DG Giveaway: Win A Bottle Of Turkish Embrace From We Are Fragrances

Turkish-Embrace-8ml-&-5mlTo celebrate their site's launch, Nicole Nelson and Barbara vanBok (interviewed here) of We Are Fragrances are offering a lucky DeepGlamour reader an 8ml bottle of Turkish Embrace, one of their classic perfume blends (valued at $132). That's the big one, on the left. (The small one is the 5 ml bottle.)

Here's how We Are Fragrances describes the scent:

Dare to have a brush with the exotic...  Lose yourself in citrus groves under clear skies, hear the laughter and sample the sweets in bright bazaars and dance all night under a sea of stars to the haunting music of the oud and kanun. 

Our classic French-style perfume is a blend of essential oils in a base of pure fractionated coconut oil, said to have skin softening properties along with antioxidants.

 Creamy, exotic and slightly demure, Turkish Embrace is a woody citrus with a soft and delicious gourmand heart.  Zingy top notes of grapefruit, bergamot and orange blossom absolute, dissolve into a sumptuous heart of humid florals, cardamom, and vanilla.  Later, the base notes quietly resound with incense, sandalwood, resins and cedar.

 Let your mind wander free, refresh your senses and satisfy your sweet-tooth all at once.  Being a diva never felt so decadently good!

Best of all, they ship internationally, so this contest is not limited to U.S. readers.

To enter, leave a comment below about your favorite scent (perfume or otherwise). Be sure to include your email address (not for publication) so we can contact you if you win. The deadline to enter is midnight Pacific Time on September 30, and the winner will be selected using Random.org.

DG Q&A: Nicole Nelson And Barbara VanBok Of We Are Fragrances

Nicole-Nelson-Barbara-vanBok-WeAreFragrancesWhen we gave away a copy of Alyssa Harad's book Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride (see the interview and excerpt below), the winner turned out to be a young perfume entrepreneur with an interesting story of her own: Nicole Nelson (left), the 27-year-old co-founder of Maine-based We Are Fragrances. She has teamed up with perfumer and aromatherapy consultant Barbara vanBok, 47, to create a line of fragrances, including both perfumes and wearable aromatherapy blends, made with essential oils and blended without alcohol.

We Are Fragrances launches its online store this Thursday with a fall collection of eight scents. The two co-founders talked with DG about the serendipity of how they met, the importance of creating scents in a “scrubbed and sanitized culture,” and how they're making a place for women of color in perfume culture. Plus perfume for newbies and the appealing scent of freshly turned-on air conditioning.

Be sure to register for We Are Fragrances' newsletter, and check back tomorrow to see how you can win a bottle of Turkish Embrace.

DG: What were your backgrounds before WAF? How did you meet?

Nicole Nelson: In October of 2012, I borrowed a book from a friend that held Barbara’s aromatherapy card as a bookmark. I was unfamiliar with aromatherapy, but intrigued. It wasn’t long before we started gathering for weekly meetings where Barbara would teach me about the healing qualities of essential oils. I instantly fell in love with them and the more we worked together, the more I realized the potential of bringing their incredible beauty and uplifting qualities to a new audience. I have always been enamoured with beauty, nature, and with using fashion as a means of self-expression. My background in art instilled my belief that beauty is precious and something that we should all have access to. I’ve always loved pampering and being girly so I was happy to find another avenue to do that while also using my creativity.

Barbara vanBok: I had been studying aromatherapy and perfumery for close to 20 years, but I had a background in the creative arts: dance, music, and I had my own graphics design business. Friends and family had been telling me for years it was time to start doing something with my fragrance knowledge. I had a humble side career, creating custom aromatherapy blends for a few clients and had three blends out there in the world. However, I wasn’t sure I had the energy to put into launching an actual fragrance business on my own. Like anything in life, timing is absolutely everything! Nicole showed up very much out-of-the-blue. I got an email from her saying she was interested in hearing more about essential oils and how to use them. She had found my perfumery/aromatherapy business card lodged in a book that a friend had loaned her. For a couple months we got together and talked in depth about the essential oils, their properties, and I had her take home samples to work with on her own. It wasn’t long before it morphed into a full-blown business idea.

DG: How did you get interested in fragrances?

NN: My first fragrance was Pur Desir de Lilas by Yves Rocher. I had gone to visit Bordeaux (France) and I wanted to bring home a beautiful souvenir. That was in 2007. I wore that fragrance exclusively for about one year. After that, I didn’t wear perfume again, mostly due to working in environments where fragrances weren’t allowed. Also, very few people I knew wore perfume—or if they did, it wasn’t discussed—so it wasn’t very top of mind at that time in my life. When I met Barbara, I rediscovered how uplifting and fascinating fragrances are. Now I wear perfume every day.

BV: It would probably be easier to talk about when I haven’t been interested in fragrances. I think there was a brief time in 1982 when I rebelled as a teen and dramatically decided that I wasn’t going to wear perfumes! That didn’t last long.

My mother loved Orientals—Emeraude, Tabu, Chantilly. I grew up sneaking dabs of her perfume whenever I could...and bless her, she had the kindness to look the other way. I was always very much aware of odors in general and had a real fascination for them. The art of perfumery was still kind of a secreted subject when I was in school though. I didn’t realize it was something I could do as a job until I was well out of school and ran across books on aromatherapy. Of course, the advent of the Internet really changed so much for me. I found special interest boards and lots of generous individuals who had plenty of opinions regarding fragrance and perfumes. It gave me incentive to sniff a lot more of the classics before many of them were reformulated.

DG: We Are Fragrances features both perfumes and essential oils. What’s the difference? How are they used?

BV: More accurately, We Are Fragrances features perfumes and aromatherapy blends created from essential oils. Essential oils are the building blocks. They differ from synthetically created aroma oils as they are natural and extracted from nature.

Perfumes have their roots in histories and rituals from many different cultures. Why people have liked to wear perfumes throughout the ages differs greatly from individual to individual. Generally though, people wear perfume to smell good, lift their spirits and appear attractive to others. The added benefit of using essential oils to create perfume is their luxurious, naturally softer odors that stay closer to the skin and make the perfume a truly personal experience.

Aromatherapy targets certain areas of life in an aromatic way. Are you generally stressed out and would like to relax more? Do you wish you could fall asleep more easily at night? Would you like to have a fragrance that balances you and at the same time adds an introspective touch during meditation practices? All this and more is possible through the gentle effects of aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is great because it’s non-habit forming and can be used safely along with other types of traditional and alternative therapies without interfering with them.


DG: How did you decide which fragrances to include in your initial line? Do you have a favorite?

Mostly it came down to following Barbara’s skill and intuition. I’d see her for our weekly meetings and she’d let me sniff a new fragrance she had been working on. Nearly all of those initial fragrances are now part of our current collection.

My favorite We Are Fragrances perfume is So Very Casablanca—probably because I named it (lol). Actually, what I find so intriguing about So Very Casablanca is its complexity and depth. It’s dark, smoky, dry, and gourmand all at the same time. When I first smelled it, I immediately got an image of Humphrey Bogart in a dark lounge with a dry desert background. It reminds me of something classic and romantic, a fragrance of a bygone era with a decidedly modern twist.

BV: I’m incredibly proud of all of our perfume blends and it’s awfully difficult for me to choose a favorite. We also have several other blends and products in the works that I’m excited about. At the moment I’ve been wearing a lot of Lotus Pose when I’m working. I love how it centers, calms and helps to bring me back to “the now” when I’m feeling overwhelmed with little details. It also gently wafts off my skin in this delightful way!

DG: How do natural fragrances differ from synthetics? Why do you prefer to use only naturals? Are you against synthetics as a general rule, or is this simply a personal, artistic preference?

NN: For me, whether to use naturals or synthetics comes down to how I feel when I use them. As I wear more natural fragrances, I find that synthetics often give me headaches, make me feel nauseous, or in the case of one I recently tried, I started to feel light-headed. That’s not to say that all synthetics cause such a strong reaction in me (and there are certainly many synthetics that I wear and love) but the point is, naturals just don’t. We created We Are Fragrances to use natural ingredients blended without alcohol that would allow for a personal and subtle experience while still being luxurious enough to attract people who are chemically sensitive but can’t stand the thought of giving up their perfumes. We Are Fragrances are a natural alternative.

