The Mutual Appreciation Society

marilynairkiss

 - without you, I’m nothing!

When I began my descent into the fragrant maelstrom that is perfume blogging almost three years ago, I likely had a good general knowledge of my subject matter – perfume – but not one clue as to what my love of that ephemeral art might come to signify. My main concern was really my only reason to begin – to become a better writer, on the premise that if you can write about perfume, you can write about anything.

But that airhead decision, born one summer night after the third glass of wine and pleasantly fuzzy White Zinfandel-tinted thoughts, would have consequences far above and way beyond anything I could possibly have imagined in even my wildest dreams.

In the perfumes I have come to love and adore – some of them many light years removed from my previous fragrant inclinations. In the knowledge I’ve acquired – about their making, their marketing, the machinations and mayhem of Planet Perfume. In the future I’ve come to envision (and create) for myself. In the writing I’ve done since then – if all my sometimes verbose reviews were put together end to end, you would have about five paperback novels worth of material.

But above all other considerations in the people I’ve come to know.

Some of my dearest, most precious friends have come through perfume and remained for reasons which have nothing to do with the juice and everything to do with common ground elsewhere. Phone conversations, Skype conversations, emails and PMs and DMs and onward – all of these fellow perfumoholics have somehow come into my life as invaluable additions to an otherwise fairly solitary existence and to such a degree I really don’t know how I could live without them.

Without the astonishing generosity of the international perfume community, the many connections I’ve made and the friendships I’ve forged in the process, this blog  – and indeed this writer! – would never, ever have been possible.

So when my laptop Cassius Dio exhibited signs of encroaching Elzheimer’s, I did what any social media-savvy, destitute writer would do. I created an Indiegogo campaign to see if I could raise the funds to acquire another and later model, one that might conjure even greater chances and opportunities and possibilities for a future once so far-fetched I didn’t even dare to dream about it.

As of today, the campaign runs for another twenty-six days. As of today, I’m over halfway to my goal. I arranged to have the campaign run as fixed funding, meaning if I don’t reach my goal and you have contributed, your pledge will be returned to you, since that seemed only fair. I’m emphatically not out to fleece people or to abuse such declarations of faith and trust. In the event I don’t, I’m enough of an optimist to believe that miracles can happen, and usually when we least expect them.

To say I am grateful, floored, flattered and completely humbled by that response is the Understatement of the Century.

Really, those two small yet all-important words ‘thank’ and ‘you’ aren’t nearly epic enough for my tastes.

I’m not about to embarrass anyone by pointing out to my contributors. You know who you are. You are my friends, my comrades in sillage, my daily inspirations, aspirations and confidantes. You enrich and elevate my earthly existence daily.

You more than anyone at all have made everything worthwhile in my life not just possible, but probable.

I really am about to set the world on fire, which is all I can say for now, but trust me – it’s all good!

But without you, without your input, your comments, your encouragement and your faith in one lowly, destitute perfume writer in her garret, it would have never happened at all.

If all goes well, I’ll do my utmost to live up to that declaration of faith – to challenge myself as a writer and a perfumista, to up the ante in terms of perfume writing, to do everything I humanly can to contribute any way I can to…

The Mutual Appreciation Society. I’ll blow you a fragrant kiss and last, but never, ever, ever least…

Thank YOU.  

____________________________

More on the Save The Genie campaign here.

SotSolipsism

conversation

- SotDs, sensibilities and virtual soapboxes

That ‘life’ – even the virtual ‘lives’ we lead online, can prove stranger than anything an aspiring fiction writer can cook up, was brought home yesterday evening, when I had my own daily dose of an oversized WTF moment.

Another perfume blogger posted a polemic/satirical rant about the proliferation of what he saw as utterly pointless SotD (Scent of the Day) posts and tweets on Facebook perfume groups and Twitter feeds. To this gentleman, such posts/tweets were not only deathly uninteresting in and of themselves, he frankly didn’t give a flying what anyone else was wearing. He saw these posts – often accompanied by links to a Fragrantica page on said SotD, or an image found elsewhere – as nothing more nor less than desperate cries for attention happily perpetuated by other members, who could then ‘like’ the post, start engaging the poster, and then start – or not – a conversation about it.

Dear readers, the horror! The very idea!

I would have liked nothing more than to link to the blog post in question, but alas, the blogger then proceeded to effectively shoot himself in his metaphorical mouth by deleting the post. I’ll be getting back to that.

The ensuing debate that raged across two Facebook perfume communities (and probably elsewhere) I know of is still ongoing as I type.

What really rallied my inner Doña Quixota was not just the blithe obliviousness to the role of engagement in social media (which is quite heinous enough) but a total and what I thought an arrogant disregard for one of the founding principles in human interaction.

If you don’t want a conversation, don’t start talking!

Unless, of course, you’re trying to convince yourself of the validity of your own opinions, in which case – go for it! I explain my interpretations of Schopenhauer to my cats several times a day, and so far, they still disagree, unappreciative wretches that they are.

Once upon a time – and it was only last summer – I posted two heavily shared posts on the role of social media on Planet Perfume. It explained something about how we’re conversing or communicating our shared passion for The Ephemeral Art, how those conversations are evolving between the customers of perfumers and houses, and how, if you think about it, we’re very poorly equipped as a species to even have these conversations to begin with, dealing as they do with an art form that bypasses all our neocortical verbal abilities and heads like a Cruise missile straight for our amygdalas which hold our non-verbal, most emotional memories.

This is why – bear with a little arrogance on my part here – not everyone who buys perfume and/or is an active member of a fragrance community/group is a perfume blogger.

It’s bloody hard to write about.

