Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Smell of Vintage Pantene Shampoo

The smell of vintage Pantene shampoo is as dear to me as the smell of old books. Although they smell nothing alike, the two stand side by side in my olfactory mind and are linked by a teenage memory.

It's a sunny day in the late 1970's and I'm walking down Fordham Road past the Thom McCann shoe store in my neighborhood. I'm about to cross the street to get to the Bronx Central Library on Bainbridge Avenue. I see my ex-best friend from childhood with her new best friend as they are leaving Nardi Hair Salon. They've just gotten their hair done and the light from the sun makes their long hair (brown and red, respectively) look like rivers of color undulating in the sun.

I would always tell the redhead that her hair was orange and wasn't truly red. (Anyone who ever owned a box of crayons would know that.) I avoided both girls on my way to the library because seeing their carefree post-coif stroll reminded me that my family had less money. (As an adult I was informed that the fathers of both girls dabbled in graft and cronyism so who knows who really "paid" for those haircuts.)

Nardi used salon versions of Pantene shampoo and conditioner that they advertised in their second floor window which included generic headshots of tony models donning the latest hairstyles. I remember seeing giant gallon containers of Pantene shampoo and conditioner sitting next to the hair washing stations at Nardi when I met a friend who worked there on weekends (she and I took on summer jobs as soon as we turned 13).

The smell of Pantene that was sold in gold-topped bottles at the drugstore in the 1970's was out of this world. A blend of heliotrope, creamy sandalwood and musk perfumed every strand of hair in a hedonic afterglow diffused by body heat.

The salon versions of shampoo and conditioner had the same prestige scent, but they were more aldehydic which was in step with smelling like an expensive French perfume. (Prestige hairsprays also benefitted from this type of well-executed functional perfumery, which mimicked classic perfumes.)* I don't know why I remember this, but when I think about the shampoos of my youth I can remember all of their smells.
*Functional perfumery can be more challenging than traditional perfumery as functional perfumers, who are chemists, have to manage naturally occurring odors in personal and household products. They are the unsung heroes of the art of perfumery.

In the late 1990's, after jumping on the all-in-one shampoo and conditioner bandwagon, the scent of Pantene took a fruity turn and smelled like a collection of headdresses worn by Carmen Miranda that had been curated for an exhibition in an overripe fruit museum. I hated Pantene for doing this and started buying shampoo sold in salons.

I enjoyed reflecting on those two undulating rivers of brown and red hair that were etched into memory. I wanted to resurrect that remembrance with my sense of smell. Last year I bought a bottle of Pantene Pro-V Overnight Miracle Repair Serum that is formulated to condition hair as you sleep. The hair remedy is packaged in a pump dispenser that cannot be sniffed like other items in the hair care aisle. (The most public smelling you'll ever see happens in the hair care aisle because hair care aisles are veritable smell museums.) This serum had an interesting side effect after I put it on my hair that evening. Once the product was absorbed it began to react with the heat generated by my head, which was resting on a pillow.

An olfactory bouquet of vintage Pantene bloomed and resurrected memories in the dark. It was a powerful sensation that felt like dreaming with my eyes open. The smell of vintage Pantene allowed me to witness the past in the present, and was perfumed by the fact that how I felt about what I was sensing belonged to me and no one else. Not even a Faded Glory and Frye boot-wearing mirage that chose to be friends with an orange-haired girl instead of me.

Many people crave the scent of vintage Pantene shampoo. A post titled "That Old Pantene Smell" and others like it echo this nostalgic sentiment. Rumor has it that Infusium 23 elicits a Pantene flashback that goes back to the Hoffman-LaRoche formula. Pantene was purchased by Proctor and Gamble in 1985.

Shampoos of note from my childhood include: Body on Tap, Castile shampoo, Breck, Earthborn, Egg Shampoo, Flex, Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific, Johnson's Baby Shampoo, Lemon Up, Pantene and Prell. It's not uncommon for popular scents to reappear in the formulas of other brands decades later. If you are bent on the smell of nostalgic shampoos visit the Vermont Country Store. They are currently offering versions of Lemon Up and Egg Shampoo.

Human hair retains scent longer than skin retains the smell of perfume. This is due to the layers of overlapping cells that form the cuticle, and heat generated by the scalp.

Faded Glory was a brand of designer jeans that were popular in the 1970's.