BV: Simply stated, natural essential oils are the extracts of leaves, needles, petals, woods, barks, seeds, fruit rinds, grasses, resins, roots, rhizomes, etc. Synthetics are created by chemists in laboratories.

I’m not against synthetics at all. As a matter of fact I have an enormous collection of perfumes made with both synthetics and naturals and some of them I’m sure are composed completely of synthetics—just try and pry them out of my cold, dead fingers!

However there are several reasons I’ve decided to use only essential oils in my work. First of all they are gorgeous and natural. The palette nature has provided us with is exquisite, soft, and elegant. In this day and age when people are more and more encouraged to not perfume themselves because so many are chemically sensitive to synthetic odors, the essential oils offer a soft alternative. Scent is so very basic to all of us. It’s such a lovely, simple, human pleasure. We were meant to enjoy natural smells from nature. As we are pushed more and more to be a scrubbed and sanitized culture I can’t help questioning if we are losing much of our sensuality and humanity. I think that’s a very disturbing thought.

It’s cheering to me when someone who is chemically sensitive tells me how happy they are because they are able to wear and enjoy my perfumes without negative effects. Also, as long as we are replacing these natural resources as we use them, essential oils are friendly to the environment as well.

DG: What’s your favorite fragrance?

NN: My favorite scent is the smell of freshly cut lilacs. Not only do they remind me when my birthday is around the corner, but whenever I smell them, I am instantly taken back to walks in the gorgeous French countryside. There really is nothing like it. My perfume preferences change based on my mood and the seasons, but at the moment I’m split between our own So Very Casablanca and Daim Blond by Serge Lutens. They are two completely different fragrances. So Very Casablanca is used when I want to be cloaked in a warm, exotic, and mysterious perfume. I’ve found that on me, it wears really well in the dry heat of summer. I wear Daim Blond when I want something light and bubbly. The first note is so cheerful and it always makes me laugh. It’s such a magical fragrance.

BV: There are so many odors that I love, both simple and complex. I’m crazy about the Guerlain classic, Shalimar. It’s the ultimate Oriental perfume and sometimes I’ll admit I’ve gone overboard in putting it on, just because I do love it so much.

Another fragrance that’s terribly compelling for me would be considered more of an odor. It’s the smell of an air conditioning unit in very humid weather when it’s first turned on; after that first moment it’s gone. It’s kind of difficult to describe. The best I can do is to say that it’s the odor of humid air turning to cool, dry air—very elusive and ethereal.

DG: What’s your favorite fragrance story, either personal or historical?

BV: While the perfume isn’t for me, I love-love-love the story of L’heure Bleue. It’s said that one summer evening Jacques Guerlain was transfixed and overcome with emotion during the “The Blue Hour.” It’s the hour “when the sky has lost its sun but not yet found its stars.” Everything is draped in a soft, blue light. He tried to capture that melancholic emotion that he felt through his perfumery. Also, another interesting note that always gives me chills... It was said that since the bottles of L’heure Bleue and Mitsouko have the same design, the perfumes were meant to represent the beginning and the end of the First World War.

DG: What advice would you give to someone new who wants to learn about fragrances?

NN: Read as much as you can. Start with the blogs and small Internet communities like Bois de Jasmin, Osmoz, and Perfume Posse. They all do a great job of highlighting the best of perfume culture as well as providing tips for novice perfume lovers. Start with samples and decants and don’t EVER buy a full bottle of fragrance without first testing how it smells when you wear it.

BV: Honestly I’d say just dive in. This is not a time for restraint! Perfume is full of passion and imagination so go with abandon in the direction you are most pulled to start. There are plenty of wonderful blogs and so much general information on the Internet. Pick something you know you love, like a summertime bouquet or freshly crushed sage and lemon rind. Do a scent-search online. Once you have a diving off point, it’s easy to become immersed.

DG: How much of finding the “right” perfume is about your biochemistry and how much about your personality?

NN: I’d say choosing the right perfume is 50 percent personality and 50 percent biochemistry. Perfume is very much an extension of who you are. The wonderful thing about wearing perfume is that you can wear them according to your mood, the seasons, a particular occasion, etc. Certain fragrances suit different tastes and moods. But, when you put it on, whether or not it works on you is entirely up to nature.

BV: Whew! People have been engaged in lively discussion about this topic seemingly forever. I think it could be anyone’s guess. However if I have to take a stab at it, I’d say both biochemistry and personality play parts. I also think culture and time-frame have a lot to do with popularity when it comes to fragrances. Sometimes it might be difficult to find your “right” perfume because while the mainstream is into fruity, light-florals, your best perfumes are sultry chypres and at the moment, they happen to be out of favor. The best thing you can do is keep sampling and testing on your skin.

Pale-Yellow-Dahlia-&-Butterfly-&-Woman-1-ArtDG: You’ve described We Are Fragrances as “primarily, though not exclusively, targeted toward women of color.” How does that affect your marketing? Your product formulations (if at all)?

NN: The reason We Are Fragrances is aimed towards women of color is because, unlike the fashion and cosmetics industries, for some reason, black and Latina women have largely been ignored in the fragrance market. I want everyone to feel like perfume is for them, and if a woman of another race sees herself in our products then of course she should wear them. Still, being a black woman, I want to sell products that reflect me by using women of color as models and by creating products that would appeal to women like me. It is especially important for me to create a product line that puts women of color first instead of adding in a few “ethnic” products/models/colors, etc. as an afterthought.

This affects our marketing by showcasing women of color in our advertising and being a bit more sensual with our colors and imagery. Darker skin tones can get away with wearing brighter colors and we wanted to translate some of that playfulness into our website. We take some inspiration from Old World perfume traditions from places like Greece, Egypt, and Morocco. We also continue to research the best oils and fragrances for women of color but it’s an evolution. The biggest difference is seeing more women of color on our website. Our fragrances can definitely be worn by all skin types.

DG: Beyond the selection of models for ads, does traditional “perfume culture” exclude women of color and, if so, how?

NN: To answer this question, you have to think about what “perfume culture” means. When you look at today’s fragrance ads, there is a certain image that is being sold. There are generally two camps: either the woman is ultra-feminine, doe-eyed, and youthful or, she is sexy, mysterious, and slightly dangerous. Now, when you think about how women of color have historically been viewed in Western society, we really haven’t been allowed to enjoy our femininity or sexuality. Women of color have really had to create their own image of themselves because they don’t fit into commercial perfume advertising. Fragrance is so much about being authentic and there is still a lot of pressure to conform to a standard of beauty that is Western European. As a black woman, that’s just not me, so how can I wear those fragrances and feel authentic?

BV: Well, I don’t have as much emotional connection to this question since I’m Caucasian, so I’ll defer, emotionally speaking, to Nicole here. However I can say that historically the first recorded perfumes were made by a chemist in Mesopotamia and the art of perfumery has its origins in Egypt, later being refined in Rome, Persia and Arabia. Indian attars were recorded in the 7th century A.D. and the making of perfume and incense was also popular in Asian cultures early on. So, if we are discussing the earliest “perfume culture,” women of color were the first ones wearing perfumes before it spread to the Western world.

DG: When I went to the post office to mail your copy of Alyssa Harad’s book, instead of just the usual question about “anything liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous,” the clerk specifically asked me whether the package contained perfume, explaining that it could explode in the air. Do you have any problems shipping fragrances? How do you deal with postal restrictions?

NN: We Are Fragrances are created without alcohol so we don’t have a problem shipping fragrances nationally or internationally. I would love to have an answer as to why it’s a problem to ship alcohol but I have not found a conclusive answer to that question yet.

DG: What have been your biggest surprises in starting a business? Your biggest challenges?

NN: Biggest surprise: How I suddenly gained new respect from friends, family, and acquaintances when I said I was starting a business. I think what has most impressed people has been that I’m actually following my passion and taking action on it. I feel like a lot of people wait until they retire to be happy or just let life happen without going after what they want. For many reasons I refuse to live my life like that. I’ve never been one to settle for second-best. Now I’m seen as a role model in my community, which is pretty awesome.

