By Frank Grimshaw
I trained in Paris under the great postmodern perfumier, Arnaud Destruels. I graduated and found work at an upmarket chop shop, but I soon tired of those dry, subservient boutiques. So I went out into the world where the sweat runs raw. And all through the ripening kaleidoscope of east Africa and the jungles of Timor, my nose came too.
I went, moving always away from the scent of corporation and obedience. I found wonder in algal blooms and industrial effluence and cracky street corners, capturing and distilling where I found it to make flying ointments and volatile unguents such as the world has never known.
I studied hard and I take it seriously. I am alert to tones and harmonies of scent that you (unless you are my old mentor – bonjour Arnaud, Je suis desole) are not.
So it is with some authority I tell you that women should not smell of civit and artificial blooms. They should smell of loam after rain, of oil paint and wood smoke and cigarettes and wine and pork fat and bracken. They should smell of truffles, of sweat and silage and the stable and the joyous shit-and-blood stench of childbirth.
Perfume is for those who want women as product. It is for unimaginative rich people. Nor do I hold (with) perfumed men. Either it’s fabreezey fecal nylon or short, pomaded otters playing macho warfare in the noselength with shoddy sandalwood.
The pioneering radio sorts which were later to become foley artists- – jolly hippies dosed on that fish belly white of disingenuous idealism – they worked out that if you want to make the sound of a lamp falling over it will not do to record a lamp falling over. Instead, you hit a bucket with a toilet brush, or something. It is an analogous perception, it is alchemy, like shakshuka and nerve gas.
Scent is a physiological process in that detectors react to chemical compounds but that is to smell as the optic nerve is to vision. Really it’s memory that deciphers perception. The molecule chains that form smells do exist objectively but are uncertainly perceived by individuals. Plus they are constantly decaying and clagging. The sea smell of oysters, the hay of piss, ripen. Do you smell it after asparagus? Some people do because their system doesn’t break down the enzyme, others do break it down but somehow still smell it, while others don’t break it down but lack the receptors so they don’t smell it, while others don’t break it down, do have the receptors but still can’t detect it. And it is all like that, so who knows who smells what or what they make of it.
Chanel though. Ooh la la. It is powerful scent for sure but because it is inevitably of childhood. Probably it triggers something of a fragment you didn’t fully understand but the excitement of which you retained; the coat of someone you thought was your aunt or a black-eyed Spanish language teacher you came across and in your wonder you couldn’t say a word. It is this substitution of sign for signifier that lingers and lies dormant, rendering and associating all the while. One cannot cross the same scent twice because everything changes and no washed-out strata of the mountain comes the same into the brackish confluence.