lundi 12 décembre 2016

"Right, but you're an expert"



Though it doesn’t seem likely that the worlds of politics and perfume could cross over much, there's something in the air that's seeped through from one to the other. Almost nothing really. A vibe. A couple of dog whistles. For instance, a few days ago, at a press presentation, I remarked that a sea-spray and single-malt scented fragrance called "cuir something" didn't smell much like leather at all. The press officer smilingly dismissed the comment with “Well, right, but you’re an expert”.

I don’t suppose she meant that her brand's customers couldn’t tell the smell of boots from a whiff of brine. But given the current context, I couldn't help but feel that her comment resonated, however faintly, with the expert-bashing of Brexit campaigners and their ilk. As did a phrase I read yesterday in a French industry magazine, where a journalist remarked that gourmands should now be acknowledged as a full-fledged fragrance family, adding that the genre, though “disliked by a perfumistic elite, […] has been embraced by the public”.

Now, “elite” is a loaded word. These days it is often meant as a slur. As the French translator of Fifty Shades of Grey, I know what it’s like to put one’s name (albeit in a tiny font) to a blockbuster that's bashed by the media. So I can understand that the perfumers and marketing execs behind glucose-laden concoctions can get a little annoyed at bloggers, editors or other industry professionals looking down their noses at gourmands. Isn't that "elitist", when the whole world seems to love them?

Granted, given current events, I might have become hyperosmic to populist anti-intellectualism, just as I am to spiky-wood molecules. But I can't help feeling that the rancid fumes rising up from the ballot boxes are trickling into our sweet-scented haven -- after all, “rancid” comes from the same Latin verb, rancere, “to stink”, than “rancor”, i.e. bitterness, resentment. Ultimately, it all comes down to smell. It suffuses everything. Even our seemingly innocent desire to think through perfume. As they used to say in May 68: "Everything is political".

15 commentaires:

  1. Oh, no. I thought that perfume talk might be the one thing I wouldn't be discouraged by in this dark autumn. It has been tainted, too? Sigh. Well, D., dismissive remarks say more about the remarker than the remarked-upon. ;-)

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  2. Ouch. Sorry to be depressing, here... I may be overly sensitive and overreacting. But I suppose there's no reason why in this case as well, perfume wouldn't reflect society. That said, it's not like they've been chanting "lock her up" at me and my fellow "experts": people are still charming, courteous, and for all it's worth, I *have* fallen in love with quite a few scents recently. One of which is *definitely* a gourmand!

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    1. Oh, my gosh, even YOU?! (Confession: I own a bottle of Gourmand Coquin, so even I've joined the club.)

      Wanted to thank you, by the way, for introducing us to Must de Cartier Gold. Based on your thumbs-up, I blind-bought. It's quite lovely. Very few people I would trust that much, dear D.

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    2. Yup, gone over to the dark side... But the scent is by Michel Almairac, one of the true greats among active perfumers. And it's not dripping with caramel.
      And I'm happy to have helped you discover a scent you love -- quite honored to deserve that level of trust, too!

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  3. How true - you've hit on the pervading bitterness in the air .... and I've never understood why it's wrong to want to be in the elite category! I'm retreating to my little cave to hibernate for a while.
    Jillie

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    1. I'm sure some lexicographers and/or sociologists have traced the morphing of "elite" into a dirty word... I agree it's profoundly disheartening, just as much as the slut-shaming directed at women who express both sexual freedom AND a functioning intellect... And I do feel like hibernating too. But another part of me tells me to resist, and fight.

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  4. Speaking of women, I can't help but wonder if this hint of elitist-shaming might tie in to our gender to an extent? We've been advised not to be "too smart" (read: too threatening) for eons. I do hope you listen to that other part. And, per Michelle Obama, "when they go low, we go high."

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    1. There *is*, on occasion, a difference in the response to an "expert", depending on gender. I see it in the treatment of the sole(smart, charming and knowledgeable) straight white male among Parisian perfume editors, bless him. That said, the Paris perfume world is a pretty damn nice place to work in, overall!

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  5. I've seen it as an experienced female wine writer in a group of mostly-male journalists, asking an intelligent question of a French or Italian winemaker on his estate and being pointedly ignored. Wow. I felt the sting of it, and the surprise of it.

    I am glad that you're happy in that milieu, and continue to write for our pleasure and education!

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  6. I think you are spot on, in an era of "post truth" you can just as easily call a melon based fragrance cuir as a leather one! Also the people peddling this pernicious nonsense have decided that a member of an elite is exactly the same as an expert - so you can just as easily dismiss climate change experts or indeed any expert because they are just part of a metropolitan political class! It should be resisted wherever it surfaces!
    Maureen

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Maureen. It just seems that the rancid rancor driving the current political climate is finding faint echoes all over. Mind you, marketing and advertising *do* have their roots in propaganda...

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  7. Denyse, your observation that rancid comes from the same Latin root word as rancor is very astute. I've become a bit obsessed with politics, and one of the people I follow on twitter is a "Never Trump" Republican and professor of political science, Tom Nichols. He has a book on this topic coming out next spring entitled "The Death of Expertise."

    Playing on resentment to con people is another form of corruption, really, which also stinks. Hah, I never expected that being a connoisseur of perfume would make me part of the resistance, but I'll do what I can. ;-)

    nozknoz

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    1. We all do what we can in small ways, right? I've been obsessed with politics too, especially since I'm the French translator of a political scientist of the radical left -- so I've had to read up to better understand her references. Sometimes it's hard to stay focused on our pretty, tiny world when the world at large seems to be bent on self-destruction. But I suppose we do need our little havens of beauty to go back to before facing the ugliness again, right?

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