Viewers of that 1992 cult little thriller "Single White Female" staring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh remember the delapidated NYC building, shot to reference the trilogy of apartment-house thrillers by Roman Polanski, and the plot which culminated into an early 1990s phenomenon. Summary? An ad for a roommate brought a stranger into Allison's life. Someone who shares. Someone who cares. Someone who borrows. Someone who steals. Someone who would kill to be her. A clinging, duplicitous psycho roommate all right! Viewers with a perfume interest however have long been perplexed on which perfume is featured in one memorable scene:
Allie brings a housewarming gift to Hedy, the psycho (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh). Upon inspecting her dresser, a bottle catches her eye; she handles the beautiful perfume bottle, sniffs off the top and dabs some on her wrists and neck. Hedy, who had been taking a shower in the adjoining bathroom, walks in on her, immediately perceives the scent in the air and comments on its use. Hedy will then proceed to offer earrings as a thank-you-in-turn gesture to Allie.
Allie:You haven't even been here two weeks and I'm already in your room.
I was just about to go through your drawers.
Hedy: That smells nice on you.
Allie:I always wanted to try that.
Hedy: Sure, anything you want. Share and share alike.
Allie:I don't really know about that. I'm an only child.
The perfume on the dresser in said scene is in a light blue, cylindrical bottle, made of opaline by the looks of it. Theories on what it might be have abounded on perfume discussion boards for years; it's a recurring question to which no one had a definitive asnwer. Till now.
A freeze-frame on the video or DVD (a common enough practice for "crazied perfumistas") reveals that the bottle is tagged "Moi Même" which means...me, myself. Given the particular context of the film, in which director Barbet Schroeder explores the subjects of what constitutes identity and the implications of identity theft (through subtle and less subtle means pertaining to appearence, comportment and later play-acting), I had assumed it was a made-up perfume prop for the purposes of the film.
The cohabitation continues and things start getting weird. As Allie reunites with her cheating fiance, Sam, Hedy has in the meantime becometoo clinging. She will try to break up the re-united couple ~in an effort to make Allie keep her as a room-mate instead of leaving with her fiance~ by sleeping with him while pretending to be Allie. She uses perfume to sneak up on Sam, aiding to convince him in the dark of the night that she's really Allie.
Hedy:Guys like you don't change. You can't be faithful. And now she'll know.The nuances of "stealing" someone's signature scent, like in that scene in the film, had provided the content for another essay on Perfume Shrine (which can be found in the link). At the time I had written:
Sam: She'll know what? That you came up here and pretended to be her?
What is this hair? You're in her clothes. You're wearing her perfume!
"Copying someone's identity in its external manifestations and even their intellectual interests, emulating their fashion sense, their hairstyle, their makeup and colour choices and suddenly adopting the same music sense and book material can feel annoying and a little alarming for the one who is being copied: is it to be taken as a compliment or as an invasion of private space and the right to mark one's own territoty? That last part seems to me to be at the bottom of this particular annoyance. Although we have progressed from the jungle, the jungle hasn't left us: we still need to mark our territoty with the invisible olfactory stain of our id. And we do that with our loved ones and the scents we choose for them as well."The context of that post still applies, but research has since revealed to me that the perfume in the dresser scene isn't made-up after all. On the contrary.
Two French companies have been producing perfumes by the same name: Desti* of Paris had a Moi Même fragrance launched in 1914 and Cyber, the producer of the semi-eponymous Cybera, launched another by the same name some years later. They're both art-deco scents in similar period-style containers and they would fit the context. The art director must have studied catalogues from antiques auctions or happened upon the beautiful opaline flacon browsing in some antiquerie. Certainly an art-deco bottle matches exceptionally well the art-deco building which is really the third protagonist in the film. What originally seemed random and superficial is revealed to be clever and fully intentional. More than a pretty prop, the signature scent in Single White Female stands as a meaningful and transient metaphor of self.
*In the same year, 1914, the company of Desti of Paris launched another 5 fragrances: Beatrice d'Este, Devinez (=Guess), Lilas, L'Invitation à La Dance and Saphir.