Friday, February 17, 2012

Favorite coupledoms in Movies/TV/Books

Dear reader,

Do you know what a 'shipper is? It's someone who gets super into relationships in pop culture and feels very strongly about the fates and futures of said relationships. I, dear reader, am a shipper. I'm not hardcore, per se. I don't write fanfiction to create alternate universes where my couples get together. I don't wear 'TEAM' t-shirts. But I do strongly identify with a fictional relationship occasionally and root for that relationship.

So in honor of it being Valentine's week, and because I am feeling especially sappy this year, here is a list of a few of my favorite 'ships from movies, books, and television, along with a (sometimes unconventional) song for them and a scent or two.


1. Debi Newberry & Martin Blank, Grosse Pointe Blank

You know the story. "Spring of '96. Two young lovers with frightening natural chemistry. A girl sits in a seven hundred dollar prom dress on the front steps of her house, waiting for the most romantic moment of her young life. Boy never shows up. Not until now." Debi and Martin are wonderful because they lead us to believe those that loved us once, and loved us best, might still love us again. Even in an ugly callous cynical and sarcastic world like the one of Grosse Pointe Blank, love conquers all -- in fully-automatic style.

Martin: "I'm sorry if I fucked up your life."
Debi: "It's not over yet."

Song: Peter Gabriel, "Let My Love Open the Door (To Your Heart);" Neko Case, "This Tornado Loves You"
Perfume: I always think of Debi (half) ironically wearing CK Obsession to the reunion. Is that weird? Martin does have obsessive recurring dreams about her... Martin doesn't wear anything. Someone might smell him coming.


2. Jane Eyre & Edward Fairfax Rochester, Jane Eyre

Now and forever, Jane and Edward will stand out in my mind as two sad and broken people who find each other and, despite great obstacles of circumstance and social convention, rebel against everything in defense of their love for one another. Is their relationship problematic? Sure. Could I forgive Edward if I were Jane? I don't know. I only know that when she hears his name on the wind, she goes to him, and I am glad she does.

Songs: Depeche Mode, "Somebody," The Decemberists, "Hazards of Love"
Perfume: For Jane, Guerlain Mitsouko; For Rochester, Guerlain Habit Rouge.


3. Nora Grey & Patch Cipriano, Hush, Hush series

I wasn't sure how I felt about Patch initially. He ran hot/cold and was often mean, way meaner than Daniel was to Luce in Fallen. It's hard to resist roguish, though. Is it wrong when I mentally picture Patch, he's basically Jess Mariano? But, you know, more of a '50s tough, and angelic. I like that Nora doesn't always trust him and isn't always willing to listen. I like that she makes her own decisions. Over the course of the series, Nora grows into one of the bravest female protagonists I've found in YA today. I'm excited to see how the series resolves.

Songs: Lou Reed, "This Magic Moment;" The Smiths "There is a Light That Never Goes Out"
Perfume: Patch is supposed to smell like "mint and earth," so I'm tossing CB I Hate Perfume Black March onto the list, but I admit I also associate Il Profumo Patchouli Noir with Patch and Nora.


4. Ethan Wate & Lena Duchannes, Beautiful Creatures

Ethan & Lena - you want to talk about two kids who will break your heart? Here they are. The most wonderful thing about this series is that the stories are told from Ethan's perspective, and he's the devoted and wounded one most of the time. Lena is confused, wild, willful, and non-conformist. And even when they're apart, their love is strong enough it could reconfigure time and space, even tear the world in two.

Songs: The Band Perry, "Walk Me Down the Middle;" Alison Brown, "Every Day I Write the Book;" The White Stripes, "Sugar Never Tasted So Good"
Perfume: Lena's scent, rosemary and lemons, which always makes me think of Miller Harris Fleurs de Bois, because it's meant to be a warm weather scent and it is always hot in Gatlin.


5. Bella Swan & Jacob Black, Twilight

Yeah, yeah, Edward is forever, he and Bella are both eternal sparkly diamond parents. Call me a heretic, but to me the more interesting relationship isn't the first person you love who screws you over, abandons you, and breaks your heart. It's the person who comes after them. The person that says "Yes, I see how broken and messed up you are. That's okay. I'll love you, anyway." That's the person who restores my faith in humanity, my hope for a better love tomorrow. You know that Garth Brook's song, "Unanswered Prayers"? I love that song. Because Charlie is right - sometimes you have to love what's good for you. Or at least, here in the non-sparkly world, you should.

Songs: Soltero, "The Moment You Said Yes;" Linda Ronstadt, "When Will I Be Loved;" Natasha Bedingfield, "Pocket Full of Sunshine"
Perfume: I always think Bella must smell like food since people want to eat her, but if we focus on the non-blood drinkable parts of Bella (Are there any?), then I want to give her and Jacob a warm, sunny scent reflective of their warmth and Bella's desert origins, like Tauer Perfumes L'Air du Desert Marocain or  Olympic Orchids Arizona. (Too on the nose?)


6. The Doctor & Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

They traveled through time and space, exploring both together and saving the world.  They literally bent (and sometimes broke) the laws of the universe to find one another even when it seemed. Their isn't just a love for the ages, it is a love for all ages, all times, all dimensions. He's her mad man in a blue box; she's his Bad Wolf. Enough said.

Songs: Lykke Li, "Unrequited Love;" David Bowie, "Modern Love;" Beatles, "Here, There, and Everywhere"
Perfume: I want to put Rose in something excellent like By Kilian Back to Black, but she's probably wearing Burberry Brit with those overalls. And I can't scent the Doctor, but I  know Esscentual Alchemy Natural Perfumes has taken a delightful stab with Time Lord, found here.


7. Elena Gilbert and Stefan Salvatore, The CW's The Vampire Diaries

I know, I know. Believe me. Damon and Elena means more Damon, and who couldn't use more of that?  Damon is so hot sometimes I think my eyeballs will literally melt out of my head. But when it comes to Elena, I'm going to have to say that she was a healthier, happier person with Stefan, and Stefan was a less Ripper/slightly more broody version of himself. They love each other and they're better for and with each other. We're all going to have to deal with that.

