The Scent of a Man

ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

- Of memory, madness and Amouage Memoir Man

Nothing fires up our emotions or long-buried memories quite so well as a scent. It need not even be a perfume, although I’ve come to find more often than not that perfumes obviously have a special place in my heart precisely for that instant superhighway from nose to emotion and a whole slew of associations, images, and long-buried film reels of memory and feeling rush out to greet me.

Any man or woman, but maybe perfumistas in particular, will tell you… Clothes, demeanor, appearance, personal charm – all of these are fine and good, but really, those sparks and stomach butterflies and twinges in our hearts begin with our noses.

For all our sophistication, excuses and pretenses, that much of the primeval, atavistic animal remains.

I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, but I suspect that idea might have been bubbling away at the back of my mind that November night I wrote the short story that became ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’, which led to a book, which led to… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the course of my nearly three years as a perfume writer and over three hundred reviews, a select few are tattooed upon my soul in indelible, never-fading ink, often becoming so much a part of what defines me or my memory, it’s impossible to say where I end or the perfume begins.

When I’m confronted with this or that new perfume for review purposes, I myself often have startling reactions to the perfume I’m sampling. The best ones often involve a streak of spicy (and unrepeatable) language, or even inarticulate sounds that also can’t be repeated, which is no way to write about perfume.

Great art, so it’s said, has to be felt. This certainly applies to one in particular, which gave me such a violent reaction the first time I tried it I didn’t know where to begin or what to do.

Violent not for being bad, but for unleashing a whole blockbuster movie contained within that sample vial, one recurring, intertwined silken thread in my own life that runs silver and black, unbroken for over thirty years. For the longest time, it was padlocked and chained away in a secret vault in my mind until that afternoon just over two years ago when a spray and a sniff blew the padlock and chains to smithereens and out came… a story.

The perfume was Amouage’s Memoir Man. The story was inspired by that other story, that one real life tale of heaven and heartbreak, secrets and sighs called… The One.

Every woman has one. The one who got away, the one who lingers on, the one you try not to think too hard about. It’s over. It’s done. You know you will never again burn so hot nor feel so much, you know how that story ends (more heartbreak), you’re all grown up now, you’re over it, such madness, such magic can never happen again.

Yet if you’re a writer, it can and it will. It comes out in unexpected ways, provoked by who knows what hidden muses laboring away in the dark – by a perfume, or by the way that perfume accentuates and underlines that story and the man who inspired it. He was and still is the only one I’ve personally known who it defines and explains so beautifully.

I will go to my grave stating that no matter what they say to the contrary on all the perfume fora and discussion groups on Facebook, when it comes to bottling up the Guy Thing in terms of high romance, cinematic scope, style and personal statement, no one does it like Amouage. No other line’s masculine-slanted fragrances slay me or my ragged, battered, bruised and disillusioned heart to quite the same degree so consistently, and for over two years, I’ve wondered, as I often do… why?

It took serendipity to figure that out, or was it something even more portentous? Call it fate…

Because last week, while bobbing along on a summery tide of Business As Usual, bubbling with plans and dreams and things to do and perfectly serene, someone had the idea to track me down.

That one. The one who got away. Someone I’ve known for well over thirty years and seen in many moods and several disguises, the one who inspired a fair-sized portion of the Devil’s personality as he is portrayed in my novel Quantum Demonology.

Call him the Memoir Man. Or L’Homme Fatal.

Throughout those thirty-plus years, we were friends, both part of a tight-knit gang who had known each other through high school and far beyond. Until that fatal party thirty years ago that made us both take a good, hard look at each other, and in an instant, all our past lives and all our shared history of friendship was scorched away by something much more dangerous.

There was no turning back after that.

Since then, many other people wandered in and out of our separate lives. Ex-wives, an ex-husband, girlfriends and boyfriends, all the detritus we humans tend to accumulate as we proceed through our lives, and yet… chance encounters just kept happening. Unlooked for meetings on the street. Catching up. We began again because we couldn’t not. We ended. And began other ends, other chances to break each other’s hearts in ways no one else could ever manage.

Our last meeting thirteen years ago was high drama and super-heated words, and as he drove away, I was so glad I’d never, ever see him again.

I would be sane, I would be sensible, I would be cured and inured and inoculated forever more. If it killed me never again to burn so hot, never again to feel so much.

