The juxtaposition of several events this past weekend made me start thinking about the concept of simplicity and how it applies to fashion, art, perfume, and life in general. From Friday through Sunday I participated in a holiday pop-up shop where vendors were selling everything from taxidermied animals, high-end hipster clothing, chandeliers, crude wooden shelves and knick-knacks, handmade chocolates, antique china and cactus plants to various forms of jewelry and, of course, perfumes.
As I passed in and out of my area, I kept going by a display by jewelry maker and metal artist Faris DuGraf, where one necklace particularly caught my eye. On the morning of the second day I ended up buying it. It’s a good thing I did because it turned out to be one-of-a-kind. I was particularly impressed by Faris’s creations because they fall into the category of “deceptively simple” – things that have clean and simple lines without being bland, boring or consciously contrived to make an obvious statement.
After I’d bought the necklace and was wearing it, I recommended Faris to a customer who was looking for a gift for her sister. The customer seemed indignant that I would suggest anything from the pop-up shop, saying “my sister only wears diamonds. She only wears REAL jewelry”. Of course this immediately conjured up images of ugly, ornate, traditional, outrageously expensive diamond jewelry, the sole purpose of which is to flaunt the wealth of a woman’s male caretaker. This, of course, opened the worm-box question of what “real” anything is. Is it real only if it costs someone’s life savings? Is it real only if it conforms to the exact image of what one has been taught to expect? Is it real only if it consists entirely of natural materials? Is it real only if it is manufactured by a large corporation and sold in a large retail store? Is anything real if you make it yourself, or does the fact that it is made by someone else lend a stamp of authenticity to it even if you could make something better? This question is just as valid for perfume as jewelry, so it made me wonder what this woman would consider “real perfume” – what would her sister wear?
The second phase of considering the whole concept of simplicity came when I read a review of my new fragrance, Woodcut”, in which the reviewer wrote, “Radical in its seeming simplicity ...”. I found these words to be some of the most flattering that he could possibly have written, because “seeming simplicity” is one of the hardest tricks of any trade. Doing simplicity well is much harder than doing ornate. Playing a simple Mozart piece well is much harder to do than playing a fast piece with big, crashing chords. There’s some sort of sweet spot where things are so simple that they’re boring - a solid white canvas posing as art simply because of its price tag, or the “solichem” fragrances like ambroxan and Iso E that have been exploited for a while in the name of trendiness. At the other end of the spectrum are the overly complex creations that end up being just plain ugly. This is especially a danger in making natural perfumes, because mixed materials can quickly create a “muddy” result.
Then there’s the other dimension of crude versus polished. Sometimes crude can be beautiful, as in the case of natural, found objects that are displayed as is. Other times, it simply looks (or smells) like an inexpert or bungled job. At the polished end of the spectrum are creations that are so contrived from the outset as to be embarrassingly obvious in their cleverness. We all walk a fine line between the extremes, and everyone’s sweet spot at the intersection of all these dimensions is in a slightly different place.
What’s particularly interesting is the observation of how often we as artists unconsciously make a statement and don’t realize it until afterwards. I didn’t create Woodcut with the idea of making an environmental statement, but when I finally ended up writing a description of it, I realized that it did make a strong statement. Einsof, in writing about it in his review, amplified the statement and made me realize some things that I hadn’t thought of myself.
Here are my questions for you: What "real" perfume would you equate to “only wearing diamonds”? What is your take on the issue of simplicity vs complexity and “real” vs “not real”?
Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for a travel spray of Woodcut.
[Necklace and madrone photos are mine; diamond ring and plastic cuckoo clock photos are from Wikimedia]