To announce this project there will be a give-away of a full bottle of Sharif, from La Via del Profumo, whose elegance, sense of restrained power and soulfulness I have written about before (for more please see this post, which also speaks of the brightness and dark of Aftelier's Haute Claire). I feel Sharif relates well to this project, which references both the sensual and the austere.
The short story Clarimonde, by Theophile Gautier, as translated by Lafcadio Hearn, had a big effect on me as soon as I heard it.
I highly recommend a wonderful reading by Joy Chan on Librivox. Her oh so slightly French-accented Hong Kong British voice is expressive and increases the rich detail of the story. This story full of sumptuous Gothic imagery is also available in a free download.
Theophile Gautier, author of the phrase “art for art’s sake”, close friend of Baudelaire, and Gerard de Nerval, and quoted by Oscar Wilde in Dorian Gray, was one of the original proponents of Aestheticism, a/k/a the Decadent school (and also a great animal lover).
I have enticed some perfumers and writers to this project who I know will share my enthusiasm about this story. The project which will run through the entire month of October. I will post on it through the month, and the other writers will post as they are inspired to. There will be links to each other as these post arise, and a Facebook group page where we can also share our thoughts on the story and our experience of the perfumed interpretations that arise from it.
We will all interpret this story in our own way. We are doing this with complete freedom as to form. The main thing is that we are all immersed and energized by the beauty of the story to make something beautiful ourselves. The fragrances may take the form of perfume as liquid or solid, powder, oil, fragrant drink or food, within jewelry, as room fragrance, or wherever inspiration may lead, including variations on a theme.
I love stories that make me think of perfume. I see this one through my experience of aromatic beauty as a sensual force and with more awareness of how ephemeral it all is, and how its transitory nature is part of it's special beauty.
Halloween is now one of the last interesting public holidays we still keep, and since this since this is one of the first vampire stories, an association with October in all its golden dying glory is the perfect time. I will be posting all month on this story and the perfumes and aromatic creations of the perfumers, and will link to the other writers who are participating.
I recall hearing Clarimonde for the first time walking the streets together with Dante, an Italian Greyhound, during the blooming of the big old linden trees around here, on a night with a big full moon, while heavily humid air held the fragrance and intensified it. Breathing in gusts of lively, lush beauty while moving through the luminous dark, hearing this story read by a beautiful expressive voice made a big impression on me.
I wanted to have perfumes to specifically embody this story. It is one of the earliest of the vampire genre. In this case however, the female vampire feeding on the life force of the male victim gives so much back in terms of beauty, love, life, youth and pleasure that the enthralled victim is more than happy to give his very blood as the price that must be paid.
This description of a vampire is not dark and awful, but instead all about sumptuous luminosity, a blonde who emanates light, who wears pearls that glow almost as much as her skin, wearing colorful satins and velvets. Her greatest craving along with the blood of life itself is a matching ardor from someone truly worthy of her.
This story is about a man who dissolves himself every night into a dream of a woman’s love so seductive and sensually detailed he is not sure that she is not real. For him, emotionally, nothing could be more vivid. He can no longer be sure what is real, or when he is actually dreaming or awake, or even what is truly good or not. There is both the tension of resistance and a sense of surrender. The story is one of opulence contrasted with austerity and self-discipline, so heightening the understanding of both.
The victim is a devout young man, who grew up in austerity, isolated from the world. He is meditative, prayerful, exalted in spirit, completely unbalanced to our modern eyes in that he is about to enthusiastically choose an entirely monastic existence. Suddenly he loses his heart and body through the vision of a beautiful womanly apparition, standing by in the Cathedral at the very moment he is vowing self denial and austerity for life.
Eventually he becomes aware that her vitality is enhanced and renewed when she consumes a little blood from him. After these sessions, she gives back abundantly with the most sensual experiences imaginable, providing both the means of great luxury and an intensely erotic and deep romance.
It made me think of perfumes that recall the details of the story, such as Avignon by Comme les Garcons, for the incensed ceremony in the Cathedral interior of the first scene between Romauld and Clarimonde.
I’m also reminded of bright florals relating to the colors worn by Clarimonde, her bright gold hair, her inner light illuminating dark interiors, in contrast to Romauld’s monastic minimalism and austerity. The orange flower in Madini Azahar or 1000 Lilies from DSH become yet more luminous against a dark background and well layered against the deepest darkest ambers, resins and balsams.
The give-away I am conducting for Sharif relates to what I see as the richly elegant side of the masculine narrator as he describes a nightly escape from a life of humility, solitude and extreme simplicity. He conducts this alternate life in a Venitian palace with the gorgeous Clarimonde. There he exists timelessly as a proud and wealthy prince who thoroughly enjoys the privileges of leisure and beauty enough to match the imagination and vivid color of a romantic painting by Delacroix.
Please leave your comment below for the give-away, which I will announce on October 16th.
The perfumers participating will be Mandy Aftel, who last I heard was contemplating a perfume for the hair or a perfumed body oil; Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Maria McElroy of Aroma M and Alexis Karl in collaboration, Monica Miller with a perfumed lip stain, and Deana Sidney of the divine LostPastRemembered creating and then writing about one of her imaginative and most highly fragrant food experiences.
Writers will be The Alembicated Genie, Beth Schriebman Gehring on Perfume Smellin Things and The Windesphere Witch, Scent Hive, Perfume Pharmer, Jade Dressler, and myself. I will also open a Facebook group/page to give space to all the participants to share more about their process and interpretations.
For further visualization, our more contemporary decadent favorite, Alexander McQueen, in one of his most highly ambiguous luxury phases as in the above photos, please see this video from Elle of Fall Winter 2008. I think this collection is exactly what Clarimonde would be wearing if she was/is still around today....
Illustrations: Gustave Moreau.
Photo of Sharif by Nathan Branch