Monday, January 8, 2007

What do the rich smell of?

It might seem a silly question. And yet, it made me ponder a bit. Intrigued by gut response received upon casual comments on various fora and the amount of controversy that issues of money and class raise even in classless United States, I have been coming to the conclusion that it is indeed a loaded question.

Upon initial shifting the general concensus seems to be that people with loaded pockets and platinum cards with credit limits on the upper echelons really go for the super exclusive, the elusive, the prestigeous and the ridiculously priced.
The recent example of the wedding gift of Clive Christian perfume to Katie Holmes by Tom Cruise, for her to wear on her wedding day is a case in point of the latter. No.1 retails for 600 euros for a 50ml/1.7oz bottle of parfum; which is actually the minimum basic salary in my country. I leave deductions to you...
The real question would be: "is it worth it?" This to me at least has to do solely with content and not presentation. Otherwise one can decant a glorious perfume in the most exquisite Baccarat bottle and enjoy it from there or just use a milk carton, it does not make that big a difference in my mind...
Purpotedly, Clive Christian No.1 for women consists of only the finest, rarest and most precious materials. However there is so much one can put into a perfume in terms of quality, after which point the whole starts to smell overwhelming and bad. I mean, upwards a certain point it does not make any difference because there is so much one can include anyway. And if one cares to look at the list of notes, one stumbles upon the insurmountable block of lily of the valley; a note that cannot be successfuly extracted from nature, a note that has to be recreated with other elements, most common of which are Citronellyl Acetate varietys A and Acetate pure, Geranyl Acetate pure, Lindenol and Terpineol Alpha JAX. As to other notes, the majority of top notes consists of things that do not skyrocket the paycheck for obtaining them: lime, Sicilian mandarin, cardamom, nutmeg, and thyme. And in its floral heart, ylang ylang is the rarity in the cost department of floral essences inventory (meaning it's relatively cheap), hence called "poor man's jasmine". The ambery woods of the base is so vague that it leaves me doubtful as to what exactly goes in the production.
So sorry, I am not convinced the price tag really reflects the content. A certain amount of snobbism is involved as well. And by the way, since the hostorian never really leaves my writing, snob derives from the notification that newly rich young men got upon entering the aristocratic colleges of the old Britain, namely Oxford and Cambridge: s.nob, denoting sine nobilitas, latin for "no nobility". Worth keeping in mind.

Joy by Jean Patou, Henri Alméras' tour de force, was touted as "the costliest perfume in the world" back in its heyday in 1930, affirming the inextricable tie between perfume, luxury and financial abandon. It was actually Elsa Maxwell, venomous gossip queen of the 30s that came up with the infamous moniker about it, the one that sealed its success besides its rich bouquet of the best jasmine and lushest rose. But those were times of recession and ruin after the Wall Street crash of 1929. It was completely irrational then as is Clive Christian now, even though it was initially devised as a less costly means of giving american women a slice of Patou's prestige now that they could no longer afford his couture. The difference though hinged on the pretenciousness that is lacking in Joy's case. Today Joy pure parfum in the 30ml/1oz bottle costs 160£ (british pounds) or 299$ at internet discounters.

Marie Antoinette is well known for her excesses and the recent biopic made by Sofia Coppola has brought her once again in the spotlight. There is a well known tale about how it was her perfume that sent her to the guillotine. On June 20,1791 Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and their family retinue attempted to escape to eastern France, where troops loyal to the monarchy were waiting after the revolution had gained control of Paris. Their flight however was cut off at Varennes; they were recognised and arrested there and sent off to Paris under escort where they met their demise at the guillotine two years later. There is some speculation that it was the divine quality (and contrast with the rest of the people) of Marie Antoinette's perfumes and pomades that set her apart despite her disguise when they travelled, as 18th century France was a place infested with disease, full of open sewers and all that at a time when talking a bath was not to be indulged in often.
According to The Scotsman, many people have been intrigued by the scent of the decadent royal and an effort to recreate it has resulted in "Sillage de la Reine" (Queen's wake) by Elisabeth de Feydeau, "a writer who stumbled upon the lost recipe, along with the Parisian perfume-maker Francis Kurkdjian. Ms Feydeau was preparing a biography of its inventor, Jean-Louis Fargeon, the court perfumer, when she made the discovery. Mr Kurkdjian agreed that he should try to resurrect the scent using the techniques and ingredients of Fargeon's day "just to see if we could. It was very difficult because although we possess the same primary materials, the environment now is very different." But he was satisfied with the result - a mixture of jasmine, rose, iris, tuberose, lavender, musk, vanilla, ambergris, cedar, sandalwood and other essences. "The perfume is 100 per cent natural, and certainly something that the queen would have worn," he added. Ms Feydeay said smelling the Queen's Wake is "as if you're walking past a magnificent bouquet comprising flowers of every season. It has an incredible fullness." The whole composition has been likened to a precursor of Chanel #5, which begs the question why pay so much for something that can be had for much less, but I guess it's not the super-rich that wil grab those bottles but the super-collectors. You can read about the recreated perfume clicking here

And what do the rich and famous wear? One of my perfume projects is to document a list of perfumes picked up by the rich and famous, some richer than others, some more famous than others and the result can be seen clicking here It seems that among the more exclusive choices they sometimes go for things that are set by trends, or for the ubiquitous Creed fragrance which I largely attribute to Creed's magnificent PR machine, more than their consistent taste. It's interesting and fun to peruse the list however.

What do ordinary people think the rich smell of? I think most folks are judging by what is considered Bon Chic, Bon Genre when they attribute classic Rue Cambon Chanel perfumes, classic and boutique Guerlains and some Goutals to the rich and incidentally classy people. However as we all know rich and classy are not interchangeable and one should leave a leaway for the more vulgar choices. Those latter ones would have a more outspoken and loud personality to go with newly acquired money, elaborate porn-chic french manicures on long talons, bleached hair to an inch of their lives and gaudy jewels when none is required for women, really heavy all-gold watches for men. At least that's the image I freely associate with it and I would be a little coy in naming specific names.
My personal experience tells me that the richer and classier one is, the less inclined he/she is to drown all the others around in the fumes! The really rich people I have known and smelled have all worn light, subtle fragrances that were imperceptible until they leaned for a social shake of hands.
What did I smell? Aqua di Parma original cologne, Diorella and Eau du Cologne Impériale by Guerlain (latter was on a guy).
A couple of others had something on I did not recognise definitely, but still in the same vein. They were ship owners and involved in shipping: loads of money, no doubt about that.

And finally yes, when all is said and done if you're finding yourself savouring the waft from a syrupy potent composition, it's unlikely you're downwind from Princess Caroline of Monaco. I'm sorry.......

Pic comes from Czguest by Slim Aaron

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