Making sense of scent

by Matteo G. Sarti

Why is perfume so difficult to discuss? Why so much mystery? Matteo G. Sarti x The Yellow Gloves reflects on the way fragrance is discussed.

MILANO – “Perfume is probably the least understood and least appreciated of the arts.” Tania Sanchez, in “Perfume: the guide”.
The little writte-up that is usually there to describe the work of a perfumer usually falls under the category of breathless narratives, assembled rather prosaically by advertising specialists when a new fragrance is about to be rocketed into the market.After what quoted above, Tania Sanchez goes as far as lifting a paragraph from a press release published on the blog “Now Smell This” from 2007 to back her predicament, an example:
“Humiecki and Graef asked Laudamiel to create a perfume that captures the state of ‘how men cry’ – eruptive and sensual. Pictures from Slavic culture, as well as how they deal with melancholia and happiness served as inspiration (sic). The result is a perfume that combines raw eruption, sensual strength, melancholic warmth and deep mysticism.”
A description which, argues Sanchez, isn’t likely to increase the culture of perfume as a whole, is it? Why? Because it doesn’t answer the basic question: what does this perfume smell like?A question I’d like to load even further: what is this “eruptive and sensual state” going to do for me in my day-to-day life? And since when melancholia is considered warm?!

Perfume, just like absolutely any form of art, is a genre of beauty that can (should!) be harnessed and put into practice, no? After a break-up one might feel inclined to listen to sad music, making the surroundings more in line with one’s interior turmoil.One might like to watch a comedy if happy, or bake grandma’s cookies if feeling nostalgic.
BUT, what is that “raw eruption, sensual strength, melancholic warmth and deep mysticism” going to do for you – today?Where do you place that, what does it mean?
Perfume is marketed through dogmas: nothing ever goes past the generic young girl looking either happy or seductive, placed in some half-sketched Parisian vignette. She looks into the camera, whispers something generic like “j’adore la vie”, and proceeds to hysterically spritz herself with the same hysterical panache of Bernini’s Saint Theresa.We’re given absolutely no clue about the product being sold.
We’re taught that perfume is a difficult business, we’re told that you will need expert advice to find a fragrance that really works for you. We’re told that perfume quite simply “can’t be explained or described”.Unfortunately, that’s almost true: it can’t be described, or at least not through ornate throwaways such as warm melancholia and Slavic sturm und drang.
A perfume should not be described, it should be narrated.

Turns out the emperor is not just naked, he’s also wearing CK One. To the dismay of his court, I’d hope.

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