I would. Damn it.

Meanwhile, a writer was born, and as writers will come to know, no experience is ever wasted. Somehow, slivers of that old, repeating story would insinuate themselves into my writing of novels and stories and even a perfume review that came unlooked for as an old, dusty padlock blew up… with a perfume. That padlock came back on after my review, locked a little tighter and with thicker chains this time around.

Yet I swore a secret oath to myself, for reasons I could never articulate, if I ever met anyone again, he would be doomed to wear (among a few others)… Memoir Man.

So it was, until last week. I was a (little too) grown-up now, I was inoculated, I was sane and serieuse and a sensational writer (at least in my own mind). I certainly wasn’t that white-hot fury of thirteen years ago.

When I received that message, I wondered how to respond. As I walked to meet him again after all this time, (don’t ask) I wondered how much havoc was wrought with both of us in thirteen years. I wondered about that inoculation. Wrapped up my heart airtight with metaphorical Kevlar before I left, just in case. I wore an Amouage. (Fate!)

Everything had changed. Some things never did. We would be sane, we would be grown-ups, we would be sensible if it killed us.

We would. Damn it.

Last night, I suddenly bounced around the room and began to upend my perfume cabinet, looking for That One to remind me. My little sample vial of Memoir Man.

Because to me, that was – and is – the scent of a man.

The Memoir Man.

Image: Robert Mapplethorpe

With thanks to Christopher Chong, who knows a thing or two about getting a girl in trouble…

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Save the Genie! Find out more here.

Fortune’s Gates

fortuneteller2a

- Part Two of a story and a review of Amouage Fate Man

It isn’t every day an adventurer such as you has the courage to enter through Fortune’s gates, to have all the questions answered that so enflame your soul, seeking you to wander ever onward, ever forward, ever eyeing the horizon and the stories you may find there.

Did you not know that elusive far horizon moves with you as you whirl headlong through your life? Did you know that sometimes, the answers you seek are found not by moving forward, but by standing still?

Are you prepared for the secrets I shall see for you? Or shall it be you found me by a happy accident, around a corner, through an ordinary-seeming gate, to seek the answers to the questions you were unaware you wished to know?

You walked through the gates and found me waiting, thinking you were searching for me, but in fact, it was I who searched for you.

Sit, and I shall tell you of momentous things and all your incendiary dreams, all that urge you on to set your world alight, tell you all your restless heart will want to know.

What perfume shall be for such a one as you with such wings on your feet and such a fire in your soul? Indeed a perfume, for you are no ordinary mortal and I am no mortal fortune teller cloaked in faux mystique and superstition.

These are Fortune’s Gates, which only the brave ever find and none ever dare to seek, and this is where you perch on the verge between your old tales and your new hopes, this is where all your arcane secrets waft towards that far horizon that so eludes you. Like all secrets and many, many stories, this is a costly tale of uncertainties you have left behind, and all the hopes you have come to find, even as you fear them and even as you dream them into being.

Breathe them in. What do you sense in this fragrant cloud, do you see it reflected in my crystal ball?

Breathe in all your fiery hopes, inhale all its colors and its dreams. Can you sense that sunshine saffron burn, does that feisty, fruity kick of ginger lift you upward, even as an earthy whisper of cumin pulls you to the ground?

So much richness to your tale, so many secrets breathed into all the wormwood heartbeats… to go, to stay, to inspire, to wish, to instigate, to choose your path and unchoose other impossible mirages you must leave behind as you move ever forward, ever on.

To go, to do, to begin again, to start from nowhere and nothing known – that is what this scented song tells you must be left behind, if you ever want to find your far horizon.

Ah! That touched you, I can tell from the way you shift on your chair and your eyes slide to the door and your chin sets its hard and stubborn line. No one tells you where to go or what you can or cannot do?

If you truly had no wish to know what song you need to breathe or what answers you need to find, you never would have found Fortune’s Gates.

Sit still. Breathe it in and be inspired by the destiny you have come to claim. Did you ever suspect it would be so opulent or so deep? That rosy-tinted frankincense pulse that lies beneath and plays such an enticing calliope tune… this is where your game changes, this is where your time will stop an instant or two, this is where your new life begins and all your  old will fall away behind.

