An Open Letter to the Editor of Women’s Health

An open letter to the editor of Women’s Health magazine

An article in the Beauty section of the April edition of Women’s Health, entitled ‘Your Perfect Scent’ was brought to my attention by a friend and fellow blogger, and several statements in the article as well as the overall tone compelled me to write you.

The article attempts to categorize women in a range of ages – from their teens until ‘40+’ according to perfume category, arguing that throughout their lives, women prioritize their fragrance choices differently and gravitate towards the perfumes that reflect those priorities. It then proceeds to cite various perfumes currently available that might appeal, and this is where I feel compelled to protest – both at the underlying assumptions that teenagers want to impersonate walking cupcakes, that women in their thirties wear perfume to feel ‘sexy and secure’ and finally the statement that women in their forties wear perfume to feel ‘elegant’.

Women at any age read magazines such as yours for information and inspiration in their lifestyle choices, and few of them are entirely aware that for print media in a competitive digital age, advertising revenue takes pride of place over relevant content. As a consequence of perfume being formulated to target certain demographics and as a result of what you choose to advocate in your editorial pages, the perfumes sold in department stores and mall chain stores are all indistinguishable from one another. One sweet, fruity floral scent segues seamlessly into the next sweet, fruity floral, and only the name of the designer on the label is interchangeable. So women are shortchanged from both sides of that equation – by the major designer houses that are often the only luxury these women can afford, and by the very magazines they read for inspiration promoting only the brands they already advertise on their pages.

The problem is that neither your readers in general nor women in particular are thrilled about being defined in demographic terms, any more than teenaged girls can be lumped into cupcake fragrance categories, women in their thirties need to feel ‘sexy or ‘secure’ or ‘forty+’ women – a term I personally find more than slightly condescending – want to be considered ‘elegant’ above all other reasons for wearing perfume.

What surprises me more than any other aspect of a very important issue in general, namely the stereotyping of women in the media, is that we live in an individualistic age. As women and as individuals, the opportunity to make individual choices that reflect our unique selves has never been greater, and this includes the very subject matter of your article – perfume. What is more, as social media change how we are informed and entertained and inspired to make those choices, creating and maintaining a dialogue with your readers is a valuable tool to retain the very readership that underlies your role in that media landscape, whether on a newsstand or on the Web.

There is a rich and invaluable resource available to any journalist interested in her subject matter – perfume blogs. We would quite happily have participated and in the process been thrilled to share what we know – that you are not doomed to ‘elegance’ simply for a diminished sense of smell – a claim I find quite unsubstantiated by scientific evidence in the article or in my personal experience, nor are you compelled to waft cupcake as a teenager, simply because there’s nothing else to choose from. There’s not too much else to choose from in the mainstream market because a tiny number of companies determine what scents land on department store shelves, and if one sweet, fruity floral scent becomes a success, it must therefore follow – so dictate the laws of the marketing briefs of these companies promoting this or that ‘exclusive designer’ – that only sweet, fruity, floral perfumes will do.

Women’s Health is a magazine that has a broad scope – to promote a healthy, happy and fulfilled lifestyle for its readership that goes beyond the usual stereotypical ‘women’s magazines’. Even so, when you attempted to inform your readers about a very personal choice, you fell victim to that precise stereotyping, and ignored a perfect opportunity to elevate your editorial content a bit above the stereotypical content of any other women’s magazine currently available.

Which is why we read you, after all.

Yours sincerely,
Tarleisio, perfume blogger at Scent Less Sensibilities

This letter has also been published on the following participating blogs:

Bloody Frida
Olfactoria’s Travels
All I am – a redhead
Eyeliner on a Cat
Beauty on the Outside
Redolent of Spices

All Flued Out

Ladies and gents, I have an announcement. Due to circumstances beyond even my ability to control, I’ll be away from the computer for a few days due to either flu or walking pneumonia, I’m not quite sure which, but the doctor will tell me tomorrow. Darn it, and I even had the titles of four new blogs written down, but my sense of smell has almost completely disappeared, and right when I have a truckload of samples in front of me, too! 😦

I’ll try to get better, but the prognosis is iffy, I’ve been trying for years!

Typed by a friend by dictation, who can attest to the fact that she’s utterly wretched…so it’s the perfect opportunity to steal some of her Balsamo della Mecca…;-)

Ms. Frigidaire

A review of Chanel no. 19

Indulge me for a moment. Imagine the year is 1982. The location Copenhagen, Denmark. Nothing like the Hipsterville it is today, nothing like the romantic, copper-roofed old Nordic city seen in movies, but a dire, dour downer of a town. Unemployment is high, spirits are low, and an entire generation is busy declaring they have no future at all with all the passion of the very young and disillusioned.

