Perfume Chat Room, July 23

Perfume Chat Room, July 23

Welcome to the weekly Perfume Chat Room, perfumistas! I envision this chat room as a weekly drop-in spot online, where readers may ask questions, suggest fragrances, tell others their SOTD, comment on new releases or old favorites, and respond to each other. The perennial theme is fragrance, but we can interpret that broadly. This is meant to be a kind space, so please try not to give or take offense, and let’s all agree to disagree when opinions differ. In fragrance as in life, your mileage may vary! YMMV.

Today is Friday, July 23, and it is my late parents’ wedding anniversary. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have read this post before, My Mother’s Last Perfume, in which I wrote a bit about their long, but not always happy, marriage. Nevertheless, I honor this day because without it, my sisters and I wouldn’t exist! And because my parents made the effort to stay married until the ends of their lives and, in their own ways, they cared for each other. Their happiest times were when they traveled together, which they loved to do; and I too love to travel with my husband, though my marriage is a much more content one than my parents’, I think.

I also have some excitement to share — I’ve been asked by an accomplished playwright in my city to collaborate with her and a composer to create a “fragrance score” for a new experimental musical they are writing! I had taken part in a playwriting group she led over several weeks, pre-pandemic, and we had talked about how fragrance could and should be used more in theater. This is such an interesting creative project, I’m very excited about the possibilities. I will be the creative director for the fragrances, of course, not the actual perfumer. We are applying for a grant to develop the production, so I hope to include in the budget some modest funds to commission some scents from a perfumer eventually. For now, I think we’ll be able to use existing scents.

What are your thoughts on combining fragrance with other arts? I love reading about Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ collaborations with the Denver Art Museum. And the ways actors can use fragrance for their own performances are also fascinating: How Performers Use Perfume.

How Performers Use Perfume

How Performers Use Perfume

The Guardian has published an incredible article about how various actors and other performers use fragrance and perfume to get into their roles (hat tip to Now Smell This): The Spray’s The Thing: How Actors Use Perfume To Get Into Character. It was fascinating. I can’t help but wonder what Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole might have chosen to wear as they played cosmetics pioneers and queens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden in the recent musical “War Paint”! In the Guardian article, I was particularly taken with the approach by one ballerina:

The ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson works with a perfumer, sometimes over months, to devise the perfect scent for her roles with the Royal Ballet. “I learn a lot when I work with her,” she once told me. “I talk it all through, from the beginning to the end of the ballet, while she asks many questions. There was a moment in act two of Giselle” – where the heroine appears as a spirit – “which she captured unbelievably. I’d said I wanted to feel like there was a veil or gauze over me, and she did it in scent.”

I had just written recently here about ballerina Carla Fracci’s fragrance Giselle, which I find captures the heroine in the happy first act of that ballet; how wonderful to know that a ballerina of today had a perfume created to capture the sense of the ghostly second act!

The same article reveals that a new book has been published which clearly I must get, if only for its title: “Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture”, by Catherine Maxwell; it includes descriptions of scents at the 19th century theater:

Catherine Maxwell quotes Oscar Wilde’s plan for mood-enhancing fragrance in Salome. He wanted “in place of an orchestra, braziers of perfume. Think – the scented clouds rising and partly veiling the stage from time to time – a new perfume for each emotion.” It never happened: how could you air the theatre between emotions?

However, Wilde’s fans ensured an aromatic premiere for The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895. Ada Leverson reported that “nearly all the pretty women wore sprays of lilies against their large puffed sleeves, while rows and rows of young elegants had buttonholes of the delicate bloom of lily of the valley.”

I love the idea of scented theater productions, something perfumer Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays has done in collaboration with directors:

She has scented productions, including Handel’s Acis and Galatea. The opening fragrance summoned cut grass and cucumber, “fresh, green and outdoors”. During the interval, as the plot darkened, she sprayed a muddy, leathery, mossy brew called Foreboding from bottles in the balcony.

I recently attended a production of “Twelfth Night” in a tavern-style theater that presents plays on a stage that resembles the Globe Theater, but smaller, and that encourages the audience to buy dinner and drinks to consume during the show, from a kitchen behind the seating area. Choices include Shepherd’s Pie, Cornish pasties, Guinness, Samuel Smith ales, etc. It’s a different means of “scenting” a production but remarkably fun when paired with a Shakespearean comedy. Not sure I’d enjoy it so much during “Romeo and Juliet”, though …