Biggest challenge: Waiting. As with any new company, it takes awhile to build followers and I’m impatient. Even though I’m enjoying the journey, I always want faster results. Today’s consumers have so much choice so it can be hard getting people to pay attention unless you suddenly get a lot of press. I absolutely believe in our products and philosophy so I know it’s just a matter of time before we become well known. Still, the waiting period and building a strong business structure can be challenging. Luckily, every week things get easier and more people find us.

BV: I’ve had businesses before, but this one has been the most challenging because there have been so many details to work out in a relatively short amount of time. I’m beginning to hear, “Just this one more thing,” in my sleep! However I feel an incredible reward because so many people have been genuinely enthusiastic when they try our perfumes. I know what wearing a beautiful fragrance does for me and how it lifts my mood. I’m truly excited and humbled to be able to bring that experience to others.

DG: What makes perfume—or a particular scent—glamorous to you?

NN: The experience of wearing perfume is one that instantly creates a pulled together and even more gorgeous image of myself. If it’s one of our own perfumes, I also get the pampering and uplifting qualities of the essential oils. As long as a fragrance can do that, then I feel it is glamorous.

BV: It has to be a fragrance that on the dry down smells smooth and silky to my nose. It can be a big perfume, an austere one or even one that is bright, light and bubbly, but it’s the final dryout, the last lingering notes on the skin and how they hang together, that makes a perfume glamorous to me.

From Coming To My Senses: Alyssa Harad Has The “JAR Experience”

Coming_to_my_senses_paperback_350pxIn her book Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride, recently released in paperback, Alyssa Harad tells the story of how she came to know and love the world of perfume. In this excerpt, she ventures from her bohemian life in Austin into the foreign territory of Bergdorf Goodman in search of legendary fragrances.

“Is Madame familiar with the Clive Christian line?” asked the sales assistant.

Her thick, dark hair was smoothed back into a chignon, and the slim, elegant length of her was clothed in expertly tailored black, from the sharp collar of her silk shirt right down to the tips of her rather high heels. I stood up a little straighter and tucked an errant curl behind my ear. Yes, I said, I knew of the line. But I was looking for the JAR boutique.

“Ah, JAR,” she sighed. “Yes, of course. I like these perfumes very much. Let me show you.”

She led me into a tiny alcove off the main floor and delivered me to an immaculate, silver-haired man with a broad chest, large, square hands, and the bearing of a career diplomat.

“This is Robert,” she said, gesturing toward the diplomat. He shook my hand solemnly. “Robert, this young lady would like to have the JAR experience.”

At Robert’s request, I sat down on a soft, low chair in front of a small, black-lacquered table that held a collection of old-fashioned bell jars. Everything was swathed in shadow: the chair a maroon velvet, the carpet dark lilac gray, the walls covered in deep mauve. Two small spotlights punctuated the sepulchral gloom, glinting off the glass domes on the table and the silver in Robert’s hair.

Leaning forward slightly, Robert began to talk. First he told the story of the room and the mural and how many times JAR—who had flown in himself from Paris to oversee the work—had it repainted to meet his strict standards. I squirmed and snuck a look at the unlabeled bell jars. If the perfume blogs were to be trusted, each of them held a square of cotton soaked in perfume. Robert ignored my glance and continued telling me, in the same unhurried, respectful tones, the story of Joel Arthur Rosenthal, from the Bronx, and how he found his true métier in Paris as a jeweler for the very discriminating (and very rich) and became the capital-letters-no-periods figure he is today.

Then, turning a large leather binder around to face me, he began to page slowly through glossy color photos of JAR jewelry. Dazzling pavé surfaces floated up under the bright spotlight. Thousands upon thousands of tiny diamonds, emeralds, rubies, amethysts, citrons, and sapphires set in tiny hand-drilled holes made swirling patterns, unearthly flowers, shimmering butterflies and insects. Robert was dropping the names of movie stars and the wives of politicians and billionaires, and I was thinking about compulsion, perfectionism, and patronage—czars and pharaohs, Napoleon and the Medicis. And occasionally, it must be admitted, of Las Vegas: Pavé is not a technique that lends itself to sleek, modernist restraint.

At last we arrived at the moment when JAR decided to create his own perfumes—perfumes worthy of the name JAR. Robert paused, leaned back in his chair, and moved the bell jars to the center of the table.

“Are you ready to experience the perfumes now?” he asked. For a moment I thought I saw a glint of irony in his eyes. Resisting the impulse to wink, I inclined my head gravely.

One by one, he slid the jars in front of me, whisked off the glass, and tipped the base forward for me to sniff at the accumulated vapors as they escaped into the air. They went by like a series of fever dreams: a cloud of fiery clove-and-cinnamon-edged carnations thick and lush enough to drown in. Dirty hay and ripe animal—the filthiest, sexiest, most expensive barnyard in the world. An acre of gardenias blooming furiously in moist dirt and humid air. Carnations again, but lighter, touched with a sparkling chill and trailing other flowers and something like incense behind them. Berries and wine at the end of a perfect sunny afternoon. Something dark and sharp, smelling of dust, roots, caves, and cellars. And then something—

“Could I smell that one again, please?”

Obligingly, Robert tipped the jar toward me a second time.

And there it was again. The smell of the air just after a summer thunderstorm—an astonishing scent of trampled grass, broken branches, bruised flowers, and electricity. I closed my eyes and inhaled a third time, grateful for the dim quiet of the little alcove.


“They went by like a series of fever dreams: a cloud of fiery clove-and-cinnamon-edged carnations thick and lush enough to drown in. Dirty hay and ripe animal—the filthiest, sexiest, most expensive barnyard in the world. An acre of gardenias blooming furiously in moist dirt and humid air. Carnations again, but lighter, touched with a sparkling chill and trailing other flowers and something like incense behind them. Berries and wine at the end of a perfect sunny afternoon. Something dark and sharp, smelling of dust, roots, caves, and cellars. And then something—”


 With a start, I remembered that Robert was holding the jar for me. I opened my eyes and leaned back. We looked at one another again. This time, fortified by the perfume, I grinned, and was rewarded with a faint smile, the gentle irony on clear display now.

“Would you like to try one of them on your skin?” he asked.

Of course I did. I wanted to try all of them. But I knew my greed would only make it impossible to smell any of them properly.

“May I wait a moment and then smell them again to choose one?”

“Of course.”

We waited. Feeling that some kind of conversation was required, I leaned forward and confessed that I had come all the way from Texas to smell the perfumes.

“They’re like celebrities to me,” I said. “I can’t believe I actually get to see and meet them in person.”

His smile widened, “Oh, yes, I know what you’re talking about. I’m from Oklahoma. I remember feeling that way about a lot of things in the city.” He paused and sighed. “Some of them lived up to my expectations. Some did not.”

We had a moment of silence, thinking about cities and dreams.

“Again?” “

Yes, please.”

And we went through them all again, though I already knew which one I would choose. I told Robert, and with great ceremony he anointed the back of my hand. We rose, I thanked him, and without a trace of self-consciousness we bowed slightly to one another, two courtiers taking their leave. Neither of us said a word about money.

Excerpted with permission from Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride. Copyright © Alyssa Harad 2012.

Alyssa will be at Green Apple Books and Music in San Francisco tonight at 7 p.m. and at The Scent Bar in Los Angeles Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. For more on her West Coast book tour, which also includes Portland and Seattle, go here.

Enter to win a copy of Coming to My Senses here.

DG Q&A: Author Alyssa Harad On The Allure Of Perfume

Alyssa HaradIn Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride, Alyssa Harad tells the story of how she found herself obsessed with perfume and how, through that obsession, she came to integrate the sensory and creative sides of her personality into her intellectual life. The book recently came out in paperback, and Alyssa begins a West Coast book tour this Thursday in San Francisco, followed by L.A., Portland, and Seattle (details here). Tomorrow we'll be running an excerpt from the book, and you can enter to win a copy here. As an introduction, DG's Virginia Postrel talked to Alyssa by phone.

VP: I like perfume, but I find it somewhat intimidating. It’s like wine—it’s complicated, hard to learn about without a lot of investment and direct experience. You can’t just read about it or look at pictures and get a sense for it. In your memoir, you talk about going to a local smelling salon, which is not something most of us have access to. And you also do this great thing where you introduce friends to perfumes. You bring them over samples that you think they might like and you tell the stories of the perfumes and you let them try them. For people who don’t have either of those options, what do you recommend?