If you could see yours truly mid-review, you’d see a barefaced, disheveled slob in leopard print PJs wearing a cloud of said review, sniffing a wrist and/or a strip of Arches watercolor paper, pacing back and forth between the teapot and the laptop, thumbing a thesaurus, chewing on pencils, blasting (and singing along with) vintage punk records and suspect over the hill metal baritones while muttering sotto voce, tearing at hair, pulling faces and displaying an impressive command of blatantly offensive swear words in several languages. All of it performed in front of the most terrifying space of all – a blank Word page. Now you know!

The Rule of Engagement

In social media, there is a term called the rule of engagement. It boils down to something like this:

If a given online community is set to a value of 100%, then 90% of it will enjoy the show, so to say, but only rarely be driven to participate. Ten percent of them will engage – that is to say, participate in any ongoing conversation, comment on a blog or put up a Facebook status, respond to a tweet and so forth. One percent of that total – this holds true everywhere – will quite independently of everyone else feel compelled to create original content for whatever reasons and always or frequently participate in one form or another.

I see this again and again – on Facebook, on Twitter, the very comments I’m privileged to receive and conversations I initiate on this blog by readers I feel privileged to write for, concerning an art form we all feel so passionate about. And if all you as a reader and perfume aficionado are capable of contributing is your SotD with a Fragrantica link, then that’s perfectly acceptable to me. Trust me, I have more than enough words and opinions for at least five thousand people.

The Facebook Freakfumista Show

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, whether we choose to participate or not, Facebook and social media are revolutionizing our very lives and the way we interact with each other every day.

Why?

Because all of them give us a unique and unprecedented opportunity to reinvent and redefine ourselves every single day – and every single moment, if we choose. Whether we post LOLcats, memes, links or simply what we had for dinner, we’re all of us reinventing our own lives and how we choose to represent them – every day.

Not only that – we’re driven by nothing more nor less than our need for being acknowledged, being seen, being told – in an increasingly fragmented, crowded, anonymous life – that we as individuals have some validation in the footprints we leave on the planet.

Personally, I will go to my grave stating that perfume – that ridiculous, expensive, aspirational, superfluous art – has made everything in my life possible.

I became a perfume blogger for one reason – to become a better writer, since that’s my bottom line in self definition. I exceeded beyond my wildest expectations.

As I evolved from those distant beginnings not even three years ago, I also joined perfume groups on Facebook, was invited to join in those online conversations, became known and accepted into that elite one percent. I observed what people were talking about and how they talked, commented on SotD posts, was pointed in several directions I’ve never known otherwise. I posted my own navel-gazing SotD posts, and sometimes, sparked conversations as I did. They were – and still are – a revelation.

While I may be a resident freakfumista and post-punk midlife misanthrope in my own all-too-real life, to find a kind of community and acceptance in the online world of social media has changed my life forever – for real. I have one real life true-blue friend in my immediate vicinity and a sister in faraway Copenhagen. That’s all, two argumentative Schrödinger cats notwithstanding.

But I also have standing invitations, true-blue and exceedingly real friendships and instant community – and another kind of family? – on three continents, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and those endlessly boring, irrelevant SotD posts.

I’ve learned details about lives and personalities I would otherwise never know from finding out what people choose to waft, wear and adore. I’ve shared in their lives, their loves, their woes and their joys, celebrated their successes and cheered them up when they were down. I’ve met people, found readers, I’ve connected, I’ve had long, involved Skype conversations. I’ve fallen in love and certainly laughter with not a few of them in a way that feels less like fake, superficial acquaintances and more like family in the best sense of the word, and to a writer in BFE nowhere who has not much at all, that has meant and still means more than you know.

So those silly, volatile, vociferous Facebook groups and Twitter conversations – the endless revolving virtual happy hour across time zones of SotDs and discussion and dissent, where fellow freakfumistas just like me argue, laugh, post bad jokes and share ourselves, our lives and our preoccupations are far more important than they appear on the surface. For one thing, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in your obsession and have a place to share it.

For another, you may have far more in common with your fellow freakfumistas than just perfume, and isn’t common ground where all true friendships often begin in real life?

The Towering Ivory Soapbox

Any kind of creative expression – regardless of the medium you choose – is in itself a kind of narcissism – or solipsism. If it’s just an exercise in preventing your head from exploding, you might choose to stick with the decidedly old-school method of a pen and a notebook. Alas and alack, so very many of us don’t stop there. We begin to believe our own brand of blarney. We begin to think we have an opinion and what-the-hey, why not commit that ultimate exercise in vanity…put it out there?

Publish a blog post, put the link up on Facebook and elsewhere, tweet it and tell the world, tell the world that you exist?

It’s a free world, we have freedom of speech and freedom of opinion, and the online world has plenty of room enough for everyone. Say whatever you please. Stand by what you say.

So long as you’re aware that nothing – not even in the blogosphere – exists in a vacuum, and whatever you do say can and often does find a level – or an audience. You may get a reaction to your words and your opinions, if not always the reaction you would choose. But blogging is itself a social medium, and by choosing to blog, you are also opening yourself up to criticism, dissent and discussion. How you decide to deal with it says very much about the courage of your convictions and very much more about your social media credibility.

I think it’s a crying shame that particular blogger deleted the post – as if he didn’t get the reaction he was hoping for, so he then chose to erase it. I would have respected it very much more if he hadn’t, and had the determination to stand by what he wrote.

Dissent, discussion and even the occasional satire is a many-splendored thing. All too often though, it backfires on the writer. Not because of the mode of expression he chose, but because the writer didn’t have the necessary writing skills to make his intentions crystal clear – or perhaps the motivation or resolve to explain them properly, and if that’s true, then he might have chosen a better angle for a better reception.

Yet, there it is. We live in a social world. We redefine ourselves within that context every single day of our lives, with LOLcats, memes, links, tweets and status updates and SotDs.

Some of us haul out the virtual soapbox and preach to an unseen choir, but in a social world, it isn’t up to us to decide what happens once we do, or even if we might topple from our ivory soapbox towers.