(Which leaves Damon conveniently available....right?)

Songs: Fiona Apple, "Slow Like Honey;"  Feist, "1-2-3-4;" Iron & Wine, "Such Great Heights"
Perfume: Elena is so innocent, but I can't help but imagine her running around Mystic Falls in Agent Provocateur. Okay, maybe she only wears that only when she starts running around in one of those ridiculous Founder's event ballgowns.  The rest of the time she probably rocks something like Prada Infusion d'Iris. Stefan probably wears something youthful and full of denial, like Davidoff Cool Water or Thierry Mugler Angel AMen. (And I like to imagine Damon wearing Bvlgari Black, and his songs for Elena have to be Chris Issak's "Wicked Game" and Ok Go's "A Million Ways to be Cruel".)


8. Logan Echolls & Veronica Mars, Veronica Mars

Oh, Veronica and Logan. How I love to want to kill both of you for being stupid.  If ever two people were a disaster of epic love proportions, it is you two. You hurt each other over and over, and yet there is not a moment after the kiss on the balcony that I cannot see you together. It just seems cataclysmically meant to be.

Logan: "I thought our story was epic, you know? You and me."
Veronica: "Epic how?"
Logan: "Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined and blood shed. Epic!"
Veronica: "Come on. Ruined lives? Bloodshed? You really think a relationship should be that hard?"
Logan: "No one writes songs about the ones that come easy."

Songs: Mike Doughty, "I Hear the Bells;" Blair, "Hearts;" The Be Good Tanyas, "In Spite of All the Damage I've Done"
Perfume: Veronica wears Jovan White Musk (Okay, this is a cheat KBell wears it herself, and I can't not think that when I mentally sniff her.) For Logan, something warm and sexy and not necessarily traditional - Costume National 21 or CB/Alan Cumming's 2nd Cumming.


9. Buffy Summers & Angel, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer

One girl in all the world... and one vampire redeemed find love against all odds. It's written in the stars by the Powers that Be.  Some day, hopefully in the not so distant future, she will stop carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. And when she does, the monster she made a man will be waiting. (I mentally retcon the Angel/Cordelia fiasco. When it comes to Angel and Buffy, there can be only one.)

Angel: "You still my girl?"
Buffy: "Always."

Songs: Urge Overkill, "Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon;" Bat for Lashes "Siren Song;" Tom Petty, "Angel Dream (No. 2)"
Perfume: Serge Luten Bois de Violette, which I cannot justify. I don't even know where Buffy would come by such a thing. I just feel like she would. Or maybe Atelier Grand Neroli? Sweet and not necessarily innocent or fragile, but hopeful nonetheless, particularly in those early seasons.


10. Sydney Bristow & Michael Vaughan, Alias

In the first three seasons of this show, their love was so amazing and palpable and yet played with such restraint and subtly that I could not get enough of it. There is this scene from the first season that completely sold me on this relationship. Sydney is having an awful time.  She calls Vaughan and they meet on a pier pretending not to be together.  Overcome, Sydney starts sobbing, and you can just tell it is killing Vaughan he can't hurt her or help her or make it better.  Then Sydney reaches out and takes his hand, even though she's not supposed to and its dangerous and stupid and could blow her cover and get them both killed, because she cannot help herself. Even though  she can't even look back at him, and it doesn't matter because...he's her anchor.  He's the thing that keeps her in that moment from giving up.  From that moment on you just know somewhere deep inside, no matter what happens, they'll find their way back to one another.

Songs: Peggy Lee & Benny Goodman, "All I Need Is You"; Beatles, "I've Just Seen a Face;" Robin Thicke, "When I Get You Alone"
Perfume: Sydney might where a lot of different scents with her costumes, but she strikes me as a classic sort of girl -- Chanel No. 5 or Worth Je Reviens, maybe? Something that screams classic and elegant and refined, but not too noticeable - a great cover for the dangerous, adventure-loving spy in us all.

I have a tough time scenting Michael Vartan because I feel like, having spent a huge portion of his formative years in France, he'd have some strong personal preferences.  Vaughan, on the other hand, probably wears something very work-a-day government handler, like Old Spice. Boring, conventional, reliable, but also...attractive.


That's my list.  What couples for you 'ship, dear reader? I see Titanic is being re-released in 3D soon.  Who wants to tell me what they think Jack or Rose would wear?  Wish I'd done Tara & Willow from Buffy instead? Any Luke Danes/Lorelai Gilmore fans out there? What about Wash & Zoe from Firefly? Or Brian Kinney & Justin Taylor from Queer as Folk(I will never forget that dance scene.) 

Inquiring 'shippy minds want to know.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day from Feminine Things.

Happy Valentines Day!

From my little corner of the world to yours,
I wish you all a happy Tuesday with those you love,
both near and far.

Brunch and a trip to buy the newest
Buffy Season 9 comics -
our version of a V-Day date!

Jo Malone's Red Roses Chronicle - my gift to myself.

And congrats to our winner, ccdouglass!
Thanks for being my bloggy valentine.

Please email feminine(dot)things @ gmail(dot)com so I can send you your lovely gift! And thanks to all those who entered.  More drawings to come!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Is there room for more perfume writing?

Blogging: A Mission Statement

Pat at OlfactaRama had a great post about the general rumbling among fragrance bloggers regarding the 'glut' of new perfumer reviewers/writers/bloggers. I've seen this rumbling around for a bit now, most recently in sort of warning piece/guest post by Vanessa Musson of Bonkers for Perfume, at Now Smell This! entitled "5 things to think about before you start a perfume blog," and then a follow-up post, "The Sequel: 5 Things I Have Learnt From Perfume Blogging."

A mission statement?
You know that's right!
Now I don't want to pick on Vanessa. She is not the first, nor will she be the last, to talk about perfume bloggers or the number thereof or what makes a good/bad blog. Also, I think she had some interesting and useful things to say. FN1. But I do want to talk about this whole "why are you blogging/should you be blogging" thing because I've been wanting to comment on it for a while, and I didn't want to write a thousand word manifesto in someone else's comments section.

