Some perfumes pair naturally with fashion, their characters best expressed in the language of fabric and texture. If Bois des Îles is warm velvet, Chanel No. 5 is cold slippery satin-- but the first time I wore it, I was dressed in a cheap polyester men's suit.
I got it (the suit, not the perfume) for eight bucks at the local Goodwill. An experimental art event I was co-hosting required several costumes -- one being 'Secret Service Agent' -- and I needed disposable threads fast. The suit was an off-the-rack JCPennys number designed to tide a budding salesman over until his first paycheck justified an upgrade in business armor. Ill-fitting and laughable though it may have been, I hoped to transform it with Doc Martens and black wraparound shades into something reasonably hip. A look in the mirror told me I was close, so close-- but not quite.
Then I sprayed on the Chanel No. 5.
Cue the opening chords of Tomoyasu Hotei's "Battle Without Honor or Humanity". Suddenly I was a member of the Crazy 88 -- the nonviolent graphic arts chapter, anyway -- self-assured, sharp, and lethally cool.
Throughout the turbocharged hours that followed (during which my fellow artists and I rocketed around an auditorium lassoing onlookers into interactive creative games and handing out free artworks as prizes) No. 5 kept my path paved with pure, shining gold. I eased on down that road like a Wiz, stopping halfway to swap my Secret Service garb for a gorgeous 1960 crinolined robe de style in eye-popping azure-and-green floral satin and vintage heels. No. 5 didn't even flinch. As it had made the suit über-cool, it gave added grace to the gown-- and by god, it did more that afternoon to spread the gospel of creativity than all of our efforts combined.
Since then I've pondered whether it's not the fashion, but the art with which No. 5 is paired that brings to life.
In the ten months since Suzanne sent this decant of vintage pure parfum for my husband to tuck in my Christmas stocking, I've worn it to any number of art events-- formal, informal, contrived, improvisational, absurdist or merely absurd-- conscious in each instance how very much No. 5 seems to belong there. If a perfume could ever be termed sentient, capable of expressing its own wishes as to where and when and with whom it should be worn, No. 5 seems to ask for nothing more than a gift subscription to ARTnews and a MetroCard. It begs to be unleashed in galleries, museums, outdoor art fairs, rooftop receptions, basement happenings, black box theatres, and graffiti slams. I believe that it would make its way into the art, if it only could. (A No. 5-imbued Naples Yellow oil paint would be a Dick Blick bestseller.)
Today I have an exhibit installation to preside over. I'll be lugging ladders, hanging hardware, riding service elevators... and wearing No. 5. Thinking ahead to the future, if New York's Museum of Art and Design gets around to launching its Chandler-Burr-curated Art of Scent exhibit as promised before the Sephora Sensorium closes at the end of November, you know who'll be there.
Hint: I'm her ride.
Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, lemon, jasmine, rose, lily-of-the-valley, ylang-ylang, orris, vetiver, sandalwood, cedar, vanilla, amber, musk, civet