AH: I didn’t have either of those options when I started out. I began reading the blogs. And I started with Now Smell This, which is a very typical place for people to start, and Bois de Jasmin. Both of those blogs have archives that you can search by perfume and Bois de Jasmin has an archive you can search by note, so you can look for things that you think you like. Then I would take that new language and order some samples or you can go to a perfume counter, if you’re lucky enough to have one—I didn’t really have one—and try a few things. It does get pricey, but it’s a lot cheaper than wine, I can tell you that. If wine came in $3.00 samples, I would know a lot more about wine than I do right now.

Coming_to_my_senses_paperback_350pxVP: Three-dollar samples through the mail too…

AH: Exactly. For me it was very similar to learning about a new cuisine. The first time you have Thai food you’re just sort of dazzled by all the flavors. And then the third time you have it you learn that, oh, that thing you really like is called lemongrass. And then you go read a cookbook and you learn that all the creaminess comes from coconut milk. So each of these things has its own vocabulary, and I think maybe the reason perfume is intimidating to people, besides the fact that the industry has given us absolutely no way to organize and decipher what they produce...

VP: What do you mean?

AH: When you go to a wine shop it’s organized by region and type of wine, right? So you know you like cabernet, you go look at the cabernet section. But perfume is a branded commodity, so each brand is trying to sell you a little piece of its empire, and each brand has its own array of scents within the brand. And the myth, the fiction, is that you will find everything you need within a certain line and you’ll be loyal to that brand.

VP: Which is interesting, because fashion doesn’t work that way. The idea of a fashion brand is that the brand has a personality.

AH: The lines, when they’re good, do have personality, but there’s another way to view perfume beyond the brand, which is by of language of scent that’s common to perfume. So you might figure out that you really like the smell of vanilla or you really like the smell of vetiver, which you might even not know what that is or what that smells like until you start reading and smelling perfume. And then when you do, there’s really no way for you to go to a mainstream perfume counter and find all the vetiver perfume.

The genius of the Jo Malone brand is that they actually named the perfumes after the things they smelled like. And a few of the niche brands began with perfumes that were decipherable as photorealistic smells. If you knew it smelled like in the world you could match it to the perfume. The Demeter line, which is a super fun line that shows up in some high-end grocery stores and hip boutiques, has a whole bunch of very, very simple one-note perfumes that have names like Dirt and Play-doh—and that’s what they smell like.

I started with perfumes like that—that were easy to decipher. It’s so rare for most people to really think about smells that people feel sure they have no vocabulary, or even that they don’t smell anything at all, until you put it in front of them. So I have this experience all the time where I’ll tell somebody, “Smell this. It smells likes lemons and basil.” And they look at me like I’m crazy and then they smell it and they say, “Oh my god, it really smells like lemons and basil.” (laughter) They’re so shocked that they’re able to identify the scent. And I have to say, I have never seen someone have that experience more than once in a row and not want to have it again. It’s a very addictive experience to discover that you have this capacity to identify things in the world. And, you know, that’s the beginning of the end.

VP: One of the these things I found frustrating about your book is that you would talk about a scent but you would never give its name, and I wondered why that was.

AH: The main reason, as I do state in the author’s note, which is that the scents are discontinued and reformulated so quickly that I was genuinely afraid that I would describe things in the book and then people would go and find them and they would smell nothing like what I had described. I didn’t want people to be thinking, “She’s crazy. This doesn’t smell like that.” (laughter)

The more subtle reason was that there were so many brand names in the book that it began feel like an infomercial for perfume, and there were moments when I really wanted the reader to be thinking about whatever imaginary scents they were conjuring up in their head and the emotion of the theme, rather than writing something down on their shopping list.

Then the final reason is that some of these perfumes don’t smell that way to me anymore. So the perfume I’m describing to you is the perfume as I smelled it in that moment. The biggest one of these for me is the honey perfume that I talk about in chapter two.

BotyrisVP: The one your now-husband smells and says, “It smells like you.”

AH: That perfume—well, first of all, the name of that perfume is Botrytis, which you probably know from the wine world is the noble rot. It sounds like a disease, because that’s what it is. So I would have had this long explanation of why I fell in love with a perfume named after a disease in the middle of this touching love scene. (laughter) So, there was that sort of writerly problem.

Also I still really like it a lot, but it’s not quite the same thing to me now as it was when I first smelled it. I wanted a chance to explain that to people when I revealed the name. I assumed that the book would have an afterlife online and that it wouldn’t be the beginning and the end of the reader’s experience. So it didn’t seem too torturous to have people wait until I told them online what all the perfumes where.

I have been a little behind, of course, in putting them all in one place for the website. But in the meantime, if people really, really want to know something, they can just ask me. I tell people all the time.

VP: You kept discovering people who love perfume but never talk about it, or at least you didn’t know about it. I remember one of your husband’s super macho relatives was an example. Is this some kind of “don’t ask don’t tell” thing, or was it just that it hadn’t come up because you hadn’t been interested in perfume?

AH: Probably a little bit of both. I think for the people who collect it—who have more than one bottle or maybe more than 10 bottles—it’s kind of a don’t ask don’t tell thing. Unlike collecting art or even collecting wine or music, there’s no broader cultural context for collecting perfume. So it really is a genuinely odd thing to do right now, and I think in recent years perfume has almost become taboo. There’s been a lot of blowback I think, though people don’t wear perfume in the extravagant public way that they used to wear, say, in the ’80s when everybody could still smoke in public. So people might be wearing a lot of perfume, smoking, and wearing a lot of hairspray. (laughter) There was just a lot more olfactory noise going on. Now everybody is trying to be very clean, and there’s a lot of talk of allergies, and perfume is a very easy target. Most workplaces are scent-free. So it’s not something that people comment on.


“Unlike collecting art or even collecting wine or music, there’s no broader cultural context for collecting perfume. So it really is a genuinely odd thing to do right now, and I think in recent years perfume has almost become taboo.”


VP: When you say most workplaces are scent-free, do you mean they are de facto scent-free or they actually have “don’t wear perfume” policies?

AH: It depends on where you work. There’s definitely a lot of talk about the “office scent.” You can see that in the women’s magazines. If you’re going to wear a scent at the office, it’s presumed that you will wear something that’s very quiet and very clean and will not offend anybody. And many workplaces actually have a no-scent policy. If you work in any aspect of health care, for example. There are a lot of nurses in the perfume community and they’re full of these little tricks that they do to just have a tiny bit of scent to keep them going through the night shift.

VP: I first heard about the book by reading an excerpt in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which I thought was a brilliant place to put an excerpt because the book is only ostensibly about perfume. The bigger story, as the title suggests, is about an intellectual—specifically an intellectual woman, specifically a feminist intellectual woman—learning that it is OK to find pleasure and meaning in something that’s sensory and supposedly frivolous. Although we come from very different places, I identified with that.

I’m always struck by how people who would never dismiss music or food or even sex—it’s fine to talk about sex all day long—have so much trouble with visual or olfactory or tactile pleasures. One way to turn this rant into a question is to say one of your friends said, “I just don’t want to be the kind of woman who wears perfume.” What is that statement about? What is she getting at?

Bal des Petits Lits BlancsAH: Oh, god, you would have to ask her. I feel like I knew the answer to that question before I got into perfume, because I felt that way, and then somewhere along the line the number of people I knew who wore perfume and the ladies who wore it became so diverse that I had trouble conjuring up who that woman was that I was afraid of.

I know that for me it has a lot to do, not even so much with being intellectual, as there’s a certain kind of traditional femininity that I associate or that I associated—I’ve changed quite a bit on this—with things like blowing your hair dry on a regular basis and wearing high heels and wearing foundation makeup every day. A sort of very groomed, very high femme presentation that was very straight in all senses of the word.