Only that our SotSolipsism might have consequences we could never have foreseen.

Image: via The Globe And Mail

The Best of 2012 – Phrases, Friends and Facilitators

christian5crown

(Note: The following information may be disturbing to some readers)

True Confessions: I don’t consider myself a perfume blogger. While I have nothing but the utmost respect for those who are, I’ll tell you straight away that the idea of me being a pefume blogger makes me break out in hives. Why?

Because I’m not a blogger at all.

I am – for better and (likely) for worse – a writer. I’m currently working on a revamp of Quantum Demonology and a translation into Danish for publication. (Otherwise, my sister will kill me if I don’t!) I sometimes still write about whatever grabs my feminist goat hairs on The Termagant Tarleisio. At the back of my mind and in yet another notebook, a QD sequel is bubbling away. So is a story I began because of perfume, the ‘sequel’ of Théophile Gautier’s ‘Clarimonde’ I began when I reviewed House of Cherry Bomb’s ‘Immortal Mine’ for the Clarimonde Project. Instead of celebrating Christmas, I applied myself to submitting a story to an online erotica publisher (who has published me before) as a warm-up exercise for an erotica novel a fellow perfume writer dared me to write after I bellyached loudly over the pathetic ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’, which at this point is in sections, research and sketches in longhand in a notebook. Let’s just say it won’t be for the faint of heart…

Oh. Yes. I also have a quite a few friends who are sweet enough to say… “You should really write a book about perfume…”

Last, but not least, I also…write about perfume. I began back in the day with the absurd idea that I could do that, too – so I thought. Yet even as I thought I reviewed as straightforwardly as I could, I came to discover that the writer overruled the perfume blogger and sometimes, the perfumoholic, too! Maybe that was a good thing?

I dare say it was, for I have received far and away more enthusiasm and encouragement for my perfume writing than anything else I’ve ever written, and at this point in time, I have more followers, more hits (and more notoriety!) than ever before.

Thank you.

But the very idea of just writing reviews also makes me break out in hives. For one, I would be bored out of my mind when so many other aspects of Planet Perfume are so fascinating. For another, words  - even fragrant words – have power. Since the advent of social media, more power than I ever anticipated when I thought out loud this summer on TAG about Planet Perfume, social media and other things worth mulling over since completing vocational training in social media marketing this past spring. I never expected the eminent Andy Tauer would pick it up, but he did. Of all I’ve written on TAG this past year, the two posts I wrote on the topic (here’s the other one) were the most read/shared/retweeted of all. They even prompted further discussion elsewhere in 2012, and I feel a bit guilty that Andy Tauer – one of my own Primeval Forces of Perfume – was one perfumer I didn’t have a chance to review nearly enough. Dear, darling  Andy – we should certainly remedy that in 2013…;-)

2012 was a year that threw my offline life in a bit of a tailspin, and since the beginning of October that tailspin meant that I couldn’t review at all. All the same, it did make it possible for me to rant/vent/think out loud on other aspects of my fragrant life, and now that I’m back in full-on writing mode, I have the backlog from Hades…

Ask any writer – whatever avoidance actions they can take to avoid nailing their posteriors to a chair and letting rip are always justified. We have to do our ‘cat-chasing-its-tail’ routine before facing the inevitable terror of the empty page. This year, I came to discover something truly great– as even the media did elsewhere. More men are writing/blogging/vlogging/thinking about/buying perfume than ever before. Suddenly, it’s dead hip to take an interest in or find a passion for the good stuff, and I’m thrilled to find several other new bloggers whose perspectives I’ve come to appreciate.

I’m very proud to celebrate a friend and fellow blogger who published a very well-received perfume book this year. Kudos and congratulations to Persolaise for the publication of Le Snob: Perfume. I always suspected you’d be trouble! Now, I have proof! ;-)

A few new friends and favorites have also snuck upon me unawares, or should I say, found me when I wasn’t looking?

One of them was Aussie national treasure Portia Turbo of AustralianPerfumeJunkies. Portia is so good, she also writes for the Perfume Posse, but this past year of trials and tribulations, Portia and her dazzling self has been a constant source of encouragement, as well as introducing me to a few new lines I otherwise would never know. Bless you, lovely! You do know that in the not-too-unlikely event I make it Down Under, it will never be the same again?

The Goodsmellas – those fabulously fragrant specimens of testosterone – made quite a splash in the media this year, to my own total lack of surprise. The more we can spread the word, the more magnificent males everywhere can waft something infinitely better than Dior/Chanel/Dolce&Gabba Aqua High Sport Intense Extreme BS what-have-yous. Therefore, fellas, your mission, should you choose to accept it… is to save the world from these travesties. There can never be enough testosterone bombs wearing Amouage’s Memoir Man on Planet Earth. Or Devs. Ever.

Other notable blogs that crept up on me and I read voraciously are…The Scented Hound and The Scentrist, with their refreshing, no-nonsense prose. I should be so lucky.

I am, actually, so long as the perfumosphere also contains the writing of Memory of Scent, who has done so much to recalibrate my nose and my prose. He’s so good, I can’t even be envious!

That Devil Thang

This was the year that launched that little item of dubious repute and seriously seismic perfumes known as…The Devilscent Project. What began as a double-dare inspired by my review of Andy Tauer’s Incense Extreme in 2011 became my own personal baby of a project, for which I can never thank my partner-in-crime/fellow instigator and friend Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids enough, nor the bloggers who chose to participate.

Ladies, you have all of you completely blown me away…

If there were alternate reality awards for PR and promotion –  of the DSP – and indeed several other projects she has curated so flawlessly – then Monica Miller of The Perfume Pharmer would win them all. Her infectious enthusiasm, loyalty, unrelenting support for indie perfumers and perfume writers and the astonishing generosity of heart and soul she pours into everything she does has been a constant inspiration and (tough) example to follow. So far as I’m concerned, that perfume Oscar is already sitting on your mantel, Monica. Now you know!