Picture this: Hanging around the fringes of political activism, underground art, the squatter’s movement and general malaise is quite possibly the world’s cleanest punk. Second-hand Doc Martens, fourth/fifth and sometimes sixth-hand clothes hanging by one thread, black of course. This young lady – for that she is – has few hopes of anything much at all, and maladjusted doesn’t even begin to describe her. She’s eighteen going on nineteen going on a very crotchety ninety, a dangerous age, getting into scrapes, getting into trouble, getting arrested at demonstrations for her fast and furious mouth, hurling old toilet commodes out of the windows of squatted buildings at the police who are there to kick her out, along with her closest eighty rabid activist friends.

When she’s not wreaking havoc with her fellow anarchists, she hangs out in one haven for the misfits and Misfits fans, a book café in a side street that never sells that many books, but people club together for vegan potluck lunches, argue about music and political theory, and where to run if the cops crash the next squat.

Remember, she’s arguably the world’s cleanest punk. Despite her demeanor, despite the forbidding eye makeup and the safety pins and the scuffed boots and bitten fingernails, she is scrupulously clean. Her beloved grandmother did not crawl out of the gutter of the working class just so she could wallow in her own brand of dirt. That, too, gets her into trouble, because soap and water are so oppressing, so bourgeois. So not punk. And there’s that other thing, that other not-cool thing to do that she does – she wears perfume.

One day, when no one is looking and she has a little cash that didn’t go into the communal anarcho-syndicalist potluck/LP/herbal tea kitty, cash she didn’t say she has, she sneaks into a local department store feeling in the mood for something sneaky and stealthily subversive. Two hugely guilty if very happy hours later, she leaves – with a bottle of Chanel no. 19 eau de toilette.

Sure enough, one warm spring day just after her nineteenth birthday, her sometime boyfriend notices an aura that has nothing in common with stale beer, herbal tea or cigarette smoke. Being her boyfriend, he makes a comment, and the poor girl is instantly lambasted for supporting such a capitalist, commercial enterprise as Chanel. Suddenly, even her very political stance is called into question – because of her perfume. She may be a punk – but she’s also a g-i-r-l. At age nineteen, someone finally notices!

Stealth subversion at its finest. A punk in French perfume, and not just any perfume, but Chanel no. 19, as opposed to the far more common no. 5.

These far too many years later, and the former punk is no longer quite so angry or so defensive. All these many years later, she still wears Chanel no. 19, whenever she’s in the mood for a little subversion. It calms her, grounds her and focuses her attention on the things that really matter.

Taking over the world, for instance. She can name at least two occasions where her qualifications – and possibly her Chanel no. 19 – landed her some very high profile jobs.

Chanel no. 19 is a chilly, green and even slightly intimidating perfume. The kind of perfume you’d imagine Sigourney Weaver wearing in ‘Working Girl’ – not compromising on femininity, or much of anything else, for that matter. It’s a take it or leave it scent, from the first cool, muted burst of galbanum to the far dry-down of earthy vetiver, and all the silky-smooth stages of iris and rose in between. It has no need to be loud, no need to wear its heart on its dark green sleeve, but you will notice it, you will pay attention and you will do as she bids you – or else. The perfect scent for Ms. Phrigidaire.

The different concentrations offer a surprising evolution of the same scent. The parfum is like cold, slippery, gray-green satin, emphasizing the happy marriage of iris and rose. The eau de parfum is less focused on the rose/iris and more on the leathery, vetiver and oakmoss base notes, whereas the eau de toilette is lighter, with more of a galbanum kick and a flirtier, more lemony iris middle.

It has certainly been reformulated due to IFRA restrictions. The Chanel no 19 I remember at age 19 was much richer, more faceted and less fleeting than the one you can find today, but having said that, some loves last well beyond the age of nineteen. Even this one.

Notes according to Basenotes

Top notes:
Galbanum, Bergamot, Neroli, Hyacinth .
Middle Notes:
Rose, Orris, Jasmine, Narcissus, Muguet, Ylang-Ylang.

Base Notes:
Musk, Sandal, Oakmoss, Leather, Cedarwood .

Image: © SexyEyes69/

The Ivory Shirt

A review of “Ivoire” (Balmain, 1979)

There are days when life just gets too. Too much, too complicated, too many layers to misapprehend, where the simple act of getting dressed in the morning has all the complexity of a PhD thesis in Hegelian philosophy.

There are days when you crave the simple, the classy, the understated, the kind of sexy that murmurs more than it moans.

The kind of day when all you crave is the simplicity of the perfectly cut, flawlessly sewn and immaculately ironed ivory linen shirt to go with the five-dollar jeans that make even your less than stellar legs perfectly long. The kind of chic you don’t even have to think about – it just is. You are. Infinite and entire and all-of-a-piece, comfortable in your skin.

This day, today, is a Saturday, an endlessly blue Saturday and for the first time in years, life feels like an entire crate of black and luscious cherries. You don’t want to try too hard, do too much, you want something to echo that casually chic vibe. Something that smells like you feel or like you, but better, more refined, greener and sharper yet with a soft, powdery edge of smoldering embers under all that class.

