One Thousand Scents

Friday, September 03, 2010

Learning Curve: 1980

A few days into September of 1980, I started university. i was barely seventeen and pretty definitely wasn't ready for higher education yet, but there I was anyway.

I was, on the other hand, more than ready to become an adult, so in that first year of university I made a pile of friends, tried smoking and other vices for the first time (pot, nothing too out-there), and started dressing like a grown-up, which for me meant creased trousers instead of jeans, the occasional necktie (not always tied but sometimes just looped around my neck: it was the eighties), my grandfather's battered olive-green suit jacket, which started off a bit threadbare and was a lot more so by the time I was done with it, and cologne. For reasons that are lost to the chasms of memory, I ended up buying two scents which could hardly be more different, their only connection being that they were huge and loud: Lagerfeld and Grey Flannel.

Lagerfeld, launched in 1978, is a sweet powdery oriental, mostly opoponax and amber, a real room-filler: it doesn't bolt off the skin but drifts off in heavy carpeted waves for hours and hours. It hadn't changed a bit the last time I smelled it, and I smiled fondly but put it back on the shelf--if I were smelling it for the first time I might consider it, but it has too much of a backstory. I love sweet orientals, but Lagerfeld might be too much even for me, or at least the me I am now. My adoration of Lagerfeld suggests that I have always loved oriental scents, but what was the attraction of something so strong, with such a big presence? Was I trying to become more assertive--or more interesting--without saying anything?

Grey Flannel (1976), Lagerfeld's polar opposite, is an explosive green floral, the rocket jet of late-seventies men's scents. The second it hits your skin it blasts off in a massive effusion of violets, stems, petals and leaves all together, with a fairly obvious synthetic accelerant and a snap of citrus peel. It stays very brisk and very strong for most of its life, eventually quieting down into a woody base. (The miniature that I have is at least ten years old and probably more: it smells as I remember it from the eighties. It might have been reformulated in the interim; I increasingly suspect that everything has.)

I still don't know why I bought my bottle of Grey Flannel*. I can only guess that it's because my choices were limited: it isn't anything like the sorts of scents I love nowadays and I'm pretty sure it isn't anything like what I would ordinarily have worn back then, either. I think it just smelled really adult to me, the most sophisticated of the men's scents I had available to me, and I also suspect I was seduced by that little flannel drawstring bag it was sold in, and the included sprayer (a rarity then--most every men's scents came in a pour bottle); even to this day, clever packaging can get under my skin, though not usually enough to compel me to buy. Not usually.

* Nor do I know how I came to have the miniature a couple of decades later. Did I buy it in a fit of nostalgia? Was it because it was cheap? Did someone send it to me in a swap package? Grey Flannel has the most peculiar effect on my memory.

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