wear perfume we may serve the same function as a scented candle to those around us—and also to ourselves. I have many niche candles: Diptyque, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Sage, Bond no 9, elizabethW, Etro, and all of them smell every bit as splendid as the perfumes of those houses which they feature. 

At the other end of the home fragrance spectrum are found Febreeze spray, Yankee candles, Wick plug-ins, and the like. If we allow that niche candles are art, then how to exclude all of these less noble forms of home fragrance? And if we deny that niche candles are art, must we not deny that the fragrances which scent them are as well? So here we have another conundrum, beyond the concerns so incisively articulated by Bryan Ross at From Pyrgos and Christos at Memory of Scent.

While thinking about this issue again, in the light of recent developments in perfumery, I also began to realize that even if perfumery could be considered art in some rare cases, it will never be recognized as such, in a general way, for the following reasons deriving from the current state of Western civilization:

1. Reformulation. Whether because of the IFRA restrictions (and now IFRA-inspired EU regulations) or for more crassly economic reasons, the once-classic perfumes have undergone vast changes in composition. The same names are being used in most cases (one exception being Christian Dior Miss Dior), but for the most part, the perfume bearing the name of an icon from the twentieth century has changed enough to make it impossible to say much about that perfume in a general way. Yes, once upon a time it was rich and had incredible depth. Yes, today it may seem flatter and less inspired, but people will continue to buy it because its reputation precedes it, and people's reception is informed by what they are told that they ought to believe. In order for objective masterpieces of perfume art to be exalted by posterity, they must exist in the same form as they existed when earlier writers described them. Does the Osmothèque solve this problem? I think not, but that's another story.

2. House management. The twenty-first-century phenomenon of corporate conglomeratization has affected many aspects of business in all realms of consumer goods, but the implications may be starkest of all in the case of perfume. Why? Because the answers to all of the key questions determining the fate of a perfume are made by managers who may or may not have any interest in preserving the original perfume intact. Publicly traded companies, as Coty recently became, are beholden to stockholders, and healthy profit margins become essential if a manager is to retain his position, as all of them obviously seek to do (unless of course they resign).

Such a manager will do what needs to be done to see to it that the stockholders are happy with the way the business is being run. Stockholders in Coty may or may not care about the intrinsic quality of the products. Many people in the world could not care less about perfume, and CEOs may in some cases number among them. The only thing that we can really count on is that if quality happens to translate into sales, then quality will be regarded by managers as good. If, on the other hand, quality eats into profits, then it must be sacrificed. If it becomes more profitable to sell many bottles at a lower price than fewer bottles at a higher price, then the formula will be cheapened. 

The stockholders of companies, in their capacity as stockholders—and whatever their personal feelings about perfume may be—want profit . Perhaps as individual consumers they appreciate perfume, but they'll have no problem with procuring their fine perfume elsewhere, using the funds which they reap from whatever it is that Coty does to maximize profit in the case of its various subsumed brands.

3. Niche houses—and autodidact perfumers—today abound and continue to proliferate. This niche perfumery industry has obviously proven to be profitable, requires little initial outlay or even professional training, and gives the power to create and profit from the fruits of one's labor even with no background or history in the area. It's remarkable, actually, the marked distinction between perfumery and the (other) arts in this regard.

No one decides as a result of a mid-life crisis (or reasonable facsimile) that the time has arrived to become a concert pianist, though one never took any piano lessons as a child or adolescent. To publicly profess such a plan would probably be taken as a sign of mental instability, even delusions of grandeur. Accomplished pianists have spent years upon years training to achieve even basic competency, and even more years to achieve the skill of a master pianist. In perfumery in the past, more or less the same situation appears to have obtained, which is probably why so many perfumers were born into families whose business it was to produce perfume.

In the past, during the golden age of perfumery, the skill of a trained perfumer was handed down from generation to generation, not claimed to be acquired in a short period of time by someone who liked perfume and decided to try to make some from an assortment of fragrance and essential oils which he began mixing together in his kitchen or garage. Just as a fondness for instrumental music does not alone suffice to make one a skilled musician, is it not rather pretentious and insulting to the history of perfumery (not to mention unrealistic) to suppose that one can simply “decide,” with no prior education or experience in the subject, to be a perfumer, in fact, next week?

