Bette Davis : never more than 4 or 5 great films a year

Just to put Bette Davis’ quote in context, this is what she said when interviewed in 1981 on Good Morning America.

They talk about the golden years. It was just as hard work then… and there were not many great films each year then. They talk about it now as if EVERY film we made was a gem. No… there were never more than 4 or 5 great films a year.

I think of Bette Davis when I read posts that list the “10 best of 2015”. Or worse, “the 10 best perfumes of spring 2015”. Of course, the “best of” does not preclude that only 4 or 5 of those perfumes are great in any one year but it helps to keep this fact in mind when running out to try the latest Olivier Polge or Jean-Claude Ellena or Bertrand Duchaufour.

And this brings me to the elephant in the room which I have never read much about in books about perfume or the blogs. Which perfumes would make up the canon of modern perfumery and by canon, I mean the list of perfumes considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality.  And how do we establish the canon?  You have to start at a given year and then look at the trajectory of perfume development over the decades and follow trends, influences and excellence. Which perfumes influenced other perfumes. Which started offshoots. Which are so unique, they stand in a class of their own? You have to create the canon like one does in art… but looking at which painters had the most influence on the painters that followed them.

And so, keeping in mind that there were 1620 new releases in 2014, how many of those would make the canon for 2014?  4?  5?  Maybe none.  Maybe 10.

This is the kind of project I’d love to do when I retire. Any thoughts?

On this International Women’s Day of 2016, I vote that Frida Kahlo makes the Western art canon… absolutely beautiful and unique artist.





Perfume history should be taught in high school


The Perfume Maker by Ernst Rudolphe (1854-1932)

I’ve been reacquainting myself recently with professor and feminist Camille Paglia through several YouTube interviews and I’m also reading her latest work, Glittering Images. I read her Sexual Personae as a young graduate and I remember it being fascinating and grueling! Something she said in a talk at the Chicago Humanities Festival reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for years :

I want to get the study of art history into primary schools! Right now what is called art class, in American schools, is do-it-yourself “Express your inner creativity”. The teachers hand construction paper and glue pots to the students… this is art… NO!  Real art history needs to be presented to students at a very early age so that they learn how to look at pictures, so that they know the names of major artists.  The majority of the American population has no way of ever contacting the arts… it’s an absolute scandal! Most young people are graduating from high school without ever having seen a major painting!

Personally, I would like to see any art history course at the secondary level include a survey of modern perfume history… say, from Paul Parquet’s Fougère Royale (1882) to Thierry Mugler’s Angel (1992), with a couple of earlier and later exceptions such as Jean-Marie Farina’s 18th century Eau de Cologne and Olivier Polge’s Dior Homme (2011). Students are graduating from high school without ever having experienced Chanel No. 5 or understanding what makes it so great.  Or Shalimar.  Or Jicky.  Or Eau Sauvage.

The major problem is that, in today’s world, anything to do with beauty or the arts is disregarded as unnecessary.  I would agree that an overview of perfume may not help you get or keep a job… but it might just help you keep your life!  Can you imagine this world without the arts?  I can’t.  I think we should also be teaching classical music as early as possible.  Still today, as pertains to  music, only the classics seem to address the broad spectrum of emotions… from elation to despair. Perfume is the same… from the optimistic and happy Pamplelune to the serenity of Chanel No. 5.  Its creator, Ernest Beaux said this of No. 5 :

In exactly 1920. Upon my return from the war. I had been led on campaign to the northern part of Europe beyond the Arctic Circle at the time of the midnight sun, when the lakes and rivers release a perfume of extreme freshness. I retained that note and replicated it, not without some difficulty, as the first aldehydes I could find were unstable and of an irregular production.

And what about the brooding, sad L’Heure Bleue (1912) which has been attributed to the early evening when Paris turns a kind of blue alluding to the light but also the stopover of men to see their mistresses on their way home to their wives and children. Its creator, however, talked about the imminence of World War I.

I’m suggesting that the time is right for a perfume history course at the secondary level, along with art and fashion histories.

The impassive power of beauty


Judith after beheading Holofernes (1840) by August Riedel

How big a role does beauty play in my life? Not as big a role as I’d like but without it, I couldn’t bear to live. Whether it be just a beautiful face on the way to work or the fantastic sexual power of someone on the subway, beauty makes life worth living!  Truth be told, I’ve lost count the number of times that I’ve circled back to take a second look at someone more beautiful than words can describe.

I used to think of beauty as a totally passive thing. In fact, my friends will tell you that I used to say that beauty was an accident. It was simply the perfect yet accidental match of chromosomes… beautiful parents = beautiful children.  Actually, it’s not that simple.

Artists have always seen and used beauty as more powerful than a sword, than an army, than the forces of nature. Artists see beauty very much as an active, dynamic force… aggressive, taunting, powerful and relentless! Just look at the great trajectory of Western art with all its depictions of beauty and its magnificent power. As a young man, I was always fascinated by Salome, Delilah, Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, said to be the most beautiful woman in the world. And look at the beautiful Judith above who just beheaded Holofernes, whose head can hardly be seen in the lower left-hand corner of the painting. Triumphant with her hand on a rather suggestive sword, Judith used her beauty to get into Holofernes’ tent and behead him before he had time to invade her home, the city of Bethulia.

And let us not forget the men… the beautiful, younger Alcibiades who invites Socrates to dinner and tries, but fails, to seduce him. Alcibiades is looking directly into Socrates’ eyes but Socrates appears to be looking at Alcibiades’ naked body, avoiding his gaze.  In fact, Socrates looks lost in his thoughts… perhaps remembering his own youthful body or just wondering if he should give in to Alcibiades’ so blatant sexual advances, his robe draped over the chair and his soft skin begging to be caressed.


Socrates and Alcibiades (1816) by Christoffer Wilhelm Beckersberg

And no one knew more about the in-your-face power of beauty than old Hollywood. Although late in that great period of glamour, look at Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando… her, so beautiful that John F. Kennedy, Joe DiMaggio and author-genius Arthur Miller fell like flies. Him, with such sexual charisma that both women and men slept with him… a charisma so strong that even he seemed to despise its power later in his life.

Brando, Marlon_25

As for perfume, we are all looking for the perfect, beautiful scent that will turn heads and have strangers perhaps circle back to take a second look… or sniff… 😉

Back soon with a perfume review.

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