Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bombshell Perfumes--Sex, Power and Femininity

How are these different from Wedding Perfumes? I think some perfumes could be both (in fact they all could be both), but I'd say that Bombshell Perfumes are the ones you generally won't wear to church. When I first joined an online perfume forum, I'd followed a link from my search for the book "Bombshell Manual of Style" by Laren Stover (with fabulous illustrations by Ruben Toledo) and ended up on a perfume forum. I didn't know before I got the book that there was a chapter in the book dedicated to perfumes described by the author as "bombshell" but on this forum, people were discussing their own favorite "bombshell perfumes" and I naturally had to jump into the conversation (and I've been talking about perfume ever since). I remember saying that I thought Boucheron was bombshell; a member replied and said that she thought Caron Montaigne was. I've always been drawn to perfumes that were dramatic, seductive, intoxicating and perhaps a little disturbing. Laren Stover has her own definition but that's how I would describe the Bombshell Perfume.

The difference between the well-mannered perfume and the bombshell is that the bombshell is distinctive, pervasive and often daringly animalic (musky with notes such as civet or castoreum) whereas the non-bombshells are innocent, polite and clean, seeming to just fit into the background of life and never call attention to itself or to the wearer. I would say "bombshell" and "sexy" are interchangeable adjectives but some people oppose the idea of calling any perfume "sexy", especially if it's used to describe straightforward and powerful scents. Of course, some people don't like the idea of women being sexually empowered at all ("sensual" is better than "sexy", they argue). Too bad--what they consider vulgar I see as a necessity to survive and be happy. I believe in female power and refuse to be quieted down. My philosophy extends into the olfactory realm.

I bring up the term "powerful" because someone on one of the forums described bombshell (or sexy) perfumes as being "powerful" and I think that sums it up--except I don't think being powerful alone makes a seductive scent. What each person perceives as being sexy or sensual or seductive depends on our own individual associations (some think leather's sexy, others think violets are sexy, etc). They say woods are the strongest notes in perfumery but most woody perfumes are fragrances for Men (although this is changing as the industry realizes than many women love heavily wooded fragrances for themselves). Typically, the Oriental family is base-heavy with rich, sweet notes of amber, vanilla and incense, as well as spices; these are generally seen as being too strong for a professional office setting. Oriental perfumes are often marketed as sexy perfumes. Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur comes to mind.

There are certain flowers which are symbols of femininity, and most of these are strongly scented flowers, disturbing (in the best way) in the air if you wore them as perfume in very large quantity. Tuberose is one of the most precious notes in perfumery, a staple of the industry. It's a heady tropical white flower known as "Mistress of the Night". White flowers are symbols of femininity in many cultures: Peony in China, tiare in Tahiti and jasmine, known as the King of Flowers (as rose is known as the Queen of Flowers) the world over, are considered aphrodisiacs. Rose, in a class of its own, is a timeless symbol of femininity and another precious ingredient in perfumery; in fact, most perfumes are built on jasmine and rose. Speaking of being strong and disturbing, the mere presence of women was once so disturbing to some that women have been banned from holy sites--for instance, in Japan, women were forbidden to enter the sumo ring, a symbol of spiritual purity. In a misogynistic society, women are often despised for their "scent". A Japanese bartender once told me that traditionally, women are not allowed to become sushi chefs because women's hands are deemed too soft and strongly scented to make sushi, a clean-tasting dish. Misogyny aside, the scent of women is celebrated in perfumery.

In a time when the '50s trend will have women believe that being strong and owning our own sexuality (by being sexy) is bad and being soft and unassuming is more feminine (and socially more acceptable), I hope we keep talking about the bombshell perfumes lest these scents--and we who love them--become invisible or obsolete. Light and airy fragrances are enjoyable and I certainly wear them, but they are not replacements for truly great, grand perfumes (I need both). Whereas many retro perfumes were meant to be soft and unassuming, (to quote an actual perfume ad) to let the man be more of a man (by being a soft and quiet "woman", smelling like a non-threatening being), I believe we need to move forward in the perfume realm and either find new ways of selling light and clean or soft and powdery perfumes to women without succumbing mindlessly to that backward way of thinking, or put out some fragrances for women with body, substance and power. Yes, power. It's sexy--and feminine--to me.

Some that I see as bombshells are: Jean Patou Joy, Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb, Guerlain Shalimar, Guerlain L'Heure Bleue, Guerlain Samsara, Guerlian Nahema, Caron Narcisse Noir, Caron Tabac Blond, Caron Montaigne, Robert Piguet Fracas, Paloma Picasso, Ungaro Diva, Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle, Jil Sander No.4, Rochas Femme, Panthere de Cartier, Givenchy Amarige, Givenchy Ysatis, Van Cleef & Arpels Gem, Giorgio Beverly Hills Red, Calvin Klein Obsession, Yves Saint-Laurent Y. I will also add Christian Dior Poison even if Laren Stover disagrees, saying it's too strong. Apparently, she didn't know that a strong perfume like Poison isn't meant to be doused but deftly, wisely worn in the most discreet amounts to create the perfect sillage. A bombshell perfume isn't supposed to walk ahead of you but when you move, it should leave behind a subtle trail of scent that says "yes, a real woman just slinked past". Poison is a tuberose-based bombshell, a controversial '80s futuristic masterpiece. I think it's powerful and confident, therefore sexy. Above all, it's distinctive. Do you have favorite bombshell perfumes? (Images: Images de Parfums)