I’ve already stated in Part One just how supremely proud I am of all my participating perfumers. I’m not one whit less proud of my bloggers, including one surprise who was not only persuaded to participate (not by me), but also (was I ever bowled over!) brought in yet another elevated eminent perfumer, and that was Neil Morris. Chayaruchama – long a supremely respected writer and Eminent Entity on Planet Perfume– joined the DSP to my everlasting wonder and delight. She’s another reason I can’t get back to the US fast enough. We have a dinner date with Destiny, she and I…

Speaking of destiny…I swear, not even my twisted imagination can make this up. Not long after my initial post on the Devilscent Project, I received a comment in my inbox from an unlikely and unexpected source. A reader of QD had suffered through the first thirteen chapters I originally posted on the QD blog, and now, she simply begged me for the rest. I really couldn’t say no. In due course, I recruited her for the project – how could I not after that ego boost? Maggie of Architecture of Perfume gave her unique spins on both the project and the perfumes and is a highly talented perfumer in her own right at Lalun Naturals. The Oxford Concise Dictionary has a word for such occurrences. Serendipity!

But my dyed-in-the-juice friends made several huge splashes of their own. When my Scent Twin Suzanne of The Perfume Journal asked to do a DSP post on her site, I was far too flattered to refuse. Lucy of Indieperfumes did what Lucy so excels at – delved so deeply and beautifully into my story, making it something marvelous not even its creator could have guessed.

The amazing Jen of This Blog Really Stinks and the stellar Nat of Another Perfume Blog rose magnificently to the challenges of the Devilscent Project. Since I wrote it, I had some (vague) idea of what to expect – but even in my isolated eyrie on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I detected the aftershocks of seismic perfume ripples on their behalf. I dare say neither of them are quite what they were before they began. Maybe that’s a good thing?

In the brief I sent out to both perfumers and bloggers, the supreme commandment was this: Have fun!  Fun with the brief, with the concept, with the perfumes, perhaps even with the reviews themselves – the style, the form, the inspirations – and just follow those fragrant Devils and see where they take you. So darling Donna of Perfume Smellin’ Things did just that. She used the brief as the starting point for her own perfumed story in parts One and Two (which was my secret hope all along), and if I don’t know what happens next in her diabolical tale, I don’t know what I’ll do!

Meanwhile, these heretical elixirs of blackest Alchymie certainly inspired some of the best perfume writing I’ve ever done. My personal favorite reviews of the DSP, where I just followed those Devils…are The Four Devils of My Undoing, of Olympic Orchids Dev no. 1-4, Midnight Places, of Neil Morris’ Midnight at the Crossroads Café, and Sweet Damnation, of House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev.

Find all the DSP reviews here.

Inspiration can be a terrible or terrifically perilous thing. A Dialogue in Definition, of Amouage Beloved, and A Dance Through a Heart, of Serge Lutens’ Santal Majuscule, literally wrote themselves. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it provides the very raison d’etre for Why I Write, besides the obvious. (I suck at everything else!)

Here’s an example of what I’m up against in my offline life. My insignificant spot on the European mainland is in the Perfume Empty Quarter, which is to say, everything they sell at Macy’s they also sell here, but that’s about as exclusif as it gets.

Since last year, one colleague who went over to the dark side of the Perfume Force is now on her second bottle of Etat Libre d’Orange’s Jasmin et Cigarettes (and boyfriend no 3). Another acolyte, also from last year, is working her way through acquiring as many bell jars as she can stand, over the increasingly meek protests of her husband. They would be meek when you’re up against the power of El Attarine…

A dreary Wednesday during a lunch break, I tried to convert/contaminate the colleagues I’d overlooked before.

“Me,” said one tough-as-nails young lady after sniffing her way through assorted classic Guerlains, the more benign Serge Lutens, and a Neil Morris creation I happen to love above all reason, “I don’t care about perfume. Paris Hilton is good enough for me, and I’ve had no complaints so far…”

You see what I’m up against here? Not only did my boss proclaim the glories of Robert Piguet Bandit parfum as ‘not safe for work’ (he might have a point there), but Paris Hilton????

As Charlie Brown would say… “Good grief!”

So the importance of finding likeminded souls can never be underestimated. One commenter on TAG broke my heart this year when she described a visit to Paris and greatly anticipated her grand initiation into that Holy of Holies, the Parfums Serge Lutens boutique at the Palais Royal – only to find it closed. She was flying back to South Africa the next day. It broke her heart. And mine when I found out. I gathered up a Red Cross package of different (actually, a crash course in indie/niche) wonders pronto and sent them off to the Western Cape. Of such things are true friendships made!

When everything in your personal offline life is up in the air and subject to seismic disasters on a far-too-frequent basis, when you yourself are in the process of redefining your own life from scratch and deciding never to settle for less than your dream ever again, people who inspire you, encourage you and give you the guts to perservere or bust, darn it! –  are worth their weight in rubies, emeralds, pink diamonds and vintage Cabochard parfum. I was so incredibly lucky this year to meet two epically spectacular inspirations.

Not long after my beloved grandmother died this past winter, that great Remover of Obstacles, Ganesha (one of my favorite gods) took pity and sent me… a friend.

She’s nothing in the slightest like my grandmother (except in common sense), but although we met through perfume (hers) and words (mine), over the course of this year, I’ve had to wonder – how did ever I manage without the utterly wonderful, vivacious Neela Vermeire in my life? Our first phone conversation was almost three hours of champagne for the brain – a lot of it shared laughter, bawdy jokes, and an instant connection. We’ve had many of those l-o-n-g conversations since – about life, love, literature, art, music, architecture, perfume, history, people, and everything that makes life truly worth living. We’re very different women who live vastly different lives, but nevertheless – when the going got rough as it sometimes did, the virtual scaffolding we’ve given each other at different times and the inspiration she gives me to follow my dream has meant and still means – only everything.

