One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

For Your Consideration: Chanel 28 La Pausa

There is a dilemma in writing critically about any art form, and it is this: the writer cannot simply like every incarnation and permutation of the art form (food, opera, perfumery, film, wine, clothing, whatever) that he is writing about, because that demonstrates a certain lack of discrimination, but that same discrimination means that he cannot write fairly about certain artists or forms. If you do not like Martin Margiela's clothing design, then when you write about his latest show you are probably going to be critical of it: but conversely if you love everything he's ever done, then you are not an objective observer. If you go to a certain beloved chef's restaurant and know he's working that night, you are likely to be more generous in your assessment than if it's a second-stringer working, or a chef you don't care for. Perhaps--probably, in fact--there are people, professional critics, who can be absolutely fair in their assessments, who can ignore the fact that they don't much like Don DeLillo when reviewing his latest novel, and simply judge it on its merits--but I am not one of those people.

I don't like irises. In any real quantity, they make me recoil. Therefore, I don't like perfumes based on the iris; I can't be objective about them. Whenever I end up talking about an iris-based scent, I feel as if I have to make note of this fact, in the interests of fairness.

So imagine my surprise when I tried 28 La Pausa, and then tried it again and again (because I can't properly judge something as complex as a scent by experiencing it once), and discovered that it started out with a pale silvery iris, and yet was remarkably pleasant for all that. Just now I'm wearing it, as I always am when I'm writing about a scent, and I keep drawing my hand up to my nose, not just because I have to think about the scent but because I find I want to experience it: because I'm enjoying it.

One way out of the dilemma, then, is to just keep trying things that you know you don't like, because sooner or later, it's entirely possible that one of two things will happen: either your taste will change, allowing you to appreciate what you previously despised, or someone will find a way to employ the devices of artistry to make that despised thing palatable or even beautiful. You hate twelve-tone music? Yes, but have you heard Berg's Lulu Suite?

I don't love 28 La Pausa and I certainly wouldn't wear it; it hasn't made me reconsider everything I thought I knew. But it is extremely well-made; a glowing, pearlescent iris, very light, with a little splash of citrus, a tuft of greenery, a tiny haze of warmth at the base. There's is nothing strong, overblown, or dramatic about it, no great sillage, no complex structure. It is minimalist in the best way; high-quality materials assembled to be shown off to their advantage.

As a consequence of this, the lasting power is ludicrous: two hours after you apply it, it's simply gone. Since there isn't anything heavy about it, there's nothing to tack down the airy molecules. It's almost an iris cologne, and if you decide to spring for it (currently $190), you'll be glad it comes in a 200-mL bottle, because you will be reapplying it frequently.

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