Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Style and the individual

Obviously, our reasons for washing, dressing, smelling, and accessorizing the way we do vary. One of the things that governs our taste and helps us to select the styles we do is a desire to express ourselves.

What we wear can say who we [think we] are.

This is just as true for the greenie wearing second-hand vintage fashions as it is for the avant-garde fashionista, and just as true for little ol' casual-unkempt me as it is for a Prada-wearing cocktail party attendee.

You can't say lifestyle without saying style.

Many blips on my radar lately have connected at or about this not-very-original thought of mine. Discussions about vegan-appropriate housewares, clothes, shoes, and cosmetics (avoiding animal glue, leather, wool, silk, lanolin, bee and insect based colorants and additives, etc. can be a challenge-- and how does one dispose of well meant but not-vegan gifts?) were the tip of the iceberg. When I see one vegan scold another about using leather shoes pre-dating their vegan lifestyle commitment rather than disposing of them (or the other way around!), I have to wonder... how much of this is pure fashion?

My notice of my supervisor's charming vintage clothes, prowled from yard and estate sales, second hand shops, and other unpretentious outlets for such things, also made me think about it. How can a neighbor's hand-me-down, or even Mom's old sweater, say "me"? On the other hand, it says a lot about her: she uses advertising faxes as scratch paper or prints on their reverse, re-uses containers, chooses to bring lunch in resealable, reusable containers with metal tableware rather than using convenience foods, and, too, saves money wherever she can. She is caring, light-green, and a little old fashioned. Why not shop vintage?

Many of my friends have toys, logo-ware, and accessories that proclaim them to be geeks: gaming geeks, movie geeks, convention goers, medieval replica enthusiasts, online comics readers, etc. While I certainly am most of these things (haven't been to a con in a while, as I never seem to get time off and money at the same time!), I hardly indulge in the consumer culture. (Being fat as heck helps me be moderate about my clothing purchases...) But I am dreadfully uncool, or, in the culture of ironic consumption that has been my milieu since the early 90s, un-uncool.

I wear plain colors, with only a few patterned garments. All my pants (and almost all of my bottoms are pants, not skirts) are black, with a few tan, gray, and brown outliers. All my shirts are green, cranberry pink, brown, or gray (or involuntarily acquired, through Mom or through "casual Friday"-- the only day of the week on which I wear a uniform.) I have only a couple pairs of presentable shoes, and they are all black, except one tan pair I wear with the tan pants when I am not wearing a dark enough shirt to justify black ones. I hardly ever wear jewelry, other than a pair of earrings I always forget to match to my clothing choice du jour. I don't change purses often. I do not wear cosmetics. I scrape my hair back into neutral colored scrunchy ponytails four days out of five. Despite my negligent attitude and recidivist purchasing habits, I have evolved a distinctive look, which, while not particularly dressy nor attractive, doesn't aggravate me. I guess that's style.

Scent is where I consciously strive to be individual. I do not like the idea of smelling like anyone else I know, despite my general fondness for many of the scents of my friends. (Sherri, for example, wears Red Door and Shalimar alternately; both are exquisite on her and very much to my taste, but I will not wear them while they are "hers.")

I don't know how I arrived at this point. I used to want to smell like Grandma, and I used to share perfume with Mom. Having been inspired by Beth's post today at PST to think about childhood longings to be like the other grown-ups and adult cravings to be unlike them, I am compelled to, well, write this post and think through all this.

As a kid, I loved Love's Vanilla-- a sexless, confection-sweet spray with an ice cream cone on the metal bottle. My mom loved it too. Perfumes are notoriously difficult for her, because they all mutate into cat-pee on her skin... that one was special, just pure gorgeous vanilla on her and on me too. It vanished, and we wept together. She has never found a vanilla scent to replace it with. I have flirted with numerous vanilla and foody scents, finding them all to be unsatisfactory in the long run, but acceptable for the short run. I can no longer wear what my mom does-- she wears fresh, complex florals with sparkling citrus, and I have been wearing deep, deeper, deepest (never fruity!) foodie scents, like Comptoir Sud Pacifique's L'Amour de Cacao and Pilar and Lucy's The Exact Friction of Stars.

