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Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Agony and the Ecstacy part1: sadomasochism in fragrance


The rather outré title of this new latest series on Perfume Shrine is not meant as a direction to non-perfume venues of a niche of a quite different nature than that of the likes of afficionados of Lutens or Malle. Because here we will most certainly include perfume references by those two and lots of others, exploring just how certain scents play up on our subconscious and produce feelings of sensual surprise, olfactory submission and adoring intimidation or on the contrary a heightened sense of domination over all we survey.
If only Le Marquis and Leopold von Sacher had explored those avenues more fully.

Before we proceed any further, please note that the following are musings and thoughts that do not bind the author and are not meant to condone or approve of any practice or misunderstanding that you might have in mind. (This disclaimer of sorts is necessary to include because the term has been so much abused and tied to issues that are peripheral to it that it has gained a reputation that is inaccurate).

Perfume is fantasy. It has a weird effect on the psyche. And tied as it is to memory and sexuality it brings out elements of both to the fore, whether we desire it or not. Of course apart from the infamous Hirsch studies on what scents arouse and attract the opposite sex ~which are the matter of Googling searches all the time~ more importantly there is the element of how a particular fragrance makes the wearer themselves feel. This is the apex of the matter to my mind. Because perfume is so often worn for the enhancement of a mood or the desire to extol certain properties of the individual's personality, how one perceives said personality or mood is paramount when choosing what to wear. So a perfume with innocent, cherubic ambience would be more likely to evoke or pronounce a mood of traditionally viewed submissive femininity whereas a butch leather would reinforce the notion of a dominating persona. Or even the reverse if one is playing with boundaries and values the element of surprise!
Therefore are there specific perfumes that explore those pathways of the mind and playfully twist and turn them upside down for a perfume lover's rejoice? I think there are.

As cinematic experiences are so often deeply ingrained into Perfume Shrine, the quintessential film that displays the weird dynamic of an S/M relationship resplendent with a couple of perfume references is none other than "Il Portiere di Notte"/"The Night Porter"(1974) by Liliana Cavani featuring exquisite actors and personal favourites Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling. The film tells the tale of an ex-Nazi who falls in love with one of the Holocaust victims as many years later, both alive ~she, Lucia, a married woman; he, Max, a night porter~ they meet again at a Vienna hotel and reprise their strange affair surrounded by a hostile former Nazi crowd who seeks to gain power again with Max's assistance.
The doomed relationship of the two lovers reflects both aspects of control and surrender in alternating roles of great cinematic value. And although the mere thought of the Holocaust is assuredly distressing, the film manages to be respectful of the issues raised and focus on the personal angle rather than the historical repercussions.
You can watch a superb clip of it clicking on the screen or clicking here.


For an elaborate and long piece of how a viewer interprets the storyline I direct you to this post by The Scented Salamander.
Succinctly put:
Perfumes in Night Porter appear to be used to express ideas about sexuality, class, and inter-subjective relationship. Perfumes here, instead of elevating and idealizing the characters, making them appear more desirable and noble, are brought in to express not love, but prostitution, not attraction, but repulsion, not refinement but coarseness, not harmony, but destruction, not love, but a pathological manifestation of it.


There is also this link that mentions it in the context discussed.

Indeed perfumes in this film are seen through an altered lens and make us view scent as a means of control, rejection, social climbing or even manipulation and domination. It is an interesting axe to grind and worth pondering on.
So what would the ex-Nazi in hiding wear or the beautiful formerly submissive Lucia who reprises her role with a twist of unexpected ferocity?


As leather has been so ingrained into associations with S/M and isobutyl quinoline is the main ingredient used to render leather notes in perfumery, apart from the natural process of curing birch tar, I would propose Knize Ten for the character of Max. The fact that it comes from as far back as 1924 and Vienna in particular did not escape my attention either and may have contributed to this choice.
The history of Messrs. J. Knize dates back to 1858, based in Vienna. Within a little while fashion tailor J. Knize was appointed purveyor to K&K Royal Court and by the turn of the century many famous people, heads of states, artists, and industrialists were clientele to Knize. During the 1920s Knize's boutiques for men were established in the fashion cities of Paris, New York, London and Berlin. Although other scented offerings by Knize have been discontinued the iconic perfume remains still in production.
The fragrance is immediately redolent of raw cured leather that is pitch-black and tight, fits like a glove and is stained with the old fashioned aroma of smoke and a bit of turpentine. This shocking introduction laced with citrusy notes is testament to the power and suggestion such a smell holds over willing subjects. Woody and floral notes of subtle spiciness tone down this perverse beast resting it on a slightly powdery and incensy drydown that surprises yet again with its unexpected twists. Max in it would exude all the force of his uniformed days, when he could chop off the head of a prisoner who bothered his lover and present it John-the-Baptist-like to his own Salome. And yet he would also hide the pain that we can see in his eyes as he realises that there is no future for them, when they dare to exit the bastion of their seiged apartment towards dawn.

And Lucia would be sublime wearing none other than the infamous, the exquisite, the jarringly sexy beauty of Tubéreuse Criminelle (=criminal tuberose) by Serge Lutens.
Its reputation precedes it as people either love it or hate it but they all remain astounded by the sheer innovation of it at the time it first launched, directing others into exploring difficult notions of bracing top notes that might shock and disturb. A scent that is definitely meant for people into a certain degree of sadomasochism, as the opening note of mentholated Vicks rub hits your nostrils with the ferocity of a typhoon to subside after a little while into an armload of rubbery tuberose married to soft spoken buttery lilies. A soothing, warm, human caress after the sting of pain.
Comparable to what Jean Cocteau had said about Marlen Dietrich and her name: "Starts with a caress; ends with a whipstroke". But in reverse. Which makes it eminently suitable...


Next post will continue with more perfume and film suggestions on the naughty path. You have been warned!

Top pic courtesy of sadist.gr Clip comes from Youtube. Pic of Knize Ten comes from basenotes.net. Pic of Charlotte Rampling from charlotterampling.net

3 comments:

  1. I cannot believe no one posted here:) I love you writing, your nose that distinguishes and rips scents apart..

    have you read "The Perfume" novel?

    esp this post was enjoyable to me..

    The One from CK (the original black bottle) gives me that sensation too..a whip and a caress...

    thanks again

    ReplyDelete
  2. I cannot believe no one posted here:) I love you writing, your nose that distinguishes and rips scents apart..

    have you read "The Perfume" novel?

    esp this post was enjoyable to me..

    The One from CK (the original black bottle) gives me that sensation too..a whip and a caress...

    thanks again

    ReplyDelete
  3. I cannot believe no one posted here:) I love you writing, your nose that distinguishes and rips scents apart..

    have you read "The Perfume" novel?

    esp this post was enjoyable to me..

    The One from CK (the original black bottle) gives me that sensation too..a whip and a caress...

    thanks again

    ReplyDelete

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