Okay, maybe not a manifesto.  It's more like...

A mission statement.

That's right people. I'm about to go all Jerry Maguire up in here. FN2. In fact, let's run with that as a theme, shall we? FN3.

I hated myself... no, I hated my place in the world.

Let me tell you why I started Feminine Things. I was in law school. I was miserable. I had leveraged my future to the hilt to earn my degree, only to find out that I hated my classmates/future colleagues and my industry. FN4. I hadn't written anything fun or interesting in a while. I felt as though my logic-driven studies was literally sucking the creativity out of me through my pores.

At the same time, I met Angela from Now Smell This! through our respective jobs. I told her I was thinking of buying myself a bottle of perfume for my thirtieth birthday. She brought me some samples.

So that's what oakmoss
looks like...
I summarily lost my mind and began buying tens of samples. FN5. I kept trying to keep straight what I'd tried and hadn't, what I liked best, why I liked one thing more than another. I didn't know anything about perfume.

 I had never heard the word "chypre." I couldn't tell a gardenia from a jasmine, a leather rose from a powder rose. I couldn't pronounce most of the perfume house names. I didn't even know what the big houses were.

But I had some free time. And I needed to keep track of what I was smelling. And I needed a writing prompt to help me begin writing again. I figured, "What could be harder than writing about the way something smelled for people who couldn't actually be present to smell it?

So I started this blog.

If this [points to heart] is empty, this [points to head] doesn't matter.

Let me tell you how little I had to go on. I didn't own any non-Body Shop/Bath & Body Works perfume when I started. No one linked to me. No one. My friends didn't even read my blog. You know how much I cared? Not even a little.

Those sunglasses are to hide
my tear-filled eyes.
I didn't start the blog to get readers. I needed a place to think and reflect and write. I needed, some days, a place to scream.  I needed a place for me.

Perfume inspired me. It was overwhelming at first.  I would put something on, and BAM! The perfume I was smelling made me feel...everything.

I would smell a scent and it would remind me of my deceased grandfather, and I wept. Another would remind me of the smell of gardenias in my grandmother's backyard...and I blubbered for an hour. A scent reminiscent of my old high school boy friend? More tears.

Basically, I cried a lot.

But I also wrote a lot. I remembered how much I liked words, liked the texture and feel of them in my mouth as I read my writing back to myself. I loved the vivid images perfumes evoked, the random pop cultural connections that would spring into my head when I sniffed at my hand, and just how damned happy I was. My perfume made me so happy. Still does.

First class, that's what's wrong. It used to be a better meal, now it's a better life.

They get free samples in first class?
Even over a year later, I didn't have anyone sending me samples. FN6.   I didn't have any awards. I didn't have any invites to be part of special blogging events. I still didn't have any links to other bloggers. I didn't even have someone to swap with because Angela and I had both left our positions and, sadly, didn't see much of one another.

 I was spending all my disposable income and then some on samples, but there was no way I could keep up with blogs like Now Smell This! or Perfume Posse. So I didn't bother trying. I bought sample sets from The Perfumed Court so I could learn the difference between a candied violet and a soapy violet, if anyone could make a decent orange scent, what constituted a boozy scent, whether I'd ever like anything other than a rose. New releases - who cared? I hadn't even tried Patou Joy or Guerlain Mitsouko yet.

I read a few books about perfume, but mostly? I just smelled, and then I wrote about it. Then I'd smell some more, and write about it. I'm not promoting blogging with blind ignorance.  I'm just saying, everybody has to start somewhere, and you should never be so afraid of looking stupid you miss an opportunity to learn. As I blogged, I trusted my instincts and my own impressions of the scents. You know why? Perfumes smell different to and on different people. They evoke different memories. They elicit different connections. What smells like a funeral to me may smell like heaven to you.  I think both reviews are probably correct.

Was I writing what my esteemed colleagues were? Nope. As far as I could tell, everyone else had a lot more knowledge of the industry and a lot fewer pop references, no one else was using song lyrics for titles, and I didn't see anyone else occasionally freaking out about feminist politics. Did I have "a new perspective to offer"? Ha! Who cared? I was writing again. It felt terrific.

This April 15 will mark four full years of blogging about perfume. I haven't stopped yet, and I have no intention of doing so.

The key to this business is personal relationships.

One thing that keeps coming up in posts about the 'crowded field' of perfume blogging is the idea of "lost readership" and " fluctuating traffic" and "shouting into the void."

Largely these things seem like nonsensical concerns to me. I admit to being flattered by readership. Who isn't? I admit I like comments. But mostly, I write this blog for me. Maybe it's the writer in me that thinks it's a good idea, but I prefer to give credit to the historian.

When I was in college, I read A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 for a class. This work by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is one of the best books you can read about American life in the period in large part because it reflects the thoughts and feelings of the daily life of a real person as they were living it. This is history gold, people! It doesn't get more primary source than that.

 Do I think I deserve to be the speaker for our times? No, I do not. But I suspect Martha Ballard didn't think she would be either. Part of the reason I write this blog,  and part of why I write and document my life to (quite frankly) an absurd degree (you really should see my scrap books of movie tickets stubs - not even joking), is because part of me thinks, "What if I end up the Martha Ballard of the early 21st Century?" You never know who the Angel of History's eye will fall upon in the rubble. If it's me? I'd like there to be plenty of material for that intrepid historical scholar to work from.

And to that end, I try to document the work I've enjoyed reading around the internet here, and on twitter, FB, G+, and the like. I like to share things with people, to talk about them and read them. And I like to give inspirational credit where credit is due, even if the inspiration is to blog at length about how I disagree, whether that be related to perfume or not. Discourse is intensely valuable and immeasurably rewarding, particularly when it challenges us to (re)consider our own assumed postures. I am grateful to those who prompt me to bring pen to paper, fingers to keyboard.

Plus, being nice? Kind of the golden rule.

Hey, I don't have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded.

This isn't my first blog. I started a livejournal back in the late 1990s, then I had an independent blog I designed myself that was hosted on a friend's server for a few years. Before that, I wrote in spiral bound notebooks. FN7.