Crawl aboard that carrousel, do you see that gilded column of immortelle with all its sweet fragrant phantasms painted? This is what lies just beyond and straight ahead, not the clear cut answers you thought you sought, but the ever shifting, ever swirling dreams you have always denied, this the secret you never told.

The world was never meant to know you dream in such vivid colors, or scents exuded quite so sweetly.

This is the secret I tell you now – you will always paint another dream another day, always shift and change and gild it as it suits your purpose – a little more, a little less, a lavender and a labdanum shading to make it all seem more real and less a dream, but this carrousel never stops, not even for an adventurer like you, but then, there are none quite like you, yes?

It simply spins out your dreams into the ether and on to the world, out to where even your hungry soul stands still enough to build them up and make them real.

That hit you hard, I can see. Watch them as they spin out all your midnight fears, listen as they tell you as even I shall tell you that most arcane secret of all.

Nothing is predetermined, nothing is ordained just so, nothing is certain but this:

Your destiny is not a creature you can keep in a cage and feed with your dreams, your hopes and all the longing that hungry heart of yours can bear.

You shall find it and embrace it only if you set it free, only if you dare to paint it bolder still in darker hues and wrap your fragmented self in all its twilit notes, the sighs of sandalwood and cedar, the basso hum of labdanum and musk, the dulcet harmonies of tonka and licorice that urge you ever on.

Dare to believe in those calliope visions you paint so real, dare to hope for those twilit notes, stand up and face what you have never quite had the courage to face before.

Go back into the world now, go to find that far horizon that has haunted all your dreams, turn to the setting sun, breathe in all your secrets and all the courage you somehow doubt you have.

You have breathed in all your portent here. You have learned as it unfolded in your soul and on your skin, you have read its enigma as it breathed you back to the life that awaits you, a life unlike any you have known or any you can anticipate.

It is time to claim your fate.

amouagefate

Notes: Saffron, artemisia, ginger, cumin, mandarin, rose, frankincense, lavandin, immortelle, labdanum, copaiba balsam, tonka bean, labdanum, cedar, sandalwood, musk, licorice

Amouage Fate Man was created by Karine Vinchon – Spehner in collaboration with Creative Director Christopher Chong. It is available directly from Amouage boutiques worldwide now, and in the US in October 2013.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Amouage. With thanks to the Very August Personage.

Images: Amouage Fate presentation courtesy of Amouage. Used by permission. Fortune teller via Dorothea’s Closet Vintage, original hamsa via deviantart, Wheel of Fortune Tarot card via Polyvore, Photoshop reprographics, editing and compositing, my own.

Anodynes

-     a review – and a story – of Amouage Interlude Man/Woman

Like so much else in his frenetic life, what he was doing now was absolute madness, rushing like the White Rabbit down West 14th Street so he wouldn’t be late, late, late for this very important date, wouldn’t miss this for anything on Earth, this seeming mundane insomniac four A.M meeting in a donut shop of all places because it was the last place anyone would think to look for either of them in this nowhere hour, too early to be morning and too late to be night.

She was too careful to leave much to chance, too cautious not to cover her tracks and leave back doors open for a speedy exit. Like any woman worth knowing, she had many secrets and kept them well.

One reason he was running down the street at this insane hour was simply because she knew all of his, too.

They had known each other since the days before everything happened, before they became what they were now, before the rest of the world demanded all of both of them with a fifty percent tax on top. Before life became so frantic with all the things they had to do to stay where they wanted to be and needed to do. Ever since, he had a deal with her – to meet once a year, no matter what happened or where in the world they were, in a location they both agreed upon at the meeting before.

He felt guilty that until forty-odd hours before in Hong Kong, he had forgotten all about it, so guilty he bought her an expensive present he thought she might appreciate. It was with him now with the companion he bought for himself in the hope it would remind him of her and of all this secret history that made him rush breathless into a donut shop at four in the morning to be greeted with the welcome, warm surprise of hyper-fragrant empty calories.

She sat at the last stool towards the back with a huge cup of Starbucks and an apple fritter she had yet to touch. She looked much as she always did at four A.M., with her hair up under a sixpence pulled down over her face and no makeup, her leather jacket making her look much younger than he knew she was.

“I nearly didn’t make it,” he said when he sat down next to her. “I was in Hong King when I got your message.”