And suddenly, like the thirty-something I am, I find that I have outgrown the scent equivalent of the umbrella-clad fruity girly drink and into the scent equivalent of a good Scotch-- barely foody, not at all sweet, deep and smoky, complex, filled with earthy and evolving aromas.

Hunh. Ain't that a bitch.

Back to the whole individuality thing... There are a few places where one can have a scent designed, which is uniquely one's own, and never to be shared by anyone else. I want this with the fierce intensity of a burning sun! (Mostly because I know what I like and I can never find it, untainted by other things which I do not.)

One is Christopher Brosius Limited "I Hate Perfume". CB is the luminary perfumer who made some of the extraordinary, bizarre single-scent notes from Demeter perfumes, such as Dirt, Green Tomato, or Lobster (I apologize if another perfumer is responsible for any of these Demeter scents). He doesn't like perfumes that don't evoke experiences. Now, after a clean break with Demeter, he makes spare, lean, gorgeous perfumes evoking things like burning maple leaves, icy mittens, or a Mediterranean holiday. These are not metaphors-- they really do smell just like those things. He also designs custom perfumes for customers who desire that service, keeps the formulae on file, and never allows anybody even to try on those personalized scents. Although others can smell them in his studio, they aren't allowed even to try them on. This is both so accessible and so marvelously exclusive that it fascinates me.

The other that I can think of is Memoire Liquide (website still under construction-- for the metatextual connection, go here or here.) The developers are Robin Coe Hutshing and her sister Jennifer Coe Bakewell, who have deliberately created a deconstructed fragrance counter experience where clients go through the experience of selecting scents they prefer or find evocative or meaningful, and building a personal fragrance with the aid of a perfumer. Memoire Liquide also keeps the recipes on file for future reference and purchase, although I am less clear on whether they share them with other consumers. I want, want, want to do this. Pat has promised me a field trip to go fragrance-constructing there for this Christmas... sometime a little in advance of the holiday. I'm crazy excited!

I can think of many combinations of fragrances that I think I would adore. Here are a few I-wish-I-had-handy-right-now combinations:

--Fresh cut ginger, gardenia, and lemon. (c'mon, why must white florals always be creamy and night-time-ish? I want a spicy daytime scent without a lot of cloves.)
--Boozy, pure vanilla without any florals or musks added-- not baked goods, but reminiscent of the extract. (For Mom.)
--Vetiver and fresh cut rosemary. (This could be perfume Prozac. I want this to exist.)
--Stargazer lilies and violet leaves. (Those heady spice-bomb flowers and that fresh greenness would be dynamite goddess power when I really needed a knockout date scent.)

But what I think I will try to recreate this Christmas is the scent of summertime on the Central Coast of California, where I live. Ripe, true-to-life strawberries must be the soul of the scent, and there must be oaky smoke to represent the oak barbecue that happens every day here. Watermelon. Orange blossoms. Lemons. Black pepper. Star jasmine. The sweet dry salty rooty dust smell of vetiver, maybe. Certainly hay. Green leaves. Tomato plants. Moss. Maybe a touch of seaweed or tar. Something to mimic the sweetness of whatever dry herb it is that perfumes the wind over our sere, drought-scorched hills. (I'll skip the fart smell of freshly harvested broccoli, but it, too, is the perfume of my home.) It is the aroma that seems to power my windchimes, creeping into my sky-blue bedroom in the same puffs that stir the bells and send my curtain dancing on a lazy summer Sunday, while I nap with my head on Pat's warm shoulder: the scent of happiness. I would love to bottle an analogue of it to amuse myself with in winter.

Wish me luck.

What would YOU bottle?

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