Can I be your ambassador
of perfume kwan?
I'm not really in the beauty industry, and I doubt I ever will be. I still don't know as much about perfume as a lot of other bloggers. You know what I learned on Castle two weeks ago? How to properly say the name of a perfume I actually own. FN8.

I keep going anyway, learning and trying and collecting. Will I keep writing Feminine Things for a while? I like to think so. I see no reason for stopping. And even though I do have all those things now - awards and event invites, links and followers and commenters and even, yes, the occasional free samples to review - I would still keep writing here if I didn't.

Most flattering to me, though, is that you keep reading, and others find my work valuable.  This blog ended up on a couple of Women's Studies syllabi in courses on feminism and the beauty industry in the last couple of years.  I actually got to send a message to one of the classes that used my blog.  As someone who has made a life of studying sex and gender in popular culture, it touches me to think I might help someone else learn and grow.

Truthfully? I never track my traffic. I didn't even know about this wikio/Ebuzzing thing until I read Vanessa's follow-up piece. Google ranks sites? News to me. I like it when people post on my drawings, because I like to give pretty things away. Other than that? I might as well be writing letters to myself.

When I went back to look at my very short initial post today, there was a comment on it, one I never even replied to. How great is that? Three days in and I had a reader. One reader. Perhaps it's her I'm still writing to.

When I write the words, dear reader, I am literally imagining you out there, reader, and I hope you will hear me when I say the following:

Words are tools; writing, a learned skill. The more you use them, the better you get at writing. Whatever inspires you to write, write about that. If it's wine? Start a w(h)ine blog. If it's shoes, go with that fetish. If it's making up funny, misspelled statements to apply on photos of cats, I hear there's a market for that. It's a big old internet out there, and I am not in any way afraid of losing my reader to you. I can't. They live here, in my head.

You complete me, dear reader!
So if you've got something to say about perfume, I want to hear it! If you've started a scent blog you don't see listed in my sidebar of bloggers, tell me. Provided you aren't a spamming troll, I'll be happy to add you. I can't promise I will always have time to read everything you write and comment on it, but if you inspire me to think or talk or write, I will give you the internet love you deserve. And I truly hope you do it better than I do, even if you start your very first post tomorrow.

Who knows - I might even learn something.

Leave a comment to be added to the blogroll.  Or just to say you love/hate/indifferent me, sweet reader.  For deep down in the spidery corners of my ventricular chambers, I feel the same about you.

But I love my wife husband. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.
FN1. For instance, I, too, regret not going with Wordpress. Though if I move now, I'm probably going to Drupal Gardens. Because this Bitch? She hearts the cutting edge technologies. (Given that, I still don't know why I ended up on Blogger. I think because I was broke and it was free. Thanks for asking.)

FN2. Dorothy: "I loved your memo, by the way."
Jerry: "Thanks... actually, it was just a Mission Statement."

FN3. Also, if you all don't like this post, please don't golf clap me off stage left with my sad little fish in hand. Plus, Tom Cruise is actually bonkers, so I think it works thematically. Also, I love Cameron Crowe, so you can all suck it.

Wait -- am I not supposed to be telling readers to suck it? Damn, I'm bad at this.

FN4. Loved my coursework and my profs, though. Holla to my Lewis & Clark faculty, what? What! Seriously, though. I really should have just gotten a Ph.D. in Legal History or Legal Philosophy.

FN5. Yes, tens, not hundreds. I was broke, remember?

FN6. I actually don't mind paying for samples.  I appreciate that materials are expensive and most of the perfumers I buy from are independent small business owners who need to recoup/cover their costs.  I'm just happy they let me have the samples, instead of selling by full bottle only.  I couldn't afford to try much perfume if I had to buy full bottles just to try them.

FN7. I still write long hand in notebooks.

FN8. Seriously. It isn't fracas? As in "to cause a"? I am terrrrible with French. Ah well. I might sound like a stupid culturally-illiterate American, but at least I don't smell like one.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Will of Instinct.

On Amanda Palmer, Nirvana, and the Language of Violence in Popular Culture


This is not about perfume. No, this is about AMANDA FUCKING PALMER (aka AFP), and intimate violence and sex/gender politics.

I remember the first time I heard Nirvana’s “Polly.” I was, I don’t know, fourteen, I think, but already deeply familiar with the idea of being trapped in a cage by someone violent who thought they loved you. FN1. I remember having a visceral and negative reaction to “Polly” in the same way I had negative reactions to the fetus tree imagery in “Heart Shaped Box.” I remember thinking at the time that Kurt was an angry dude who did not like women, and who seemed to blame his feelings of inadequacy as a man not on patriarchy and misogyny, but on the women in his life and at large. I distinctly remember having an argument with a boy I was dating over this feeling and being completely without the language I needed to express my reactions to some of Nirvana’s work, particularly “Polly,” in a coherent way.

Let me say that I know very little about the Patron Saint of Grunge. I haven’t bothered to study him. So when I talk about all this, I’m not talking about Kurt, the man, or Kurt, the artist’s intent made real. FN2. FN3. I’m talking about how I, as a young abused girl without the language or strength to describe what was happening to me, had been happening to me, was continuing to happen to me, seemingly with the world’ s knowledge, permission, and tacit approval, felt about his work in the moment.

To me, Kurt seemed angry, and the angry in his music appealed to me. The chords that struck me as wrong, however, were the thinly veiled digs at women, the idea that women were a “tar pit traps” or leeches, sucking the life out of otherwise good men, as if women are the enemy and not the trap of rigid gender/sex roles. It’s the same gut level reaction I have to a lot of Kerouac’s work. Any time I hear the words, “pretty girls make graves,” I want to punch someone in the face.

It’s possible that Cobain, and Kerouac before him, meant to put a spotlight on the ways misogynists justify their wholesale use and abuse of women rather than representing a position the artists themselves held. Certainly the history of the song’s origins provided by Nirvana’s surviving members seems to imply Kurt was more interested in understanding the psychology of someone who brutalizes another person at the intersections of sex, violence, and control than identifying with them.