It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like people like that—it was just that I had failed. (laughter) Growing up in Boise, Idaho, I was in the land of ladies who are very put together like that. And I always thought there was some kind of rulebook that I had missed out on. It wasn’t even that I was in rebellion—I was just sort of failing. (laughter) And so I had to go and look for other ways to be a girl and to be a woman, and they didn’t seem to come along with things like perfume. So this adventure, both with the perfume and dealing with becoming a bride, was my way of rethinking and feeling my way into that kind of femininity, and looking for all the ways it could be expanded and maybe all the ways that I had been wrong about it. And it turned out that a lot of it was actually very important to me and connected to creativity as well.

So for me this isn’t as much a story about going from academic work to creative work as it is about going from intellectuality to sensuality.

VP: People often say, “Why are shoes so popular for women? Why are they so meaningful?” and one answer is, “Well, the reason is women of all sizes and shapes can wear beautiful shoes.” Given my history with shoes, I’m not entirely sure that’s true…

AH: Me neither. (laughter)

VP: …but it’s sort of true. And the same thing is true of perfume. You don’t have to be a size two or even a size six to wear really wonderful perfume. Maybe some of the appeal is that because it is so intangible some of the constraints that women are used to thinking about are not there.

AH: I think that’s definitely true. I know that for me perfume is a way of embodying the kind of invisible selves that you carry around with you. It’s a way of making a fantasy self into something that’s present, although perhaps still invisible. But not maybe as invisible as it was when you were just thinking about it, because people do smell you and you smell yourself and you walk a different way, and you you present yourself to people a different way and you might, if you’re me, be inspired to make your outsides match those more tangible fantasies that you’re now having.

VP: Can you give us some examples of ways that you do that?

AH: With these sort of grand French perfumes that are very “night of the opera” perfumes, I can be fairly messy but be wearing vintage jewelry and some red lipstick, and I just feel dressed up. I no longer feel like a schlump (laughter) without necessarily having to fit into the clothes that might match that, or wear shoes that make my feet uncomfortable. It gives me a very easy way of trying on a whole new persona and carrying it around with me during the day.

I was just talking to the manager at Lucky Scents, the Scent Bar in L.A. When he shows people how to pick a perfume he tells them that you’ll recognize it because you’ll recognize a piece of yourself. You already know the scent—you just haven’t met it yet. (laughter) You haven’t met the scent that matches that piece of yourself that you’ve been carrying around. I think that’s a beautiful way of putting it. When you smell these perfumes that profoundly move you, it’s an experience of recognition. In the same way that you might recognize yourself in a book or a painting. There’s that piece of your experience that you didn’t think was possible to articulate.

VP: Are there any invisible selves that you’ve tried on this way where after a day you thought, “That is not me”?

AH: (laughter) Well, I have a few that aren’t very sustainable, where I wear the perfume very rarely and when I do it I very rarely wear it more than one day in a row. For me the best examples of that are these big, white flower scents. White flowers are the really rich, lush, heady flowers like lilies and jasmine and tuberose and gardenia. Jasmine now, I think, is very much a part of me, very comfortable. But there’s a tuberose scent called Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle, and I wear it when I want to be a diva. (laughter) And that doesn’t happen that often. Every now and then I want to feel like I own the spotlight.

Carnal Flower

VP: So picking one of the themes of my own book, which is coming out in November, one of the things I liked about your book was that you often refer to distinctive kinds of glamour—you actually use that term—that appeal to different longings and different ideals, which is a big theme of my book. You talk, for example, about a perfume with “a bookish, coffeehouse kind of glamour” that made you “feel like a hip, black-clad version of myself—thinner and longer-legged, with one of those rumpled haircuts and the black-framed glasses all the people who intimidated me in college used to wear.” I’m curious to what extent your intellectual life, or your career, has been shaped by glamour?

AH: Now that I think about it, that it’s absolutely central to my intellectual and creative life. I enjoy being dazzled, I’m an enthusiastic person, I like being a little overwhelmed and swept up but then because I know that about myself, I’m also suspicious of it. So I think I’ve spent a lot of time either being entranced by somebody and their ideas, because they have a kind of glamour for me or being on guard, reacting against glamour and trying to not be enchanted and besotted. (laughter) I think, you know, that arc that we were talking abour—from intellectual to sensual—part of what came along with that was allowing myself to be enchanted and enraptured without worrying too much about whether I was committing some kind of political or moral sin. And I now really, I think, have a much easier relationship to glamour and I have a lot more fun with it. I just admire the magic tricks that other people perform to produce their glamour. Even if I can’t myself, I really appreciate that in other people.

VP: I mean, I think there’s a rarely remarked upon glamour—the bookish coffee house kind of glamour. There’s a glamour of the intellectual life…

AH: Absolutely.

VP: …that has nothing to do with a specific person’s performance of it. It’s just very compelling, the same way a person with a different sort of personality might picture, say, the glamour of being a movie star.

AH: I was thinking about how glamorous my dissertation advisor was to me, and still is in many ways, and what she looked like and how she performed that glamour and how much we were all very crushed out on her. I think a lot of teachers have glamour, no matter what they look like or what they wear, just because of that relationship.

1933 Lanvin perfume ad Arpege ScandalVP: Going back to perfume, you wrote about the success of expensive perfumes—Joy and Scandal—during the Depression and you pointed out that they sold way too well to have just been bought by the rich. What do you think is the significance of luxuries like that in difficult times?

AH: If I can be a little bit obnoxious and quote myself, I say in the book that it’s a kind of promise. It’s a covenant kept with the idea that life should be about more than their survival. Luxuries, I think for many people who will never own a piece of art or anything that has been validated as being high culture, are a piece of beauty. I used to have these quarrels with the social workers in my life about the hierarchy of needs, where there’s this idea that people, first they have to have shelter and food and then they can start to think about the next thing and the next thing and the next thing.

A friend told me a story about this woman he knew who was homeless and was kind of traveling and sort of sleeping with people, so that she would have a place to stay. The first time she got some money she bought a bottle of perfume instead of buying food or putting that money down on a room to stay for the night. Because it was something that she could keep with her, and it was a piece of herself maybe that she didn’t have access to in that kind of extremity.

VP: You talk about how swapping “turned something that was supposed to be about conspicuous consumption into a gift economy.” That strikes me as kind of a defensive statement, as if there’s something wrong with buying and selling. I understand that it’s nice to get stuff cheap or free because you can go ahead and enjoy yourself more, but does this reflect a view that it’s OK to have beauty but not to pay for it? How do you feel about commerce?

AH: Many of these perfumes were made deliberately hard to access. They’re only available in a few outlets or maybe only one city. They are not as expensive as a pair of Manolos but they for regular folks, $150 to buy a perfume is a lot of money. I and many people I’ve spoken to feel the presence of invisible velvet ropes when they go into those really high-end boutiques and department stores. And so to me it’s this kind of joyful thing that the swapping culture just removed all of that.

When you’re getting these things in the mail, it’s not about the fancy bottle anymore and it’s not about the place where you bought it. It’s really only about the scent, and it’s coming to you wrapped in bubble paper. (laughter) It’s got a handwritten label on it, and so now suddenly it’s about people sharing things with each other. And I really love that inversion.

The bigger question about whether or not I’ve come to terms with commerce I think is an open one. I would hope that I have a much more nuanced relationship to it now than when I began. I think I had some kind of reflective grumpiness, from my long graduate school training, about things that were marketed to or created specifically for people who have a lot of cash and a lot of power, because I’m kind of always rooting of the underdog. Now I think of it in a much more complicated way. I think this kind of coveting and wanting a little piece of luxury is something that runs the socioeconomic gamut.

And also sometimes things that are very cheap are much more exploitative in terms of the labor structure behind them than things that are very expensive and being made by one person. So it’s complicated, but I think that as long as there’s serious economic injustice in the world I would hope that my relationship to consumerism is ambivalent and in progress. I hope that I would always sort of be questioning my ongoing relationship to that and how it works and what I’m buying into.


“For me perfume is a way of embodying the kind of invisible selves that you carry around with you. It’s a way of making a fantasy self into something that’s present, although perhaps still invisible.”


VP: My limited experience is that the perfume sales people in high-end places are not especially snooty compared to, say, how one might assume people selling similarly expensive dresses would be. Oddly enough I find it less intimidating to go to the Frederic Malle counter at Barney’s than to a counter in Macy’s.

