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Fragrances to Wear During the Apocalypse

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As some of you know, I recently left the boxing biosphere to begin writing a book involving the makers of fine fragrance. This was due to a variety of factors, not least of which was the ascension in the sport of drug cartels-cum-promoters and the willingness of certain British slicksters to make deals with autocrats. 

Also, you can only cover fighters for so long without taking a break. I held my breath for years waiting for a Tank-Tevin title unification showdown at 130 pounds. Had I held it any longer, I surely would have passed out. And had I not passed out, I would’ve been utterly dismayed watching Tevin lose his belt in January, thereby rendering the clash even more unlikely.

In the not so distant future, I hope you’ll get a chance to read my stories of the perfume-world’s Runyonesque characters (yes, that’s a thing, and it’ll be a damn good read if this writer can do the nonfiction tales justice). 

But in the meantime, I thought sharing a bit of olfactory wisdom might help y’all cope with your house arrests, your involuntary social isolation – because like a great song or book, fragrances have tremendous power to transport us to distant places and times – all while keeping us safely away from the madding crowd. Spray it for yourself, indoors, to give you that magical sense of being elsewhere.

  • Rasasi Shuhrah. There’s little I can say about the heavy glass bottle with blue juice that hasn’t already been mentioned by various reviewers, particularly my friend Joy Amin of Bangladesh (he calls it “El Diablo”). It’s an ashy, nicotinic scent that calls to mind a bacchanalia, a Las Vegas hotel suite the day after an all-night orgy, drinks and stubbed out cigarettes everywhere. I don’t think one can smell it without feeling he or she is elsewhere (perhaps making love in a dingy bathroom stall at the Atlantic City Greyhound bus depot).

  • Le 3’ Homme Caron. It would be crass, if not incorrect, for me to say this subtle, lavender perfume brought me Sex Pantherish affection in my younger and wilder days (probably it was more quirkiness than aroma – once, to impress a Brazilian woman at a Meatpacking District bar, I named all the top-flight Brazilian soccer teams, which seemed to impress her greatly; I can recall her eyes lighting up when I mentioned Gremio and Botafogo and Fluminense). 

None of that factors into the fragrance’s inclusion here – nor does its 1985 creation by Japanese perfumer Akiko Kamei (this isn’t a scent designed to conjure mental images of Tokyo or Osaka). No, Le 3’ Homme is here for its English translation, which is also its source material – the 1949 film noir “The Third Man.” 

Spoiler alert: That film doesn’t trot out its villain till the end, and it’s none other than Orson Welles (whose speech then on the cuckoo clock has entered filmic lore) – a lowlife profiteer who’s diluting doses of Penicillin to sell more of the drug than he could at a legit dosages.

This ending is unfortunately relevant at a time when we don’t have enough testing kits for coronavirus in America and our medicine is lacking. But the film takes place in post-WW II Vienna and the medicine at its center is the most basic of antibiotics. In this way, the film plunges you into the past in order to encourage you about the present. World War II was not the bleak end of the European continent, even if it seemed so in the war’s immediate aftermath. And most bacterial infections are treated with ease now. One can’t watch it without wondering when (and not “if”) our current issues will seem relatively benign. 

  • Viktor & Rolf Antidote. This men’s fragrance unfortunately sold very poorly when it came out in 2006. It was soon eclipsed by two other V & R releases, Flowerbomb and Spicebomb. Yet ask yourself: At this present moment of medical peril, which of these three has the most soothing, cure-conjuring name? 

Of course, I own 10 ml of the juice because currently that’s my job – to know the ins and outs of perfumes and their makers, no matter how obscure or overlooked by others. I had a wonderful chat with Alienor Massenet, one of Antidote’s two creators, a couple weeks back. But the escapism here actually comes not from the charming Ms. Massenet but the bizarre ad for her work (which perhaps contributed to its poor sales). There was smoke and a face inside smoke and the message remains unclear. But those are just the visuals.

Viktor & Rolf licensee L’Oreal commissioned Rufus Wainwright to write a song about Antidote – an “ode,” they called it – which Wainwright played at the fragrance’s gala unveiling at Carnegie Hall. Months later, V & R played the song at the end of its fashion show, to which two couples of men (in tuxedos) waltzed.

As gatherings of 50 people or more are now banned in New York and nightclubs are closed, as seemingly frivolous pursuits are put on hiatus, I find indulgence in the same uplifting. Here are kitschy songs and cheesy PR and a legendary concert venue – all deployed for naught, as it turns out, since Antidote found no envenomed buyers. Or maybe they were created for this moment – maybe there was always a sense that one day we’d long to go outside and settle for artsy and kitschy digital touches instead.

Ah, extravagant, wasteful city nightlife – what a beautiful thing.

 


The Replica series of scents from Maison Martin Margiela is explicitly about imagining oneself in other surroundings. Hence the names of the scents: Jazz Club (created by one of the perfumers who worked on Antidote, incidentally), Whispers in the Library, Under the Lemon Tree, Sailing Day, Music Festival, Springtime in a Park, At the Barber’s, By the Fireplace – and many more.

(I used to wear Jazz Club during intimate dates, but I felt it left my skin rather hurriedly, dissolved and dissipated by sweat, stripped from me in certain situations by friction and warmth. The performance seems to have improved, though, more recently – no idea why.)

But I’m not mentioning the Replica line because of the locations it takes for titles – not entirely. Sure, during these deadly days around the globe it’d be wonderful to envision oneself on a sail boat in the sun or cuddled up in front of a fire with a significant other. 

But what vaulted Maison Margiela onto the list was the way it notated these settings on labels that resemble doctors’ prescriptions pads or policemen’s paperwork. It’s as if the brand is saying: After eight weeks of canned tuna consumption and incessant hand-sanitizing, you must clean up at the Barber’s, loll under the Lemon Tree, picnic in the Park, attend a rocking concert. Once this Covid madness subsides, who wouldn’t want to follow those orders?

I could name many more apt scents, even if some aren’t quite escapist. Take Gucci Guilty Absolute for men, for instance, which perfumer Alberto Morillas built atop a heavy dose of Woodleather, a patented chemical created by his employer, Firmenich, that smells like heavy-duty hospital wound dressings.

And if you wanna ensure social distancing, you could try Sharif Laroche Pheromone 4, which contains real animal-produced fixatives: natural civetone, castoreum, ambergris and deer musk. I am not claiming the modes of extraction were ethical – I am simply saying the juice is available for sale. And should you get it, you no longer have to worry about touching – nobody will come within six feet of you of their own accord.

But finally, I’ve spent about a third of my life covering boxing. And this web site, in a less contagious world, would be devoted to that blood-sport. So I’ll end with liquids and bottles that may slake slightly your thirst for action – the series of Reyane Fight Club scents.  

I dunno much about Reyane – they are a lesser known clone house – as in, they produce cheap copies of famous scents such as Aventus, Pure Havane, Le Beau Male, Black Orchid.

Some of their bottles are straight copies of other companies’ designs – one line resembles Acqua di Parma. Another Montblanc Legend.

But its fight club consists of four boxing gloves of various colors. I’m sure they can be had for a relative pittance – the green one costs $16.14 on the FragranceX web site. I’ve never sniffed the contents, so I can’t testify to their pleasantness (or repulsiveness). But I imagine they can’t smell worse than actual boxing gloves after a long day at the gym.

And even if they do, well, now you have a taste of the closed and forbidden gym right there in your own home, next to your tweezers and toothbrush.

You’re welcome.

About Gabe Oppenheim

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