One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

30 Demeters in 30 Days: Day 3, Brownie

I've said before--and it's not the most original observation in the world--that the point of fragrance is to establish a sexual persona. Your own reason for wearing a particular scent may be one of many (you like how it smells; it makes you feel confident or happy; your other half likes it on you; it was a gift), but the reason perfumery exists is to present a face to the world; it is the literal distillation of the natural world onto ourselves, with all the associations that the smells of the natural world imply. You smell like a flower, so you are beautiful and delicate; I smell like castoreum, so I am strong and animal-like. Sophisticated scents, constructions, combine many of these scent ideas into a single unit with a complex sexual message.

Part of the genius of Demeter is that many of its fragrances are divorced from this ancient idea. Their very simplicity means that they can deliver a message unshackled from any sexual overtones. If you smell like ginger ale, you can't really be said to be usurping the sexual power of the natural world, because ginger ale isn't natural; the chain of associations is broken (unless someone has a ginger-ale fetish I've never heard of before, maybe the result of a torrid affair in a bottling plant). As a result, many Demeter scents are really about pure joy--the delight of smelling something, and smelling like something, that you wouldn't expect to find in a bottle.

That's the story of Brownie, which smells exactly like its namesake. A pan of brownies bears a batch of pleasurable associations; maybe your mom made them for you as a child, maybe you make them for your own children, or just for yourself--but it's one of those things that seems pretty thoroughly divorced from sexual connotations. That makes it the archetypal Demeter scent; a thing that exists because it can.

As usual, it has no lasting power: in fifteen minutes, it's an extremely low-key smudge of chocolate, and in half an hour, it's not even recognizable as that any more, just a dark, slightly vanillic scent with the bare suggestion of the bakery to it. I don't even think of this evanescence as a negative any more; it's just the way Demeters are. If you accept that as a given, then the only thing that could make Brownie any better is if it smelled like hot brownies, fresh from the oven. That would probably be too good to stand.

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