Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Feature: For the Love of Perfume History

My most generous and intuitive husband gifted me with the glorious text Perfume: A Cultural History of Fragrances From 1750 to the Present by Richard Standelman. My gratitude and excitement cannot be expressed in words! I have briefly skimmed the book over the course of one hour and find it so rich in history and ideas I must share them with you. In that vein, I plan to share little-known facts and discussions regarding perfume history, based upon this book and other sources, once per month. To keep things consistent, this feature will appear the fourth Wednesday of every month.

Today's tidbit centers around Lancôme's 1995 launch of Poême. I will paraphrase and summarize pages 204-205 from the book Perfume. The surrealist poet Paul Eluard (1895-1952) ironically rarely spoke of the olfactory sense but rather relied on specific visual descriptions to literally be his nose. Because of his exquisite work and his ability to put into words surreal concepts eerily parallel to the elusive nature of perfume, by the end of the twentieth century Paul Eluard's poetry became closely tied to fragrance. The marketing campaign of Lancôme Poême, although certainly not the first to link perfume and poetry, catapulted Eluard's popularity to the masses. Advertisements for Poême quoted a poem by Eluard called "Je t'aime" (I love you). Lines such as "I love you against everything that is mere illusion" became the eloquent backdrop to the floral bouquet of Poême. Even more fascinating is the literal translation of Poême, which contains the signature circonflex above the "e," a trademark Lancôme marketing strategy. Because of this adjustment, it can translate to "la peau qui aime" meaning "the skin that loves." Because skin is the medium of scent, how clever to suggest an amorous relationship between the largest organ and scent. Certainly the marketing folks at Lancôme thoroughly investigated the factors that would make this launch a success and they were able to make a connection that tomes could be written about today.

I have discovered over the last year of writing perfume reviews that I quite often link perfume to something tangible in an effort to describe it. The truth about perfume is its elusive nature, its inability to be grasped and looked at and the challenge inherent in describing it. This truth is the reason we perfume bloggers have such fun and the reason writing about perfume is an art form. Therefore, I am duly impressed at Lancôme's ability to link such baffling concepts of the imagination demonstrated by Eluard's poetry to their fragrance.

For more on the connection between poetry and perfume, my lovely and intellectual friend Heather's blog Memory and Desire is devoted to it.

Where else have you discovered connections between poetry and perfume? Is there a specific scent you've linked to a certain poem?

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