I just read the entire site Take One Thing Off, an online investigation of perfume by writer Claire Vukcevic. Well, reread, actually. I’ve followed the site since it was launched in 2015. The site’s name is a reference to Coco Chanel’s fabled editing method: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” Vukcevic applies the principle to her writing and her measured, concise style gives clarity (no pun intended) to the messy topic of perfume.
Vukcevic has written about perfume in many settings, notably at Fragrance Daily (don’t miss her Perfume 101) and on Basenotes, where she is consistently voted one of the top three reviewers. Her piece for Basenotes, “The Top Ten Niche Fragrances Every Beginner Should Sample” won the 2017 Jasmine Award for Best Practical Guide to Fragrance.
I should mention that Claire is a friend. I’m not trying to hide my bias here, in fact I’m leading with it. I love thoughtful writing about perfume and I actively seek it out. If I didn’t already know Claire, on reading her work I would find her and make a point of knowing her.
I’ve always found Vuckcevic’s writing smart and insightful, but Take One Thing Off is something special. Reading it in one sitting from the first piece to the most recent I’m struck by the deliberateness of the writing and the evolution of thought about perfume and its meaning. Over the course of her writing a clear point of view, a sort of hypothesis of perfume takes shape. Vukcevic twists the review format into an ongoing discussion of how perfume can be read. She presents big ideas in a deceptively entertaining writing style and every assumption about perfume is fair game:
Gender—Maison Fancis Kurkdjian Oud Satin Mood. “Could a man wear this? I don’t see why not, as long as the man in question likes deeply sweet, powdery fragrances. He will be missing the cleavage, though. This perfume needs the cleavage.”
Expectation—“The first time I tried Traversee du Bosphore, I almost laughed out loud at how bad it was. There is a lurid, cherry-flavored Jolly Rancher note up top pitched halfway between children’s cough syrup and the clear pink goo you find at the bottom of a supermarket pie. I felt cheated. I had been promised a mystical Duchaufour-ian trawl through the back streets of Istanbul and what I got was cheap sweeties that even sugar-crazed five year olds might reject if they came spewing out of a piñata. … Then it struck me – what am I talking about? Lokum is cheap. It’s cheap to make, cheap to consume, and it tastes a bit cheap too. That’s practically the whole point of lokum.”
Marketing—-Parfums Dusita: A Case Study, The Perfumes .“Perfumers can price their products in two ways – production pricing or market pricing. In production pricing, you work backwards from the cost of the materials and man hours, and price the perfume at what it cost to produce (adding in margins for distributors, marketing, one’s own income, etc.). … Market pricing, on the other hand, prices a product at exactly what the market is willing to pay for it. A perfume priced at €400 ignores all the details and simply asks the question ‘Are you worth it?’
Notes—Bandit: “Putting it on is like fighting your way into a tight black leather jacket that crackles with hostility as you try to make it bend. Once on, there is a raw, salty meat smell that crawls up at your nose from the seams of the jacket, as if bits of cow flesh still cling to the underside. I was always disappointed that Lady Gaga’s first fragrance didn’t smell like I imagined her dripping meat dress to smell – but Bandit does.”
Artistry—l’Artisan Parfumeurs Dzongkha—-“Before you all slope off looking for the most chemically-powered hard leather bombs with which to blow your smell receptors out or the latest , achingly-cool melting glass bottles that won’t stand up full of liquid that smells like fish eggs, or toner ink, or glue, or whatever niche decides is new and shocking these days, take a moment to remember the Grandmaster Flash of them all, the weird-before-it-was-cool-to-be-weird Dzongkha.”
I’ve mentioned a few times, occasionally to some chilly responses, that we find ourselves at a moment in perfumery where the discussion of perfume is often more interesting than the perfume. It’s just an observation, but if I were trying to prove the point, I’d start with Take One Thing Off.