This was going to be a jovial little piece of perfume writing on the defunct house of Dukes of Pall Mall, the origin of my blog moniker and a bit of a fetish of mine - not just because their two perfumes, Cotswold and Belgravia, were indeed amazingly well-made, high-quality fragrances, but because I harbor an irrational fondness for the faded culture of the English gentleman and chap. A figure which could still instill hatred and mockery in the 70s as a principal symbol of British classism (Monty Python's upper class twit sketch would be a classic example) but has meanwhile become so marginal it can actually now serve as a position from which to satirically and self-ironically observe the new inanities of cool Britannia - witness chap hop. As London is once again burning, and a whole lot of other places, I started to wonder to what extent the inflexibility of the class system, in which the insignias of gentility from Savile Row suits to a shave at Trumper's were vital cultural capital, has contributed to the current malaise - Britain taking last place among all developed nations in terms of social mobility is a telling fact. What I didn't wonder about for a moment, was the extent to which 30 years of unbridled neoliberalism, whether of the Tory or New Labour variety, have turned much of the sceptere'd isle into a social wasteland of consumerist zombies (a fact the brilliant Shaun of the Dead made abundantly clear in the most hilarious way possible). In fact, these emotionally numbed mobs destroying their very own communities, armed with blackberries, apolitical, antisocial, narcissistic to the core, with nothing on their mind but loot, since their value system exclusively revolves around generating self-worth through sporting vaunted consumer goods (cultural capital!) are simply the underclass version of city bankers, brokers and hedgefund managers who have torched thousands of communities and wrecked innumerable businesses while piling up bonuses. These rioters are not rising up against the system, they are emulating it with the available means at hand. City bankers and Croydon wankers, tearing apart society from both ends.
Back to perfume (sort of): I say this not in self-defense of a personal favorite: but the old-fashioned classism embodied by Dukes of Pall Mall looks almost quaint beside the shallow and vain "American Psycho" consumerism of "luxe pour luxe" vanity, represented, for one, by the inanely priced Clive Christian fragrances, and the niche perfumery business as a whole, which, let's face it, has fed heavily upon the massive redistribution of wealth from the many to the few which has been going on in the US and UK for decades under the guise of free markets, deregulation, tax cuts for those who don't need them and other Chicago School oddities. Those with less and less money keep up the facade of middle-class affluence by piling up debt and the ones with nothing will evidently smash windows. Economically, socially and psychologically, the hyper-consumerism of postmodern capitalism has become a dead end. Replacing communities (public space) with shopping malls (consumer space), self-improvement with self-gratification and emotions with commodities is turning people (and then their neighborhoods) into burned-out wrecks, self- and world-loathing sociopaths or, at best, alienated shopping junkies.
Is a new asceticism the answer? Hardly. There's plenty of drabness in Tottenham already. Apart from the political necessity of restoring true social democracy, i.e. a society sincerely aiming to include, to meet out social justice and ensure true equality of opportunity through education and public services, we need to turn to enlightened hedonism, to indulge in pleasures that put us in touch with ourselves rather than providing surrogates for real life. I'm not saying that Utopia will be achieved by way of Guerlain. But if you can learn to see the beauty of a perfume, rather than its worth as cultural capital, perhaps you can also learn to see the beauty in yourself, rather than accepting the S&P rating you're stamped with by society. And people who can accept themselves as they are have no need to vent an inner rage on others, or establish their worth through symbolic consumption, whether as shopaholics or looters. Stop burning down houses, start burning credit cards, then go smell some roses.