Thursday, March 27, 2008

Scents the Wind Got: a Joint Project from 2 sides of the World

We were having a discussion with Gaia, the Non-Blonde, the other day, about one of our common passions: cinema. And one of the epics that marked it has been Gone with the Wind, the adaptation of the Margaret Mitchell novel which spans almost two decades surrounding the American Civil War. Both being fans of the novel, as well as of the 1939 film, we got the idea to tackle it in olfactory terms: after all it is so rich in the smell of nostalgia, of a past long gone, of youth misspent and maturity gained with hardship. It was bound to appeal to our sensibilities.

I recall when as a very young teenager I got the two thick, heavy volumes of the novel. It was a stark difference from all the heavies I had been immersing myself to read as a nerd trying to "complete" her education on classics: Dostoevsky, Camus, Joyce, Satre and all those good people. Nerds do leaf through Cosmopolitan as well though ~I am living proof of it!~ and it was on its spread with curly-tressed Andie MacDowell in which a lazy summer reading suggestion included "Gone with the Wind". Southern Belles always held a fascinating appeal to my European soul: they were warm, hospitable, giving yet stealthy and reminded me very much of the women of my own culture. Scarlett promised to be the "bad", naughty girl anyone was dreaming of emulating. Watching Vivien Leigh impersonate her was the final straw: she was a vision in that dark burgundy dress at Ashley's party, referencing the Scarlet woman...I sincerely developed a girl-crush!

The title is taken from the 1st line of the 3rd stanza of the Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynaraepoem by Ernest Dowson:

"I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind."
And indeed the novel and film speak of times gone by and with them the innocent aroma of carefree youth. It was also intriguing that there was an undercurrent of dubious sociological belief in designated tasks for certain classes and certain people in antebellum South, to which my idealistic youth protested against. Men and women of colour were treated in a weird way throughout the novel: on the one hand to be trusted and confided to in an endearing way (Mammy was such an adorable character!), on the other it seemed like there was the implied idea that their place was specific (slavery) and it should have remained so for the sake of the good old days! "How stupid Negroes were! They never thought of anything unless they were told." Scarlett said at one point. The duality found me awashed with emotion and intellectual turmoil.

Through the pages there are so many smells that reminded me of languid springs and summers of a sub-tropical nature: The lush magnolia trees whose petals were white, soft and waxy like the porcelain skin of Scarlett. The Twelves Oaks plantation of Ashley Wilkes (such an imposing name for one!). The sweet yams and sweet potatoes prepared by Mammy, Scarlett's nanny. The preparations for the spring barbecue under the trees and the rest of the girls before the ball: I seem to recall there was a description of the smell of the room as being scented with powder and young girly flesh. The Peach Tree street in Atlanta where the protagonists were forced to move when they left the plantation in Tara. Scarlett gurgling with Cologne to hide her drinking from Rhett Butler, the debonair scoundrel who proves he has a heart of gold after all and most of all for Scarlett and the daughter they will have later on. And of course the gunpowder and the smell of the sick-room when war strikes in Atlanta as well and they have to return to a derelict Tara. The odour of death, the odour of famine and destruction, the tobacco pipe aroma of Scarlett's not-all-there father as they return, the smell of the slow realization that the pampered life they knew is there no more... Oh, yes, it is full of all those things.

And then there is the wonderful movie-buff trivia of Clark Gable wanting to irritate Vivien Leigh (because she got the part that was to go to Carole Lombard) by eating raw onions before every kissing scene they shared. Not to mention his being a heavy smoker. But then Vivien reputedly smoked four packets a day during the entire shoot! Naughty boy Clark surprised Hattie McDaniel (Mammy) as well when he poured her real alcohol instead of the usual tea while filming the rejoice scene after the birth of Bonnie!

As the characters evolve I imagine their scent choices would as well. It's not something that is referenced in the book, merely a fancy of my fevered imagination.