Who Killed Laura Palmer?
"All you good people..."
The problem with this kind of approach to feminist critique of violence is that the work sits out there afterward, speaking for itself, without a narrator standing by to anchor it in context. It finds its way into the bedrooms of girls like me who hear it and only hear  the world’s (at the time) most popular band reveling in a kind of sadism she is beginning to know personally. I was that girl, the girl who hears the words and thinks to herself, “Is this how the whole world is? Is no one stopping what is happening to me because the things my abuser tells me are true, and this is just the natural order of things?” No amount of in-depth documentary histories or "VH1 Behind the Music" interviews or tell-all biographies will ever change the visceral experience of hearing "Polly" and thinking, “I am trapped, just like her. I’m going to die here. I’ll never get out.”

That is why I am so GLAD there are women out there like AMANDA FUCKING PALMER who take work like this, reframing and reclaiming it to show how terrifying and violent and awful and tragic and sickening and inhumane the ideas lurking beneath the riff are,  no matter how they are intended by the artist to be taken by the listener. Much like Tori Amos’ chilling rendition of Eminem’s “ ’97 Bonnie & Clyde”, AFP’s newly released video for her cover of “Polly” is heartbreaking and so resonant with real life that it took me less than one minute to find multiple examples of the ‘fictional’ events in the video happening to women here in the first world in the last two to three days. FN3. FN4.

You can see the video here, in all its disturbing and terrifying realness.

I sobbed when I finished AFP's video the first time through because all I could think was, “This is what I’ve always imagined feeling/happening when I heard this song.” Polly, the caged bird/girl, attempts to appease until she can be free, focusing on nothing but surviving one more moment.  She is like an amalgam of Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer and Waldo, the caged Myna bird who is one of the only witnesses to Laura's kidnapping.  Both Laura and Waldo end up dead, sacrificed on an altar of patriarchal culture that still believes women can be kept like pets, treated like animals, and are worth nothing more than their purity, their womb, and their service to male pleasure.

The difference between the “Polly” story in my head and AFP’s video is this: I never imagined Polly escaping, never thought a woman like Amanda would be there to save her if she tried. I cried in part because it was a better ending than I ever imagined for Polly, and I am grateful to Amanda Palmer for giving it to me, new salve for an old wound.

Laura: The Will of Instinct.
There is one line from “Polly” that chills me to the bone because it has always rung entirely true for me: “It amazes me, the will of instinct.” The Will of Instinct. The drive and desire to survive, to move on, heartbeat to heartbeat, waiting for one chance out between two worlds, Madonna or Whore, life as a victim or death. The Will of Instinct. To keep going, to keep pushing, to never give up or slow down or give in, to have any sense of self-worth or pride or strength to fight after another brutal day.

The Will of Instinct.

I admire the generations of intimate violence survivors who have stood up and continue to stand up and fight for their lives and their humanity for so many reasons, but most of all, I admire that they keep fighting. And I admire awesome feminists like Amanda FUCKING Palmer for taking the language of the abuser hiding in our culture as entertainment and focusing our attention on it, showing it in all its horrifying and terrible truth.
FN1. To be perfectly clear, because I think clarity is important, I can only partially identify with the personal experience of this story.  I am a child survivor of domestic violence and have personally experienced being held against my will while my life was repeatedly threatened. I am not a rape or molestation survivor, though I have experienced enough forcible sexual contact in my life to give me the tiniest silver of a fraction of understanding of what the survivors I do advocacy work for have been through. I have known and loved many survivors, though, and I have lived with them through the aftermath.  I can tell you it is brutal and awful and can destroy a life, and every person who survives to go on and thrive and be good and decent is a testiment to human resilence.

FN2. There are clearly feminists who think Kurt is awesome and had a ‘feminist world view.’ The line that kills me in this article, btw, is
Many of the women interviewed initially found “Rape Me” an unsettling song, but eventually came around to seeing it as Cobain’s clumsy but well-intentioned attempt to incorporate feminist theory into his worldview.
Riiiight. Those feminists just needed to get to know Kurt personally and/or transcend their personal, visceral reactions to his songs to see that his works were absolutely intended to be feminist. I must have missed that memo while someone was beating the crap out of me.

FN3. Okay, no. The thing that kills me most is the ACTUAL ARTICLE TITLE. "Nirvana's Secret Feminism." Wow! How progressive! You're a secret feminist. Does that come with a decoder ring and spy magnifying glass?

FN3. I actually wrote an entire paper about the Tori Amos cover in college I had so much to say about, so I won't go into it in depth here. To keep this short, let me say  I acknowledge “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” differs from “Polly” in a number of ways, the most important being that Eminem was actually expressing a desire to kill his (ex)wife. Whether Cobain intended to exercise internal demons through verse or to spotlight systematic violence against women is something only he would know, though it seems he intended the later, making the intent of his work more closely aligned with Amos and Palmer than with Mr. Mathers, even if it ultimately fails to translate to into that kind of critique in the form it was recorded and presented by Cobain himself.

FN4. And let me point out, these are just the stories that make it into the newspapers and AP wire and only represent a tiny fraction of the women being kidnapped, raped, and murdered all around the world as a matter of course, for war, for male pleasure, for male power, and for profit.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I can tell the real from the fake: Reformulation vs. Retirement in Perfumery

A while back Mother's Cookies, a famous and long lived brand of cookies here in the United States, filed for bankruptcy. Many people were saddened by this news, for Mother's made a lot of fine cookies, notable among them the Circus Cookie, a frosted and sprinkled white and/or pink animal cookie. I have always loved these cookies, and felt very sad to see them pass into the great consumer beyond.

Then -- reprieve! Another company (Kellogg) bought the recipes from Mothers as part of the bankruptcy resolution. Iced Oatmeal Cookies and Circus Animals would live again. I remember being really excited the first time I saw them in the grocery store again. I immediately bought a bag and did a happy little jig all the way home. I poured myself a big glass of milk, yanked open the bag, and like the Circus Animal lover that I am, shoved a couple of cookies into my gaping maw.

