Category Archives: Patrick Suskind

Making Scents of Life

“Mother leaned towards us, opened her arms, and drew us to her. She smelled like her new perfume, which was very sweet and expensive. It even had a name that went with her new life: Joy.” — Chanel Bonfire

As much or more than clothes, jewelry, accessories, hair and make-up, perfume can announce, define and refine a person’s image.  If “style” is the way in which a person wears a stock item, then perfume is the trickiest of things to “style” because the way in which a person wears it is determined by their own chemistry, their own essence.  

Just as my mother’s life could be measured by husbands and lovers, hair styles, or fashion designers, it could be marked by scent.  Joy was the scent of the honeymoon period of her second marriage — the scent she wore at her wedding in the Dakota, a scent of promise and hope and happiness that she thought, at the time, was hers. 

Interestingly it had been created almost forty years earlier at another moment of promise and hope that was not to be, 1929, the year of the great stock market crash.  Henri Almeras created it for Jean Patou by distilliing, among other things, 10,000 Jasmine flowers and 28 dozen roses for a mere 30 ml.  

Making perfume is a bit of a paradox — a guessing game that requires precise chemistry but also, ultimately, a kind of alchemy in which the common and rare essences of flowers and plants and animals can be brought to a point where, with the addition of skin and sweat of a thousand strangers, it is transformed into desire.  The brutal extraction of purity becomes ethereal.  (See Patrick Suskind’s wonderful novel Perfume for an entertaining primer.)

As Mother’s joy in her second marriage faded, Joy was tossed aside and replace, appropriately enough by…

…Fracas.  Created in 1948 by Germaine Cellier for Robert Piquet who was a designer for Paul Poiret.