“For shame. What do you do, put me up on the lost and found shelf the other three hundred sixty-four days of the year?” She mock-punched him in the shoulder.

“No. I just try not to cross the days off in the calendar until the next time. What on Earth were you thinking – to meet up at this hour?”

She laughed. “I had a deadline. This was one way I knew I could make it on time. I told myself yesterday I couldn’t get out of the chair until I finished, so I could meet you with a clear conscience.”

“Did it work?”

“Actually, it did. Otherwise I would have had to cancel, and that wouldn’t do.” She shrugged. “Life is crazy enough, don’t you think?”

“I know it is. You should have seen me have hysterics at the ticket counter in Hong Kong. I had to be on that plane.”

“I’m so glad. Where are you even these days?”

“Everywhere. Singapore. Paris. Los Angeles. Buenos Aires. Hong Kong. Shanghai. London. I go where they send me, and try not to complain about it.”

“Poor you. Doesn’t it get old, living out of a suitcase?”

“Of course it does. I heard that you moved, by the way.”

“I did.” She sipped her coffee. “I either bought real estate or I paid way more taxes. So…Manhattan. Just to make my life a little more frantic than it already is. ”

“Meeting an old friend at four A.M isn’t frantic? It’s almost enough to make me wish I drank.” That made her laugh, just as he knew it would. “That reminds me. I brought you a present.”

“Ah. You shouldn’t have.” Beneath the brim of her cap her grin spread from one ear to the other.

“I know. I did it anyway. I think it reminded me of you.” He put the glossy bag on the counter, and immediately, she pulled out the gift-wrapped box.

“Oooooh,” she cooed. “Perfume. Very, very expensive perfume. You realize this has all sorts of loaded significance, don’t you?” She opened the box, and although it was almost too quick for him to catch it, he saw the surprise write itself on her face, saw her face light up as her smile changed. “My favorite shade of blue.” She snuck a furtive look at the waiter behind the counter at the other end, and as he looked away, she removed the cap and sprayed her wrist underneath the counter. “Hello!” she exclaimed when she sniffed her wrist. “This is an entire novel in a bottle, you know that.”

“Of course I do. Perfect for a novelist!”

“That sounds so much more distinguished than mere ‘writer’. Hmm. It’s green, it’s bright, it’s spicy, it’s… a breath of fresh air in a window I fling open after working all night. When I look to see the sun is coming up outside my windows.”

He reached for her apple fritter and bit into it. “You mean, that moment when you stop whatever it is you’re doing and realize that for just a few seconds, it seems as if the world has stopped too, ” he mumbled around a mouthful of pastry.

“Yes. Like that. Oh! Wake up and smell the coffee, baby! Is that coffee?” She laughed again, and watching her evident, child-like pleasure was almost worth the panic attacks he just sidestepped to get there on time. “Fruity coffee!”

“You tell me. You used to write about perfume.” This was one hell of an apple fritter.

“Another life ago. Is that what you’re asking? You want the perfume writer’s scoop on your present? ”

“I guess I’m asking what you think, or if you’ll wear it, or…you know. I’m not usually in the habit of buying you perfume.”

She sniffed her wrist again. “Next time, I’ll just call you up at four A.M. and ask what you’re wearing.”

“The Wall Street Journal. Reading glasses. So not sexy. Or…” he suddenly remembered. “The counterpart to what I just gave you.”

She leaned closer right by his neck and breathed him in. “That’s outrageous. I do mean outrageous. Allspice with a green bite underneath it, and…oh! Leather! Sweet, luscious, supple, silky leather and am I getting…what is that? Tarmac? Rubber? Not just any rubber, and nothing in the slightest bit bad, but much more than a little…dangerous. Yes. Dangerous! That’s it! You’re the gazillionaire bad boy my mother warned me about. The guy who lights fires in hapless lovelies on five continents and always leaves in the morning. His secretary has been instructed to send roses. Not that it helps.”

He had to laugh. “I’m nothing like that. And you don’t like gazillionaires anyway.”