I expected slightly greasy sugary shortbread deliciousness. Instead, the cookies tasted like unsalted butter covering a cookie made of sand.

This experience is what I think of every time someone starts talking about reformulated perfumes. It is what I thought of when I saw Octavia's sad post over at 1000 Fragrances about Miss Dior and Miss Dior Cherie last week. My Circus Animals, the ones I grew up on and loved? They're gone. Gone forever. They are not coming back. Same goes for the soon-to-be lost to history Twinkie and other beloved Hostess snack cakes. Just because you get close to making something like it was (or don't even bother trying, which is worse) and you call it by that name, don't think for a second you have actually recreated the thing. You haven't. As my daddy used to say, "Close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades." FN1. Even if you're close, you haven't actually recreated the original, and to claim you have is to mislead and disappoint.

I saw a message from slumberhouse last week saying that they were discontinuing their scent Ore. This made me sad. I enjoy Ore and own a small bottle. The statement from the slumberhouse blog read as follows:
Ore will no longer be made. I have so many clients who love this scent and I know reading this is going to seem surreal but I really had no choice in the matter. Over the last year a growing number of ingredients for this particular fragrance have become unavailable to me. The good thing about being a perfumer is you can always find loopholes, ways to recreate accords, similar compounds, etc — however, these little tricks only work to a certain extent — eventually I realized the integrity of the scent had been lost. An untrained nose may not notice these subtle differences, but mine does. My goal above all else has always been to maintain an emphasis on quality and I simply cannot consider Ore, now that so many critical components are so difficult to find, to be of the same quality as the original formula.
"The integrity of the scent had been lost. An untrained nose may not notice these subtle differences, but mine does." That was the line that hit me the hardest, because it was so honest. Even if you, consumer, don't know the difference, I do, and I won't sell you something you didn't intend to buy.

Why is this so hard for large perfume houses to understand? Are we sad when scents we love are discontinued? Sure. FN2. But we shed a little tear, horde old bottles off Ebay, and move on. Frankly, I don't want the sand and wax version of my Circus Animal floating around out there, doing harm and disservice to the memory of the cookie I loved in the past. I'd rather there be no cookie than one that makes people think my delicious cookie was never good at all because it masquerades under the same name.

I've been trying to think of a way to communicate this to the worst offenders since I saw Octavia's post, and the only way is to refuse to buy from them, at least not anything that is speculated to be reformulated for no reason other than craven profit. FN3.  No one would sell a 1000 piece puzzle of van Gogh's Starry Night for the same price as the original work, because no one would buy it.  So I think this is an other case where those of us with purchasing power and knowledge need to be vigilant and communicative.  I thank Octavia for her thoughts on the subject, and I'd love to hear yours.

So here's my salute to the Circus Cookie and slumberhouse Ore.  The cookie is gone, of course, but as luck would have it, I got a message from Meredith Smith of Sweet Anthem, who wanted to me to tell all you lucky PNWers out there that not only does she have a few bottles of Ore left in stock, but she is having a fabulous Valentine's Tea Party event this weekend at their brick and mortar store in Seattle.
Shop local for valentines at a tea party hosted by Sweet Anthem Handmade Perfumes on February 11. From 12-4 PM, find flowers, perfume, and sweets for the sweet by local designers. Enjoy fine teas and gifts with purchase throughout the afternoon. 
Sweet Anthem Handmade Perfumes is pleased to introduce their 1st Annual Valentine’s Day Tea Party featuring three local designers in addition to the shop’s lines of unique handmade fragrances. This exclusive event offers a shoppers a chance to meet the designer and buy local for this Valentine’s Day.
In store appearances include designers Nikki Sherritt – candlemaker and perfumer from Gabriel’s Aunt and Rebel & Mercury; Anne Dowell – gardener and truffle maker from Garden Bon Bons; Lydia Love – chocolatier behind the artisan line Chakralat; and Meredith Smith – perfumer from Sweet Anthem Handmade Perfumes.
If you are local to Seattle or are free this weekend, I recommend considering attending.  You can even RSVP for the event on Facebook.

Ore is also still limitedly available at Indiescents.

So what say you, dear reader?  Is it better to have loved and lost our precious scents? Or should we be kind to those who try to recreate that which we love, even if they do it imperfectly?  

Inquiring minds want to hear from you.

"You can say what you want to say.
What we have you can't take.
From the truth you can't escape:
I can tell the real from the fake.

When will you get the picture?
You're the past; I'm the future.
Get away. It's my time to shine,
and if you didn't know the boy is mine..."
~ Brandy & Monica, "The Boy Is Mine"
FN1. This analogy always made sense to me because I remember the adults in my family playing horseshoes and washers from time immemorial. It was a thing you did in my family. You raised a pole or dug a hole, then you stood around with a beer throwing things at it and the closest person won. You could pass hours like this in my family, and we did.

FN2. Or, in the case of L'Artisan Vanilia, I am bitter, bitter, bitter because it wasn't so much discontinued as replaced.

FN3. Reformulation due to increasing regulation of materials, particularly in the EU, is a whole other conversation.  I still don't want it to happen.  I'd rather the scent be retired and something new take it's place.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Love is not love until love's vulnerable.


It is the worst good thing that ever happens to a body. You don't have to take my word for it. Literature is riff with examples. Shakespeare said it best: "For never was a story of more woe than this..." Or, to put it in a more modern way: "To love is to destroy, and to be loved is to be destroyed." Thanks Cassandra Clare.

Then there's poetry. T.S. Eliot: "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me." Or Auden: "I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong." Or John Donne: "My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore, but after one such love, can love no more."

Oh! I forgot the movies... Lloyd Dobler said it beautifully: "Maybe I want to get hurt!"

And then there's the music. I could go on and on about the music, but you get the point. Being in love means being vulnerable. It means being to willing to get hurt. And even when it goes well, trust me when I tell you it still sometimes hurts.

What makes me say these things in this holy sanctified Hallmark season of Love? Well for one, I finished reading Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's third book in the caster chronicles series, Beautiful Chaos, where upon I bawled my eyes out.

