(image Mulberry Tree, Van Gogh)
Perfumer Pierre Guillame
When I think about perfume I tend to rely on literary or verbal devices. By literary I don’t mean particularly lofty in nature, I just mean that we use tricks of the tongue and the pen to get at perfume. I’ll use visual allusions, fictions of memory, description and tidbits of narrative. The trouble is that all that words offer is comparison. The device I lean most heavily on is metaphor. ‘Perfume X is like a night on the town in Elizabeth, New Jersey.’ ‘Post-reformulation, chypre Y is a child who’s lost her teddy bear.’
You’ll hear very talented perfumers talk about story telling and narrative and its importance in perfumery. We perfume users, though, should question this sort of romanticism. Do perfumers who rely on story tell us stories, or do they use story as a device, a sort of imagery that aids them in designing perfume? Can a perfume truly tell a single reproduceable story, not just a subjective olfactory experience, to multiple wearers?
Sometimes smelling a scent or fragrance will trigger a specific recollection. Every now and then, though, a perfume will launch you into a seemingly more direct sensory experience. The experience doesn’t trigger or rely on memory. It feels new.
Smelling Parfumerie Générale Louanges Profanes for the first time gave this sort of experience. It gave me a feeling of viscosity. A fluid consistency that isn’t thick, chewy, creamy or even watery. It suggested a fluid I had never experienced before. One that had a thick/thin, lubricating viscosity like silicone along with a sweetness that hovered between liquor, elixir and sap. It made me focus on the qualities of sweetness, like the way that glycerin has no smell, but is sweet when you touch it to your tongue, or the way honeysuckle nectar smells and tastes the same.
To categorize, Louanges Profanes is a floriental, an orange blossom/amber, to be specific. But this is an instance where breaking the perfume down into its scent descriptors isn’t particularly useful, because doing so doesn’t capture the experience of the perfume, it just tells you what’s in it. The sensation of fluidity and slickness eventually fades as what seemed liquid starts to dry. The perfume continues to suggest states of matter. Louanges Profanes dries into a set piece, and gives the nose equivalent of drying brushstrokes. Like those deliberate, voluminous stabs of paint you would find in one of the Mulberry Tree paintings by van Gogh. The paint and the perfume both retained an appearance of fluidity as they dried, capturing the appearance of movement and action.
On that note of bad visual comparison, the end.