I've been looking back on the recent history of perfumes and colognes, to see if there's confirmation for the broader pattern of cultural stagnation and decline after circa 2010. Related to this post on the death of the fashion industry during that time. It's hard to remember the last time there was a major popular awareness, let alone irresistible buzz, about fragrances.
That's true even of their ads, once a mainstay of "have you seen it?" cultural excitement. I remember Keira Knightley in the bowler hat for Chanel, along with her appearance with ScarJo and Tom Ford on the cover of Vanity Fair, way back in 2006. Ford was primarily a fashion figure, but had also gotten involved in fragrances, and it just looked like a perfume ad — heavily stylized, dramatic poses, and the female nudity. It was iconic enough to provoke parodies — similar to the parodies of the equally iconic Calvin Klein TV ads in the '90s — and when was the last time anything perfume-related has accomplished that level of cultural awareness?
In any case, some of the big trends of the 2000s reminded me immediately of Aimee Terese. "That's such a MENA baddie scent!" The heavy, dark, masculine aspect combined with a lighter, brighter, feminine nature. The in-your-face extraverted sillage. The tenacious longevity. Just an all-around libidinal, heady, and intoxicating experience.
It was an abrupt departure from the usual low-energy, reserved, tranquil scents of the aquatic-to-spicy Nineties. And, since mainstream participation in the fragrance culture seems to have totally collapsed during the 2010s, that was the last time we'll ever know of women confidently announcing their presence in public so sensually yet tactfully, when every other 20 to 30-something urbanite woman was an edgy minimalist fun-loving badass chick.
On a hunch, I checked to see if Aimee had appeared on the Perfume Nationalist podcast, and why of course she had. Naturally she said she disliked the fruity, floral, sweet, overly feminine stuff, preferring the heavy and heady scents instead. (Note to her suitors: send gardenias, not roses.) Anna Khachiyan made similar remarks in her appearance on the show.
As an aside, this is yet another reason why passionate women find liberal soyboys unappealing as dates and mates. How can they enjoy wearing their favorite perfume, if the reaction is going to be about having allergies, or sensory overload of their autism? Recall that infamous DSA conference not only had a rule against loud noises, but also against strong or aggressive scents — flagrant anti-MENA discrimination from the professed allies of the Palestinians and Iranians.
Nope, if intense women want to find a man who can handle their intensity, he'll have to be a cultural moderate or conservative. Not some flinch-nerd who's going to suffer an anxiety attack if she smells like anything other than the interior of an Apple Store.
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What particular examples do I have in mind? I'm not a frag-head, but here are a few I know of.
Scent Intense by Costume National (2002). The only one I own myself, it's listed as unisex but is more on the masculine side, and suitable only for the baddie crew among women, as well as men with a strong romantic streak.
I have the same bottle from when it came out while I was in college. I had to travel to the Barneys CO-OP outside of Boston (the Mall at Chestnut Hill), first by express bus for an hour, then a 30-minute metro ride, and finally walking for 15-30 minutes. Quite the excursion for a fragrance, but I wanted it bad, and didn't want to have to wait until my next day-trip to New York. (Costume National has a boutique on Wooster St. in SoHo if you're nearby.)
But still, that gave me a greater experience than just placing an order online and opening a package left on the doorstep. It was a journey, a commitment.
For Her by Narciso Rodriguez (2004). I never toured the women's fragrance sections, but could not avoid this one when it debuted. During the summer of 2004 in Barcelona, I always walked through the El Corte Ingles department store downtown, to catch a break from the heat and humidity. Knowing this behavior of the pedestrians, the store put in place an entire gauntlet of displays and models who were all but pulling you into their personal space to smell the test strips.
Mediterranean babes offering a heady, dark, intense aroma to test out? Hmmm, yes, I think I can stop by for awhile and chat them up about what ingredients are in it, what kind of woman I might buy it for, etc. Come to think of it, the last time I was stopped by a perfume babe standing in a heavy-traffic path inside a department store was the summer of 2013 — more confirmation that fragrance culture died out during the 2010s.
Black Orchid by Tom Ford (2006). I haven't actually smelled this one, but it sounds like a fellow traveler of the others. And in college, I did used to have a deodorant stick of the newly released M7 by YSL, which Ford was in creative control of at the time, so I trust his judgment in making an equally heady-and-heavy scent for women. Unlike the others in this trend, though, there's a cornucopia of ingredients, more of an homage to the symphonic arrangements of the 1980s than the minimalist 2000s.
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I was trying to think of what celebs would've been most likely to wear these scents, but came up empty-handed. The main examples did not use them in their ads — just the anonymous and alluring fashion models, who have been steadily replaced by actresses, singers, and other celebs as fashion figures.
The typical wearer was also a type that hardly exists anymore — they were not girlboss careerists choosing a perfume as though it were a weapon for battle, nor were they hipsters who would've found perfume categorically pretentious and unsuitable to ironic usage. Not pop culture strivers / junkies either, a type that didn't really exist back then.
They were urbanite professionals who were not yuppies — those whose primary interest was in living an exciting lifestyle, creating a mysterious persona, and so on. Working to live, not living to work. Their job — not even necessarily in a very creative field — was just a means of paying for parties, drinks, clothes, perfumes, and the rest of the good life.
So, she was akin to a hipster, but not part of an identifiable sub-culture. She could have been the only woman in her social circle who dressed that way and wore that kind of perfume. A cultural lone wolf (or rather she-wolf, as MENA baddie Shakira would popularize in 2008 with her sleek and sensual disco-rock song of that name).
However, the American-led economy blew up for good in 2008, with the top 20% only prospering thereafter from central bank bailouts (quantitative easing). Elite over-production kicked into hyperdrive, and then there was no more "work to live" spirit left. The economy, and with it the rest of the culture, became palpably more and more fake over the 2010s, whereas the free-wheeling spirit of the mid-to-late 2000s could not have thrived under such conditions of nihilism and cynicism.
And again, these new attitudes are not just a psychological problem that may be undone, but the inevitable consequence of the entire economy becoming openly, unmistakably fake. The QE handout recipients of the 2010s through today can only feel like spoiled rich kids who don't deserve their wealth, and are just getting paid to party. That's more of a degenerate socialite's situation, not the "work to live" professional whose mind was not weighed down by unavoidable doubts of being an over-glorified welfare queen.
In fact, independence and confidence were central to their lifestyle, and once the economy blew up, they began obsessing over their basic material security. "Is the next QE check from the central bank going to clear this month?" "Does my new boss have a line of credit with the central bank, or are we going to go under without getting bailed out?" This ceaseless anxiety is also that of the degenerate socialite, who has to worry each time they run their daddy's credit card — have they been put in financial time-out this weekend, or cut off altogether?
Professional gals of the 2000s did not have these ongoing anxiety attacks, and could enjoy their "work to live" lifestyle in blissful ignorance of what was to come during the next decade.