Melanie and Ashley both resonate with a quiet dignity, characters that are not prone to externalize their feelings with as much demonstration. Their natural class and insistence in impracticality is their adherence to the old ways of life.
Melanie Wilkes is such a true lady, revered for her kindness as well as her loyalty, that I cannot help seeing her in something other than a classic cologne in the English tradition: the scent of Bluebell by Penhaligon's or Lily of the Valley by Floris can be the perfect background to her restrained, yet majestic stance throughout the plot.
Ashley Wilkes could also be the embodiment of monogrammed slippers, with a scent choice to match. While vintage Creed Tabarome would be great for Scarlett's Irish father, Gerald, it's Ashley whom I see in the pristine Green Irish Tweed. It only serves to pronounce everything that is aloof, slightly shy and introvert about him. A fragrance like an armour of respectability. And yet there are traits of turbulent emotion there, which reveal themselves when he is forced to earn a living in Tara or under Scarlett's employment: his broken pride would be echoed by something as deep yet poignant asEquipage.

Rhett is such a cocky fellow it's hard to peg him: his debauchery and encounters with prostitutes with a heart of gold like Belle Watling make one think that he would go for something boozy with a devil-may-care air: Idole de Lubin would suit him. Or for his sexy, intense side L'instant pour Homme could be a wonderful choice to get Scarlett's and all the ladies' pants on fire! I would love to think that along with the ruffly petticoat he gifted her with, he gave cologne to Mammy as well: sweet orange blossoms or lilies for her endearing nature would be what would warm her heart.
And what would Belle Watling actually wear herself? Probably a rich white floral to leave a trail behind: her hair was obviously painted, the ladies gossiped, and she wore rouge. If Carolina Herrera existed back then I could see her swamped in its exotica.

Scarlett intrigues with her numerous facets. I would have loved to designate her Keiko Mecheri's Scarlett, if only because of the name: "dramatic dance of lively spices" is not a bad description of her character either, but it is not meant to be. To me, Scarlett begins her adventures as a girl full of feminine guiles, full of the scents of her paternal home: the rich magnolias, the mimosa, the comfort of the embrace of her beloved mother whom she loses so early. L'artisan's Mimosa pour Moi has the bright sunny disposition she displays at the start of the story, warm, milky and sweet with just a little headstrong strain underneath.
As she becomes the disillusioned widow for the first time, crying face down for her spent youth and the loss of her childhood dreams, I still imagine her smelling of a creamy magnolia, like Magnolia Dolce by I Profumi di Firenze or Magnolia Pourpre by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier: only her demeanour wouldn't be as gay. As plans to take over Tara engulf her and she is desperate to succeed as a business woman, her smell would be stricter, more controlled, more abstract. I think that an old-fashioned mossy affair such as Ma Griffe means business, yet still smells like a young lady. And finally when she become Mrs.Rhett Butler with a desire to show off her nouveau-wealth replete with jeweled baubles she would opt for an entrance-making scent, more famous for its price tag than its intrinsic value such as Clive Christian: the costliest money can buy, so people can eat their hearts out!
What scent would adorn her repentant visage as she cries in the final scene is any one's guess. That mix of irrational optimism and hearty abandon is a rare cinematic gem to be treasured and I would love to hear your opinions on this one.

Be sure to check out The Non-Blonde for her take on Gone with the Wind scent associations.

Pic of Vivien Leigh with her straw hat originally uploaded on POL. Pic of Clark Gable from yahoo.movies. Pics of Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland through Wikimedia Commons. Clip originally uploaded by iluvsoaps on Youtube.


  1. Absolutely brilliant!
    E., your choices are perfect. The Creed ones are especially spot-on. I skipped Mr. O'Hara because I couldn't think of one that would be appropriate, but you got it right.

  2. I have to say I see Scarlett in Quelques Fleurs and most definately Fracas by the end. I still remember the first and only time I watched gone with the wind; my friend and I started it around 9pm and had no idea how long it was. Were crying when it ended around 1 in the morning.

  3. Thank you G! You didn't score less well yourself (loved your storytelling and the thinking behind it)

  4. Thank you for your suggestions J! Fracas is so femme and Scarlett was that by the end of the movie, true.
    The movie does pose an attention-span test, I guess: one needs to have plenty of time ahead.

  5. It's so much fun to read your thoughts on GWTW, E. It's such a part of my native lore, for better and (mostly) worse. It's fascinating to think of a young Greek woman encountering it.

    The scent choices are wonderful, esp. Melanie and Ashley--but I agree with Jenavira: Scarlett would have worn Fracas.

  6. Thanks M, glad you liked the project. It did make an impression for all the reasons stated.
    Re: the scent choices, yes you're right. Fracas is a great choice.


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