But anyone has the right to pick up a paintbrush and take a stab at landscape or portrait painting, so why should aspiring perfumers not be able to do the same? one may well rejoinder. People can do such things, of course, but the lack of training and attention to detail of a professional perfumer will likely be missing. For this reason, among others, I believe that most of the current niche firms will cease to exist in short order. Some of these people will decide to move on, perhaps to obtain a realtor's license or to open up a fast-food franchise store. With so many choices, so many established and very fine perfumers who have dedicated their lives to perfecting their craft, why should consumers invest their modest wallet share in the work of dilettantes? The answer is clear...

4. Hype is what appears above all to sell perfume in the twenty-first century. New is good, everyone seems to assume. The next big thing is always just around the bend, and people are willing to invest large sums of money to own bottles of the latest “it” perfume. Once they have invested, they become more apt to defend the integrity of their acquisition, so as not to feel like a dupe.

Given the current state of the industry, it seems safe to say that the golden age of perfumery is behind us. Why? Because most perfumes produced today are simple, linear, and abstract. They are essentially mixtures of a few components to produce a “pleasant” scent. Perfume making in the age of the multilaunchers, who put out several or even dozens of perfumes at a time, has become a matter of mixing a set number of ingredients together in every conceivable logical combination. Lego perfumery is not the exception but the rule.

This, my fragrant friends, is what the business of perfumery has become, and it is hard to see how anything might reverse the seemingly inexorable forward-marching trajectory to greater simplicity and more cost-effective and abstract scents. Because nearly everyone in the mainstream is doing this--and many in the niche category as well--anyone concerned to survive in the competitive market must do the same, and all the more because modern people's tastes are being transformed in the process. 

Not so long ago, the house of Clean hit on a market-viable idea: give all people, including those who have previously shunned perfumes, a product which they can feel comfortable with. How could anything be more naturally and intuitively appealing than the scent of being clean? Today abstract sweet laundry and shampoo and conditioner scents are being sold as perfumes. The process by which this "clean agenda" is being inculcated in modern consumers is precisely the same as the process by which Gabrielle Chanel convinced women that they should smell like aldehydes: seduction.

Market forces and consumer behavior are mutually reinforcing. When consumers are essentially told that good perfume is clean and simple and abstract, then that becomes their concept of perfume. Now that the companies holding the key formulas of the classic perfumes of the twentieth-century have capitulated to the “modern way,” we appear to be moving more and more toward a toiletry-centric conception of perfume, which will become less not more expensive and comprise a large number of "temporary" fragrances whose market life can be expected to become shorter and shorter in the age of Twitter launches and flankers

Given this state of affairs, I see no hope for the vindication of the "perfumery is art" thesis. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, as things currently stand, the art thesis is no more and no less than a marketing tack used by exclusive niche houses. It adds an extra appeal to some sorts of consumers not unlike the appeal enjoyed by a perfume which is explicitly associated with a celebrity's name. It's probably not a coincidence that the celebrity phenomenon has infected niche perfumery as well, with “rock star” perfumers worshiped by throngs of fawning perfumistas, when in fact most such perfumers are simply doing their job!

So there you have it, my fragrant friends, how I learned to stop worrying about art and enjoy my perfume for what it really is: functional fragrance. If we are honest with ourselves, we must own that, in our day-to-day use of perfume, the art question does not matter in the least. So long as we are able to use our perfume to serve our own purposes, then we'll continue to be happy that it exists. Calling our favorite perfumes "works of art" adds nothing to them whatsoever. They are what they are: collections of scents which fill us with delight whenever we wear and smell them.

Now I do believe that it is time for a bath.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Entry #20: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas

tautology, tautological

I used the term tautology recently, in an exchange with my perfume pal Bryan Ross (From Pyrgos) in the comments on a recent post. He had invoked "The Law of Aspen", and I attempted to offer counterexamples, which he indicated were also covered, which led me to retort that the "law" sounded more like a tautology to me. So what is a tautology? 

It is a statement which is logically true. It cannot be false. Here are a couple of examples:

Perfume is perfume.

Either a liquid is perfume, or it is not perfume.

