Intimate (Revlon)

She was our angel, the sweet angel of sex, and the sugar of sex came up from her like the resonance of sound in the clearest grain of a violin... a very Stradivarius of sex, so gorgeous, forgiving, humorous, compliant and tender that even the most mediocre musician would relax his lack of art in the dissolving magic of her violin.
A bit much? Well, that's Norman Mailer for you. He packs all this and more into the first two paragraphs of his 1973 Sexy Book of Sexy Sex "novel biography" of Marilyn Monroe. Here's another snippet:
...when the sexual immanence of her face came up on the screen like a sweet peach bursting before one's eyes, she looked then like a new love ready and waiting between the sheets in the unexpected clean breath of a rare sexy morning... so curvaceous and yet without menace... "Take me," said her smile. "I'm easy. I'm happy. I'm an angel of sex, you bet."
Of course, Mailer describes only Marilyn Monroe's effect. Her self -- internal, inscrutable, remote -- regarded the act of sex as frustrating, a cipher she could not crack. "I don't know if I do it the right way," she lamented to a close friend. (Recently unearthed recordings Monroe made with her psychotherapist reveal that she was unable to experience orgasm until her mid-thirties-- a startling insight into the life of a "sex goddess".)

In truth, perhaps Monroe's temperament was best suited to the icy abstractions of Chanel No. 5 or the prickly-crisp propriety of Floris Rose Geranium. (Six bottles!? That's devotion!) Even in her artless, hip-wiggling way, she possessed too much innate dignity and caution to wear the perfume I'm here to discuss.

Yet Mailer's racy paean to her still has its uses. Simply change all the pronouns, and we have a ready-made review of Revlon Intimate.

I knew nothing about Intimate until I read this post on Pink Manhattan. While watching Ciao! Manhattan, Sali Oguri spied a bottle of Revlon Intimate sitting on Edie Sedgwick's cluttered vanity table. Sure, it could have been mere set dressing, scooped up by a hurried prop master and tossed like a grenade into the cinematic chaos. But when you're good and truly obsessed with something -- as I most certainly am with Edie* -- any fresh factoid seems like a gem of new insight.

Conventional wisdom claims Fracas as Edie's fragrance of choice. That monumental tuberose could certainly have been the source of the "sweet but somewhat sickly smell" which exuded from her body during sex-- the only thing her lovers seemed to find memorable about the occasion. They described her (rather ungallantly, I think) as a clumsy child, "boring and uninteresting" in bed. Like Marilyn Monroe, 'La Sedgwick' could not deliver on the powerful promise which she unconsciously broadcast; her detachment disappointed those who thought they had a right to sexual fireworks.

What kiss-and-tell secrets could Intimate whisper about her?

An opportunity to discover the answer came when DC scored a vintage bottle of Intimate Perfume Spray at a local yard sale. She came to my house for a decanting session which turned into a bit of a wild ride. So insanely effervescent was Intimate, bursting out of the spray nozzle like a champagne rocket, that we couldn't even cap the decant vessel for almost an hour. We spent that time watching silvery bubbles of carbonation spiral upward through the golden liquid... and breathing in its scent from our own hands.

Within Intimate, we found rich florals, chypre-embedded woods, the strange fungal rot of gardenia petals, and a patchouli so fudgy it had us licking the tips of our fingers. But we also found something else-- that racy, raunchy factor composed entirely of animalic elements (civet, musk, castoreum) and popularly known as skank. Frankly put, Intimate smells like female genitalia-- so much so that it left us uncertain whether to giggle or blush. (Naturally, we did both.)

Once the floodgate opens, there's no shutting it. Since then, I've lucked into no fewer than three additional versions of vintage Revlon Intimate. A quarter-ounce mini of Eau de Toilette came packaged in a pink-and-black sample box emblazoned with the words, "A Gift From Your Beautician... Cherished as One of the World's Seven Great Fragrances!" A partial spray flacon of the Eau de Cologne turned up at a local antique store, followed by a tiny bottle of Perfume Oil Drops ("For the Body"-- no kidding!). I've worn them all.... and in the course of doing so, have pondered long and deeply on the significance of skank.

skank \ˈskaŋk\ n. (slang): a person and especially a woman of low or sleazy character.
--The Free Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
(underscore mine).

As a word, skank is somewhat of a lightning rod. The tone in which it's pronounced reveals volumes about the speaker's attitude toward womankind in general. I myself have used it to describe a number of feminine perfumes that I really like (DiBorghese, PdN Odalisque, Paco Rabanne La Nuit) and one masculine that I hated. Yet even when I apply it out of admiration, there's a touch of sarcasm in my delivery-- as if I hoped to distance myself from whatever damning implications might accompany its usage.

Though I admit to ambivalence about my own gender, I won't forsake it; I know firsthand how self-conscious and vulnerable our own bodies make us. Women are mortally afraid of being judged vulgar, of attracting mockery or inspiring disgust; what is most natural about us is what we work overtime to hide. If the basic currency of skank consists of feminine aroma -- that which author Tom Robbins worshipfully dubs your salty incense, your mushroom moon musk, your deep waves of clam honey breaking against the cold steel of civilization... (drawing) our noses to the grindstone of ecstasy -- to accept and embrace it is empowering.

Oh these things were made to be loved! Robbins proclaims. More than Norman Mailer, he's right.

So when I wear Intimate, I think of Edie, of Marilyn, of every woman who projects sex and magic, who struggles to maintain something inviolable within herself-- and then breaks just like a little girl. Carnality blended with sunny benevolence, sex without tangles or tears: this is someone else's wishful thinking. We are not these things, though we wear them like disguises.

No word of single syllable can sum us up.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, rose, coriander, gardenia, jasmine, iris, sandalwood, cedar, patchouli, amber, oakmoss, castoreum, civet, musk.

*I've occasionally let slip here what a total sucker I am for all things Edith. That includes Wharton, Bouvier Beale (Big AND Little!), Piaf, and Minturn Stokes (AKA "Fiercely"), Edie Sedgwick's great-aunt and namesake. (And by gum, we WILL count the middle Crawley sister on this list of Ediths or else burn it for kindling!)