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Embracing the ephemeral

I love to categorize but I don’t think it’s just younger people, or just Americans, or just perfume fans that have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that all things eventually pass into time.

Here we are loving a medium that is generally contained in alcohol and going to evaporate. Whether it evaporates from our skin a frenzy of delight or out of the bottle in a sad wisp of regret, eventually, it’s going to evaporate. Oils will oxidize and go bad, and water perfumes… well. There is no magic sauce that keeps a perfume forever. It’s a living thing, and like ELO said, it’s a given thing, even though it is a terrible thing to lose.

I’ve been soaking in experiences of ephemerality lately, from the very serious (a few too many people have died recently, that I know and didn’t know) and the completely frivolous (people who just can’t come to grips with the fact that a TV or movie character dies). Coming from a literary background, though I myself am a huge fan of the happy in art, I can appreciate the need for tragedy as an art form, and the aspects of entropy that it reflects. “Lear” is sad because that dude is going to die, and figuring out what to do with his possessions is a problem he truly does have to face. In the same way, (spoilers), Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman don’t end up together at the end, and yo, “Braveheart” doesn’t end happily either. I’m not saying I enjoy wallowing in sad realizations of unhappy truths – and “Ethan Frome”, by the way, is a dreadful book – but I am saying that some great and even fun art recognizes that there is a beginning and an ending to things and nothing brings that home like the love of perfume.

I find some sad perfumes, like Apres l’Ondee, to be tougher to wear all the time, but I’m talking here about a meta-frame for the art: it’s not that the art itself is sad, it’s that the art itself is ephemeral, and has a lifespan, and is going away.

Perhaps the best thing about this today is that while perfumes from the past may be unrecreatable, today we can record and save well very precise formulae for a perfume’s creation. Much more likely to affect a perfume’s ability to be recreated in the future is the lack of an ingredient – not like oakmoss, which is banned, but like Arabian sandalwood, which is gone. Since perfume (it’s a living thing) is made up of natural ingredients derived from plants (and previously from animals, though we don’t do that any more), if the plant or animal disappears, so does necessarily the perfume. And current ingredients, like orris, may not be fiscally worthwhile to grow in a world that has so many billions of people to feed, even if important trees weren’t harvested into oblivion. (Hello Oblivion, how’s the wife and kids?)

So from a perfume point of view: go read Angela’s article on Now Smell This about vintage perfumes that you should try at some point; store your perfumes carefully away from light and heat, but not so far away that you can’t get at them to wear them; enjoy Une Voix Noire and realize that Mark Behnke is right, it’s the scent of a dying gardenia, not a fresh young one, and appreciate something that gives us a scent from something other than the youngster point of view; and hug people while you smell good, because good and happy actions create more that will last in the world than anything else.


Image is “Manky Dying Flower 1” by Aiden Blenkinsopp, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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4 comments to Embracing the ephemeral

  • dervishspin

    This post was heart-breakingly beautiful.

  • Is it OK if I comment only on a non-perfume part (because I’m still upset from the recent Miss Dior fiasco and don’t want to think about vanishing favorite perfumes)?

    What I wanted to say: I don’t need any drama from the art. I don’t think it should never appear in there but I think that only young people (let’s say, under 30) should be subjected to it. I got my fair share of “art drama” when I was younger but since then I’ve experienced enough in the real life and I suspect there is going to be even more as I grow older that I just do not have any sympathy left to share it with anything that isn’t real. I know that I’m not getting a “happy end” in my own life (just because there isn’t such thing) so I want to get it from books, movies, etc.

    • Judith

      I don’t think you should need any drama from the art. I think it’s young people who want art to be painful and gritty and older people who realize that life is often painful and gritty, and it’s OK if art is simply beautiful. Because life is beautiful too, sometimes even when it’s painful and gritty, and capturing a little of that beauty is a worthwhile endeavor.

What do you think?