The Paris Review Daily

Posts Tagged ‘perfume’

Perfume, Pikes, and Parsing

June 15, 2012 | by

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Book Perfume, Newspaper Dresses

May 11, 2012 | by

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On the Scent

February 20, 2012 | by

In 2008 Luca Turin, a European biochemist who’d done groundbreaking research on how olfaction works, joined forces with Tania Sanchez, a thirtyish American, to produce an English edition of his cult hit French perfume guide. The result, their Perfumes: The Guide, has a wide readership among people who admire good perfume, but it deserves a wider one among people who admire good criticism of any kind. I found it in the “fashion” section of a classy bookstore, and in retrospect this seems like finding Madame Bovary shelved with the historical romances.

Unfortunately, though, Perfumes has the side effect of making the reader—well, this reader—embark immediately on the kind of quest that leads her to a lot of esoteric corners of the internet and shoddy midtown shops. But more on that later.

I picked up Perfumes on a whim, expecting standard women’s magazine perfume writing: imaginary fruits and lavish adjectives, nonsense marketing descriptions bracketed with pseudoscientific junk about how smells awaken our reptilian base nature. Sanchez seems to have anticipated this concern. “Smell psychologists and the uncritical journalists who love them get a lot of mileage out of calling smell the most primitive sense. But as with all of the work of evolutionary psychologists, the conclusions that support our desires and reinforce our prejudices are those of which we should be most wary,” she writes.

I read the rest of that page standing up in the store and finished the introduction on line at the cash register.

Sanchez goes on to debunk any and all fixed ideas anyone might have had about perfume in an economical four pages. She describes the ways the industry has discouraged serious perfume criticism, from concealing the identities of fragrances’ authors to lying about formulas and content. She explains why this is a golden age of perfume criticism (the Internet). She dismisses the notion that talking about our pleasures ruins them. “The fact is,” she announces in closing, “this stuff is worth loving. As with the tawdriest pop melody, there is a base pleasure in perfume, in just about any perfume, even the cheapest and most starved of ideas, that is better than no perfume at all.”

And then the real fun begins: the reviews. Read More »

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Miss Piggy, Literary Icon

December 13, 2011 | by

Though most people love Miss Piggy for her work as a film star, I have always loved her best as a writer. When I was in elementary school, I bought Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life at a library sale in Westport, Connecticut, the posh town where I was born and where my family spent our summers until I was ten years old. The book has been of vital use to me ever since. I was a sturdy child and entered puberty what felt like light years before most of my friends, my thick girl body morphing into a curvy one. Miss Piggy’s womanly advice reached me at a vulnerable moment, when I needed all the help I could get.

Miss Piggy covers all the bases: romance, finance, diet and exercise, etiquette, and fashion. Though of course the book (“as told to Henry Beard,” and originally published by Knopf in 1981) is intended to be humorous, I think it reads like a rallying cry for the full-figured glamourpuss—that she should love her body and her clothes and her lovers, and, most of all, herself. Miss Piggy is a confident and witty faux-Francophile. She has perfect hair, she wears great dresses, and who cares if she has thick ankles? Certainly not her paramour, Kermit, who would sleep on railroad tracks if she asked. Read More »

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Fake Paintings; Perfume Tester

October 4, 2011 | by

Jean-Francois Millet, Peasant Spreading Manure (detail), 1855, oil on canvas.

 

Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.

M. J. Hyland: From the age of eighteen to twenty-one, I worked any job I could get my hands on. One of these jobs was selling fake paintings door-to-door. There were four of us in the crew. We were taken out each night in the company car—a white minivan—and dropped on suburban street corners with black folio bags. I’d been instructed to pretend I was the artist.

My first night was the one I remember best. The suburb was a newly built estate, each house a mirror of its neighbor. The grass hadn’t grown on the front lawns yet, and there were cars in all the newly paved driveways—not flashy cars, but not beat-up Holdens either. I walked to the door of a house and knocked.

“Sorry to bother you at teatime,” I said, “but my name’s Marcia Bradshaw and I’m an art student at university. I’m going from door to door to see if I can sell some of my work.” I unzipped the bag and took out a painting. “I need to raise some money so I can finish my degree,” I said. “My parents have no money and my scholarship only lasted two years.”

Life is ruthless, and its bestowal of fortune arbitrary and capricious. I’d been born to morons and mine was a shabby life. I stood on this woman’s doorstep and told the lie about the paintings as easily as I did because, although it was a lie, it was also true. I believed my own lies and told them well. I wanted money, and, like my criminal father, I wanted it the easy way. Read More »

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