Also, David and I usually don't celebrate Valentine's Day. We usually celebrate Not-Valentine's, picking some other less commerically busy and more personally happy day to say, "I love you." But because lots of people do celebrate Valentine's Day, I thought I'd provide some shopping-related thoughts.

Envoyage Perfumes Carmel Bohême is a lovely Valentine's option. Inspired by the French novelist and poet Henri Murger: “Bohemia is a display of exuberance set against dark, silent edges; a glass house of exotic orchids”, this amber floral has notes of "Sweet Orange, Plum, Muguet, Enfleurages of Gardenia and Tuberose, French Jasmine, Honey, Patchouli, Frankincense, Labdanum, Amber, Sandalwood." It is described as "colorful, unpredictable, original, outrageous, edgy, tumultuous."

Personally, I find Carmel Bohême full of wildly delicious white flowers, a warm, lush, lovely scent. It is a wonderful blend of gardenias and tuberoses and jasmine, sweet and soapy and a little tart. Sure, you could buy your loved one a bouquet of real white florals, but trust me when I tell you this is just as beautiful and will last long after the buds are moldering in the bin. It has great longevity, and after four hours, it turns into a honey/amber/sandalwood sweetness that rides close to the skin. Truly lovely, and worth checking out even if you aren't in the market for a Valentine's scent.

Not super excited about white floral bouquets? No problem. Jo Malone is happy to supply you, not only with a bottle of beautiful Red Roses, but with a whole Red Roses Fragrance Chronicle for V-Day. You get a bottle of Red Roses, plus three accords to layer with it: "Sweet Lemon brings tantalising transparency; Scarlet Velvet Rose adds richness; and Honeycomb, a nectar-like warmth." I like the Jo Malone layering system, which in this case allows me to make seven different roses, plus several other scents that don't include the Red Roses center piece. In addition, there are always bonus gifts when it comes to Jo Malone, so when I ordered my set, I got a free 9ml of Grapefruit, which I don't own, to boot. That's a gift that stays beautiful for much longer than thorny reality of the flowers themselves. The collection is a limited edition offering, so if you like Red Roses, you may have to pretend some Valentine-y love to get it.

Not into flowers? Then go with food!  Ayala Moriel Natural Perfumes makes one of the all time best foodie scents in Immortelle l'Amour. Chocolate, vanilla, liquor, maple syrup, waffles all in one, it is a top grade, incredibly lickable scent that can bring happiness even to a wounded heart. She also makes teas and truffles, so it's a one-stop, deliciously aromatic shop to make all your edible love-themed purchases. Prefer jewelry?  You can get solids in compacts and poison rings, so your gift will be both visually and olfactorially beautiful.

Can't stand anything too edibly sweet? Well, here's a scent that you can love even when love itself turns sour. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab's (The Maglignant Dreams of) Cthulhu in Love is "an amorphous mixture of incense, sea weed, sea salt, sticky dark ocean plants and chocolate." Dry chocolate and sweet dry herbs, it is a surprisingly love and high quality scent for the BPAL price point. It was a random-no-special-occasion-just-because-he-loved-me gift from David, and appears, now that I write this, to be sadly discontinued. Just like slumberhouse Ore which I also have a tiny, precious vial of. Chocolate scents are lovely, but apparently not all that long for this scented world...much like real chocolate is in my house. If you can find Cthulhu in Love, give is a whirl. It's delightful.

Speaking slumberhouse, I'll add Grev  to the mix, though I am probably the only person who will ever put this on a Valentine's list. But then, I'm not like anyone else in most other respects, so here it is. Grev is made of "copaiba, fir balsams, clove, birch, orris, and cedar" and is meant to be a marketed as a masculine, but I think it is a warm, sexy scent for a woman. It's unique, it's unusual, and it is decidedly unexpected. If you're the sort of person who gets married in a dress with blood red corset back and trim at a historic poor farm turned local brewery, then this might be your idea of sexy, too. It reminds me of waking up next with someone you love on one side and on the other, open windows of streaming sunshine and the wet, green smell of fir trees. It's a smell I associate with falling in love.

Which brings me around to my last thematic recommendation: take the ultra-realistic approach. If your love is associated with the smell of new fallen snow, try CB I Hate Perfume Walking in the Air. Working together in a garden? How about CB I Hate Perfume In the Summer Kitchen or Memory of Kindness? Find you love in a library? CB I Hate Perfume In the Library.

Alternately, you could go the Demeter Fragrance Library route, and buy a handful of large minis to create a unique perfume bouquet that hits the high notes of your romance: Vanilla Cake Batter for the birthday cake he made you, White Russian for the drink you shared on your first date, Beeswax for the homemade honey you bought on your first weekend away or the smell of the wax seal on the back of a handwritten love letter, Mistletoe for your first drunken kiss at the company Christmas party. Whatever your memory is, one of these companies probably has a scent that could represent it and give you a way to show that you remember, in a visceral way, the moment you knew you were in love.

And if all else fails, you could always go with the classic, old school approach: say it with love. S-Perfumes 100% Love or Creed Love in Black or Creed Love in White, or any of the By Kilian l'amour-themed scents (Love, Beyond Love, Taste of Heaven, Straight to Heaven, or for those of a more cynical, Amy Winehouse-bent, Back to Black and Love and Tears) are all beautiful scents, and nothing says love like L-O-V-E.

Yes, it's also a CD case!
What about you, dear reader?  Have I told you lately that I love you? Well, if you feel I haven't, then let me make it up to you with this awesome V-Day drawing. Included for one lucky winner will be the fabulously tacky fuzzy pink CD holder with a couple differently themed, love-related mix CDs made and decorated by your truly, PLUS some candy and some lovely samples that will include, but are not limited to S-Perfumes 100% Love, By Kilian Straight to Heaven, Cthulhu in Loveslumberhouse Grev and some other things not listed above.  But yes! At least five samples! Plus music! Candy! A giant pink fuzzy heart CD case! (Don't lie, you know you want its garish wonderfulness.)

