This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
THE THIN LINE BETWEEN MYSTIQUE AND BS
I was reading a blog or forum post a while back (I don’t remember where it was) that posed the question of whether the availability of information on the internet, together with the increased availability of fragrance itself and the use of fragrance in so many mundane applications, has decreased the mystique surrounding perfume, and therefore its desirability. As a perfumer, I’ve thought about this a lot and, as with any other question, there are many ways to answer it, all partly right, and all partly wrong (can you tell I’m a Libra?).
A corollary of this question, I suppose, is whether the abundance of relatively accessible technical information, the revelation of scent-making secrets, and transparency in perfume formulation has led to an increased level of marketing hype and general BS to counteract the perception that perfume is just another ordinary product like car air fresheners, printer cartridges and ball-point pens, made in factories by machines tended by anonymous button pushers to briefly serve a function and then be disposed of so that the consumer can buy more, near-identical, items to replace them.
Personally, I think we all need a little romance and mystique in our lives. A lot of it comes from other people and from intangible, ephemeral experiences like watching snow fall, traveling, or listening to music, but we also instinctively need some tangible inanimate objects that we marvel at for their beauty, revel in through our senses, treasure, and wish to keep forever. Ancient and primitive cultures seem to understand that everyday objects should be well-made, meaningful, and beautiful. Some of my prized objects are a chunky bowl hand-crafted from beautifully patterned olive wood that I bought from a little hole-in-the wall shop in Spain, the Native American silver squash blossom earrings that I bought in Arizona, a beautifully designed and crafted black leather jacket that I bought like new at a second-hand store and wear constantly; the green Gibson guitar that I don’t have time to learn to play properly, and a few really gorgeous perfumes.
Taking this analogy a little further, I suppose I could put food in a cheap plastic bowl, wear a pair of tacky plastic earrings, wear a cheaply made, ugly but warm, synthetic cloth jacket, pick at a cheap particleboard guitar that’s constantly going out of tune, and spray on a cheap fragrance oil diluted in alcohol until I get sick of all of these things, but why? Just so I can go out and buy more inferior items that I’ll also get sick of before long and do my part to keep the economy growing?
I don’t think knowing how things are made demystifies them as long as they’re made with thought and care. If they’re not well made, the mystique will wear off anyway when they break, malfunction, or just get annoying because of their cheapness and ugliness. I probably know more about how a hand-turned wooden bowl or a blown glass one is made than I do about how a plastic bowl is mass-produced in a factory, but the hand-made objects don’t lose their allure simply because I can envision the process of making them. They still have their intrinsic beauty, and the fact that someone actually put some thought into choosing the materials, designing the objects, and crafting them with care is a mystique in itself. Even though I know how a wooden or blown glass bowl is made, that doesn’t mean that I could make one, and certainly not a beautiful one. I think the same goes for perfume.
In fact, if we indie perfumers are honest and forthcoming about how our perfume is made, it should give the user a heightened appreciation for the quality of the materials used, the huge amount of knowledge, skill, time, and experimentation that goes into designing a perfume, and the love and labor that goes into producing what is a work of olfactory art.
The factories can keep the BS and hyperbole. Ultimately, it’s up to the consumer to distinguish between real craftsmanship and fictional craftsmanship, and it’s up to the consumer to decide whether they want to experience their own authentic version of pleasure or a ready-made, spoon-fed, fictional version of pleasure.
[Pics of handmade objects (ancient Egyptian perfume bottle, Mayan bowl, and vintage kilim rug) all from Wikimedia]
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