The Bronx Central Library was located in a building designed by McKim, Mead and White (they designed Columbia University and Pennsylvania Station in New York City). The Georgian revival style of the two-story structure and the inclusion of a wing along the rear facade provided a haven for inquiring minds and book lovers of all ages. You could feel history as soon as you walked inside and smell knowledge wafting out of the pages of books. The building, which was known as the Bronx Central Library when I was growing up, is no longer open to the public as the library has been relocated and is now the Bronx Library Center. The historic structure has been unoccupied since 2005.

Image of Hair Collage by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Smell and Taste of Music: Lemon by Bachar Mar-Khalifé

Can you smell and taste music?  You can if you listen to the video for Bachar Mar-Khalifé's "Lemon" which is based on a romantic poem by Egyptian poet Samir Saady. Saady clearly knew that anyone with the good fortune of encountering a citrus tree dripping with fragrant blossoms couldn't deny that nature is the ultimate perfumer. This is evident in the poet's words, which are translated from Arabic to English:

by Samir Saady

The lemons are ripe on the tree
And whoever shakes the tree
after it has been watered by rain,
will fill his lap with lemons.

How beautiful you are, night of the moon
when my love appeared.
And whoever shakes the moon
his eyes are the moonlight.

The lemon tree blossoms
shock the rocky hearts.
When its flowers appeared
I smelled its perfume's love.

Actor Charif Ghattas directed the music video for "Lemon". He is also one half of the comedic duo that salts Saady's "Lemon" with puckering insights regarding the way tastemakers in the arts have a habit of getting tied up in themselves at the expense of others. When devoid of ego this metaphor extends to those who are lost in love, but are too shy or scared to pursue it. The chemistry between Ghattas and Khalifé is as powerful as are the video's synesthesia-inducing effects.

"Lemon" begins with Ghattas swinging a lemon on a string in an effort to hypnotize his subject who is a musician. Bachar Mar-Khalifé's character is cooperative, but unaffected, and proceeds to play harpsichord notes on a computer keyboard as he sings using a mop-headed duster for a microphone (the duster is later flipped and the prop is used as a flute). He is yellow and so is his lei-wearing sidekick. Calisthenic dabbling in tennis, paddleball, ball bouncing, hula hooping and soccer ball juggling ensue. This is followed by the musician allowing himself to be tied up in lemon-colored tape, which takes the lemon metaphor in an interesting direction.

The incarnation of lime from the video "Lemon"
and her fabulous eyelashes

The scene shifts and the musician appears standing upright as an attractive woman in a short lime-colored dress walks towards him to the beat of a heart monitor. Lime enters his lemon world batting large green eyelashes. The woman in the green dress is the embodiment of lime and uses her fruit as a sensual prop. The musician is entranced which is something his hypnotist/coach could not accomplish at the beginning of the video. C'est l'amour, no?

You can taste the lime juice as the woman consumes her own essence by ravaging the tart green fruit with her teeth. The synesthetic effect of the video kicks in as lime is transformed into a palatable sense object when lemon and lime hold court in the same space. A can of 7 Up® and a spritz of Eau de Cologne would do well here as memories of lemon and lime rise to the surface and generate cravings.

The lime woman disappears as quickly as she arrived leaving the aftertaste of a mirage in her absence. The musician's comedic counterpart reappears and after getting tipsy and ties up the musician in lemon tape once again. This time is different than the first as there is no option of escape; the musician is transformed into a living piece of lemon art and he didn't get the girl. This is why you press replay on the video more than once and think of lemon and lime for days after watching the music video for Bachar Mar-Khalifé's "Lemon".


Bachar Mar-Khalifé is a French Lebanese singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. He is a graduate of the Conservatory of Paris and is the son of the legendary Eastern-Lute player Marcel Khalifé and singer Yolla Khalifé. His brother, Rami Khalifé, is also a musician.  

"Lemon" is composed by Bachar Mar-Khalifé and appears on the album Ya Balad (translation: O Homelandwhich is available for download on iTunes. There are two remixes of Khalifé's "Lemon" song. One remix is a collaboration with Deena Abdelwahed. The other is a version featuring Yolla Khalifé (this version of "Lemon" is ripe for a movie or television soundtrack and is hauntingly beautiful).

Image of the lemon tree replete with blossom and fruit by Elena Chochkova.

Image of a lemon in hand and the actress who portrayed the incarnation of lime is from the video of "Lemon" are the property of Bachar Mar-Khalifé.