Bertrand Duchaufour, perfumer of Jubilation XXV (2004) is more of a postmodernist, and is known for breaking down form in order to rebuild it into the vision he prefers. There is a logical through line from his previous work to Jubilation XXV. From his work for Comme des Garçons, where he stripped wood down to its essence, to his use of fruit as spice, to his fascination with frankincense, there is a direct line from his seminal Timbuktu to Jubilation XXV. I don’t mean to imply that by having come after Gold, Timbuktu is the product of a more enlightened sensibility. The multi-culti world-arts philosophy that Timbuktu’s post-modernism refers to is starting to look a bit long in the tooth in retrospect.
From Shalimar to Opium to Ambre Sultan the perfume industry is so steeped in cheap 20th century Euro-orientalism, that its cultural bigotry, often couched as fantasy, often passes unnoticed today. So, here’s the thing. Does any of this after-the-fact interpretation matter? If you give it your attention, an art object, a perfume, can be read. It deserves examination and deliberation. Consideration and pleasure are two non-mutually exclusive sides to perfume use. Why not take both?
Here’s the real fun, though: what if your experience of a perfume doesn’t fall in line with the reading? Which side is true? Critical thinking and the pleasurable use of perfume are both parts of the art of perfumery. But the two aspects collide for me. Gold does have that King-and-I feel to it, that old-school western colonial flavor. It’s a flavor I would kindly call distasteful and more likely call historically naive and ignorant. Yet no matter how clearly I say that to myself or to anyone else, I love Gold. It is sumptuous, it is decadent. I love to spray it on and embrace the extravagance! Does this make me a hypocrite? My cold, poststructuralist soul tells me that Jubilation XXV should win my heart, that I should refuse the the thoughtless chauvinism of Gold, but in spite of my appreciation, I actually don’t like Jubilation XXV. On anesthetic level, it’s not pleasurable or satisfying. On the compositional level, it feels as if Duchaufour tried to shoehorn the entirety of an Arabic sensibility into a bottle of Timbuktu.
Perfume discussions very infrequently play out as an argument of gut versus intellect. Why not? The uncommonness interests me. There is a contemporary assumption that perfumery is not, cannot be, an intellectual practice, neither for the perfumer nor the wearer. This presumption is false and goes unquestioned because we’re not taught to think about or discuss perfume. The Gold versus Jubilation XXV argument tells me that there’s much more that can be unearthed from perfumery than we imagine. If an art-form works rigorously with aesthetics, intention and expression, as perfumery does, then it holds that our discussion should rise above opinion and preference. Let’s be thoughtful about perfume.