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Friday, October 24, 2008

Perfumed prose

I was idly scrolling down the New York Times homepage when I should be going to bed, and the words "Perfume Review" in an article title caught my eye. Huh?

Yes, as part of the T Magazine fashion supplement, there's a review of a couple $250 perfumes. Sounds like a tricky task, to translate smell into words.
Manakara smells like a color-saturated contemporary painting, as if Barnett Newman’s 1966 “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?” somehow exuded scent from its glaring acrylic surface.

Rêve is a delectable, edible, light-infused leather that is instantly legible, deliciously impossible, as if an Hermès belt had been candied and baked by a patissier.

I can smell it right now.

Admittedly, those might be the silliest parts. But the whole thing is snicker-inducing -- the author takes his vapidness very seriously.


lj said...

It doesn't seem to me very different from high-end food & wine reviews. Not that those aren't often absurd, but it's just not such a weird outlier if you think about it: just another sense, taken to the extreme.

A while I ago I read about* a whole book of perfume reviews that actually sounds kind of interesting. Although what really intrigued me was the one review quoted there, which explains part of "the used bookstore smell." I supposed what I would actually be interested in would be a book on the science of scent, or the history of perfumes or something.

[* what actually happened, in this hyperlinked world, was that I read a mention of a link to a blog post with links to reviews of a book. Bwah...]

teague said...

Good point...I was thinking about music reviews, which are also often straining to use words to discuss something very different from language. The thing that makes the perfume review a bit more absurd (to me) is that the vocabulary is a lot less developed, and the author's efforts to reach beyond that limited vocabulary lead to sillier figurative language than you'd usually find in other types of reviews.

A related thought: Since smells are so deeply linked with memories, it might add a complication to common discussion of them. That example about vanilla/old books is one where most people have similar associations with it, but many smells that might go into fragrances could easily have different subconscious associations for different people, making their reactions (and the metaphors they might choose to describe them) very different.