AH: I think in order to sell perfume at that Barney’s counter, you have to really like perfume. So you have to like it and know it and enjoy it and be able to talk about it in a way that goes beyond making your commission.

Most of the people who work the mid-range or low-end counters in department stores are paid directly by the brand that they’re selling, and they’re often hired part-time. They’re rarely trained, and they often only know about the two or three things that they’re trying to push that have just been released.

The big exception to that in Nordstrom. Nordstrom’s has a special program that they train all their perfume people with. That’s also a place that you can go where it’s policy to make you a sample and they just sell it in a completely different way.

VP: Some perfume enthusiasts believe only natural fragrances are acceptable, what you call perfume’s original language. You don’t make that dichotomy. You embrace modern synthetic chemistry as well. Why is that? What is your philosophy?

AH: Because I really like perfume and I want as much good perfume as possible. And so I want perfumers to have the palette that they want to work with. Part of it is my personal aesthetic preference. When you work with synthetics it’s much easier to control the architecture of the perfume. It’s much easier to control the way the perfume unfolds on your skin and the amount of space there is between the different smells that you’re using to create the chords or the sort of melody of the perfume and you have a much wider range to work with. But really, it’s just because I’m a greedy hedonist. I just want as much good art as possible.

For details on Alyssa's appearances in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle, go here.

Enter to win a copy of the book here.

Blitz Kid Glamour: A Profile Of Alejandro Gocast

Alejandro Gocast

Glamour icon? London-based model, DJ, and scene-maker Alejandro Gocast is making an impressive go at that status. I first stumbled across Gocast on Facebook, as part of the revived New Romantic club scene in London that I’ve long admired and written about here on DeepGlamour. Arising in the early 1980s, the New Romantics represented a creative, dressed-to-impress music and style movement, post-punk, post-disco. Now, more than 30 years later, Gocast is one of a new generation of New Romantic club kids. And he cuts a spectacular image in modeling and club photos. I interviewed him exclusively for DeepGlamour.

CH: How do you describe what you do? I think of you as a model, a glamorous nightclub personality, and a DJ.  But give DG a fuller picture of what you do?

Gocast: I would describe my career as an eclectic one. As well as being known for what you have mentioned in the London scene, I also have a career in luxury events management. My life is not a simple one. It can be challenging at times keeping up with schedules, appointments, club nights, friends, family—the list is endless, but then again life is for the living.  

CH: Where are you from? Your Model Mayhem profile says you are from Latin America, with parents of Mexican and German descent, respectively. How old were you when you moved to Britain?

Gocast: That is one tricky question. I am actually British, although I was born in Mexico. I have lived in London since a very young age. However, my mother language is Spanish, therefore (unfortunately) I do not have the honor of speaking with an English accent. My “genetic” background has indeed German from my dad’s side and Mexican from my mother’s. I hope this all makes sense.

Alejandro Gocast by Peter AshworthCH: You have such a distinct look, one that I would describe as exotic and androgynous.  Not what most people might think of as a typical male model. How would you describe your style image? And how did you discover and develop that image? (Did you get started in the new New Romantic club scene in London, or was it some other inspiration?)

Gocast: My image definitely started in the London club scene. I used to go out to “normal” clubs and bars, but always feeling that I was not quite suitable for them, I started to look for a more arty environment and played around with different looks, which I still do. Since I have always had a thing for the New Romantic style, I decided to become “re-born” into a new way, more in sync with my inner personality and my personal opinion in life, which is a very simple one: be who you are. 

CH: What are the Blitz Kids?

Gocast: The Blitz Kids were a group of young people who frequented the Blitz nightclub in Covent Garden, London in the very early 1980s and are credited with launching the New Romantic cultural movement. Among their number is a good friend of mine, Steve Strange, also Boy George and his friends Marilyn and Alice Temple, Perri Lister, Princess Julia, Philip Sallon, Carl Teper and Martin Degville (later to be the frontman of Tony James's Sigue Sigue Sputnik). The club was known for its outrageous style of clothes and make-up for both sexes, while it was also the birthplace of several pop groups. There is an official website for this, on which I actually also feature, you can visit it here.

CH: What musicians and bands are atop your current playlist? What musicians and bands are lifelong favorites?

Gocast: I have a wide range of taste when it comes down to music, and also quite extreme. I go from hardcore metal to Kate Bush. My personal music player is full of extremes. I do not really focus my attention to one artist or band. Since you asked, a few on my playlists at the moment are Garbage, JLo, Amanda Lear, Tribal House, Korn, Dead or Alive, Donna Summer, Kate Bush, Siouxie and the Banshees… see what I mean?

CH: You've worked with numerous artists and designers. Perhaps one of my favorite of your collaborations has been with Marko Mitanovski, a favorite designer of Lady Gaga. When I first viewed his fashions, I was truly astonished - they are strange and intriguing and elegant. Anthropomorphic creatures in black and white. How did you come to model for Mitanovski?

Gocast: I met Marko at one of my clubs, “THE FACE.” He was a guest there, and the moment we met we knew we would be working together. It was the right chemistry and we also get along really well. It is indeed a pleasure to work with him. I can’t wait for his next collection!  I love his dramatic design style.

CH:  Is there a designer you wear most often right now?

Gocast: I wear a lot of pieces from various artists, and it is just a question of blending and matching them to create my night-out style. I recently worked with Dane Goulding, who designed for the Spice Girls. He has some truly amazing pieces.

CH: You've been in a few fashion-art short films. I thought "The Dionysian" released in 2011 was really beautiful, and you looked darkly enchanting wearing lace and a high collar. And enormous spidery eyelashes. What was that experience like? What sort of direction were you given in the film, in terms of posing or projecting a certain image?

Gocast: This film was shot in London, in December. It was a very cold night and the director knew exactly what he wanted. Since we shared the same vision, I fit perfectly in the film. This film is going to an exhibition in Paris this year. I have worked behind and in front and the camera for a few years now, and the experience is always the same for me, exciting and always looking forward to seeing the final creation. 

CH: You starred in another fashion/art film called "Perform Nijinsky," which was produced by the very talented cabaret performer Mr. Pustra. Clearly the film was something of an homage to the early 20th-century Ballet Russes legend, Vaslav Nijinsky. Can you tell DG more about that film project?

Gocast: Pustra is a good friend and I am also an admirer of his work. Together with Dorota Mulczynska, the vision of a morphed early 20th Century Ballet Russes was created into a short film, celebrating and honoring Nijinsky. 

CH: Do you often do your own make up for photo shoots and club nights? Or do you more often work with a make up artist?

Gocast: For photo shoots I do work closely with Stephanie Stokkvik, a Norwegian high fashion make up artist. I have learned so much from her. If you have time, have a look for her on the net—she is amazing! When I go out, I normally “paint my face” on my own.

CH: Who is your top style icon?

Gocast: I am afraid I do not have one.

CH: When you travel around on everyday errands, to the grocery and laundromat and whatnot, how do you look and dress?

Gocast: You would not recognize me, that’s all I call say. I try to go under the radar when out and about on my personal life in order to give some space to myself and my close friends and family.

CH: When you aren't working, what do you do for fun?

Gocast: I am a bit of a geek. I own a PS3 and a whole bunch of games. I enjoy also watching horror movies with friends.

CH: What is your dream vacation destination?

Gocast: My other half loves traveling, and I have been lucky to have been to and seen some amazing tropical paradises. My favorite places.

CH: Do you have favorite perfumes/colognes?

Gocast: Yes, I am currently about to finish “Un Jardin Sur Le Nil” by Hermès, and my next fragrance will be from Diptyque Paris.

Alejandro Gocast 4CH: What are your go-to make up and skin care products?

Gocast: Any good moisturizer does, really, not any favorites in particular.

CH: What professional goals do you set for yourself? Are there particular photographers, artists, or designers you long to work with? Or, do you have something else in mind quite different from what you are doing now?

Gocast: I am shooting a few more fashion films this upcoming year and planning on starting some sketches for my own collection. However, I must keep this under wraps. I am pretty much open to work with anyone - as long as the chemistry is there, anything is possible.  

CH: What are your New Years Eve plans?

Gocast: I am spending New Years Eve with a good friend of mine. She runs a club in Bricklane, from which I will also be throwing another infamous club night soon. It is a very intimate space with limited capacity, which is just what I like.

