Tom Ford Fleur de Chine, 2013

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(image, Marlies Dekkers Couture)

Perfumer unknown.

I can’t imagine a Tom Ford product release without a fairytale marketing strategy, and Fleur de Chine and the others in this collection (Plum Japonais, Rive d’Ambre, and Shangai Lily) don’t disappoint. The fairy tale is an unexamined take on the ‘mysterious orient/dragon lady/inscrutable east’. It relies on well-know imagery plucked from generations of bigotry. It is evocative and superficial. It’s precision-built for the fashion industry. The trigger is in the name of the perfume. Say Shanghai Lily 3 times in a row while looking into a mirror and it just comes to life.

A wonderful thing about stereotypes is that they are both timeless and imprecise. Ford’s oriental bit is straight out of 1920s orientalism. Using historical stereotypes with an ironic twist is a way of inoculating one’s self against accusations of xenophobia and bigotry. That is, referring to old stereotypes is unlike actively engaging in stereotyping. It is historical. Literary. Post-modern. Post-colonial.

If only wishing could make it so.

Take-away # 1 is never look to fashion for a history lesson. Filipina, Japanese, Chinese? It’s all a jumble of pan-asian type-casting. Take-away # 2 should be apparent even to the fashion-minded. Smugly using anachronistic Asian references from the late-colonial sensibilility (the Ford line is called the “Atelier d’Orient” collection) doesn’t do a thing toward defusing the racism of such language. It simply relies on exotic side of racism. The mystery, the fetish, the  exoticism. It would be more offensive if it weren’t so tired.

The perfume:

Interesting for the fact that it starts like insecticide, and then grows creamy. A fascinating technical trick, I’m sure, but ‘creamy’ in this case is synonymous with ‘vague’. This olfactory pairing is much more clearly expressed in Calvin Klein Truth, a discontinued perfume available cheap online.

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