The Fougère Project, part 6

(Feb 22, 2014) Christos MemoryOfScent said:
@jtd The ability of humans to identify smells is amazing but your example also shoes that this is a lot more efficient when the smell is related to danger (disease). This was the primary function of smell, the most primeval of senses and the only one we share with the most primitive organisms. Of course we have the ability to identify intricate perfume notes but this is a lot more difficult than identifying cobalt blue. The reason for this is that we lack the means of sharing our olfactory experiences effectively. On a specific level smell is a read-only sense: we have means of sharing our visual, auditory and tactile stimuli (all vibrational senses) by reproducing the stimulus and sharing it with others. We can draw, point at, imitate sound and feel. Taste, the other chemical sense we have, is more part of our every-day life through the ritual of cooking. Not only we relate better to describing tastes but we also use ingredients and formulas (recipes) to replicate taste and share it with other. When it comes to smell, the sense that appeared first in the process of evolution we are crippled. We cannot point to it, we cannot recreate it and the stimuli we have are more complex. Unlike a painting or a photgraph which we can analyse and dissect, stop our sight at any point and focus, an olfactory stimulus comes as a bulk. All elements or ingredients hit the nerves at the same time and analysis is more of a mental process which we cannot share effectively with others. The color analogy is not identifying Pantone 2247-C but I think the right analogy for smell perception is seeing a color in nature and identifying the percentage of Pantone 2247-C in it.

Ironically when it comes to describing, sharing and analysing our smell perception the only tool we have is language. So we rely on our most evolved of "senses" (if you can perceive as such) to explain the most primeval one. Perhaps new technologies like smell printers incorporated in our laptops may help in creating a common language for smell perception. Needless to say that trained perfumers do not have these limitations. It has taken them years of practice, a structured education and access to a huge repertory of ingredients to be able to refine and manipulate their olfactory experiences. The rest of us I think will have to live with the limitations and subjectivity of the language we use to describe smells.

fougere misc

3/7/14 The New Man of the 1970s, or how Paco Rabanne pour Homme and Azzaro pour Homme maintained the psychic stability of society.
The 1970s in the United States was one of the faster moving and more interesting eras in the history of gender. Some entrenched notions of masculinity, femininity and how they relied on each other had been shattered in World War II. Practicalities of wartime production and supply-chain necessities meant that women entered the workplace on a huge scale.. The American proletariat took on a face that wore lipstick, but managements and board room changed little. The realization that women were in capable of doing "man's work" exploded. When the war ended new understandings of gender were put away and the old breadwinner/housewife bit was re-instituted. Is it any wonder that that the simmering feminism of the 1970s actually had its direct antecedents in the regressive conservatism following World War II? Though the men had seen Paris, as the expression goes, the women had seen the future and had had it taken away from them. The 1950s, with its Disney-like surface and a deep well of dissatisfaction starting inches below, couldn't last. Women seem to have a better understanding of the disproportionality of this situation. Feminism landed on fertile ground. Men on the other hand tended to bury their heads in the sand, mistaking the privileges of their gender for something as basic as air or gravity.

However it came about, by the early 70s, masculinity teetered on a tight rope. The men who had considered playboy magazine as pertinent as the New York Times or TIME Magazine were startled to find the perks of their gender slipping away. Masculine vanity took refuge in the fantasy of the singles bar, the swingers scene, and the leisure suits. And eventually, in the aromatic fougère.

Given the cognitive dissonance of the man of the 1970s, thank God they had the fougère, even if only as a point of reference.

Facetiousness aside, the fougère played an role in positively maintaining the self-esteem of the men of the time. There already were some fantastic, accessible choices for men, from the drugstore to the department store. I think particularly of Caron pour un Homme, Aramis by Aramis, Old Spice and Christian Dior Eau Sauvage. Despite the newness of Paco Rabanne pour Homme and Azzaro pour Homme, the middle-aged men of the 70s knew this style of fragrance from the 1950s and even the 1940s. They might not have known the names, but they were "barbershop" fragrances. Even as men were forsaking the barber for the stylist, the scent of the barbershop allowed Homo-Nuevo, this new species of man, to maintain a bridge between what they were taught about masculinity when they were young, and the dramatically different experience they had as adults. We can argue about the functions of fragrance, memory and meaning until the cows come home, and I probably will, but this olfactory nostalgia and the associations that we make with fragrances can be sources of strength. Where the 1970s suave guy marched forward with bluster and false bravado into a new world of gender, he could be comforted by the fougère, his tie to the masculinity he was implicitly promised as a boy.

Here is the genius of Paco Rabanne pour Homme. It's thoroughly a fougère, barbershop sensibility and all, yet it's also new. The recognizability of this fragrance was just enough to soothe and reassure, yet the same time it had a novel and contemporary tone. This wasn't your father’s fragrance. The elements that distinguish it from older barbershop fragrances scents were exquisitely calculated for the time. Evergreen notes suggests the outdoors. The Colorado Rocky Mountain High, and the appearance of outdoorsiness was important to the new liberated 1970s man. Herbalism, from cheap shampoo to Clinique Aromatics Elixir to Earth-Mother cultural feminism, was a topic of the liberated women of the 1970s. Paco Pour Homme provided an entrée into the new discussion of gender for the 70s man.

Paco Rabanne pour Homme, intentionally or by happy accident, intertwined with socio-gender flux as much as Caron Tabac Blond did in the 1920s and Aromatics Elixir did in the 1970s. Paco Rabanne pour Homme was generally associated with straight men. But look closely at the ideal: rugged, out-doorsy, undeniably beautiful. Imagine Paco Rabanne pour Homme worn with 501 jeans, workboots and flannel shirts. Paco fit well with these components of the Castro/ West Village clone look and identity. It was an archetype of my people, the late 20th century queer men, who were unaware of the horror about to strike them.

To this day, I find Paco Rabanne pour Homme bracing, beautiful and very specific. The current formulation is perhaps less than it used to be, but is still striking. There's very little else like it on the market. Of the many fougères of the 70s that provided an on-ramp to the men's power fragrances of the 80s, Paco Rabanne pour Homme is the one I would compare to any power frag, from Antaeus to Kouros (a fougère 'cousin') to Krizia per Uomo to Quorum. Any perfume used to bolster gender is as much a fantasy as it is a fragrance, but Paco Rabanne pour Homme was the fragrance for men who wanted to highlight their masculinity. It was affable, proportionate, and suggested a well intended interaction with the world. By comparison, Antaeus looks like something a would-be model poser might wear and Kouros implied that studied casualness of a haircare product that allows for just one perfect lick of hair out of place. And these two were the best of the power fragrances!

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