Text by Tina Weymouth
Photos by Liz Wendelbo
Styling by Laura Tiozzo at Kramer + Kramer
Blue pleated top: Ter et Bantine
Black organza top and skirt: Mikhael Kale
Never stop making your fabulous scents! Even your experiments are a curious trip through the primordial jungle of memory.
You have made me remember a love-filled night with a bucket of bubbly by the bedside!
Equally you have conjured a long-buried memory of a small child visit to the force-shield safety of the parental bed and the warm comfort of their arms following an all-too-real nightmare.
So where and why now do such disparate memories come to mind, memories that are many feelings at once, so many senses for scent that conjure light and sound?
I have learned this is to do with melanin, a magical little molecule produced by the pineal gland (the “third eye” to mystics) that spreads throughout our bodies, and which has the power to convert light into sound and back again into visible light as color.
Visible to us all as a skin pigment, melanin flows to congregate in its highest concentrations in the mammalian middle brain, heart and groin. It is an abundance of melanin that is responsible for giving music its colors.
Aha, so that is why the brain is really the largest sex organ and people think that musicians have the most sex!
What a trip, then, to realize how one’s own skin may react chemically with a perfume to create one’s own most individual scent, to realize this scent is tempered by a tiny grain from the brain that persists in defying science! A mystery, therefore the dark yin domain!
Once upon a time, coming of age sexually as a young woman meant a visit to the perfumery, where one was to place a drop on each wrist to test how it would mix with the skin’s own special chemistry.
Fair of skin, as a teen I was forewarned: never Poison nor My Sin! These are for the opulent of melanin! Latin or Egyptian!
Testing scent directly on the warm places where blood flow is closest to the surface of the skin was the first rule of perfume. Because, of course, there have always been rules to the art of scent if one is to be regarded with aplomb, or as Americans like to say, gravitas. A grown woman may power-dress like a schoolgirl lassie, but never would she intentionally choose to smell like a wee brat!
Second rule of perfume was one of seasonal discretion: Perfume in winter! Eau de toilette in summer! If one’s chosen scent could be smelled wafting from behind when strolling down a public avenue, one was announcing the self to be engaged in a cheap version of the world’s oldest profession! So even if one were to be so engaged, one would never blare it out loud! Where would be the divinely attractive mystery? The sweetness of the scent was in the surprise revealed in the close embrace.
Third rule was: Cologne—or eau de cologne, a perfume originally designated for men—might be fine for a woman with the correct chemistry! Our sexual hormones run the full gamut on a continuum from A to Z, another “vive la difference” mystery bequeathed us by nature, and much to made of for those who wish to try new things in life. Vetyver is one such scent that is equally at ease on all of us, no matter our sexual proclivity.
Fourth rule was a new one for my generation: Beware synthetic pheromones! They may offend more than the propaganda portends. While it may be true that in the physical universe opposite bodies attract, the mystery of scent is that repellency from a mismatch of organic and synthetic chemistry will most certainly not be the desired effect!
Which lead directly to the fifth rule: Know what is what and what works for you personally! Patchouli, for example, is an herb that may be used as a potpourri, which is French, meaning “rotten pot.” In New Orleans, the voodoo herbalists sell it as the original “Go Away” oil, to be applied to doorjambs and sills, or where ever evil and its purveyors are not welcome. What a hilarious error, then, that some girls from the Summer of Love thought to wear it as a perfume of seduction!
Leaving food, wonderful food aside, there is no end to the sensual pleasures of aroma. Loosing our thoughts to rove, we are surprised to discover long-forgotten pleasures encapsulated in the time-machine of remembered scents. Here, then, are a few of my own intimate memories.
I love the summer smell of new mown grasses and the soft hissing of rotating sprinklers. It is music and it is color.
Just as good is walking in the woods to breath deeply of moldering earth and rotting logs sporting their mushrooms, inhaling a newly spawned atmosphere filled with the fresh scent of ozone following a thunderstorm.
Yucky in winter is the smell of dirty wet dog and sopping old wool mittens, carefully dried and dearly held nevertheless.
Dry bamboo thickets and their crickets smell and sound sweet like summer days of childhood. What were those daydreams, those long empty days, dreamt and now spent? Even so I am jolted back in time and place when I pass just such a thicket on a busy day in the middle of Tokyo.
These days nitrate fertilizers strewn on the croplands only simulate like empty calories that leave us hungry and wishing for good old horse manure and cow patties, so much fun to kick around like piles of autumn leaves.
Gone, it seems, are the delicate, melancholy days of raking in the autumn leaves.
Gone from my lifetime to be replaced by the noxious fumes of a screaming leaf-blower born to intentionally interrupt a melancholy reverie of a leisurely weekend. For sure, I think, this is the unwitting revenge for Hiroshima and Nagasaki!