POST A COMMENT BELOW talking about perfume!, love, romance, the death thereof, music, movies, perfume!, poetry, books, perfume!, whathaveyou on or before 11:59pm PST on Monday, February 13, 2012.  Will ship internationally. Winner to be announced on V-day.

So come on then: who wants to be my Valentine?

Like a wet log, I sang within a flame.
In that last while, eternity's confine,
I came to love, I came into my own.

~Theodore Roethke, from The Dream

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Perfume Encounters: Books & Axe Body Spray

First, I wanted to share this awesome photo quote from PerfumesThe Guide David sent me because he is so awesome and does things like see perfume stuff and send it to me, even though he couldn't tell you about my perfumes, or even this blog, if his life depended on it.

Then, while listening to Daria, Mitch & Ted on FM 105.1 The Buzz here in Portland, there was a discussion of the terrrrrribleness that is Axe Body Spray.  The show asked people who had bad run in with the 'scents', particularly junior high and high school teachers to call in.  

The most apt description came from a foreign language teacher of 6th-8th grade students. What does Axe body spray smell like?

 "Deep Woods Off on a urinal cake."

So, just to sum up: knowledge smells like vanilla and teenage boys smell like bug spray and urinal disinfectant materials.

And that is your scent news of the day!

Take me out to the black, tell them I ain't coming back...

I recently switched cell phone providers to an Android phone, and uploaded a bunch of music to Google Music to try it out. It turns out that I forgot I had a bunch of audio clips from TV shows and movies I love on my hard drive, because I will occasionally build a mix CD off some other medium -- a piece of visual artwork, but more frequently a quote from a poem or book or film or show -- and I like to use the audio clip to open or close the mix CD. FN1. So now occasionally I get these clips mixed in with my music, which is surprisingly delightful, particularly when the following song seems to pair with the quote.

I aim to misbehave.
One of the quotes I keep running into is this from one Malcolm Reynolds, captain of the firefly-class space ship Serenity: "The darkness. Kind of darkness you can't even imagine. Blacker than the space it moves through."
So imagine that you are me, mindlessly drafting away on legal documents, listening to music, and then these words pop into your head. What perfume do you instantly think of?
For me, it's obvious: Bvlgari Black.
Created in 1998 by Annick Menardo, Bvlgari Black is described on the Bvlgari website as follows:
Black is unconventional, a fragrance conceived around the smoky, woody notes of Lapsang Souchong tea, that celebrates the pleasure and freedom of expression. A fusion of cool, stripped-down design in high-tech matte rubber with a chrome cap and transparent glass.

Notes are black tea, rosewood, bergamot, cedar, oakmoss, vanilla, amber, sandalwood, and musk.
What can I say? Black is  a multitude of wonderful smells, and yet, difficult to describe. Its immediately evocative of hard vanilla candies, incense smoke, hot rubber, the smell when you pull cold water rushing over stones into a cup in your hands and bring it to your lips, the smell of the inside of your boyfriend's leather coat when you are held with it wrapped around your whole body. 

But that's just me.  Other people get "celery salt and rubber" and "pale green;" "dark vintage cashmere allure;"  "urban cool;" and a tie for my favorites: "biker eating an ice cream cone" and "most likely work best on attractive young yuppies or hipsters of either gender." It's somehow everything, and nothing, and appears to change a lot, based on the person wearing it. Not unlike looking out into the Black, I suppose.

Do I like Black? Of course I do.  It's sweetly strange, delightfully sexy, and weirdly delicious.  I can't decide if I want to taste it on my lips when I kiss someone's neck or spray it on a riding crop or spray it on my scarf on a cold morning.  Perusing reviews, it seems the real test of Black, though, is how it holds up next to one of my all-time favorites, the equally avant-garde L'Artisan Dzing!

Ah, the infamous hockey puck!
Trying them side by side, Dzing! and Black seem like cousins. Okay, perhaps less cousins, and more like.... You know how, when you see someone from the back or the side or at a weird angle and you are110% sure that it is someone you know and it is not until you actually walk up to them and say something that you realize they are a complete stranger and you have made a complete fool of yourself? That's what mistaking Dzing! and Black is like.  You are sure they look alike, but when you really pay attention, you realize they are nothing alike. FN2.

 I never thought there'd be two of them, and there aren't really.  Black is sweeter, smoother, and less aggressive or muscular than Dzing! Dzing! is heavier on the rubber and salt on me, while Black is heavier on the amber and sandalwood end of things. I like them both, and I think my preference for one over the other would probably hinge on my mood, or the weather, or the day, or my destination, unlike the great LT, who put Black in the top 10 fragrances of all time. FN3. Me? I think I might be more of a Dzing! girl, but I'm biased. After all, I've lived with and loved Dzing! for years now.  That said, at the low price point one can acquire a bottle of Black, I say, why not have both? I found a 100ml bottle on Amazon for $35 of all places!

Black is marketed unisex, and that's a good thing, because it is a lovely scent that could work great on anyone.  And at the low, low price of practically next to nothing, I command you to get thee to a Sephora to try it, and don't be dissuaded if they happen to have stuck it on the 'men's' perfume wall. 

 Want more? Try:
~ a review from Robin at Now Smell This!
~ a review from I Smell Therefore I Am
~ a review from Muse in Wooden Shoes
~ a review from Bois de Jasmin
~ a review from + Q Perfume Blog
~ a review from ChickenFreak's Obsessions
~ a review from All I Am - A Redhead
~ a review from Pere De Pierre
~ a review from Nathan Branch
~ a review from Scent of the Day
~ a review from Scentsate
FN1. Yes, I love the mix tape, for lo, I am a child of the 1980s, and I *still* have tapes x-boyfriends made me twenty years ago, even though I have nothing to play them on, because I think they are some of the most personal gifts I ever received.

FN2. Or, Oh! You know that tumblr of Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber? It's like that! Like mistaking one of those lesbians from a distance for the real Bieber! (BTW, I have an IRL friend who was actually featured on the site.) (It's even Bieber approved (See video clip below.))

FN3. LT = Luca Turin, author of Perfumes: The Guide, and other fancy perfume accomplishments.  If you don't know, google it.