In thinking about logical form, it may be easier to substitute letters for the propositions, so that one does not get distracted by the meanings of the terms. I admit that in recent decades professional philosophers went a bit crazy with their symbol-mongering, probably because they wished that they were mathematicians, or maybe because the more they obfuscate their thoughts, the less accessible they become to general readers, who then leave the philosophers all alone in their little intellectual ghetto to talk to one another and twiddle their thumbs. Anyway, here's the symbol form of the above two statements:

P = P

P v ~P

I doubt that anyone will take issue with the first of the two statements, but one might wonder whether something could be "neither-nor". Maybe a liquid is neither perfume nor not-perfume. Most terms which we use do however work, since the two choices are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. There is no logical "sort of". The important point is just to decide what you mean by "perfume", then see whether a proposed liquid is subsumed by that definition or not. Either it is, or it is not. 

There are plenty of truisms, which seem in reality to be true, but it is not a matter of their logical form. It's instead a contingent matter, having to do with the way the world happens to be.

Perfume should smell good.

Perfume is to be worn.

When examples of unwearable juice are adduced, usually they are still considered to be perfume, just bad perfume, but they do seem to conflict with the truism that "Perfume is to be worn," which should perhaps be modified to read:

Good perfume is to be worn. 

That sounds like a truism, but even that might be false. Some people may prefer to hoard their perfume to sell at a later date, or perhaps they don't want to squander it on less-lofty occasions, so they wear it only to special events or around certain people.

Getting back to "The Law of Aspen", the idea, as I understand it, is that a cheap-o perfume such as Aspen survives only because it smells good. My problem with that statement was that there could be other reasons why such a perfume survives, and if it is true that every perfume at the drugstore which continues to sell does so because some people think that it smells good, then the "law" starts to sound more like a tautology to me. Are there really no counterexamples? Perhaps I've misunderstood the explanatory work done by this alleged law? 

I recently saw a line-up of "Smells Like" knock-offs at the drugstore, and I noticed that all of the testers were empty. I smelled a couple of the nozzles and found that they did smack of the famous perfume which they were explicitly mimicking: Angel, Chanel no 5, Euphoria, and others. Then I started to think about why those perfumes continue to sell, especially in an era where online perfume discounters abound, and most mainstream perfumes can now be found for a fraction of MSRP. Does "The Law of Aspen" apply to this case? Or is the explanation for the success of the drugstore knock-offs instead simple human ignorance?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Perfumista's Perfect Coffee Table Book

The Essence of Perfume (2008) by Roja Dove

Coffee table books are a funny genre. They may be the least read of all publications, because they serve functions quite distinct from those of other kinds of books. Coffee table books are primarily decorative in nature.

They sit in people's living rooms generally untouched along with a variety of other random objects. Often they are art related and may feature the name of their subject in bold type on the spine: Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Kandinsky, Warhol, Pollock, the list of immediately recognizable artists, even to people who never studied art history in school, goes on and on and on.

More sophisticated persons, who did study art history and perhaps have careers related in some way to art or design, may have stacks of coffee table books covering far more obscure subjects, featuring names unknown to the vast majority even of educated people. The books mark the owners as being a part of an elite cultural group rather far removed from the unwashed masses whose "coffee tables" serve as ottomans before televisions and are more likely to be littered with empty beer cans than covered with tastefully placed books.

With the advent of the internet, the boundaries between such groups have become far more fluid, since anyone can learn about even the most arcane of subjects simply by investing some time surfing the world wide web. 

Which brings us back to the subject of coffee table books. Why? Because they may be the only surviving physical books in the decades and centuries to come. As devices become the primary source of printed books, making it possible to carry an entire library in one's briefcase or purse--or better yet simply access someone else's collection as needed--coffee table books may still persist, sitting in pretty stacks in living rooms rarely if ever to be read, but occasionally browsed through, provided that the images which they contain are sufficiently engaging.

Roja Dove's The Essence of Perfume, published by Black Dog in 2008, is just such a book--provided that one is a perfumista. In fact, the book is ideal as a perfumista's coffee table book because it is filled with fascinating information of little interest to anyone but perfumistas. Ask yourself how many people outside the internet fragrance communities (people, say, in your neighborhood), would be interested in a history of perfume decade by decade?

What about a list of common ingredients in perfume, along with their sources and facts about their particular manner of isolation and use?

How many people do you know who would be interested in finding out the precise distinctions between the various concentrations of perfume: extrait, eau de parfum, eau de toilette, eau de fraîcheur and eau de cologne? Do you know very many non-perfumistas who care about the history of the major perfume-producing design houses, beginning with Chanel?

