Perfumer Josh Meyer.
I am suspicious—make that incredulous—of storytelling in perfumery. The minute the exposition or the plot commences, I tune out. Perfume evokes ideas and states, and reflects trains of thought that no other art-form can. Trying to make perfumes tell stories reminds me of those tiny dogs in circus acts, dressed in clown-like costumes, jumping up and down on their hind legs.
So why do I enjoy the perfume fictions of Imaginary Authors so much? Maybe it’s because they get at stories through imaginations of memory. Perhaps the stories are simply imagistic and evocative. The stories are a stepping-off point into the perfumes rather than a scented repetition of the plot and have a nostalgic quality– part pulp melodrama, part noir detective movie. They riff on very specific references and provide instant entry into the stories. A City on Fire is a deadpan, urban graphic novel. Bull’s Blood is a Hemingway-gestalt of ex-pat thrill-seeking and machismo. The Cobra and the Canary is equal parts On the Road and Thelma and Louise.
In the Imaginary Authors line, stories and perfumes are closely aligned, but Meyer smartly puts some breathing room between them. The plots have the pattern of conflict and consequence found in fables and use symbolism like campfire stories. They are synopses of archetypal stories and we recognize their meaning instantly even if the plots themselves are new to us.
The Soft Lawn is particularly ripe with suggestion. It imagines a prequel to JD Salinger’s own story of a young author’s successful first novel whose protagonist is a disaffected private school brat. The 1920s dashing, tennis-playing author of the fictional novel, Claude leCoq, is a play on 1920s dashing tennis player René Lacoste (Le Crocodile.)
The perfume itself recreates the image of a 1920s tennis club through scent. Green grass and leaves, old-fashioned rubber-soled tennis shoes, tennis balls and starched tennis whites. The note that ties it together is linden blossom. Its green-lemon side could garnish a post-match gin and tonic while its laundry powder musky side maintains the image of dazzling white tennis trousers and skirts. The Soft Lawn is the scent of a location, a scenario, a setting. It gives equal weight to the living (grass, flowers) and the inanimate (tennis balls and cotton fabric) and wears like an olfactory snapshot of post WW I New England WASP culture. Like an antiquated photo that captured a moment but has faded, The Soft Lawn starts strong and eventually ebbs to a faint but coherent reflection of its topnotes. It stays in your nose the way the echoing sounds of tennis balls being struck in the distance stays in your ear. The rhythm can be a pleasant background when your thoughts are elsewhere, but at others times the the clarity of the sound/scent captures your attention with its satisfying simplicity.
Despite the story surrounding the perfume, The Soft Lawn is evocative, not narrative. It doesn’t repeat the story you’ve already read. It creates an olfactory setting and puts you in a frame of mind to write yourself into the story, making you the author.
(image, Althea Gibson, source unknown.)