Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Essentially Me - It Souks!

No, this is not an ego-trip gone sour, rather I'd like to share my impressions of the natural perfumes sold under this moniker by Alec Lawless. Lawless runs an essential oils business with his wife as well as creating bespoke perfumes and providing various perfumer`s equipment through Essentially Me.

A group of lucky basenoters will be sampling and reviewing the ready-to-wear perfume line and I'll be conveying my impressions here as I work my way through ten natural fragrances.

I must admit I have become rather turned off by the fragrance industry as a whole and see little hope for any improvement. The mainstream industry is all about pushing low-quality redundancy at whatever the market will bear while establishing ultra-expensive luxury lines selling what would have been considered a proper fragrance, no more, no less, in the 1980s at prices that start at about a month's worth of welfare payments and end somewhere around the price of a small automobile. Niche has widely degenerated into a fashionista racket with endless new style-over-substance editions of design-conscious flacons and silly brand concepts haphazardly concealing boring, primitive or simply more of those prefab industrial smells.

Paranoid IFRA regulations benefiting the aromachemical big players do not help either and it seems that the only pockets of resistance are small, often one-person perfume operations such as those of Andy Tauer, Dominique Dubrana, Mandy Aftel, Liz Zorn or Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, who are dedicated to preserving and enhancing the art and artisanry of perfumery, rather than merely making a living off of it.

This is a wonderful opportunity to delve into the olfactory universe of another such individual, and the first fragrance by Alec Lawless I have treid is called Souk.

Here's what Essentially Me says about it:
"This was inspired by travelling in the Middle East and India where there is much to celebrate from these ancient cultures. The haunting smells of the spice markets, the Arab love affair with the rose, fragrant gardens, precious woods, resins and incense. Sandalwood, frankincense and Cedar of Lebanon are blended with balsams to provide a complex woody heart. Rose Maroc, jasmine, orris and neroli bring floral tributes from surrounding lands. Citrus fruits, herbs and oriental spices bring nuance from the market stalls and the ancient mysterious opoponax suggests incense with help from frankincense and sandalwood. Deep complex and beguiling - the beauty is in the mystery."

My thoughts:
Are you going to Scarborough Souk? Yes that's right, the green-herbal elements in this unisex beauty balance the balsamic-spice so as to create an English oriental, the two fragrant worlds coming together nicely in the rose, which is, after all, so quintessential to both. A pleasing alternative to the French orient smarting under the syrupy heel of that charming despot Serge Lutens.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Guerlain's Gaffe

There's been quite an uproar about Jean-Paul Guerlain's remark in a television interview, that in creating Samsara "Pour une fois, je me suis mis à travailler comme un nègre. Je ne sais pas si les nègres ont toujours tellement travaillé, enfin…"

While I lack an indepth knowledge of French cultural semantics, I'm uncertain whether the translation in the Anglo media of "nègre" as "nigger" is not somewhat misleading, the former having been common public usage through the 1960s and beyond to designate blacks, and thus not dissimilar to the English "negro" or the German "Neger." These terms were used affirmatively by Africans and African-Americans, such as Marcus Garvey (1920s), Leopold Senghore(1930s) Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (1960s), while their use by "white" societies inevitably infused them with the ubiquitous racism of those societies, leading to a (difficult) shift to alternatives (Afro-American, African American, black, noir and others) since the 1960s.

The pejorative quality of the word and the turn of phrase, with the added callousness of questioning whether any black ever worked as hard as Guerlain did, is unquestionably injurious, uncivil and racist in nature. We can safely assume that M. Guerlain's days as a publicity instrument of the Louis-Vuitton-Moet-Hennesy-owned House of Guerlain are numbered. That a number of organizations will be pressing charges against Guerlain seems exaggerated though. We are not talking about Jean Marie Le Pen here, after all, and a legal course will achieve nothing. Vigorous protest and the opportunity to use this gaffe as a starting point for a reasoned discussion of racism issues in French society would seem a more promising path. But then it is not to be expected, that anti-racist organizations are immune to the baneful effects of media hysteria any more than any other institution and perhaps targeting one politically irrelevant old man is providing some psychological compensation for their utter helplessness in the face of the rising tide of European xenophobia as embodied by pathetic fearmongers such as Geert Wilders or the highly questionable policies of the Sarkozy government, for that matter.

Personally I'm saddened rather than angered by Guerlain's gaffe (then again, I'm white). I simply can't say I'm outraged by this haughty old man's public callousness in the same way that slavery in Mauretania or labor conditions in China co-sponsored by the West's shoddy consumerism outrage me. But you'd wish that a man like Guerlain, capable of such refinement and sensibility in his artful line of work, so well-travelled and cosmopolitan, was simply incapable of harboring a worn-out racist cliché of this sort. Such an insensitive remark from an obviously cultivated mind serves as a sorrowful illustration of how segregated and selective civility may be. Monsieur Guerlain, I regret to inform you that your status as gentleman has been revoked.