The Essence of Perfume offers all of this and more in a large format, beautiful coffee table book filled with information of interest to perfumistas--and only perfumistas! The black cloth binding embossed with gold lettering will make the day when the cover falls away in tatters after too much fondling a happy one indeed.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

El perfume no te salvará—Ni siquiera un perfume de violetas...

Muchisísimas Gracias 
a Gabriela Cortés por esta traducción de mi ensayo en inglés,  

Reflexiones sobre

Nadie te oye: Perfume de Violetas (2001), 

  un filme de Maryse Sistach*

  La Historia

Perfume de Violetas está ambientada en la actual Ciudad de México en donde dos chicas adolescentes, Yessica y Miriam se vuelven amigas en cuanto Yessica llega a su nueva escuela. Ella había sido expulsada de su escuela anterior debido a mala conducta. Yessica es una chica decidida, pero sus conflictos con la autoridad parecen surgir con bastante frecuencia debido a un exceso de energía, además de su rechazo a someterse dócilmente a sus abusadores.

Yessica es una chica sensible con una gran alegría por vivir y esto es evidente en su amistad con Miriam. Lo primero que Yessica nota en cuanto se sienta en la silla detrás de Miriam es que su largo cabello negro huele maravillosamente bien. Ella admira a Miriam desde el momento en que se conocen y de ahí en adelante se convierten en mejores amigas.


Yessica vive en un sector pobre de la Ciudad de México, tan pobre que las puertas de su casa que se encuentran por debajo del nivel de la calle son solamente cortinas, una clara indicación de que su familia no posee nada de valor para proteger del robo. Su madre trabaja muy duro lavando ropa ajena y cuando Yessica está en casa, también tiene que trabajar, ya sea lavando ropa o trastes o cuidando a los hijos más pequeños de su madre. Su padrastro y su hermanastro son los estereotípicos machos latinos y ambos parecen apreciar muy poco a Yessica o a su madre.

Mientras la amistad entre Yessica y Miriam se va desarrollando, la diferencia de clases entre las dos chicas se vuelve más gráfica. Miriam vive en un departamento de dos pisos con ventanas y puertas protegidas con barrotes—algo usual en los vecindarios de clase media en Latinoamérica. Al principio, todos los barrotes pueden llegar a impactar a los visitantes de países prósperos donde el nivel de seguridad en general no requiere de tales medidas. En los vecindarios de clase media alta en Latinoamérica, hay guardias de seguridad vigilando en las esquinas y en áreas de mucha afluencia y también es común que vigilen cada casa individualmente.

El estándar de vida de Miriam podría considerarse parecido al de los trabajadores pobres de los Estados Unidos, ya que su madre tiene largas jornadas de trabajo vendiendo zapatos en tiendas como Payless, sin embargo desde la perspectiva de Yessica, Miriam vive en el lujo.

La primera vez que la chica va a la casa de Miriam, Yessica admira la opulencia de tales "lujos" como un refrigerador y una tina de baño. Las dos chicas se dan el gusto de bañarse juntas, jugando con burbujas y pasando tiempo juntas. Además de tener en común el amor al maquillaje y al perfume, Miriam y Yessica sienten una conexión por el hecho de que ninguna de las dos conoció a su padre, siendo las dos hijas de madres solteras, aunque la madre de Yessica se haya vuelto a casar.

 Mientras se va desarrollando su amistad, el aroma de las violetas se vuelve un vínculo que las une. Miriam le lleva una barra de jabón a la escuela a Yessica para que lo huela, confirmando que es el mismo aroma que ella olió en su cabello el día en que se conocieron.

En la casa de Miriam, Yessica constantemente está rociándose con los atomizadores que encuentra. Parecen perfumes baratos o rocíos corporales de perfumes que se venden en farmacias, pero para Yessica son un néctar de los dioses. Las chicas también juegan con maquillaje y bailan cuando están juntas en la escuela, pero la historia toma un giro inesperado y negativo un día en el que Yessica va caminando sola de regreso a su casa después de haber ido a casa de Miriam.

