Perhaps due to a combination of post-exam exhaustion, reallocated (yet familiar) interests, and other rigorous endeavors, the inspiration to blog about perfume has come to a standstill. Smell, however, has not. In fact, the sense of smell is as honed as ever.
It is no secret to those who follow my progress that I enjoy a drink or two. Particularly wine. Wine has a strong effect on me, and I mean that figuratively, despite it also applying literally.
I undertook a wine course at my university with great excitement, and somewhere between my final few weeks and the examinations wine clicked in the same way perfume did on the 14th of June, 2014. In my quest to find an innate reality to fragrance and perfumery, the question of demarcation become apparent. Where does serious fragrance stop, if it so exists or if it indeed stops? If the aldehydic reality of No. 5 seems realistic and plain to me; serious and projectable, what is stopping a glass of Sancerre of having the exact same capability of reality?
Wine’s reality is separated from perfume as the concept of place (terroir) is highlighted at different degrees. The rose is best in Grasse, the Haitian vetiver smells like such, and so fourth. One may argue in the exact same manner that the Merlot is best in Bordeaux and the Riesling from the Mosel (Hugh Johnson might). The perfumer loves to place his or her love on the importance of good raw materials, and I agree. A good perfume cannot come from substandard materials, instead revealing itself as a shadow of its potential form. Wine’s ability as an intellectual medium is delivered quite literally through the vine, especially as the grape becomes a loudspeaker for the sense of place. I have remarked often, and most recently after drinking an old vine Chablis (Jean-Claude Bessin, 2013) and a grower Champagne (Doyard Blanc de Blancs, NV) that “I like to think I can taste the place”. Am I the only one that thinks the potential to clearly taste the place of origin to be outstanding?
Pablo Picasso, Bottle of Wine 1926
Where wine differs is the overall stiffness of its creation. It would not surprise me to hear of a new method of extraction being employed in perfumery – I recall reading the notes of the new No. 5 L’Eau and forming a furrowed brow as I saw ‘Oxygenated Jasmine’ on the list. But, alas, that must mean something. Wine, on the other hand, is not subject to every-so-often revolutions – it seems that way in the Old World anyway. In studying wine, the phrases ‘must not’ and ‘cannot’ engrained themselves firmly in my mind.
Smelling wine is also far more difficult than smelling a fragrance, for the simple reason that wine is predominantly an endeavor of impressions, and it seems invariably harder to reach a consensus of an impression. That being said, I have always believed that there isn’t a wrong impression if it follows what you believe x is indeed x, and not y. Hence it becomes a problem of identification. For instance, if you claim that something smells of asparagus, yet if your impression of asparagus is actually the smell of sulfur, then your impression falls under the malady of being ill-labeled. This is a grand consideration in the philosophy of smell, and it is a considerable treat to hold it in the mind and consider it for a long period of time.
Perfume has the benefit of objectivity. If it has tuberose, it has tuberose. If unsure, consult the perfumer. Does the Pinot Noir have the impression of cranberries on the nose? Repeated observation states that it should as it is a marker of the grape varietal. But what if just this once it doesn’t? No one can smell cranberries this time. What does this mean in the criticism and intellectual musings of wine? Smelling wine requires one to delve and plunge through the primary features of the wine itself and reach its facets; a good wine has many, both overt and covert. Perfume presents itself, and a good perfume approaches a wine-like complexity, you need to uncover each facet one at a time.
So, if I said I smelled iris in Jicky, would that be scorned at? If I said the same for Pinot Noir, would that be? What about cola in Jicky, and cola in Pinot Noir? I hope I have made my point clear.
The parallels are apparent between the two endeavours. Terroir has an overarching importance. It continues to amaze me how Sauvignon Blanc will smell and taste different in Pouilly Fume, Sancerre, Bordeaux, and Marlborough – even changing across vintages. In this way, wine provides perpetual amazement and the means to explore depths that never seem to end. When you think it does, you can just turn left. I feel this may underscore my current problem with perfumery – I just don’t know when to turn left. Mainstream bores me, indie remains foreign to me, niche is moving too quickly to catch it, the classic perfumes are static yet monolithic and intense, and the classic brands have largely gone to hell (granted, Chanel is holding on). I am waiting for serendipity to strike at this stage.
This is the perfect segue into something more perfume related. It is darned hard to write about perfume and produce a body of text that can be accepted as critical and meaningful. I’ve said this already, and this month I’ve reflected the mirror upon myself and have begun a task in serious reduction. In one way, it’s a way to practice what I preach in the same way the Fragrantica 5 (or 6) is an ample barometer (as discussed in last month’s musings). Through a method that for whatever reason reminds me of the Greeks (Pyrrhonism, probably), I’ve cut down. I want as little perfume as possible. Some may gasp, and rightly so, but this solidifies strong criticism and heightens the significance of what I think is a good fragrance. All I want is my handful. Hello Jicky. Bye Bye Spirituese Double Vanille.
It would then be suitable for December’s musings to actually talk about the scents that I wear on a daily basis. It probably won’t surprise you very much. I look forward to sharing that experience with you.