Likewise, another great inspirational story – indeed, she’s the perfect embodiment herself – came through perfume. After I reviewed Vero Kern’s brand-new and spectacular Mito, I received an email so beautiful, I wanted to frame it. And read it whenever I felt blue. I’m out to find that perfect frame tomorrow…Vero has been incredibly encouraging, supportive and endlessly inspirational – always when I needed that extra little nudge to remind me to ‘Keep on keeping on’. I’m going for it, Vero, also thanks to your shining example!

Two women took that great leap of faith in spite of it all and followed their dream. If they can do it, then so can I!

Yet the dream of taking that fatal plunge and deciding that 2013 will be the Year Of Kicking Max A** (and all hail the August Personage who gave me that title!) would never have happened without those who make it possible – and make it possible for this particular starving artist to sniff marvels I would otherwise neither be able to afford nor acquire. For that and for laughter, virtual hugs and fervent discussions about perfume…I would personally like to thank that brother-from-another-mother, Carlos J. Powell and also the collective membership of the Facebook group Peace Love Perfume. As I use Facebook not just as a personal bulletin board but also as a tool to market myself as a writer, I have to be a bit careful of what goes up on my wall. Therefore, if any location on Facebook sees yours truly in all my real life less-than-Epic splendor, it would be here, among the family I would choose for myself if I could. As indeed I have.

Last, but never, ever least – thanks to all the perfume fairies whose astonishing generosity and friendship have made these words possible. You know who you are. I’d send gold bullion if I could, but since I can’t, I’ll send you my words – and pray you find the sincere, 24K gold bullion intentions behind them!

Stay tuned for part Three – Worn and Adored!

The Emotional Engineering Society

-  some further D-list thoughts on brands, bloggers and buyers in the world of social media

Some things I’ll never get used to. Such as…posting what I thought would be a pretty innocuous if slightly polemic blog post only to find some hours later that no less an august personage than Andy Tauer had picked up my topical baton where I dropped it, and in a certain manner of speaking both of our blog posts as well as Undina’s had touched a very live nerve on a very passionate subject.

Therefore, before I incriminate myself any further than I already have, I’d like to state a few things. First of all …there is no controversy, at least as that word is usually understood. My original blog post was prompted by nothing more than my own preoccupations in the world of perfume as well as several informal phone conversations with close friends who share my passion.

Last, but not least …despite my love of the focus of this blog and the people who make those epiphanies possible – fans, friends and perfumers alike – sometimes, I like to think out loud in public and point to what I see as pink elephants in the room. To be honest, the idea of never writing anything BUT perfume reviews (and my profound respect and admiration to those who do!) would bore me to tears and sometimes does. It makes me feel like a broken record, hauling out the same metaphors and the same similes and simply changing the order around, which does me no favors as a writer and is a disservice to the concept I’m trying to grasp with my nose as well as to the mind(s) who conceived it.

Before the perfume blogger, before the social media identity, and sometimes even before the woman lurks an iconoclastic, post-punk catastrophe writer, and if the blogger is to dance on this virtual page, then that writer needs to exercise her train of thought and her vocabulary. I didn’t mean to step on any toes or ruffle any feathers, but karmic law decreed otherwise.

The thing is…there IS a pink elephant in the room. No one wants to know about it, never mind even think about it, other than in hushed sotto voce whispers to very trusted friends. And as Andy Tauer rightly pointed out, no one is talking about it, very few are aware of it, but then, the iconoclastic post punk catastrophe began to think. Caveat lector.

Who is to say that a perfume blogger – even such a grade D entity as yours truly – can’t write about some of the other things happening on Planet Perfume? Well, no one, actually. Except I found two things very telling about this hot-potato topic. One, two people – one a rockstar-level perfumer herself –  commented on Andy’s riposte to my own blog post. Two, quite a few more than two commented back to Undina’s own thoughtful post, many of whom did not comment on my own.

Draw your own conclusions.

So many relevant points were brought up however, that it seems a bit pointless to go comment by comment, when I should have a) been a bit clearer about my intentions and observations and b) been a bit more precise in my argumentation.

Andy wrote that he didn’t consider social media to be relevant to any discussions about perfume because the medium IS…the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously said in that innocent, Pliocene age before Facebook, Twitter and other hazards to our collective sanity.

Andy, you’re absolutely right. It’s not. And it is. And the medium is less a point in itself as it is a platform and a Wild West free-for-all land claim for the message its users are trying to get across. I’ll be getting back to that.

Second, my blatant and purposely provocative use of the term ‘niche’. Yes, there is indeed a vast difference between big, corporate-backed ‘niche’ brands, independent perfumers and artisanal perfumers. There is a difference in the way these businesses are operated and maintained, there is a definite difference in terms of distribution and customer reach, and above all, there is a marked difference in the business philosophies of all three entities. I’m not even mentioning how new launches are conceptualized or executed, since from where I’m standing, that’s one distinction between them.

My point is…whichever category a perfumer/brand might belong to, and I’m so very sorry if I burst any bubbles…it’s still…a business. Money makes the world go round, money makes it possible to keep a company afloat whether they’re a one-man band or a whole olfactory orchestra of magical elves.

Perfume, that most ephemeral art, is costly to produce, at least at the level I’ve become accustomed to. Sourcing a consistent quality and supply of raw materials, manufacturing the juice or outsourcing your production line, bottling it up, finding the appropriate packaging, producing – or outsourcing -  the PR to go with it – all these things take a considerable amount of a brand or a perfumer’s time, and just as in any other business, you’re only as good as the reception on your last product. As an artisanal perfumer, if your juice doesn’t sell, you’re not going to remain a perfumer for too long if you also like to eat.