“True. ” She sniffed her wrist again. “But I love this. Why they always say a perfume has evolution, I don’t know. This is more of a revolution…it goes up and down and all around a thick, floral heart, like a spiral spinning around all the many contradictions that define it. It’s really busy in a very intricately crafted way. Frankincense that should be written out in capital letters, but no frankincense is ever so glorious as this…this is…the apotheosis of all the word and the material implies. Ah. But wait! There’s more!” She laughed again. “A novel in a bottle! We’re getting to that inevitable point of no return. There will be no happily ever after.”

“For four thirty in the morning I’m hugely impressed.” He was, too. No amount of money could have bought him a conversation like this one. Too bad he could only have it once a year.

“Hush.” She leaned in on him again and breathed in. “Smooth, but just… rough enough to make it interesting. A girl always likes a little bit of…rough.” As she said that last, her voice dropped to a smoky, sultry alto that gave one simple word a universe of meaning the scent he wore seemed to embroider upon, sparks and glints of heat, of firelight and wisps of rising, fragrant smoke from a roaring bonfire of exotic woods that only grew where dragons lived to guard the trees.

It was jetlag. It had to be. Or else it was these two infernally great perfumes. Worth every yuan he paid for them just to hear her say ‘rough’ like that.

“I don’t have enough time for bonfires,” he heard himself saying.

“I know. I don’t, either.” In the space of a heartbeat, her regret played across her face like a piano note and was just as quickly gone, but he caught it in the way she shifted on her chair and slightly away from him, as if wrapping herself just a little tighter and smaller. A piano note with the damper pedal down.

“So why do we meet like this once a year?” He found himself wanting to distract her from that hint of blue he saw in her eyes, illuminated by the light bouncing off the display case of cookies in front of her.

She blinked, turned back towards him again and lifted one eyebrow. “You mean you don’t know?”

“You’re the novelist,” he shot back. “You tell me!”

“Well, to remind each other that it’s the world that’s crazy, but you and I aren’t. You’re my anodyne, and I’m yours. Everything and everyone coming at us from all directions, constant streams of information, stress, noise and clutter and all that messes with our minds.” Again, he saw that lightning flash of regret that blazed over her face before it vanished.

“That there’s…” she went on after a while and a sip of her coffee, “these rare instances every blue moon, where everything just…stops, and you stop with it. When you breathe in, and you are all of a piece, you’re whole and entire and an entire, complex universe in one fleeting, shining instant. You don’t have to do, you don’t have to go, you just have to be. Like now.”

She replaced the blue bottle in its box, put it back in the bag and sniffed her wrist again.

“How do you know I’m not crazy?” He had to ask. Sometimes, he wanted to be just a little crazy.

“Because you brought me serenity…in a beautiful blue perfume bottle! And you wore your own to see me. That tells me everything I need to know.” She had a mischievous glint in her eyes, one he hadn’t seen in a long time.

“Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

But when he returned to the counter, she was gone, with only a trace of that magnificent, ambery, opulent trail behind in the sugar-scented donut shop. There was a card on the barstool.

On the front was her name, her new address, her email and phone number. And on the back, a quote from a poem.

The soul selects her own society

Then shuts the door

On her divine majority –

Obtrude no more.

Below, she had written “Hong Kong. Make the time for a bonfire. Oh. Yes. You’re going to need two more bottles of this.”

Which was when he realized that she had taken not just the bottle he had brought for her, but his own too, still in the Tsum department store bag.

He laughed, laughed so loudly, the waiter at the other end of the counter came over to ask if everything was OK.

Oh, yes. It was just about perfect. As perfect an anodyne – or an interlude – as anyone could ask for.

Image of Interlude Man & Interlude Woman: Amouage

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Notes for Interlude Woman (Perfumer Karine Vinchon-Spehner): Bergamot, grapefruit, ginger, marigold, kiwi, frankincense, rose, coffee, orange blossom, helichrysum, jasmine, opoponax, vanilla, benzoin, amber, sandalwood, oud, oakmoss, leather, tonka bean, animalic notes, musk

Notes for Interlude Man (Perfumer Pierre Negrin): Bergamot, oregano, pimento berry oil, amber, frankincense, cistus, opoponax, leather, agarwood smoke, patchouli, sandalwood

Amouage Interlude is available directly from the Amouage website and Amouage boutiques. It will be available at First in Fragrance from September 24th, and elsewhere Amouage is sold.

Disclosure: Samples were provided for review by Amouage

With thanks to the usual suspect and Emily Dickinson, too.