There may exist, somewhere, possibly even in our everyday circles, a paradox interlacing our conscious and unconscious pursuit of affirmations of diversity. As we clumsily take our positions within our respective metronomes, ticking to the cues of our neighbors, it’s the conscious or unconscious leaning toward sameness that inadvertently exposes our differences. Such individual differences can be intriguing, if they can be vignetted into an externally defined window of conversation within our short attention spans. External definitions most commonly comprise limitations of time coupled with the artificially rewarded compulsion to multitask, each and all of which condition our attention spans to evolve ever shorter.
When we open our minds, we increase the potential surface area with which we can intersect with others or what they offer. Isn’t that the premise of most art? Step one, get my attention. Step two, get me to wonder what it means to me.
It’s not hard for a perfume to get my attention. The next step is where things diverge. For the most part, my nostrils are a meritocracy, and the one I like most by smell makes it into my budding collection (or wish list). Some exceptions make themselves by clever naming, or packaging, or both.
The more I get to know perfumes and their marketing, the more I’m starting to see the spectrum of ways they attempt to draw you in. Beaten path of glamorous illusion à la celebrities in sexy poses aside, a divide leads to those that weave inchoate stories and those that wow with unprecedented technical advancements. The former may evoke raw emotions even without foreknowledge of intent, but upon seeking, said intent reveals itself through lurid prose and dares the sniffer not to adopt the narrative into first person. Like with some forms of modern art, the viewer is invited—or cajoled, or coerced—into a compartment of the maelstrom of the artist’s indecipherable mind, and the only way out is, paradoxically, to internalize it so as to build a portal to the definite externality of everyday life.
The other kind of perfume—the kind that nods to puzzle solvers and lovers of photorealism (I might be projecting here, just a little)—challenges the audience to do more with what we’ve got and look beyond. It opens doors and disappears walls, without imposing its will. It has no need to be clingy, because it’s revealing something new, an expansion.
One appeals to something buried deep inside, coated with uneven, sticky layers of imagination—it enchants you to look back. The other peels away preconceptions to make room for something that did not exist before—it inspires you to look forward.
At the end of the day, much of that still boils down to marketing—the naming, packaging, and deliberate verbal interpretations of the olfactory experience. So perhaps none of the distinctions we make are real.
Which frees us to choose our fictions in perfume.