Like the shirt, the kind you don’t have to think about, the kind that simply is – no more, no less. Effortless and elegant, inviting yet cool.

So you contemplate those bottles of liquid emotion in your cabinet. And there, toward the back is a slightly tacky bottle with a slightly tacky ivory plastic cap, but the contents are anything but tacky. The contents are womanly, sharply green to prove you have serious intentions, bracing with bergamot to breathe summer into the air that surrounds you. There are flowery accents in there, too, not one discernable flower so much as an ever-shifting, ever-changing bouquet of summer blooms that all exude the air of a beautiful August day, before they shimmy down to a woody, smoldering incense that you just know will make him come as close as you can stand it.

You know how close that is.

You button that ivory shirt. It will be an endless and endlessly perfect summer day, the kind of day where even you will feel Californian.

Today is a day for “Ivoire”.

Notes according to Jan Moran:
Pierre Balmain Ivoire (1979 Floral – Green)
Top Notes: Jasmine, galbanum, bergamot, violet, mandarin, aldehydes
Heart Notes: Turkish rose, lily of the valley, Tuscany ylang-ylang, carnation, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, berry pepper
Base Notes: Vetiver, oakmoss, sandalwood, labdanum, amber, vanilla, patchouli, tonka bean

Available for dirt-cheap in many locations.

So here’s the deal

I am a woman obsessed by many things. Music. Literature. Poetry. Writing. What happens in the world around me, and what happens right underneath my nose.

That last is a big one. Because I am also a woman obsessed by perfume. What other form of art contains such a shortcut to emotion and memory, and what other art form is so hard to articulate and pinpoint, when the vast majority of Planet Earth rarely thinks further than “that smells…good/bad/horrid/heavenly?”

Picture this. It’s Paris in the spring of 1977. In Paris that spring, that seminal year, was a woman in her early thirties and her gobsmacked daughter, just turned fourteen. Paris had been an education in several senses of the word. The sightseeing, Versailles, the smiling strangers at the top of the Eiffel Tower, the patisserie shops, the very idea that life itself and all things enjoyable could be turned into at art form of its own. The woman – being a woman – knows of the joys that come with the territory. The daughter is just learning, suspecting that maybe being a girl is not quite so overrated. She is perched on the diving board of womanhood, and far, far below glitter many things that can’t all be bad. There are intimations of experiences ahead, like boys, like sex, like having something someone else could want, like desire. She knows about that one, at least. She just had her butt pinched by an unseen stranger in the Paris Métro.

Mother and daughter enter one temple of sensual pleasures on the Champs-Elysées, the Guerlain store. Time to graduate from all-over body sprays to the good stuff, the hardcore stuff, the olfactory equivalent of crack cocaine.

I was – am – that daughter, and that afternoon was a day I’ll never forget. The many perfumes I never knew existed, conjuring up emotions and sensations I couldn’t even understand, never mind articulate. Perfumes so rich, compelling and complex, “it smells good” didn’t even begin to cover it.

Maman left with Mitsouko. Daughter left with Jicky. The world was never quite the same again.

Fast forward, an uncomfortable amount of years later. Meanwhile, I had fallen on hard times. All my perfume bottles were empty. There was no…YSL Paris, no Rive Gauche, no Chanel no. 19, no Ralph (don’t shoot me!), no Bulgari Thé Verte Extrème. The closest thing was scented body products, and even then, they seemed a poor substitute.

Which was when I came across perfume blogs. I knew it wouldn’t be quite the same, would, in fact, be…perfume by proxy, so to say, to see if I could conjure up a scent with words alone.

It was another kind of education. So much to discover, so much I never even knew. I knew only what I liked and what I didn’t – and on a select few occasions, absolutely loathed.

Since then, I’ve declared never to smell like anyone else, ever again. Since then, perfume is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. There are days I want Liquid Courage. I want to take on the world by the teeth. There’s a scent for that. Sometimes, I want to sheath myself in invisible armor, so nothing can faze or unhinge me. I know what to use. There are days I want nothing more than to contemplate the unbearable brightness of being. There’s one for that, too.

Last, but not least, there are the days when I desperately need to put some lethal va-va in my voom, in more ways than one, and yupp, I know where to go now.

But above all, I’m a writer, inconspicuous now, but I might have potential – or so I delude myself. I write my passions into my blogs. Here’s another one.

The only disclaimer is that anything I review on these pages is usually something I bought myself, or was gifted, unless I tell you otherwise.

And of course, that my attempts at grasping the ethereal, the ephemeral are here for the taking, the commenting.

I can’t write like some of my own favorite perfume bloggers – most of whom you’ll find on the right. I can only write as myself.

I can also smell like…myself, and like myself, but better, finer, classier, brainier, sexier, taller, drop-dead intimidating.

You never know. I might even educate you!

Watch this space!

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