– or how to make a cow have one!
I live in a two-herbivore household, consisting of one billy goat in training – my Capricorn six year old, who goes by the code name ‘Wolverine’ these days – and one definite cow…yours truly, not your Usual Brand of Bull.
The other day, Wolverine was watching the Simpsons. Bart Simpson is a perpetual inspiration for him, although I am nothing in the slightest like Marge. Since Wolverine is bilingual, he never has to worry about not yet being able to read subtitles, but every so often, he’ll encounter a phrase or a word he doesn’t have a reference for.
‘Mom…’ he asked me at the dinner table that night, ‘how do you have a cow?’
I explained. The exact equivalent in Danish translates as ‘getting a foal’, and I don’t know the etymological origins of that one, either.
But after he was finally tucked in that night, I sat staring at my cakebox collection of perfume decants and samples and thought about it in perfume terms:
What does it take to make me have a cow? If a ‘cow’ in this particular context is another term for…perfumed satori, ‘WOW!!!’ or ‘be still my beating heart’? My usual choice of phrase is quite a bit spicier, but this is a perfume blog…
To begin with that thorny question, my perpetual caveat in terms of reviewing is always:
My opinions are my own. Yours may be different. Perfume is a subjective art like any other, beauty is in the eye of the sniffer/huffer* in this case and while we may agree on some things, we likely differ on others. Also, real life tends to get in the way. Between the job, Wolverine and mapping out my writing schedule, I’ve accumulated a massive case of guilt over all the things I have yet to review – but trust me, if I’m moved enough, I will eventually review them. If not…not.
Second – I’ve been a
nutcase psychotic passionate about perfume for a very, very long time, and thanks to my mother and a Paris rite of passage, I started at the top with the really good stuff, back when it was well and truly good. My perfume palate has become a little jaded, in particular in this past year of blogging. To induce a state of utter bovine bliss in the cow writing these words, it has to be very, very good, and not just smell that way, although it does help.
Third – I don’t care what it costs. When you can’t afford whole bottles of anything, you can at least afford decants of the best. Price isn’t necessarily a guarantee of quality, as I found out last summer when I came across an outrageously priced bottle of a dead-exclusive perfume and hated it in all dimensions: the juice, the bottle, the principle. I will say most of the luxurious lines I’ve discovered and reviewed have provided a definite gratification of my hyper-luxury itch.
Fourth – this is a big one, and a major reason why I gravitate towards the niche end rather than the mainstream. Concept. Is the perfumer/house trying to say something new, explore new territory, challenge my aesthetic in some way? Does a magic carpet ride await – for good or bad? Is the juice any different than what I might find at a department store/perfume shop? On that note…
Execution. Anyone – even this cow – can bang together a few essences, pray and hope it turns out great. That doesn’t mean it will. The perfumes I’ve returned to time and time again this past year, the ones I love with a passion maroon, the ones that make my Great Immortals list (perpetually under construction!) are the ones that evolve…from one idea to another, from one space to another, from one day to the next. In other words – out pops a genie and takes me for a ride in more ways than one!
Association, which is related to concept, is another good test of potential greats. The genie in the bottle has to talk. I might not agree with him or her, and we may not even be speaking the same olfactory language, but if that genie has nothing to say, how am I to review the contents that created it? Some of them yell, some would rather whisper, a few of them sing basso profondo, baritone, tenor or coloratura and some drag out their lead guitars, hook up their Marshall amp and blow my head off. It helps. Really.
All these elements combined add up to…a perfume. I may only be able to appreciate one of these elements and if I do, I say so. If even three of them come together, I will say that, too. Should all of them bellow out one rousing, final chorus, well, hey – it’s bingo for this bovine…
There’s just one more thing…a small thing, a seemingly unimportant thing…but it speaks volumes to me, not just as a blogger, but as an individual.
I receive samples in several different ways. I have been known to pay for them. Support your indie perfumers and/or perfume purveyors. They do this for a living, or they would like to. If they also have excellent customer support, you can bet your vintage Bandit extrait that they will also have a loyal customer in this particular cow, because you never know…that cow might write a bestseller with all intentions of blowing some royalties on perfume! Quite a lot…of perfume.
I have also received samples from friends and fellow bloggers, bless their devious hearts, and more often than not, this has led to decant purchases and other hazards to my minuscule perfume budget. That being the case, the following doesn’t apply to them.
It has also happened on more than one occasion that I’ve been sent samples I haven’t specifically requested, and in my year of blogging, I’ve only done that once – it took me a week to stop blushing before I hit ‘send’ on the email. In two instances, the perfumer was referred to my blog by another blogger. In a few others, I was contacted by the house/perfumer. That’s perfectly all right. In fact, it’s hugely flattering. I’ve disclosed this if it happened, as I’m obligated to do.
It helps my attitude enormously if the perfumer/company writes to ask if they can, though. This means that whoever is sending me samples acknowledges there is a real, live human on the other side of the screen who would appreciate a hello, who might encourage an exchange or …perish the thought! – a dialogue! Those who did secured a spot in my Perfume Pantheon for that reason alone. One indie perfumer emailed me and asked if she could, and regrettably, I had to tell her no until September, or I couldn’t do her the justice she deserved. That got us talking, and I’m happy to say we still are. I’ll review her this coming fall. Why? She asked!
So then…my last criterion for a Major Moo: Presentation. I’m not saying 1 or 2 ml samples need to be wrapped in 19-momme silk charmeuse with descriptions in handwritten dip-pen Copperplate calligraphy on Italian parchment paper, but remember – in most instances, I don’t know the perfumer/house from Adam, or if I do, it’s only by reading about him or her on other blogs. Have a little care. Make it nice, because it brightens up my dreary day like few things can. Write a personal message. The human touch goes a long way in my world. All the cards I have received from bloggers, houses and perfumers alike are kept and placed in the ‘Helpful friends and allies’ section of my Feng Shui-ed bulletin board. They make me happy every time I see them.
When all these elements come together – the concept, the execution, the genie and the presentation – magic has been known to happen, a magic I try to reflect in my reviews.
Next, in an off-blog, offline moment dealing with all the mundane aspects of daily life, Wolverine will catch me sniffing/huffing at a wrist in the middle of folding laundry/doing dishes/cooking dinner. I’ll say something that cannot be repeated in public, but it’s very high praise. My offspring will appraise me with a level, brown-eyed stare and say:
‘Mom…you’re having a cow!’
Image: Butter sculpture from stuartspivack.com