LAST DAY to enter our special Makeover Week giveaway of IntésivEye eye-makeup remover pads. Deadline is midnight Pacific Time 1/31/012. Details at the post below.

Transformations: Perfume, Flowers, Butterflies, And Bugs

Flora-gucci-ad Gucci has designed a highly effective ad campaign for its Flora perfume that revolves around fields of flowers, diaphanous floral print dresses, and the sultry beauty of model Abbey Lee Kershaw. In the print ads Kershaw is photographed in dresses that seem to magically transform into butterfly wings. The Chris Cunningham video shown below was shot in Latvia in a seemingly endless sea of flowers. Kershaw is depicted like the Roman goddess Flora, who with waves of her arms causes the flowers to bow to her (an effect that appears to use a mobile wind machine). At the end the images are manipulated so that Kershaw and her dress seem about to take flight.

Primavera-Flora If you have seen Botticelli’s Primavera, the Gucci ads may remind you of his image of Flora, who holds spring flowers in the folds of her sheer floral dress. These images all promise that winter’s reign will end, that spring will transform the world, and that once again we will enjoy the scent of blossoming flowers.

The butterfly-like shape of the billowing dress in the Gucci ads reminds us of another transformation, that of caterpillar to butterfly. Most butterflies are colorful, beautiful creatures. How tempting it becomes to try a perfume that suggests it can transform you into a creature as beautiful as spring, flowers, butterflies, or a youthful goddess.

Most people do not find butterflies attractive in their caterpillar stage. The same is true of bugs. While we might be delighted to have a butterfly land on us, we may shudder if we notice a caterpillar or a bug crawling on us.

Contemplation-cicada That’s one reason this photo by John Bonath, titled “Contemplation on a Cicada,” is so arresting. The beautiful blond model appears to be naked, photographed in a studio, and deep in thought as cicadas crawl on her hair, face, and body. This image is used on a card advertising an upcoming show of Bonath’s work at The Camera Obscura Gallery in Denver. He specializes in surreal digital images, so it is difficult to know what is “real” in this image. Cicadas don’t bite or sting humans, but I can’t image them arranging themselves in such orderly fashion.

When they molt cicadas leave behind ghosts of themselves in the form of hard shells whose claws cling to trees, bushes, and posts. (Here is a time-lapse image of a cicada molting.) We tend to associate bugs with disease and decay, and in nature various bugs and their larvae help decompose dead animals. That is a transformation that few of us enjoy contemplating, yet nature’s transformations are not always pretty. Once while leading an art class on an excursion to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my wife came upon a group of Monarch butterflies feasting on smelly poo in a tossed-away baby diaper.

Part of the cleverness of the Gucci perfume ads is how well they combine positive images of transformation. In contrast, a brilliant aspect of the opening of David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet was its fluid movement from images of an idyllic small town to an man dying while watering his lawn, and then to bugs in the soil beneath the lawn. This sequence prepares us to see the film reveal part of the decadent underworld of the town. In both cases images are used to help us focus on transformations, either toward renewal or toward decay and decadence.

Selling Fragrances Without Glamour

From the classic

to the contemporary

more than just about any other genre of advertising, perfume ads traffic in glamour. You can't, after all, show a picture of a smell. Instead, you create an atmosphere that represents something about the dreams that smell promises to fulfill.

So I have to wonder whether the recession-oriented strategy of these new fragrances will work. (I'm also extremely skeptical about those alleged survey results about chocolate versus fragrances, especially since a new Boston Consulting Group report names perfumes and fragrances as one of the hardest-hit categories since consumers started cutting back on purchases.)

Or is Unilever (the company that gave the world "the Axe effect") cleverly packaging utilitarian deodorant as glamorous perfume?

The Shape Of A Scent

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As this NYT Magazine article (with a slideshow here) explained, the perfume industry goes to great effort and expense to create the containers that express its scents. Chandler Burr wrote: 

The industry hires artists and artisans to create them: Serge Mansau sculptured the delicate block that held Diorella. And Rene Lalique designed perhaps the most beautiful fragrance bottle ever created, the frosted globe filled by Jacques Worth with Je Reviens. Publicly, Dior hardly ever talks about Diorella as Mansau's creation but as the receptacle for Edmond Roudnitska's juice. But privately those in the industry benchmark their scents by the beauty of these small creations. They refer obsessively to ''the Chanel square.''

But as beautiful as many of these bottles are, they lack a certain old-style glamour. In a comment on our holiday gifts post, AnnH wondered whether anyone still makes those bottles "with heavy sculpted glass applicators? Speaking of glamorous, I seem to recall that the dazzling women in 30s and 40s films would dab such straight parfum on to themselves with the glass applicators."

You may not find them in department stores, but such bottles are available. These photos show several lots up for auction online from Rago Arts on January 24. I particularly like the black-and-white Art Deco collection.

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Personal Perfumes

The perfume I'm wearing is not available in stores. It doesn't even have a name, just a description of ingredients. It smells wonderful, and it was made just for me.

DSCF1145 Special fragrances tend to be pricey--consider this LAT report on Le Labo's Musc 25, "an esoteric imagining of L.A.'s odeur," which runs $260 for a 50-milliliter bottle. Even the online version of custom fragrance blending runs a minimum of $80, and you don't even get to smell before you buy.

If you're lucky enough to live in L.A., however, you can get your own custom scent for as little as $18 at Mélange apothecary, an elegant shop on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. This isn't some cut-rate discount outfit. Owner Denise Estrada has nearly two decades of experience blending fragrances, and she and her brother produce Saint Parfum, a line of made-to-order candles and diffusers sold at Barneys, Cos Bar, and other luxury retailers.

Mélange is Denise's personal project, a place where she can see how customers interact with fragrances. "This store is a living lab--to just watch," she says. "I watch."

DSCF1153 The shop stocks lots of specialty lines, including Saint Parfum, of course. But its unique feature is the fragrance bar: four trays of individual scents, about 20 per tray. You draw out a sample of each scent with a glass rod, take a sniff, and write down the ones you like, moving from the floral tray to woodsy and green scents to citrus to spice (my favorite). "You will find there are trays you love and trays that you hate," Denise warns. I am not a floral person.

Once you have your list of favorites, Denise puts her well-trained nose to work, blending those with other notes to create attractively layered fragrances. (The process sometimes feels like an eye exam: "Which is better, A or B?") Some combinations make sense for a perfume roller, others for a shower gel or lotion, still others for a room diffuser. I liked the combination of green tea, white tea, and "rain," but it was too light for a perfume. I got it as a body cream.

This month, Mélange is offering fragrance happy hours on Thursday nights and will have special holiday blending event next Friday, December 19 (details and complete calendar here). For $55 a person, you can book an after-hours party. Each guest gets to apply the cost toward products, and with the shop's reasonable prices $55 is usually enough for three items: a perfume roller, a diffuser, and a body cream, for instance.

Check out the Melange blog for more holiday ideas (including ones available online). And if you'd be interested in joining a DG blending party early next year, send an email to virginia-at-deepglamour.net.

Glamorous Gifts

With shoppers in a frenzy preparing for DG's four-month anniversary on December 25, we asked a number of contributors to recommend glamorous gifts that don't require braving the malls. Save gas and aggravation. Let your broadband do the walking.

GET POSITIVELY I am obsessed with Ippolita jewelry. Just one plain gold hammered bangle is so fabulous and the gift of gold these days is a safer investment than anything else! This is for any women with expensive taste who likes chic simplicity instead of over-the-top bling.

The other gift I would recommend is a stocking stuffer and it's Plumeria Blossom incense by Maui Lani Incense. This is my favorite flower and I have never seen this scent anywhere else. 

Carmindy, interviewed by DG here, is a makeup artist best known for her work on TLC's "What Not to Wear" and the author of Get Positively Beautiful and The 5-Minute Face.  

Kate Coe
Copperpot Mauviel Copper: Nothing says "serious cook" like French copper. It's the kitchen equivalent of mine-cut diamonds--everything else looks more expensive.   I think the jam pan is actually the most useful--centerpiece, drinks cooler, logs for the fireplace..... 

