As with all things, there are some troubling and unhealthy habits that can surface in the lives of some perfume enthusiasts and collectors. This article is in no way a flippant judgement about these issues – simply observations made because …. well, I’ve been there.
Let’s air a few.
1. Obsession. What starts as an appreciation, and then becomes a love and total fascination for olfactory stimulation via fine fragrance can easily become a looming monster of life-sapping proportions. As addictive as heroin or gambling or alcohol, perfume addiction is a problem. If you find yourself increasingly spending endless hours browsing online sites and retailers, constantly reading and checking reviews and forum discussions about current frag trends, and tirelessly pursuing empty bottles and boxes and labels and ribbons for sending decants, making up samples for swaps, auctions etc then you might really need to take a big, deep breath (preferably outside in the fresh air).
2. Spending. Bought any new bed linen lately? Put a deposit on that trip to Tasmania that you’ve always wanted to take? If all your available funds and all possible borrowed money options are locked up in purchases of perfume well into the future of say, just 4 easy payments, then maybe it’s time to stop and catch your breath and maybe go shopping for some fresh fruit and vegetables. Even if you have plenty of money, but you are running out of room to stash the hoard… then step away from the BUY NOW button and just breathe.
3. Ecology. Spouse or partner or friends or neighbours or kids or colleagues beginning to raise an eyebrow at the sheer number of times you ask them to smell something?
‘What… another new perfume?’
People finding reasons to look over your shoulder when you’re on your phone, tablet or computer because they are beginning to fear the phenomena they are perceiving to be really getting out of hand?
‘Don’t you think you have enough perfume?’
4. Consequences. A few porkies slip by (in case you’re wondering, porky pies is rhyming slang for lies),
“when did you buy this?” – ‘oh a little while ago’ (vague) or ‘oh it was one I’d forgotten about and found in the back of the wardrobe’ (dark grey zone of untruth) or ‘oh my friend from Kickacanalong gave it to me – she didn’t like it’ (really?) and ‘err, ummm I really forget’ (red-faced enough yet?)
If you spend any portion of your day feeling guilty, ashamed, afraid, self-disgust or panicked about how much money you’ve spent or pledged or signed up to spend on perfume, it’s time to really take yourself very gently by the hand and have a little heart-to-heart.
5. Instagram. Setting up endless studio shots of branded perfumes – whether new, vintage, second-hand or even nearly gone? I ask you just to stop and wonder (deeply) why am I doing this? You might well answer ‘because I enjoy doing this’ but I would counter that response with an observation that doing so is perhaps participation in the cultural phenomena of perfume addicts finding secondary ways in which to revive the flat spot in the week when a parcel of new purchases isn’t being delivered. Re-imagining last week’s (last month’s, last year’s) fab’ ‘fume blockbuster with a nice backdrop of crushed velvet and some banana peel isn’t still life. It’s postmodern pulp.
6. Facebook. If you are part of a perfume discussion group that gives you a hit/charge, keeps you up way past your bedtime, enrages you, isolates you or causes you to feel invisible or less-than or even resentful because your ‘fume stash is far less ostentatious than the endless array of new acquisitions of others… then maybe you are in the red zone and it’s truly time to take a break. One way to gauge levels of addiction is to make the connection between needing to justify one’s habit by associating exclusively with other addicts. Discussing the fine points and debating the nuances and urging others in the tribe to ‘try it’ or ‘go on, just get it’ is a safety-in-numbers construct. Perfume isn’t illegal. Perfume isn’t shameful. For goodness sake, it’s only perfume? …right?
I’m pretty certain that this article will only further alienate me from all the ‘get-more’ perfumistas that vehemently disagree. That’s OK. I care more about the folks that are feeling sad, lost, inadequate and trapped in an inexplicable perfume addiction. How did this happen? I have a few theories as to why this particular addiction takes hold of many of us. The main thrust of which is the perfume industry banks on selling us an ‘idea’ of who we are whenever we spray ourselves with Eau de X. Prestige, luxury, allure, beauty, wealth and seduction suddenly spurt out of the nozzle to envelop us in a cloud of wonder.
‘Oh Rufus, you smell like a God, take me now‘
But what truly dwells beneath the fragrant masking of that ‘Wanton Wildebeest‘? Is there an emotionally vulnerable human being in dire need of comfort and reassurance? A deep hunger for acknowledgement and validation? Is there some degree of frustration and despair and desperation for any kind of different inner state? A departure from anxiety? Depression and grief? Uncertainty? A need for more social clout? More power and more ‘reach’ in the world? Certainly that’s been the case for me.
My emotional needs were buried. I didn’t reach for L’Ambre des Merveilles because I thought it would rescue me from an unhappy childhood, I just loved the way it smelled and the aesthetic of the expensive bottle it came in. BUT… I’d read all the literature about the brand and the hyped exclusivity (ie considering any Hermes versus True Star Gold). I suppose, deep down, I just wanted to step inside the Hermes world of dressage and polo and grand prix saddles and Summers on the Cote dAzur. Whole bottles of L’Ambre dM, Caleche, 24 Faubourg, Terre D’Hermes and Jour D’Hermes later, and I didn’t even come close. I felt even lesser-than. And I was so much more in debt. And, I could have bought an economy return flight to Saint-Tropez.
How did I stop? My financial circumstances were so finite that I had to stop. There was no more wiggle room. No more hidden cash caches of ‘what-if-I just?…’ to hurl at the passing parade of perfume that never ceases… marching across the screen.
Three things happened.
1. I started to make my own.
2. I repeatedly reminded myself ‘it’s only perfume’. An ephemeral, invisible, chemical application that sits on my skin and hair (or clothes) and projects a pleasing scent for varying durations, and then totally disappears. Doesn’t feed anyone, doesn’t save anyone, doesn’t fix anything, doesn’t solve anything. If I didn’t wear any at all today, not much would actually change about me at all.
3. I went to see a hypnotherapist to crack the emotional code of my addiction, and I cried a lot about my messed up childhood and then I went free.
I remember clearly now – when all is said and done – it’s only perfume. And I love it.
Final word. As I sell my own hand-made perfume, I use facebook and instagram solely to promote my brand of natural perfume. It is the commercial branch of my arts practice. I don’t support addiction. I prefer to operate sustainably, and ethically and I try to follow the advice of my elders:- ‘all things in moderation’.
Each quarter I donate a generous percentage of my profits (in rotation) to Sea Shepherd, Australian Conservation Foundation, WWF and Greenpeace. Previous years I have donated a percentage of my perfume profits as well as profits from my performance art collaborations with Steve Reinthal to The Orangutan Project, Save the Tiger Fund and Amnesty International. It’s in this way I’m able to realise that in some small way, my art is more than just perfume.