Monday, January 27, 2014

Is Perfume Make-up? The Strange Case of Scented Nail Polish

It appears that the "perfume is art" crowd are being given a run for their money by an opposing force no doubt championed much more vigorously by the corporatized fragrance industry. Perfume in some circles has now become make-up! 

I recently happened upon an advertisement for a new and unexpected product while flipping through one of the many worthless magazines littering my apartment. I receive a lot of magazines in part because Fragrancenet offers a free subscription with every purchase. So that's how I ended up with lengthy, multiyear subscriptions to such publications as Cosmopolitan, Martha Stewart Living, Every Day with Rachel Ray, Better Homes & Gardens, and the magazine in which this advertisement appeared: Allure, which is devoted above all to make-up. The only magazine perhaps even more ridiculous and yet frighteningly a sign of the post-post-modern, SSRI, Twitter-twenty-first-century times may be Lucky, which is dedicated to ... drum roll ... shopping!

This is a perfect example of why I do find myself leafing rapidly through an issue of this sort of magazine before dropping it into the vertical. Who knows what one may learn about contemporary culture, society, and mores? In this case, I learned that, unbelievably enough, there is now a perfumed nail polish being made by Revlon, in its special Parfumerie line.

I was initially thinking about simply approaching this topic from a purely philosophical perspective: Is perfume make-up, after all? Is it perhaps not entirely coincidental that Chandler Burr's disappearance from the Museum of Arts and Design was approximately concomitant with the appearance of perfumed nail polish on the market? To be honest, I'm not sure when Revlon's Parfumerie collection was launched, but I do believe that Chandler Burr's fifteen minutes of fame as a "perfume is art" theorist have now elapsed.

Does this mean that the powerful "perfume is a toiletry" lobby which exerts enormous influence on the industry--and indeed perhaps is identical with the mainstream fragrance industry--has won out? This development may be hailed or scorned, but in all likelihood that will depend upon one's prior beliefs about "perfume as art" and "perfume as toiletry". 

If you already believe that all perfume is directly connected to all cologne, which began as a way for stinky people without access to frequent baths to cover up their own bodily stench, and therefore is obviously a toiletry (being a bath surrogate), then the sight of the above Revlon Parfumerie advertisement is probably not going to bother you in the least.

If, on the other hand, you prefer to think of perfume as something loftier, something higher, something transcendent, perhaps something that someone like Jackson Pollock might create, then the sight of this little splotch of Revlon Parfumerie Beachy, which may in fact resemble some artist's work of art somewhere, may be a bit disconcerting:

As usual, sherapop manages to navigate her epistemological way through this untenable duality. Yes, of course, perfume is used as a way of masking body odor or else to add some where there is none. Musk and ambergris perfumes, anyone? Yes, of course, people like Daniela Andrier and Bertrand Duchaufour and Jean-Claude Elléna and Dominique Ropion and (add your favorite perfumer) __________________ are creative spirits and bursting with talent. But none of either of these two ways of looking at perfume--as a "mere" toiletry or as an exalted "art""--tells the whole story. The truth, my fragrant friends, is that 

Perfume is perfume!

As a toiletry, the Revlon Parfumerie project is an epic fail. Why? Because the dried perfume-enamel amalgamate, which I painted onto the back of an envelope--I figured that there was no need to risk the test on my own nails, especially with bedtime on the horizon--smells just like nail polish! 

Anyone who has ever used nail polish is aware--or was at one time--of its dangerously potent fumes, so volatile and intense that it's difficult to suppress the suspicion that it may very well be causing brain cell damage each and every time that it is used. Hopefully not, but let's face it, the scent differs from that of glue (as in glue sniffing) in degree, not in kind.

I find, in fact, that this Revlon Parfumerie Beachy, which I selected thinking that it might possibly smell like Lilly Pulitzer Beachy, or perhaps even Bond no 9 Fire Island, occupies an olfactory coordinate not terribly far from the opening of Lanvin Rumeur. But that's only because that perfume opens just like the scent of a chemical industry waste factory.