Esta escena desgarradora en la que Yessica es brutalmente violada, fue presagiada por conflictos anteriores. Al principio, las chicas se resistieron a las insinuaciones del hermanastro de Yessica y de su amigo, un chofer de autobús. Además, Yessica y su hermanastro están en constante conflicto en casa, sumergidos en una implacable lucha de poderes.

De forma escandalosa, el chofer del autobús sorprende a la chica cuando va caminando por la calle y la obliga a subir al autobús que se encuentra estacionado en un terreno baldío. Mientras tanto, el hermanastro de Yessica se sienta afuera del autobús para vigilar que nadie se acerque y se percate de lo que está sucediendo.

La violación deja a Yessica muy lastimada. Cuando regresa a la escuela, otros estudiantes se dan cuenta de la mancha de sangre en la parte de atrás de su falda durante la clase de deportes. La maestra la lleva a la oficina de la directora, en donde la regañan ambas mujeres y Yessica es incapaz de explicarles lo que acaba de ocurrirle. La directora se parece de forma escalofriante a Condoleezza Rice, recordándonos aquella frase que dijo: "No queremos que la evidencia irrefutable sea un hongo nuclear" y se comporta de manera hostil, abusando verbalmente de Yessica y lastimándola todavía más.

A pesar de todo lo que le ha sucedido, Yessica se tranquiliza y sigue adelante, negándose a permitir que la intimiden.

Pero la violación le ha 
pasado factura a la chica y cuando va con su novio a La Fuente, una especie de mirador donde las parejas se reúnen para pasar tiempo a solas, ella lo empujabruscamente cuando él intenta tocarla. Ella salta y corre, dejando atrás al chico que se queda confundido con el comportamiento de la chica. Claro que todo tiene sentido,tomando en cuenta lo que le ha pasado recientemente.

Miriam y Yessica continúan pasando tiempo juntas y un día que están viendo ligas para el cabello en un quiosco, Yessica roba una pequeña botella de perfume de violetas al que no puede resistirse. La chica corre con la botella, dejando atrás a Miriam, quien tiene que enfrentarse a la ira de la dueña de la tienda.

Miriam paga por el perfume y queda en estado de shock al ver que su mejor amiga fue capaz de hacerle tal cosa, va a la tienda donde trabaja su madre y le cuenta lo que sucedió.

La madre de Miriam ya estaba preocupada por la amistad de Miriam y Yessica, ya que anteriormente se dió cuenta entre otras cosas, de que fumaron en el departamento, lo que la enfurece ya que para ella fue muy difícil dejar de fumar.

Después de que su amigo, el chofer del autobús violó a Yessica, su hermanastro a quien el incidente le parece cómico, le advierte que no le diga nada a nadie acerca de lo que sucedió "o si no..." Él acepta el dinero que le da el violador como pago por hacer guardia durante la violación y usa este dinero para comprarse un par de tenis nuevos.

Durante la película, la fascinación que sienten los personajes relativamente pobres con objetos comerciales como objetos del deseo se muestra una y otra vez. Simbólicamente es la madre de Miriam quien le vende los zapatos al joven, ignorando por completo su conexión con Yessica.

La amistad de Miriam y Yessica ha sufrido una ruptura severa debido al robo del perfume de violetas y a la humillación y la vergüenza que esto le provocó a Miriam. Pareciera que no hay manera de reparar el daño, pero Yessica hace un collage de fotografías de ella y de Miriam y regresa a su casa para dárselo, disculpándose por lo que ha sucedido. 

Las chicas sienten alivio al reunirse de nuevo y Miriam desobedece el consejo de su madre de alejarse de Yessica. También le permite entrar a la casa en contra de las órdenes de su madre

En una de estas visitas, Yessica roba un fajo de dinero escondido dentro del joyero de la madre de Yessica, el cual le da a su propia madre, quien se ha quejado en reiteradas ocasiones de sus problemas económicos. El dinero robado son los ahorros de la madre de Miriam para comprar una televisión y cuando descubre que el dinero no está se enfurece. Acusa a Yessica e insiste en que no es solamente una ratera, sino una golfa. Básicamente, su explicación acerca de lo que le sucedió a Yessica (la violación) es que "ella se lo buscó."

Increíblemente, el chofer del autobús y el hermanastro de Yessica la vuelven a interceptar de nuevo para violarla en el autobús (al parecer se trata de violaciones seriales, aunque en la película solamente se muestran dos incidentes explícitos). Esta vez Yessica está aturdida y confundida, encuentra la manera de ir a la casa de Miriam pero no hay nadie.