Now consider this – in 2011, more than 1400 new perfumes were launched. Some of those were struggling, artisanal brands with very limited distribution – if at all – and most of those 1400 launches came out of the great corporate conglomerates. How many of those will survive the end of this year? How many of those will be reviewed or remembered? How many will distinguish themselves to such an extent, they will still be bought and talked about five years from now?

In a market economy, wouldn’t that depend on not just the quality of a given perfume and the concept behind it, but also on things like…exposure, availability, trade-show schmoozing, word-of-mouth, editorial coverage, and the general conversation in the perfume community? In a world of ever-increasing olfactory noise and with the backlash to prove it, how else will any new and curious perfume buyer even know about it?

Enter the beast that is…social media. The casual Facebook user might not think too much about these things, but you do have to wonder…what are we doing there?

Posting cutesie Photoshopped animal pictures, commenting on other pictures and clicking links and sharing – or even oversharing – everything from intimate details of our private selves and offlline lives to inadvertently delivering a marketing executive’s wet dream of a demographic analysis in the process for free. Posting our SotDs and declaring our undying loyalty and love of a given brand – or forty – commenting back on other SotDs in happy-hour cocktail-party fashion… “Oh, I love that one, I have that one, that one didn’t work for me, have you tried X, Y or Z instead?”

If the medium is the message, then the message here is…despite all our high-minded efforts, despite the opportunity and the platform to engage in meaningful discourse in all sorts of Web 6.0 ways with anyone we damn well please, perfumers and/or brands included (I mean, they can’t see you blush as you type your shy ‘hello’ to a rockstar perfumer, or see you bang your head against your keyboard with your likes), we’re still interacting on the same principles that grease the wheels of human concourse anywhere in the world.

“Nice weather we’re having lately!”

Why? Because the point of Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest is not…a philosophical discussion about the creative process or the concept behind a concrete idea. In fact, it’s not about discussing much at all. It’s about the daily reinvention of ourselves as individuals in an increasingly crowded world. It’s about staking that claim and drawing those lines of distinction. This is who I am. This is what I like. This is me…today, this week, this moment in time.

No, Andy, it is all too true and you are all too right…there really isn’t, despite all efforts to the contrary, a hell of a lot of ‘meaningful discussion’. Because this really is a brave new world and we’re all taking our baby steps as we walk this brave new media landscape of 24/7 virtual life, being brave or not as we go.

Why not? Ah…

Well, I’ll venture that the vast majority of perfume consumers simply don’t have the vocabulary for it. Francis Kurkdjian landed in hot water when he claimed that bloggers or even layman critics as a rule don’t know what the hell they’re writing about, since they have so little knowledge of the technical skills of perfumery. This is very true. We don’t. And if you ask me at least, I don’t give a flying, since I don’t buy juice to determine the artistic use and technical merits of this or that aromachemical, this olfactory riff on a material. Even if I did, it still wouldn’t sell the juice to me.

That’s not why I love it, that’s not why I buy it, that’s not why I dream about it and that’s certainly not why I write about it. I do all of it…con amore. I’ll wager my D-list status here (about to be demoted, any day now!) and venture that isn’t why any other blogger – or at least the ones who are capable of articulating that passion to any extent – does it, either.

We articulate our inordinate passion for perfume artistry for no other reason than what it does to our selves, to our moods, and to our daily real-life reinventions. We articulate it to inform, to entertain, if only to inform and entertain ourselves, to make our readers agree or not with our assumptions, and all along, we know damn well we’re charting virgin territory in the process, since articulating a wordless, emotionally fraught art is very, very hard. Poets, writers, artists and dreamers have been trying to convey the inarticulate with words for millennia. But in the end, the nose…knows what the word can’t say.

Not everyone has the depth of cultural knowledge, the passion, or the psychological insight to participate in any meaningful discussions about perfume. And there are no troll-free zones to do it in, either, unless it’s an option to moderate comments on a blog.

Does it take away from the mystique, the whole romantic aura of perfume to know something of the process that goes into its creation? Maybe it does for some, maybe they can’t be bothered to be informed on such a level, maybe they just don’t care to know anything other than what their acute, discerning noses tell them.

What about bloggers? What are they doing, thinking, planning? Is it true that some bloggers have an inside track on certain brands, new launches, new hotly anticipated moments in perfumery?

Yes. And if we didn’t (I’ll freely confess to being one of them, and I’m obliged by US law to state it every time it happens), how would a lay perfume customer even know? They don’t have access to trade magazines, wouldn’t know unless they read perfumer’s blogs or editorial write-ups, and even those do come from other sources than press releases. In the case of indie perfumers and artisanal brands, they don’t have an advertising budget, or much more to go on but determination and dedication. Some of them are internationally renowned, some of them not at all. My point is…a blogger receives a sample because a perfumer would like that spin on their creation, to see what a blogger’s interpretation might be. And any blogger worth his or her weight in bottled bribes knows full well there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Any artist in any medium knows that once a work of art is finished, you have opened up the gates of Hades to pass it on to the world. You want feedback, accolades (it is to be hoped) or alternatively, at least a certain level of creatively stated antagonism.

That doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

Not one blogger that I’m aware of does this for a living. In most cases, we have very full and overflowing lives that entail things like spouses, children, pets, families, day jobs and laundry baskets. There are only so many hours in a day. I’ve been known to knock out big reviews in an hour and thirty-seven minutes, and several others that took me days or weeks. Yet I have very few truly negative reviews. Why?

It’s the conspiracy of silence. Negative reviews – or simply reviews of stuff you loathe – are too much trouble to write. Why be bothered to forgo an evening with friends, an extra bedtime story, a nosedive into a book, a full night’s sleep, if you have to write a review of something you hate? For that matter, why waste time on what doesn’t move you? I don’t bother with people I can’t stand, why should I do it with perfume? Life’s too short. Better to just…pass it on, pay it forward by sending off a sample to a friend who might love it better, write about it better, cherish that idea you were unable to grasp.

