Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Credits: photo (top of page) of Carly Simon on Martha's vineyard is from a video directed by Steve Lippman that can be found here:

Video of Carly Simon and James Taylor performing "Mockingbird" is from Carly Simon's YouTube channel.

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Rob didn’t want to talk to Hank either, or to anyone else. So he found his place in a corner and settled in to watch the women. Sometimes when he saw a new one, he could be filled with longing, but he didn’t mind. The ache wasn’t unpleasant, if it didn’t get out of hand, if he kept his distance.

But he was unprepared for the one that caught his eye. Across the porch, standing in a shaft of sunset. He knew he could be in for trouble if he wasn’t careful. He tried to maintain his safe position, with a barrier of two dozen cocktail drinkers between him and her. But the crowd parted in order to tempt him. He had a clear view of her face and her extraordinary posture—knees cocked, chest high, hips tilted.

He admired the tilt. The pelvic confidence.

And yet there was also a certain contrasting timidity of gesture. The napkin around her glass was shredded. Her hair was in some disarray, and was an odd peach color, matching her dress. She didn’t look like a lawyer or a lawyer’s wife, certainly not a judge’s wife. She looked like a waitress. He was a great fan of waitresses. His heart ached.

All he could do was hold his ground, drink his gin, and watch her arms. They were bare and, unlike the arms of the women on the porch, untanned. He watched her eat a shrimp, her wide-set eyes glancing around first to see if someone was watching before she downed the pink curl of meat.

Physically, he was not a noticeable man. He had a degree of social camouflage that enabled him to move on peripheries, and to observe without being observed. Surreptitious observation had been a habit of his since boyhood, practiced first on wildlife and then on women. There were some similarities.

The birds most worth seeing, for example, were those that were secretive and skittish, and wouldn’t show themselves unless he waited hours in the woods without moving and without making a sound. He could do it. Even in boyhood, his desire was that great. A small desire demands culmination, but a great desire is self-sustaining and will wait despite heartache, despite the solitary woods of the Francis Marion National Forest, and a boy’s impatience, his legs asleep, and the gnats abuzz. He’d spent whole days there—and some nights, in an old abandoned shack known only to him—waiting. Culmination, the longed-for moment when a wild bird would eat from his hand or perch on his shoulder, never occurred. It hardly mattered. Desire and imagination and observation were nearly enough.

At any party, the old heart could ache “real bad,” as Louise, always careless of her adverbs, would have said. It ached real bad now, not only for the lonesome-looking girl but for everything in sight.

Reading-wise, I’ve found the complement to Vera Wang edp's easy elegance and romantic charm in the novel The Fireman’s Fair by Josephine Humphreys. This novel came out in 1991 and centers on thirty-two-year-old bachelor Rob Wyatt, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, who in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo looks out at the destruction all around him and sees the makings for a fresh start—in his own life, which he’s been coasting through up to this point. Rob’s lack of enthusiasm for his career as a divorce attorney is reflected in his billable hours, which have steadily been shrinking; he is infatuated with women, yet has no lasting relationships because he’s suspended in a state of unrequited love with Louise Camden, wife of his law partner; and he has other vague regrets that trace back to a period of unhappiness in his parents’ marriage. Before the storm arrived, he had already begun taking steps away from the lawyerly lifestyle, selling his Alfa Romeo and his expensive condo in the city and moving into an old beach bungalow on one of Charleston’s barrier islands, where he becomes a member of the volunteer fire company and drives a used Toyota. In the hurricane’s messy wake, he does what to others seems irrational, but to him seems a natural extension of his chosen downward trajectory: he quits his job with the intention of finding a direction in life that feels useful. But life and Louise bring one more client to him: a nineteen-year-old lovely named Billie Poe, who is like him, a drifter, though in her situation it is by circumstance rather than choice.

While the story is about the unpredictable and hurricane-like force of love, it is one of the most dreamy and quietly luminous books I’ve ever read. I always feel like I see myself in the characters of Josephine Humphreys’ novels; I’m a sucker for the kind of theme she likes to explore (the opportunity for renewal that arises out of life’s seen and unforeseen wreckages); and her prose is always shimmering and insightful. I’ll leave you with a taste of it, this passage where Rob Wyatt, lifelong bird-watcher and ex-lawyer, spies Billie Poe at Hank and Louise Camden’s post-hurricane party:

At the Moment, I'm...

...wearing Vera Wang eau de parfum, and yes, you can strip me of my perfumista card, but it is what I’m craving.  Maybe it’s not the kind of fragrance that inspires one to write anything deep or meaningful about it, but it’s intensely floral and makes an überly feminine statement that feels both polished and dreamy. Wearing it, I find myself humming the words to an old Carly Simon tune … “Hold me in your hands like a bunch of flowers, set me movin’ to your sweetest song.” The perfume’s bouquet of Bulgarian rose, calla lily, mandarin flower, gardenia, lotus, iris, and white stephanotis feels like it’s being carried on long green stems; the fragrance is weighted at its start with green notes that are bitter enough to impart a feeling of seriousness, by which I mean that they serve as a ballast which keeps the sweetness of the florals in check and keeps the overall composition smelling svelte and elegant. I read reviews on saying that the fragrance smells synthetic in its opening stages and my own thought is just the opposite. I think the green notes have a realistic leafy astringency (however it was achieved) and make the overall composition smell more organic, such that when I wear Vera Wang I think about being in a garden setting, albeit a very groomed garden, one where an outdoor wedding is about to take place and much thought and care has been taken to ensure that it coincides with the blooming of the roses and certain white flowers. Though the sillage of Vera Wang wafts beautifully and is prominent, it’s not overwhelming or diva-like in any way; while not listed among the notes, clean white musk seems to hold the florals in a misty embrace and smoothes away any harsh edges, and the overall effect is one of water-color glide and diffuseness. This is an easy and elegant floral perfume that has me dreaming I’m on Martha’s Vineyard, a place I haven’t been to since I was in college, but that I remember as being breezy and laid-back while still maintaining its New England air of propriety.

August 27, 2012:

At the Moment . . .

Excerpted from The Fireman's Fair, copyright © 1991 by Josephine Humphreys (Viking Penguin, New York, NY, 1991, pp. 24-25)

My sample of Vera Wang came from Undina (you can read her own lovely post about it here), and if she hadn’t sent it I probably never would have tried it, so I’m grateful. It may not be the kind of perfume that inspires purple prose, but it’s the perfect thing to wear when you want to feel romantic and pretty and sing along with Carly Simon at the end of summer. And if you want to kick it up a notch—pretend that James Taylor is still in the picture and dance in the kitchen to "Mockingbird"—it works for that too.