Perfumers Jaques Polge, François Demachy.
Chanel Antaeus was my first perfume. I don’t remember who gave it to me, but I didn’t choose it myself. Looking back, my touchstones in perfume were Patou Joy, Lanvin Arpège, Dior Eau Sauvage and Paco Rabanne pour Homme. The first two my mother had, and introduced me to classical perfumery. I would sniff them out of the bottle and relish them. I was, maybe, 5 years old. 6? I knew nothing about perfume, but somehow they got me thinking. The Dior and the Paco Rabanne were ambient scents. Men wore them in the 1960s-1970s of my youth and I remember smelling them. Eau Sauvage seemed like a lemon drop to me. It was tart but brisk like snow water. Paco Rabanne was ubiquitous and the scent of it today still brings back the 70s.
I was fortunate to have such a superior group of fragrances to learn from. Pre-internet, pre-blog I had a limited set of guides: desire, inquisitiveness, well-made perfumes. Actually, these are still my guides.
My start with perfume was solitary and reflective. Perfume taught me to appreciate states of beauty and contemplation. I lacked a vocabulary and a perfume guru, and, even at a young age, I wasn’t very narrative-driven. Perfume has never been about story per se. Perfume was my subject. The rest of my life, education and experience taught me how to know my subject. I didn’t hide my fascination with perfume, but I didn’t share it either. I guess it’s no surprise that I write anonymously. But with Antaeus, I went public.
I loved Antaeus. It was unlike anything I knew. Also, I’d never smelled it on anyone else, so it suited my solo perfume trip. It was visceral and demanding and each time I put it on, it stopped me in my tracks. I first wore it in snowy weather, and it highlighted the cold woods of New England winter. Arpege and Joy were nothing like Antaeus, but they had prepared me. Unlike smelling Eau Sauvage in passing or lingering over a bottle of Joy, wearing Antaeus was a deliberate and public act. (I wasn’t modest in my dosing.) If the first period of my perfume fascination was reflective, Act II was expansive.
[Sidebar: I think my questioning of marketing started early as well, with Antaeus as my primer. I already knew the myth of Herakles and Antaeus before Chanel. I thought the notion of associating a perfume with a character who symbolized cheating and the mundane and was odd until I realized that marketing wanted nothing more than a superficial image (hottie in a toga) and a link to the lofty/cultural (pretension). My thoughts on marketing, like marketing itself, may have evolved, but they haven’t really changed.]
The ’80s had so much to offer: power fragrances and volume, self-absorption without introspection. I took Antaeus to college where I met and fell for Kouros and Coco. I know, very au courant, very bisexual chic. But thank god I kept my classical roots and embraced old-lady perfumes, in this case, Chanel 5 and Worth Je Reviens.
The end the formative years.
(Image, Hercules and Antaeus by Isidro Gonzalez Velazquez and Juan Adan.)