One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No Turning Back: 1984

If you knew me now you would never believe it, because I am really a very private person who doesn't drink and hardly ever goes out, but I had a lot of friends in university. I hung out with three completely separate and non-overlapping circles: my academically-minded friends from high school and other brainiac types, a batch of club kids, and, starting in my second year, the student-newspaper clique. Eventually I started going to student-journalism conferences, and somehow started a fourth circle of friends: other newspaper types elsewhere in the Atlantic provinces. Three of them remain my closest friends to this day, and a couple more of them changed my life, though they can't have known it at the time.

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A clutch of important, or at least important to me, scents were launched in 1984, but as usual they all passed me by at the time: they had to wait another year. Chanel's groundbreaking oriental Coco (now bastardized almost beyond recognition), Givenchy's majestic Ysatis, Phileas by Nina Ricci, Aramis Tuscany Per Uomo, Paloma Picasso's Mon Parfum, Ted Lapidus Creation, Parfum d'Hermes (you will be hearing a lot about that one soon), and Giorgio for Men all debuted in 1984, and I knew nothing about them.

I did, however, manage to stumble across Krizia Uomo, a scent that taught me a very important lesson: it is possible to love something wholeheartedly without being altogether sure that you even like it.

I have a bunch of vials of Krizia Uomo from about ten years ago, and it hadn't changed at all from 1984 to 2000: if you were to buy a bottle today--I haven't seen it in years, but it's still in production--there's no telling what it might smell like, but for at least sixteen years, it smelled (and this will not surprise you, since it is a quintessentially 1980s men's scent) big and loud and strong, a rackety concoction of patchouli and leather and oakmoss with a big fat opening of green herbs and crushed pine needles that was shocking in its bitterness. It was intoxicatingly and uncompromisingly cruel. I had never smelled anything remotely like it: it remained the bitterest scent I could imagine until Hermes came out with Bel Ami in 1986, and that was so extreme it took me ten years to appreciate it.

Just underneath the bitter-herb opening of Krizia Uomo is a dribble of soapy lavender, but it doesn't last long, because the scent is not interested in middle notes: after that wham-bang opening, it wants to get down to business, and that business is an aggressive leather chypre. There is a lot of patchouli in it, and it isn't the nice tidy patchouli that you find in everything nowadays: it is big and growly, and the only thing that can tame it is an even bigger dose of leather, brutish and sharp. (Unlike so many chypres, the oakmoss is a minor player: this scent is a leather chypre.)

Krizia Uomo isn't especially beautiful when you get right down to it. There are no smoothed edges, no sweetness, no wide appeal. And yet because it is so single-mindedly vicious, it is wildly attractive, like a mass murderer who gets marriage proposals in jail. I am astonished it's still in production: who can be buying it? And yet at the time I loved it and wore it constantly, and was sorry when it was gone: but by that time, I had a lot of other fragrances to distract me.

Krizia Uomo is one of very few bottles I've ever managed to empty; even at the beginning, when I had only a few bottles, I rotated them, and got a lot of samples, and within a few years my collection got so big that there was really no chance I would ever use up an entire bottle. I used up every drop of the Krizia and also Dieci because they were one-ounce bottles, and I also drained the bottle of Andron. Everything else over the years I either traded away, eventually threw out because it had turned, or still have.

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A much more important thing than any one scent happened in 1984: I moved to Halifax. On the last day of a late-season newspaper conference, I was having lunch with a couple of the journalist types--literally a couple--and they said, "You know, you're obviously a lot happier here than in St. John's, and our other roommate is moving out at the beginning of May, so how about you just move here? Seriously. Don't think about it. Just do it."

I was not the sort of person to make a decision of this magnitude lightly, or indeed any decision of any magnitude: I am one of those people who lands in a groove, or maybe a rut, and decides it's kind of nice there. But somehow this idea seemed important--vital, even--so I sold nearly everything I owned, bought a plane ticket, and landed in Halifax in May of 1984 with a few boxes of books and clothing (and a few scents), $30 in my pocket, and no job.

Two weeks later I was working at a newspaper, not spending very much money, reading a lot, hanging out with my friends, forming other circles of friends--god, I was gregarious back then!--and, unbeknownst to me, gearing up for a torrent of new scents in the years to come.

1 Comments:

  • I love "rackety concoction." Especially since I spent Saturday at the amusement park, riding old wooden roller coasters, and I know exactly what you mean by it, without ever having smelled (to my knowledge) Krizia Uomo.

    By OpenID museinwoodenshoes, at 2:57 PM  

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