November 24, 2011

Surrender to Beauty – A lesson from the Clarimonde Perfume Project

Dear All,

The experience of all the perfumes created in honor of the story of Clarimonde, almost makes it seem like she was a real being that has been brought to life again. I now know her more deeply through these perfumes, essays, songs and the imagery she inspired.

As the perfumes arrived at my door, one by one, and upon re-reading and listening to the story read by Joy Chan, the story’s themes revealed themselves in layers. I understood that this story fascinated me so much because it was set within the idea of leading a secret life, an alternate dream life that might be as or even more vivid than the waking one. The possibilities of a parallel existence powered by the energy of emotion and the deepest subconscious desires and purest aspirations.

Our dreams reveal such possibilities.  In the vivid dreams the narrator Romauld has of the powerful and beautiful vampire Clarimonde, he discovers another part of himself that he did not know. In an alternate world without limitations a parallel life can be lead that stands apart from dogmas, rules, necessities or fears, one that is emboldened to reach for beauty and its pleasures.

It was a great pleasure to read the inmost thoughts of the writers, and sense the reactions of the perfumers through their fragrant interpretations of the story. I felt I got to know everyone who participated in more depth because so much was revealed by what they chose as the focus of their attention.

There were certain themes that emerged in common. The perfumes all had a basis in heat, or dark earthiness. For Monica Miller, the focus was on the mouth, and a juicy ripeness of fruit against a sacral balsamic presence like incense. With Mandy Aftel, the layer of deep upon deep of several variations of oud, building a physical link between the sacred and profane. Maria Mcelroy and Alexis Karl expressed unbounded passion in warm amber laid over the darkest woods, infused with a thick nectar of florals, a swooning into sensuality. Both Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Ayala Sender reached out from a warm base into the coolness of a sweet and ethereal presence by means of violet and herbal notes, for an almost mentholated refreshing chill, something like the presence of a spirit in the dark.

Trish Vawter of Scent Hive depicts the plot line that infused the heat into the perfumer’s creations:

"When he first gazed upon Clarimonde, he fell instantly in love with her, with a religiosity to rival the most devout priest. “She breathed her will into my life… I no longer lived in myself but I in her and for her.” He could have been speaking about God in such a manner, and actually was, just moments prior.”
Yet there is a fragility, a sense of mortality, very different from the usual theme of other vampiric stories, because in this one the magical being’s hold on life in this world is tenuous, even if Clarimonde was called back from death by the pure intensity of Romauld’s longing.

Scent Hive on Ayala's  fragranced dream pillow, infused with herbs and a perfume that calls forth the scented presence of Clarimonde in the dark:

“Ayala’s Clarimonde Dream Pillow emanates the most earthiness. It’s not a freshly tilled soil though, rather a soil on the edge of decay that is infused with rose, violet and carnation.”
As I said, in reference to Dawn's perfume Paradise Lost, there was a sense of movement and development.  The base situated you first within an environment, as a background to individual notes that then  stood out and made you aware of them, like a presence had come into the room:
"There is a strong sense of movement and development from the initial symphonic combination of all the notes to the separating out into individual ones. Fleeting moments of the metallic blood accord, and the violet and dry immortelle reach out, and then the fragrance moves on to the dry down and a sense that the skin has been perfumed clear through.  As if it had soaked in, and become part of the wearer's identity and signature. "
The dreams that Romauld have are of the kind that could even satisfy the hungers of waking life, as a gift from the unconscious mind to the inner self that might be thirsty for fragrant wine. Something like the wine perfumed with rosewater, honey, nutmeg, ambergris and musk by Deana Sidney of LostPastRemembered:
“something darkly perfumed, warm like blood with an air of the ancient”
Were such detailed experiences of freedom and beauty self-created by an inner life longing for outer expression? Which one is real life, the dream of union with Clarimonde or the dutiful striving for unattainable union with an elusive Spirit? Both are motivated by desires that embrace the supernatural as real.

Sheila Eggenberger, as the Alembicated Genie, formerly known as Scentless Sensibilities, has described Mandy's precious Oud Louban, depicting the affinity between the sacred and profane forms of worship:
“Blended from eight varieties of oud, it glows its unearthly, animal aura through a decadent velvet patchouli dream that lingers with the smoky burnt aroma of choya ral, opoponax and benzoin and conjures visions of Clarimonde, blonde hair embers of gold over her pearly white shoulders and in another wisp of smoke, she is gone, a haunting dream that never left him or a reality that negated all Romauld’s other life into nothing more than a dream.”
As we know, the ouds have also been used for centuries in religious worship as incense. The religious use of the ouds marries needs for beauty and sensuality of the body to a spiritual consciousness. An offering of fragrance as an ethereal ephemeral incense smoke of material beauty sent up to the open air and sky.