Undina said it beautifully in her post – perfume experts don’t buy perfume. Laymen do. They buy with their hearts, their passion, their noses and their burning plastic, People like you, people like me, people like the perfumers who inspire us and the brands we love – or love to argue about, in that fragrant corner of the dog-eat-dog world of social media, we could call – with some justification, to continue the Huxley reference…the Emotional Engineering Society.

With many thanks to …Persolaise for the interview with Francis Kurkdjian, Andy Tauer, Lucy of Indieperfumes, Undina, Bloody Frida, Susan and the two dear friends who burned my ears this week about this very topic.

Original image: An installation by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.

A Brave New World

-       In which a D-list blogger ventures out on a limb!

Have you noticed how noisy the world in general and even the rarified air of the perfumosphere is getting lately? How demanding it has become to keep up, stay informed, engaged and relevant? Does the constant flow of …information, tweets, status updates, likes, comments, shares, blogs, links, websites, text messages, traffic both virtual and literal… drag you down and make you wonder, as I sometimes do, how utterly blissful and uncomplicated life would be if it could all just float away and be gone, if only so you could think, breathe and listen to nothing more exhilarating than the beat of your heart or a heart that you love?

Hold that thought.

But what if …you miss out? What if there’s yet another…epiphany, discovery, Brand New Thing/blog/brand/launch/thought-provoking WTF moment waiting to happen – and you miss it?

Best to just keep up as best you can with it all…just in case, just because, if only to keep yourself on the cutting edge of cool, knowledgable, hip or informed. Just to hedge your bets.

Because you never know…

Since I became a perfume blogger nearly two years ago, my horizon has expanded exponentially to a degree I never imagined when I started by reviewing the contents of my perfume cabinet, since that was what I had. And since becoming the unbearably smug owner of an iPhone, I gave my social media/blatant and utterly shameless self-promotion skills a major overhaul in the process, joined Twitter and…all Hades broke loose. The Hordes of social media have been on the rampage ever since.

I also this past winter decided to complete some hardcore training in professional social media marketing – might as well hopefully put my money where my mouth is, or so I can dream – and since then, I’ve been privileged enough to apply as well as observe what I could call the Rules of Engagement from both sides of the same fence.

What does it all mean – for the bloggers who write about perfumes and the brands who need to promote their brand or new launches? If it’s true that 1% of a given interest group provides the content that 9% will comment on and 90% simply read and enjoy, what does it mean for the 99% who simply buy all that juice?

Here’s a surprise for you: According to this link, most licensed and/or ‘prestige’ mainstream perfume brands are doing a craptacular job of it. The one exception – also mentioned in the video link – is almost too depressing to contemplate.

But mainstream perfume brands are not the primary focus of the blogs I subscribe to nor the perfumes I mostly choose to review.

Why? They have marketing budgets/teams/paid advertising. They launch new perfumes on the basis of a brief – all too often written up by the self-same marketing department, hell-bent on marketing to the same demographic as everyone else, and again, all too often with the results to match. Uninspiring. Copycat. The same old formulas, same note du jour, same gargantuan conglomerates applying the same sledgehammer PR tactics and only the name on the bottle ever changes.

It’s been stated before on this blog and I’ll state it again – the exceptional rarely happens when a corporate machine and perfume-by-committee gets involved. And if we as perfume bloggers seek out the extraordinary, the exceptional, the olfactory epiphany – the indie/niche fragrant superhighway is one sure way to find it.

So how are they doing out there in this brave new world? And what might it all mean for the bloggers who write about them or the connoisseurs who buy them and enjoy them?

For the sake of argument, I shall henceforth make no distinction between ‘indie’, ‘niche’ or ‘mainstream niche’. It makes it easier on this writer, and easier on the readers. Let’s just lump them all together and call them…’niche’, as in…exclusively available, with limited distribution and often, but not always exclusive price tags to match. These are all the brands, the names, the perfumes so many of us wear, adore, aspire to buy, save up for, dream about and love to write about.

Fasten your seatbelts darlings, because now it gets a little turbulent.

Brands

Here’s a fact few brands of any stripe in any market can quite manage to swallow. In social media, the brand doesn’t belong to the owner/perfumer/company. It belongs to its fans. Usually, these fans are also the main consumers of said brands, and if they’re treated right – I’ll be getting back to that – they are the best and cheapest ambassadors any brand can hope to have. But even now, even today, even this morning come to that, too many of them are still stuck in the one-track, one-way mindset of old-school marketing, which is…”We tell you what’s cool. You choose what to do with it.” So they wonder…at the lack of engagement on their Facebook pages, or the lack of enthusiasm from their customer base, or their lack of black on the bottom line.

In the world of niche, it’s a somewhat different story. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, the law of Six Degrees of Separation no longer applies. In the niche world, you can often start or continue an online conversation with the very perfumer (or social media-responsible person) whose creations rocked your planet/made you retch/elevated your quotidian existence. Social propriety is still appropriate, that goes without saying. There are myriad Facebook groups – bless ‘em all – who are exclusively devoted to perfume, to discussing them, arguing about them, spreading the word about them. And the smart brands are listening in on those conversations and paying attention to what’s being said. In other words, they’re doing precisely what they should be doing and that is, engaging their customers/fans in a dialogue.

Having said that, not a few of them fall splat at the fences of their websites. Cranky, clunky online shopping carts and untrackable orders are two issues some of them are known to have, but far, far worse is the ever-present use of Flash. Two words: Just & Don’t. Flash makes sites slow, unsearchable by Google (never a good thing in this day and age), unable to bookmark or link to individual pages, and they irritate the crap out of the customer before he or she can even order. Music we never asked for, special effects we don’t want, PR ballyhoo and copy we’re less and less inclined to read while watching an unexciting progress bar that says ‘Loading…73%’ Anything that gets in the way of having an experience is just plain…bad. Save it for specially linked-to pages – and leave it at that. Your fans will be grateful. Treat them right, and they’ll be loyal, too.

