Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Three things I learned...
...in Mr. Renkl's drawing class last Monday:
1. The universally adored Ambre Narguile smells like flea shampoo. That was the considered opinion of one of the students, and since his judgment was not influenced by any pre-established position on Hermes, JCE or the perfumista herd, I have no reason to doubt him.
2. It is fun to talk about perfume with people who are indifferent to the stuff. Of course, we all know what it's like to talk about fragrance with fellow addicts. (How do we find time for anything else?) Sadly, a lot of us also know what it's like to talk to people who think the whole business is self-indulgent, idiotic, bad for your health, etc. It was a refreshing change to chat about perfume with people for whom it’s just an engaging novelty. The inner workings of fragrance were pretty much new to all the students, though quite a few had seen Perfume and gathered some basics from it. I brought along some classic ingredients, like frankincense and myrrh, and they seemed to get a kick out of smelling them for the first time.
I expected to feel like one of those mildly pitiful eccentrics who collects porcelain spittoons or something, but if they pitied me, they didn't show it. They were just friendly and curious, and maybe a little baffled about how they were supposed to turn all the sniffing and talk of smells into an art project. I kinda wonder about that myself, but fortunately that's not my problem. I gave every student samples of 2 different perfumes, with no duplicates among them, which they're supposed to work with on their own. I'm curious to see what they come up with.
3. The ability to discern the qualities of a scent and "translate" it into other sensory realms is something most people possess. It's not a skill that's learned, and it's not peculiar to the perfume-loving minority. I had the class try to match unlabeled scent strips with the visual images of my One Sentence Reviews, and they did very well. I think they might have done even better if they'd been able to put the perfumes on their skin and experience the process of the dry down.
I also had them try to guess the colors for some of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's color-inspired fragrances, and they were quite good at that, too. They really nailed Quinacridone Violet. Everybody said it was either pink or purple--and of course, quinacridone violet is both. I suppose that's mostly a tribute to DSH's talents, but it's still remarkable to me that they got it so precisely. It was a nice reminder that our little addiction arises from something primal in the human brain. Smell really does bring the imagination to life, even if its expression is sometimes distorted by marketing and fashion.
A Young Scholar, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1775-78.