Yes, I am afraid that the Revlon experiment in product multitasking has failed in this case. No worries, though, because it will only be a matter of time before the experiment is undertaken again, by day laborers working under the yoke of some driven triple-A personality CEO, and eventually some synthetic organic chemist somewhere will devise a way to insert a scent more powerful than the scent of nail polish into the nail polish so that one can buy a single product under the guise of either perfume or nail polish (what's your pleasure?) rather than buying both.

Wait a minute! How, then, could it be that the cosmetic industry is producing such a thing, working to decrease the amount of wallet share which they can siphon off the readers of Allure magazine? This case reminds me in some ways of the Starbucks Via project. Why is Starbucks trying to sell to its very own customers products which obviate the need for them to stop off in the stores to buy $6 cups of coffee? 

The answer, my fragrant friends, in both cases, is that these companies are after total global hegemonic control. Whatever beverage you may choose to drink, and in whatever format, Starbucks will be there for you.  (Lest you forget, they acquired both Tazo and Teavana!) And whichever make-up or fragrance product you choose to spend the discretionary share of your paltry Friday take-home pay on, Revlon wants to be in on it!


  1. Revlon isn't the first to do the trick with a scented nail polish. A couple of years ago I bought Dior's Waterlily that smelled of rose. And you know what? It does smell. But not during the application but after it dries down. And the smell stays for a couple of hours.

    1. Gosh, I am really behind the times! I cannot say that I am entirely surprised that Dior (LVMH) did this first.

      Now you have motivated me to return to CVS today and trade my bottle for a different variety. I'll see whether it is better done and report back!

      Thank you, Undina!

  2. You are right. It is a stupid idea which will eventually fail. Nail polish (acetone) smells awful. Because no amount of added perfume can really make the difference. And be a woman and flirt with your painted nails? The subtle art of perfumed flirting is much better when the scent is applied at the pulse points, where the heart beat makes the scent exude to charm, and also be a manifest of good perfume that was skillfully put together, sometimes (hopefully) a work of art.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Ursula! Please see Undina's link above: Apparently Dior has been more successful at realizing this concept!

  3. I havent tried this brand but I've had a few bottle of the scented polish over the years from Revlon's fruity collection and Avon's christmas collection. They do smell quite nice if you put your nose right above your nails once they are dried, however as someone who never goes without polish I could not go without a top coat to protect my finished look and as soon as you add a top coat you have sealed in the scent and your nails no longer smell... Maybe they should go with scented clear top coats if anything, but the scent is still not strong enough for anyone else to smell unless you find a reason to get your nails within an inch of their nose..

    1. Thank you, Anonymous, for sharing your experience with scented nail lacquer. It sounds as though you have the best idea: top coat only--otherwise, what's the point?

      I'll be trying another color/scent from the Revlon Parfumerie collection later today and will report back!

    2. Just wanted to add that with the Avon Christmas collection from 2 or 3 years ago, the scent lasted several days on my nails. The scents were a pine tree, cinnamon, candy cane and gingerbread, probably much heavier than the Beachy you tried. Everytime I took a drink or ate something I could smell it.

  4. A scented topcoat is featured in this clip of Jennifer Lawrence from American Hustle: (feel free to remove the link)
    She also has the great remark that perfume doesn't really work unless it has an unpleasant odor in it too.

    I remember vaguely from back in the 70s perfumed nail polish from some mainstream brand-- floral, but yes there was the odor of lacquer behind it.

    -- Lindaloo

  5. Am I the only one who finds the idea of smelly nails or someone sniffing their nails or somebody else's nails disgusting?

    1. as a smoker my nails are under or near my nose a lot so a quick whiff of scent is nice.. I often spray my perfume on the back of my hand & fingers for just this reason =)


All relevant comments are welcome at the salon de parfum—whether in agreement or disagreement with the opinions here expressed.

Effective March 14, 2013, comment moderation has been implemented in order to prevent the receipt by subscribers of unwanted, irrelevant remarks.