Monday, July 7, 2014

The Unstoppered Bottle of Perfume

A perfume is known by its name, smell, shape and sometimes, its color. These attributes influence expectations in a perfume encounter. The unstoppered bottle is an invitation, a provocation, a dare, the gaze of a beautiful stranger that playfully intimates, "Would you like to get to know me?"  

Saying "yes" to the unstoppered bottle reveals an interconnected web of memories that belong to everyone and no one, intimate remembrances that reside in a compartment of the collective unconscious particular to smell. Scent can trill resonance, discord or a sense of the uncharted and does so against the backdrop of personal identity; it achieves this more affectively than any other sense.

Many hands are joined in the effort of making a perfume, but the terroir of human creativity is generally overlooked. This aspect rarely plays in the foreground because the eye's capacity for "knowing" is limited to what can be seen and we live in an ocularcentric culture. The unstoppered bottle releases the invisible which begs the question; what if it were possible to connect with the memories of those involved in the production of a perfume?             

Would the memories belong to the flower pickers whose fingers are capable of reading the coolness of dawn in the slip of a petal? Fingers that know the perfect tension in the snap of a bud plucked from its stem at exactly the right moment? Maybe the memories belong to the distillers who gather the flower pickers' handiwork and are incidentally perfumed by the essences they labor to extract. 

Perhaps the memories in the unstoppered bottle belong to a less agrarian figure, a technician whose hands rest in the pockets of his lab coat after he's carefully weighed and measured the ingredients for a new perfume. He stands at the lab bench reviewing a formula written by la maître perfumeur who is in the habit of composing immediately after she dreams. The technician knows the rich persimmon ink that never bleeds through the pages of the mauveine notebook to which she commits her formulas. The flourish of her cursive inspires contemplation and the sense that one is viewing an autobiographical dossier.

It is the memories of la maître perfumeur that infuse the formula most. Using aroma she regularly transforms the linear notion of time by fashioning a galaxy orbited by timelessness. This is most evident in her classic compositions, many of which shook off their dust decades after they were launched and were not touched by poor reformulation when their bouquets were reborn. 

Each of la maître perfumeur's fragrances is marked by a floral signature free of the pantomimes of nature one finds in modern perfumes that are designed to appeal to the many under the guise of the impeccable taste of the few. To smell them is to know her most intimate memories without the benefit of words. It is in this intuitive milieu that timelessness abides and it's as real to the technician as the logic of precision that guides his hands as he works. 

La maître perfumeur has her peccadillos, one of which is that she is occasionally discomforted by the use of mechanical automation that has become de rigueur at fragrance houses. When she looks at the glass-enclosed lab that contains the soulless compounding robot la maître perfumeur utters a soft curse under her breath. The curse reaches the technician's ears as he adds the final drops of jasmine absolute to a formula that won't need modification. He considers the word merde, which means "shit" in French, but it only fertilizes his efforts at the lab bench as he is working with an indolic jasmine.

Memory has yet to leave the flower picker, the lab technician, the distiller and the perfumer, but the day will arrive when time dissolves a few of their remembrances. Some will be spared significant loss of identity while others will have their essence extracted like a fine perfume absolute. The onset of memory's departure is unsettling and yet a shadow of its sunset is key to transforming the unstoppered bottle into a memory maker. One must be open to the "new" while forgetting preconceptions forecast by the experienced, the indifferent and the jaded. Detaching from likes, dislikes and odious comparisons paves the path of personal truth and it is to this experience that every unstoppered bottle is dedicated.

So the next time you encounter the unstoppered bottle, consider whether you will be the same person you were before you opened it, or if you will become a truer rendition of yourself in the hands of collective memory. 

The first graphic that accompanies this post is a composite of two works from Wellcome Images: The first is of an illustration of a white magnolia blossom (Magnolia altifima) and its seed pod which was photographed by Mark Catesby. The second is an image of a model eye made by W. and S. Jones in London (1840-1900). The editor made additional embellishments.

The second graphic is an illustration fro m Hieronymus Burnschwig's Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis (Strassburg, 1512). It depicts distillation.

Other images created by Michelle Krell Kydd. 

La maître perfumeur means "master perfumer".