In the niche world, that world of aspirational luxury, the trend in these last few years has seemed to up the ante in terms of just how we define it. And there’s no end in sight. Jean Patou might have – if Elsa Maxwell’s famous ad copy is to be believed – thought he created ‘the most expensive perfume in the world’. When I catch myself thinking that 150$ is practically a bargain, clearly something has got to give. I’ve sniffed a few of those hyper-luxe wonders. Some have blown my socks off. Some of them haven’t. And some of those super-luxurious brands are doing present and potential customers a serious disservice by not providing an entry-level sample program/sample/discovery kit at a reasonable price tag. Ordinary folks with ordinary, non-gazillionaire lives are often quite willing to spend substantial sums on their passion – if they have some idea of what they’re getting. If not, a 700$ mistake can hurt in far more ways than one.

Bloggers

Ah, to be…a blogger! Beholden to no one but your own flaming passions, writing what you please when you please and how it damn well pleases you to do it – where would the enlightened 99% perfume consumer be without you?

For one, not nearly so enlightened. The world of niche and indie perfumers owe a huge, huge debt to the perfume bloggers who write about them, and most of them – myself included – do. And the brands who appreciate all that free PR and ad copy, who inform their fans on Facebook pages about reviews and/or retweet the link to them – are the brands who know a thing or two about promoting a certain degree of brand loyalty that goes in both directions – for mutual and often perpetuating benefit.

As a blogger, I owe a tremendous amount to those intrepid writers who went before the likes of D-list me, who informed me, educated me, made me laugh and paved the way…not to mention pointed to many epiphanies and mind-blowing moments I might otherwise never have known. I’ve been privileged enough to establish friendships, share discoveries, have discussions, and make my own suspect reputation for questionable purple prose through the world-wide blogging community, and as a result been rewarded and sometimes even applauded for it.

For all of which, I’m so grateful, it’s bathetic. Really.

But this world – even this brave new world of social media – is built on…reciprocation. It’s a quid-pro-quo world. And here’s where things can get a bit tricky for bloggers who might question their ethics, their independance or their impartiality.

Brand X needs to spread the word of their newest launch. Enter the blogosphere. Say Blogger Y has written about brand X before. Naturally, Brand X will want Blogger Y to review it. So they send Blogger Y a sample.

Does Blogger Y write up a complimentary review because the sample/bottle/press kit was free? Because they’re on Brand X’s super-exclusive ‘insider’ reviewer list? Because they love everything (or mostly) that Brand X creates/stands for as a brand?

This is a can of worms I’ve often wrestled with personally, since where do you draw the line in terms of what you review, when you review it, never mind the how… you review it. I think this is one area where bloggers distinguish themselves.

I know of a few blogs that are almost unfailingly snarky. You wonder at the things that make the grade, because the level of derision that glows radioactive on your screen is enough to strip wallpaper off the wall behind your back. I like to read them for the entertainment value, but I rarely take them seriously. So far as I’m concerned, there’s no shortage of snark online, but that doesn’t mean I have to appreciate it or even spread my own vitriol in the process because…I’m a blogger and I write what I damn well please!

What did I say? Social proprieties still apply. If – as I fervently believe –perfume creation/conceptualization is an art form as relevant and as intricate as any other art, then it should be judged as such. Artists are touchy, sensitive-skinned creatures when it comes to critique. Unless I specifically set out to give a satirical spin on something I consider horrendous, which doesn’t happen often, I will at least attempt to appreciate the concept and the art behind a given perfume I review. It has happened exactly once that I was unable to review a perfume at all – not because it wasn’t flawless, beautiful or thought-provoking, but because it woke up a painful memory I thought I’d forgotten, so much so I couldn’t write about it. At all. I’ve felt guilty about it ever since.

As a blogger, I review what and as I can when I can, which is never as much as I would prefer, but that has nothing to do with blogging per se, and more to do with stylistic differences in the way I review. I can’t – no matter how I’ve surely tried – write like anyone else but me, review a new perfume every day, write short and snappy reviews, and I can’t, above all else, not dive into the bottles and coax the genies out in my own way. Perfume is the most intimate, personal art of all, and up close and idiosyncratic/iconoclastic is the only way my words will out.

I may not have the audience or the reputation of some of those big name bloggers with countless thousands of daily hits and endless retweets. I’m human enough to admit to a little envy because of it. Some of them link back to me, yet many of them don’t, if they’re even aware I exist. On the other hand, I don’t write like them either – and isn’t the whole point of the blogosphere freedom of expression? And isn’t the point of this Brave New World a world where there’s room enough for all sorts of voices to be read?

Smart brands will recognize the bloggers who have no other reasons to write about than to communicate their passion. Bloggers for their part can often predict or sense a trend well before it lands on shelves/blogs/perfume cabinets.

And in the end no matter what you do, whether you’re a brand fan, a brand, a blogger or a simple perfume aficionado, the passion, the enthusiasm, the dialogue and the creativity that flows both ways is what really matters in the endless quest for that next Great Big Perfumed Epiphany.

Something many niche brands understood a long time ago, and new niche brands need to realize. Listen to the conversations. Spread the word. Read the blogs. Make your voice heard. And make your name – in perfume, in prose, or in the presence you create.

It’s a brave new world out there with a brave, adventurous audience. And Fortune, as the saying goes, favors the brave!

I adore perfume. It allows me to take up more space.

With thanks to Yosh Han and Ayala Sender for the link, and to the very dear friend and diehard perfume connoisseuse who prompted this blog post in a phone conversation last week!

Original image: A sculpture by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.