Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two concepts from the perfume world: "bespoke" and "yours but better"

I know, I know, an increasingly large amount of my posts are about perfume-related things and about fertility... well, it stands to reason. Unless I talk about work, I'm going to talk about my hobbies; if I am talking about hobbies other than killing time noodling around with Rock Band, it's going to be perfume or it's going to be bird-rescue or birdwatching. And of course fertility is much on my mind.

There are two interesting concepts that have been preoccupying me, both coming from that world of perfume/cosmetics. I think that these concepts are revealing and interesting beyond the scope of the industry and aficionados.

The first is the notion of "bespoke" perfumes.

Bespoke is an adjective coming from men's fashion, indicating a custom-made luxury item made from scratch to the client's specifications and with his selected materials. Other items of toilette, including not only couture but fragrance, can now be bespoke (and not just for the movie-stars-gangsters-and-princes that used to bespeak suits... but for anyone of middle-class income and nouveau-riche aspirations: pretty much everyone I know.) Bespoke fragrances are a strong current trend with a broad range of houses -- mainstream and niche -- humoring the whims of the radically individual.

We don't want to smell like anyone else. Running into another person wearing the same perfume is as shocking as attending a party with another guest wearing the same ensemble... and as uncomfortable. With hundreds of high-profile perfume launches this year and countless niche releases, it should be easy to find the "holy grail" scent that is exactly what we want to wear, simultaneously nourishing our character and displaying it. (Yes, people do seek their HG scents with great energy and passion.)

We all seem to believe we are "perfect little snowflakes" - special, unique, different from everyone else. Thus, the bespoke scent. Come on, doesn't the idea tempt you? Can you not concoct an imaginary bouquet of scents that speak your name, perhaps from the everyday things that are also parts of you: the steam from your coffee or tea, the twist of your preferred citrus, a splash of your Scotch or whatever your poison may be, the bright bite of your favorite herbs, perhaps a whisper of your most luxurious dinner or dessert recipe, or the echo of your hobby, be it the rubber of bike tires, the sweat and soil scents of gardening, or the tantalizing smoke of a barbecue?

I think that the reason bespoke scents are not always holy grail scents may be because they reflect who we want to be. Sure, I want to be that savage, outdoorsy dryad, flower-garlanded and plumed with ferns and feathers, bathed in smoke and balsam fir, but who am I really? My HG scents are always plump cozy odalisques curled up on the couch with lap blankets and trashy novels and cookies and tea, not the dryad of my preference... and so am I. That is, when I'm not a decidedly offbeat madwoman, smelling of bad wiring and chewing gum and mismatched oddments, monkeying with toys and electronica, with the music of a previous generation bellowing around me.

I think that bespoke perfumes is the business end of the radical individualism we were all raised to espouse, and are now giving up in other arenas of our lives (such as when we buy used cars, or wear second-hand clothes, as we increasingly do and will in our greening generation.) It's like the so-called "lipstick index" of economic disaster: people buy more lipstick when the economy is off (maybe) and they look for intangible expressions of selfhood when their usual indices of individuality become less indexical.

The other concept preoccupying me, for less fanciful reasons, is the "yours but better" trend. In advertising and in critique of products, the best makeup is "your skin but better" (and so are some musk perfumes). Subtle shades of lipstick are "your lips but better." And so on.

Let it be said that I very much like some of the items so sold (or critiqued). I am actually wearing two such cosmetics now: Make-Up For Ever's Face & Body Liquid Makeup is the lightest and best foundation I have ever used, and I am using a Christmas gift (very much wanted) of Lipstick Queen's Saint Nude lipstick. As someone who hardly ever wears makeup, except as a uniform of professionalism when needed, I appreciate a foundation that makes me look as if my rosacea were not flaring up (but that is all -- no fake perfection, just toned down the redness) and a lipstick that only-slightly enhances my lip color.

But... "better?" Really? How bad is our esteem that we think paint is better than flesh, and perfume is better than our own animal identity? And how poor is our grasp of reality that we think we look ALMOST like we are made up, or smell ALMOST like we do in a perfume? Bah.

Your mileage may vary.

No comments: