Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Scent of Moving--Lessons Learned, #1

I have known for quite some time that perfumistas inhabit a parallel universe, conversing with like-minded fragrance fanatics in a subculture unknown to the vast majority of humanity. One stark confirmation of this reality was that while apartment hunting during the month of February, I saw a grand total of two perfume bottles in other people's homes.

In a bedroom in Salem, Massachusetts--where I briefly considered moving just because it was possible, and I figured Why not?--I espied a bottle of Beyoncé Heat. Not a vanity tray filled with various perfumes or even all of the flankers of Britney Spears, but a single bottle of Beyoncé Heat:

There was no box with the bottle I saw, but I recognized it, as I had made the mistake of trying the fragrance at TJMaxx a while back, the experience of which branded the image of the bottle in my memory bank.

The second bottle which I saw while looking for a new and humbler abode was Calvin Klein Euphoria. Thanks to the ubiquity of Euphoria ads, I'd have recognized the attractive vessel even if I didn't happen to own a large bottle myself. True, I basically never wear the fragrance, but I acquired the bottle from a Sephora certificate coffret offer--it was the least-bad choice among the available options. I also have a couple (or is it a few?) of the Calvin Klein "mega-minis" of Euphoria--with a full half-ounce in in each one, so when I have worn the woody-fruity-oriental with a somewhat blunt but not repulsive demeanor (usually for comparison purposes), I have sprayed from one of those:

So that was it. During the months of February and March, I packed up hundreds of bottles of my own perfume, and probably thousands of minis and sample vials, but throughout my quest for an apartment, I saw only two other bottles of perfume. No doubt there were other perfume bottles in some of the other abodes, but they were hidden away in drawers or more likely bathroom cabinets, I suspect, among the owners' other toiletries (as they would conceive of perfume). I doubt that, like me, anyone else's chests of drawers, and lingerie cabinet, and armoires, and closets, and various and sundry other storage boxes and drawers were all filled with perfume.

What this shows, I believe, is that perfume simply is not that important to most people. They'll wear whatever they happen to have received as a gift or were persuaded through marketing to purchase, but perfume is just not that big of a deal to the unwashed masses--or the washed masses, for that matter.

One implication of this fact is that the vast majority of people are not going to give a damn what happens with IFRA and legislation governing perfume ingredients. It just does not matter to them. If someone tells them that it's all for the good of their health, they'll accept this as the truth and buy whatever is currently being marketed as perfume. Tell them that eggs are bad, and they'll stop eating eggs. Basically, they'll accept whatever the designated authorities say. Consequently, it seems quite likely that most consumers from here on out will have no idea what the world of perfume was like pre-Y2K. Ignorance is a bliss, so they'll be perfectly happy wearing their Heat or Euphoria or whatever Coty happens to hurl their way.

At the same time, most of us who do know what perfumery was like back in the day, also have sizeable perfume collections, so we are covered just as well, proving once again that Leibniz was right: this is the best of all possible worlds, because it is the only one we've got. It's where we happen to be, and wondering what our lives would be like if we inhabited another place at another time is ultimately for naught.

I recall when I was in Port of Spain, Trinidad, for a conference a few years back that I was stunned by the sight of the shanty towns rimming the city. The place was oppressively hot, and those people were living out in the open, with no climate control. Probably not wearing much perfume. Oakmoss is just not an issue for them.

While in Accra, Ghana, where I also went to attend a conference, I walked through portions of the city with open sewers. In San Jose, Costa Rica, I saw people whose livelihood derives from plastifying things for people with enough money to have things worth plastifying. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, I saw people whose source of food was other people's trash. In such spaces, far from our slick niche emporia, fresh air becomes the sought-after scent.

Why are we here, while they are there? The luck of the draw, no more and no less.


  1. It is not the "luck of the draw". This is the good old United States. People come here to better themselves. U.S. Charities help the poor in other less fortunate countries. But, time and again, as you say ... when we travel ... we see how good we really have it. Things in abundance. Technology. Perfumes. More than we can ever use in a life time. You see only a few bottles in the homes you considered? That may be true. The masses are brainwashed to accept just any last issued flanker of a name. Ouf, got that off my chest. Thanks for listening. I enjoy your writing, Sherapop.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ursula. Some people in the United States did make an extraordinary effort to better their conditions; most were simply born here and benefited from the efforts of those who preceded them. So, yes, I maintain that in 98% of the cases it is a matter of "the luck of the draw"!

      I also have a less sunny view of the effects of U.S. policies on other states than you do. For every story of charitable intervention, there are ten others of nocent interventions... But that's another story altogether!


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