Todas las puertas y ventanas están cerradas con cadenas y candados para evitar que alguien entre. Cuando comienza a llover, Yessica se esconde bajo la escalera y se queda dormida.

Al día siguiente, Yessica logra llegar a la escuela, donde la madre de Miriam ya ha hablado con la directora acerca de los robos que ha cometido Yessica—el perfume de violetas y el dinero—y mandan llamar a Yessica a la dirección, pero dos de los miembros del personal se percatan de lo que le ha sucedido (sus rodillas tienen moretones y su cuello está sangrando).

Por fin alguien en la escuela admite lo que ha sucedido y le dice a Yessica "Nadie tiene el derecho de hacerte eso." Mientras que la chica está en la enfermería de la escuela, Miriam le avienta un avión de papel por la ventana con una nota que dice que se reúnan en el baño.

Yessica va al baño esperando una reunión con su amiga. En vez de eso, Miriam la insulta verbalmente repitiendo las palabras con las que se expresó su madre acerca de Yessica: ¡ratera, traidora, puta! Las dos chicas están muy enojadas y comienzan a pelear, culminando trágicamente en la muerte de Miriam cuando se cae y se golpea la cabeza con la taza del baño.

Yessica se escapa y se dirige a la casa de Miriam donde se acuesta en su cama.

Cuando la madre de Miriam regresa a casa esa noche, encuentra la puerta entreabierta y se preocupa por su hija hasta que ve que su cama está ocupada. Se acuesta al lado de Yessica, quien está completamente cubierta con una cobija en la oscuridad. La madre se siente aliviada de ver que su hija está en casa, sana y salva porque piensa que la persona en la cama es Miriam. La película termina con el teléfono timbrando, es la llamada de alguien en la escuela para darle la noticia acerca de la horrible muerte de su hija.


Perfume de Violetas es un filme depresivo y casi nihilista. Ciertamente es un ejemplo extremo del cine negro, si bien se sitúa en la Ciudad de México, donde la corrupción cubre la historia por completo. La única persona entre todos los personajes que es completamente inocente es Miriam, quien muere asesinada como resultado de todas las fuerzas malignas que la rodean.

¿Cómo se hubiera podido prevenir esta tragedia? Tal vez si Yessica hubiera denunciado la primera violación tan pronto como sucedió. No lo hizo porque vivía en una cultura donde se asume que la culpa es de las mujeres quienes deben aceptar cualquier cosa de parte de los hombres. El comportamiento de las mujeres hacia otras mujeres a través de la película nos revela que ellas también han sido infectadas con el insidioso sexismo.

Mi reacción inicial a este filme fue que el final es exagerado e incluso siniestro, estirando nuestra credulidad más allá del punto de ruptura. El desenlace de hecho me recordó mucho al que es probablemente mi filme noir favorito (¡también en centelleante tecnicolor!): Plein Soleil [Purple Noon] (1960), dirigido por René Clément.

El trauma que experimentará la madre de Miriam al darse cuenta que la chica en la cama de su hija no es Miriam, quien de hecho está muerta, es verdaderamente difícil de imaginar.

La película está bien hecha y tiene un buen ritmo, cubriendo una impresionante cantidad de temas en tan solo 90 minutos. Claramente es una producción de bajo presupuesto pero está bien dirigida y las actuaciones también son muy buenas. También quedé impresionada con la ingeniosa selección de música. Mi queja principal acerca del filme fue solamente que la trama es tan terrible que es poco realista. Me quedé en estado de shock al enterarme en (la base de datos de películas en internet) que Perfume de Violetas  está basada en una historia real. Así que aunque la historia sea poco realista, resulta que los eventos que nos presenta realmente sucedieron, lo que hace que sea todavía más horrible.

Perfume de Violetas es una obra importante. Resalta las condiciones de vida de los pobres y de la clase trabajadora en la Ciudad de México y sigue la tradición de los autores de filmes en español como Luis Buñuel, quien durante su estancia en México dirigió Los Olvidados  (1950), un filme crudo en blanco y negro que también trata acerca de la situación apremiante de los pobres en la Ciudad de México pero se trata de gente en peores condiciones que Miriam o Yessica (y sin acceso al conocimiento o a los perfumes). Las Hurdes  (1933), dirigida por Buñuel en España también trata sobre un nivel de pobreza más bajo que el que se presenta en Perfume de Violetas.

