A drifter comes into a small town on foot and is arrested for vagrancy. The police don't know what to do with him. He doesn't match any missing or wanted persons in the database; what's more, he hasn't got a shred of ID on him and refuses to tell the processing officer his name. They call in the FBI: same story. They bring in a psychologist: no dice. The mystery man remains a mystery. Sitting calmly in his six-by-eight jail cell as policemen and federal agents and social workers and newspaper reporters buzz all around, puzzling and scratching their heads, this holy fool smiles a beatific smile.
"I already know who I am, kind sirs," he tells them. "If you want to know, it's your job to find out-- not mine."
identity (ī-dĕn'-tĭ-tĕ) n., pl. –ties. 1. The condition or fact of being a certain person or thing and recognizable as such. 2. The condition or fact of being the same as something else: sameness. 3. In the social sciences, a person’s conception or expression of group affiliation (i.e. national or cultural identity). 4. In psychology, a person’s conception or expression of self (as in gender or individuality). M.Fr. identité, from L.Lat. identitat-, identitas, prob. from Lat. identidem “repeatedly”, contraction of idem et idem, literally “same and same”.
Perfume defines identity. This, we know. At this moment, at least a hundred people are sniffing their wrists and thinking, This. This is the one. Forget the others. This one is ME. Whoever and whatever "me" is, a fragrance can help us decide. It says for us in shorthand what would take too long to explain to every person we meet: who we are, what we stand for, what we're all about.
Perfume declares identity. Like most social animals, we broadcast scent to be recognized and accepted by our peers. Without the proper olfactory calling card, membership in certain circles would be difficult, if not impossible. As a million teenaged girls might tell you, a bottle of the "right" perfume is part of the admission ticket to one's chosen strata of the human race.
Perfume contains identity. Unless they're knockoffs or flankers, the juices themselves have individual characters. Certain resemblances may exist between members of a perfume brand (or even more so, within a perfume "family" such as chypres or marines) but in the best of cases, each perfume is nonpareil; just like a person, it demands to be met on its own terms.
In this, Derby is no different than ten thousand other fragrances. It is what it is. But like the drifter in the story, it also dares and defies you to tell who you think it is. And it doesn't give away hints for free.
One of the first things we learn as children is to identify others by gender. Does fragrance have gender? Ought it to? Whenever we're not certain, we call a perfume "unisex"-- but can this empty word so beloved of marketers and ad-copyists encapsulate what is so truly, resolutely, gloriously genderqueer about Derby?
It opens with a sweet-and-sour green bergamot and jasmine accord which misleads the hearer into thinking the path ahead is all mapped out. But within mere seconds, a handsome accord of birch tar, pepper, and vetiver steps into view and catches hold of the floral's hand. As they stand side by side, one notices every point of complementary difference (and more than a few points of harmony). Between these fraternal twins, a field of electricity crackles, welding them together, keeping them apart.
Here, in essence, we have two perfumes occupying the same space: one a chic and feminine floral chypre, the other an adventuresome masculine leather. Before you make any prejudicial assumptions, understand that the chypre is his and the leather is hers... and these two share everything.
Derby is the Plato's Symposium of perfume.
Strongly akin to Habit Rouge (only drier and less sweet), it features at its heart an intriguing, illusory cinnamon-stick accord that sits at the junction of about five other scent elements-- mace, patchouli, and black pepper being among them. Artemisia and vetiver shine throughout the drydown, a shimmering dry-herbs accord almost incense-like in nature, reminiscent of Bertrand Duchaufour's style. Yet this arid note does not cancel out what is dewy and green about Derby. It just transplants it to another neighborhood and somehow makes it thrive. If you've ever seen a jungle of happy houseplants prospering on a seedy Lower East Side fire escape, you know what I mean.
If one did choose Derby as the perfume to define, declare, and contain their identity, I would imagine that this person had already come to an acceptance of all the different facets of self that comprise them as an individual-- the male, the female, the inbetween. But as a moniker, "androgynous" is too often used to describe surfaces, visual cues, appearances. Since a fragrance possesses none of these, what word can one use?
I'm tempted to say that Derby is two-spirited, hoping that this term will hint somewhat at its aura of serene self-possession. It's not masculine; nor is it feminine. It's not the city, and it's not the country. It's both; it's neither. It's everything; it's nothing. It's what you perceive it to be, and it's not. It is what it is.
And it's beautiful.
Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, artemisia, peppermint, pimento, rose, pepper, mace, jasmine, leather, vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood, moss