Less expensively, a Diablix bottle opener by Alessi.  You or your pals can feel naughty, even when opening plain seltzer water. 

Kate Coe is DG's chief correspondent.

Jackie Danicki 
Tarte Glam on The Go Kabuki Brush: Soft, luxurious, makes you gorgeous and comes in ultra-glam violet croc case
Jackie Danicki, who was interviewed by DG here, is the director of marketing for Qik and blogs, with Hillary Johnson, at Jack & Hill.

Groomzilla Tomfordbig1
Tom Ford for Men cologne. Tom Ford has been unstoppable this year, both at the helm of his eponymous high-end clothing and accessories line and at the center of his full-court press both behind and in front of the camera. One of the most sensual (and arguably glamorous) images of the past year was the sight of a Tom Ford cologne bottle pressed invitingly into the recesses of a woman's pelvis by her red lacquered nails (Jungle Red, no doubt). Sex sells, and for that reason alone, this cologne should go flying off the shelf. But more importantly, it actually smells wonderful. With just a few strategic squirts, you can undo one more button on your shirt, bare your immaculately-manscaped chest, and begin a Holiday party filled with models and bottles.

Ren Mayblossom and Blue Cypress Balancing Facial Cleansing Gel. I love ridiculous products for my skin, and the more outrageous the claims (unicorn horn! chirically correct molecules! fair-trade alpha-hydroxy!), the more excited I become. In the case of Ren's wonderfully-effective cleanser, I can delight in the absurd ingredients (mayblossom? blue cypress? I'm sure these foods promote proper unicorn horn growth!) and experience noticably cleaner, fresher skin. Also, I can torture my husband that I spent $32 on "soap" that can only be used on one part of my body.

Groomzilla is the nom de plume of a newlywed Los Angeles attorney who chronicled his adventures in gay wedding planning in a series of DG posts.

Joan Kron
51fB3GruSoL._SL160_ Astaire & Rogers Collection, Vol. 1 (Top Hat / Swing Time / Follow the Fleet / Shall We Dance / The Barkleys of Broadway): Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers are always glamorous. Check out the Super glam sets in "Swing Time," featuring crystal clear cellophane used as slipcovers on the chairs and as tablecloths in the nightclub scene. The big white sets of these early Hollywood movies--inspired by the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes--were the epitome of Art Deco.

Another movie with glamorous Art Deco sets is the original version of The Women, starring Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Rosalind Russell--especially the fashion show scene. I've been playing both these films on a big screen without the sound, and they are like art installations. 

Joan Kron is contributing editor at large for Allure magazine and the author of books on plastic surgery and home interiors. She was interviewed by DG here.

Paige Phelps
Sigerson Morrison for Target Lustra D'Orsay Pumps: Siegerson Morrison is a terrifically expensive, wonderful shoe brand that I usually drool over but can't afford. If you're not giving this to yourself, consider it for your hip sister or sis-in-law. It's funky and fun and can be dressed up or down. And for those who think these capsule brand promos don't offer the goods, think again. Everytime I've worn my Lela Rose for Payless or Target's International Go collection clothes, I've gotten compliments, so they do deliver.
Also for your friend/sister type, a fun cocktail ring that screams FAKE is fun for the holidays (and don't limit yourself to wearing it on the traditional ring finger). Try this  Zirconite enamel ring: great with the little black dress or even jeans and a cute top. If they're not into rings, this can be a fun stocking stuffer: 

For your more erudite friend, boy or girl, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster is one of the best fashion books I've read in a long while. But warning to glamourpusses: it breaks down the myths behind the magic. Trust, after reading this, you'll NEVER scoff at Target capsule collections--in fact you might think of them as just as good as high-end brands. 

Paige Phelps is a Dallas-based writer and regular DG correspondent.

Virginia Postrel
With all due respect to the lure of perfume and jewels, some of us spend most of our glamour budget on books. Here are some favorites.

Woman in the Mirror: 1945-2004: A book of Richard Avedon's iconic photography is appealing enough, but this one has the bonus of a lengthy essay by the brilliant fashion critic and art historian Anne Hollander. Not just a coffee-table book.

NSAP1717_LARGE Athlete: Some people think great athletes can't be glamorous, because they too obviously work hard. Walter Iooss's photography finds glamour as well as grit: great faces, great bodies, great moves. (With a four-figure budget, you can buy a signed print of his magnificent Blue Dunk photo of Michael Jordan through the New York Times store. Hence the NYT logo marring the illustration here.) For the lover of sports, photography, or both.

Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies: A smart history of the imaginary version of the real city, perfect for either movie buffs or New Yorkers.

For travelers, art lovers, and people who wish they traveled more or knew more about art, Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel is an entertaining read that smuggles in a remarkable amount of cultural education. After discovering it in London, I bought copies for several family members.

Whimsical, sweet, and knowing, Edward Monkton books make great stocking stuffers for glamoristas. I'm particularly fond of Shoes, Chocs, Bags, and Frocks. (For samples of the art, check out the Edward Monkton website.)

Finally, I never miss an opportunity to plug my favorite book about glamour (though I'm not sure anyone else thinks of it that way): Michael Chabon's Great American Novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Virginia Postrel is a Los Angeles-based columnist and author and DG's editor-in-chief.

Diego Rodriguez
414F25FMAJL._SL160_ For people who want to counter the "Do you have an iPhone?" question with a "No, but I pack a M8" answer: the Leica M8. Nothing makes me wonder "Just who is that person" more than a Leica M8. Tucked discretely under one's arm, or brandished boldly across a chest, the M8 is a soft-spoken yet potent beacon of technological glamour.

TAG Heuer Men's Monaco Automatic Chronograph Watch: If the names 911, R8, M3, or GT-R make your heart race, this is your timepiece. McQueen wore one, and it's named after the most glamorous kingdom left in the world. Royalty, speed, sex, adrenaline, and crisp, elegant aesthetics, all together on your wrist.

Diego Rodriguez is a partner at IDEO, a professor at the Stanford d-school, and a regular DG contributor.

Nancy Rommelman
41ART0XDYNL._SL160_ Salvador Dali perfumes The Dalissime [Nancy's husband] Din and I originally bought for Hillary [Johnson, his sister] back in 1997. When I literally could not keep my nose out of her neck, I bought myself some. It's very feminine, as in, men go gaga for it.

I also really, really like the Laguna, which is "fresher," faster, and always make me feel very racy and ready. Also, can you beat these bottles? No, you cannot.

Nancy Rommelman is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, blogger, and the author of several books. She was interviewed by DG here.

Anne Stewart 
The stationery set: This is the perfect fashionable gift for young romantics, or for glamour gals who still remember when Casablanca was first released. Because there’s nothing more glamorous than sending a goodbye forever note to a lover on your own stationary, except maybe sending the next note… 

The personalized child's calling card: A super-cute stocking stuffer for those just initiated to the world of glamour (or for their fashionable moms). Personalized children’s calling cards are a chic way to make introductions and organize play dates. Stylish, convenient, and they make you feel all grown up, in a good way. 

Anne Stewart is a Cleveland-based writer and graphic designer who recently wrote a DG post on the cover art of hip-hop mixtapes.

Regina Walton
I like to give people very pretty mother-of-pearl Korean business card holders like this one on Ebay. Here is a similar product on Amazon by Swarovski - pave crystals. They don't seem to have  a lot in stock so maybe it's last season's. There is a zebra print one and a leopard print one. You need to exercise caution with animal prints, but I think these cases hit glamour and not tacky. Card case

Another, with green crystals. Another, that has a little Monet painting on it . (I link these two because they seem to be well stocked - the Monet one I really like.)

I've got a theme: I like pretty card holders that aren't just these plain boring things.  I've even attached a pic of the one I carry.

Also, I'm big on nice pens.  I use Waterman fountain pens exclusively (I've been a fountain pen fiend since middle school and cut my teach on how to use them when they made the cheap ones with colored ink). Anyway, I know Amazon has a good selection of those. For those who are scared of ink leaks there is always a nice fountain pen.  Either way, a nice pen is distinguished, stylish and definitely glamourous. This is the one I use now. But, yeah, I've got a few of them.

Regina Walton is a Seoul-based journalist and blogger. She interviewed fashionista Diane Pernet for DG.