En esta película el perfume juega un rol importante. El perfume es lo primero que atrae a Yessica de Miriam—o más bien el aroma de su cabello, que ella se lavaba con jabón de violetas. El perfume sirve como un medio a través de la historia por el cual Yessica escapa de su condición sórdida a un mundo de delicias olfativas.

El perfume representa la promesa y la esperanza. También mitiga el dolor de la chica violada. Después de haber sido violada, Yessica intenta reponerse y se niega a derrumbarse, acercándose al perfume para escapar a un mundo de fantasía en donde la maldad de la gente que la maltrata no existe.

El perfume también sirve como tentación. Yessica roba una pequeña botella de perfume de violetas del quiosco porque lo desea, pero no tiene el dinero para comprárselo. De esta forma, el perfume es una fuente potencial de peligro, ya que provoca que Yessica actúe en formas que afectan lo mejor que ha tenido hasta ahora en su vida: la amistad con una chica tierna y amable que es tan inocente que todavía  no hace distinciones sociales y económicas entre la gente.

Miriam acepta a Yessica como es, sin cuestionarse si ella está "del lado equivocado," por así decirlo. Incluso cuando Yessica lastima a Miriam en varias ocasiones, ella la perdona. Pero al final, no solamente pierde su amistad con ella y es por esto que este fime es tan nihilista. La esperanza y la belleza quedan destruídas, como cuando la madre enojada de Yessica rompe la botella de perfume, tirándolo al suelo en un despliegue de ira sin sentido. Prácticamente a través de esta acción le dice a su hija que no tiene derecho a tener un perfume porque ellos son pobres.

¿Cuál es el punto de este filme, para los perfumistas privilegiados como nosotros para quienes la única preocupación monetaria risible es si podemos comprar el último lanzamiento super nicho? ¿Cómo debemos interpretar esta historia tan perturbadora?

Para ser honesta, a veces me pregunto si no estamos viviendo en una gran burbuja perfumada. Cuando nos quejamos acerca del precio de un perfume o cuando discutimos entre nosotros sobre si la perfumería es un arte, estamos concediéndonos un lujo que está más allá de la realidad de la mayoría de la gente en el planeta y el de algunas personas cuyas condiciones se presentan en este filme que raya en lo obsceno.

A pesar de nuestro elevado estatus socioeconómico—como se puede evidenciar por el hecho de que podemos comprar perfumes y apreciarlos como un pasatiempo—nos parecemos a Yessica en nuestra fascinación con los perfumes. Estamos dispuestos a abstenernos de otras cosas, para poder comprar nuestros perfumes tan codiciados. Pero también hay un mensaje positivo.

Realmente, disfrutamos el perfume precisamente de la misma manera en que Yessica lo hace. El perfume es una fuente de placer para nosotros, como lo es para ella. ¿Importa que describamos esa fuente de placer de una manera u otra? ¿Por qué no podemos simplemente aceptar que el perfume nos produce placer? ¿Por qué tendría que haber algo más acerca de los perfumes? ¿Le tememos a nuestro propio hedonismo?

También a veces me pregunto si la energía dirigida hoy en día a defender la afirmación de que la perfumería es una de las bellas artes, no es desproporcionada en comparación con las consecuencias de tal opinión si se confirmara por unos cuantos de la élite. Obviamente la experiencia del perfume por parte de personas como Miriam y Yessica no cambiaría en lo más mínimo.

¿Cambiaría nuestra propia apreciación del perfume si lo describiéramos en los términos idealistas de alguna teoría difícil de comprender? Yo creo que no. Aún amaríamos a los perfumes precisamente por la misma razón y precisamente de la misma manera en que Yessica lo hace. ¿Por qué? Porque huele bien.

*Advertencia: Si te encuentras entre los millones de personas que están intentando desengancharse de los SSRIs— habiéndose percatado por lo menos de la dolorosa epifanía de que todo fue una trampa compleja concebida para llenar los bolsillos de los directores generales de Pharmafim y al mismo tiempo lograr que te calles—entonces te recomiendo que te mantengas muy alejado de este filme crudo y casi nihilístico.