I remember how I loved then the smells of new back-to-school shirts and shoes, notebooks, pencils and squeaking-clean hair shampooed at last after a summer of swimming at the shore, the lake, the river, the pool, the swimming hole, with hardly a bath or shower.
I love to this day to open a new book to inspire deeply of fresh paper, ink, ideas. In school, we all adored it, the young girls ooh-ing and aah-ing as they bent to inhale from the crease while the little boys cracked dirty jokes that stiffed.
Not every story need be new nor even the retelling of it. Still beloved to me are the musty old smells of my grand parents old house by the sea, with The Little Cabin in the Big Woods and Misty of Chincoteague read beneath the old pine tree, smells of seeping resin and cut hay blowing in the salty breeze.
Here, too, are the garden paths that lead down to my grandmother and her favorite flower scent, which is also a poison, Lily of the Valley. She, the quintessence of chic in her “Diorissimo” and Salvatore Ferragamos!
But damn, my anticipated pleasure of vicariously following in her fashionable footsteps is practically ruined as an experience when I dive into a new fashion magazine to choke on the dozens of cheap odors buried within its folds.
Paper is not skin! Paper is made of plant pulp, it cannot give us even an inkling of feeling how this scent would mix with one’s personal scent! Banish this practice from the presses, please, dear fashionistas! Give us instead what you used to do: those gorgeous photographs of lovely women with those beautiful bottles, pictures that left us full of temptation spurred by the aroma of the imagination.
While you’re at it, banish, too, those silly little fronds of paper the girls in department stores and at the duty-frees the world over hand out after dousing them with the latest designer editions. Are we really supposed to smell this strip to know how this it will mix with the skin’s personal chemistry?
Enough already of smelly magazines when I can remember how fabulous they smelled of glossy paper and ink!
Then there are the smells I shouldn’t particularly like, but do so love that they crowd my heart up to my throat: the great grey-painted steel hulls and bulkheads of old aircraft carriers and moth-balled ships. The USS ENTERPRISE, HMS QUEEN MARY, once so patriotically proud as mass ego-identifiers, now a painful reminder to us of all who are to us forever lost. Oh, the wars wrought by ego and still more ego! “Hang On To Your Ego.” Really? I don’t think so. The bonds of comradery ought not to be conflated with patriotism. Love the aircraft carrier, hate the bloody war.
Speaking of aircraft carriers, blood has its own particular smell. In a living man, the fresh virile scent is of salt and iron, which is also the taste of blood.
When I was a teenager, my French aunt spoke of recognizing a virgin just by the odor! She swore my own scent, too, would change with sexual experience. What a relief!
But woe to the poor boy, she told me, who dispenses with soap! He will remind us that we are, indeed, descended from a common ancestor shared with the other apes. Never should he return from the gym reeking of old perspiration, sebum and butt! Post-sport showering is de rigueur!
Worse yet is a man who layers a pheremone-based cologne on top of sweat!
Old Lime, yuck! Whoever came up with that was forgetting the rotten smell of citrus rinds in garbage. Give us instead Amber, Sage, and Sandalwood!
Good old clean soap is enough all by itself. Undesirable body odor is when the blessing of a woman’s superior olfactory sense turns into a veritable curse! It’s enough to drive us mad.
In fact, the poorly ventilated air of a submarine submerged for weeks and sometimes months may be one reason certain men, as much as women, may not be fit for that line of duty where fresh water runs so scarce.
We know that the smell of the unwashed cannot be disguised with perfume as a cover. Yet that is what people did until relatively recently! Witness the ancient Egyptians who, during the summer months that the Nile dried up, dined and danced in the heat with conical wax perfumes atop their plaited horsehair wigs, waxes meant to melt and trickle through to their shaved heads, necks and breasts, women and men alike.
Thousands of years later, the courtiers of Europe had little more than perfumed handkerchiefs and flowery nosegays to hold under their noses. Only the Age of Enlightenment would suggest that fresh air and sun on a skin washed with soap and water might be beneficial to one’s health.
Then there are the skins of animals. Visit the tanneries and dye vats of old Fez in Morocco and you will be given a sprig of mint as you enter that you may hold it under your nose.
No such luck when visiting a whale rendering factory in Iceland. You will simply be told that your brain will adapt within ten minutes to no longer find the smell unpleasant. Not that your heart will pleasantly accept the rest of the gruesome exploitation!
A visit to the abattoire is always an invitation to become vegetarian. Oh, for a future already where meat is grown in a Petri dish and lambs are for petting!
Which has brought me to circle round back to wet wool and pets and how I have completely fallen in love with the heavenly smell of my Beagle hounds! Their toes smell like Fritos and their ears feel like warm velvet, all happiness and Tibetan healing incense.
Sending you peace and love, Tina