As the Perfume Pharmer Monica Miller says in regard to Immortal Mine by Maria Mcelroy and Alexis Karl, a dark smoky amber perfume that transforms itself into caressing floral jasmine soaked resinous roses :

“Fragrant Sisters in Sin,
I suggest a little tag on your bottle
a warning
because this magic is real
it is a real love potion
a nautilus

a living fossil
the ancient amber you put in this perfume
tree sap
inner sap
releases the passion inside

please be careful
it is a precious commodity
and only a little is needed
be inside
the spell.”
The story of Clarimonde contrasted within one person so many opposite desires and forces at constant war within. Austerity and luxury, severity and pleasure, sensuality and denial, tension and relaxation. The perfumes and fragrant things made brought both those aspects to life in a physical yet ethereal form. Intense contrasts and developments of light layered over dark, warm against cool notes, bright against deep notes, illuminated a road traveled ever more deeply into the pleasures of beauty.

Monica’s two lip stains, completely botanical, contained essences of myrrh and cinnamon in ways that lightly stung the lips as they sent out fragrance around the face that matched and exalted the notes of the perfume she created, Sangre – as Jade Dressler says in her wild ride through the perfumes, stopping to light upon each one with a detailed description of her experience:

“Dusk quickened and Monica lights a Roman candle of Roman Chamomile with dark berry fruit essenses for the sex-in-your-face top note, and for the heart, a cocktail of Jasmine CO2, honeysuckle absolute, geranium absolute, white and red rose tinctures, which rise up instantly as I tap their names into the blog. (Blood of Christ! What is this love between plant scents and our desire!?) The base is musks (had to go there!) honey absolute, ambrette, Frankincense CO2 and Patchouli CO2 and you are crushed inside the mosh pit of Infernality for sure!
A little mosh pit of purpose is the Lip Stain Monica created called “Purple Shadow” a caldron of melting shea butter plus myrrh, peppermint, lemon balm and spices…again each of which enters my smell receptors as I type. Ok, yes it’s slathered upon my lips for easy access to the love canals of my nose…but still. Old news to anyone who follows me, I firmly believe “aliens” are among us, in the DNA of plants.”
The sadness of this story is that the narrator fought against the gift of his extraordinary dreams, and the side of himself that was drawn to love, beauty, and sensuality. The gift of this story is the vivid detail in which all those aspects of the narrator’s Clarimonde experience is described. As if dreaming the same dream, you ride with black horses at night through the forest, your eyes catch the sight of pearls against satiny skin. You experience the luminosity of many forms of beauty, you enjoy the palace in Venice hung with Titians, and the swooning emotion between entranced lovers exactly portrayed.

While with Clarimonde, the narrator’s pride and esteem grows and transforms his soul.
She acts like water on the dry soil of a self-effacing martyrdom based on the burdens original sin and guilt. Theophile Gautier gives the narrator’s deep sense of regret and life long sense of deep loss as a message to us so we know that Romauld made the wrong choice in giving up Clarimonde.  

Beth Schriebman Gehring gave a passionate recounting of all the perfumes while delivering her own understanding of the story's theme of male to female relationships:

"We need men who are fearless in the face of our passions and our frailties. It saddens me that Romauld and Clarimonde lived in a time when she couldn’t be honest with him about who she was and because it was a time when women were by their very natures suspect, it would have impossible for her to have been honest with him, she who held such a deep and forbidden secret. "
Then she perfumed a pair of gloves, with all the perfumes, having found a perfect embroidered white kid leather pair, that she imbued with the scents by perfuming her hands and then wearing them.  She also used a pad scented with the perfumes that the soft leather drank in:
"It was the scent of Clarimonde and it permeated my senses, filling me with an odd mixture of joy and passion tinged with a touch of regret. It was amazing to realize that we had ventured into unknown depths to bring her most intimate secrets into the light."
With their interpretations of this story, the perfumers and the writers all carried me along with them into their own depth of surrender to beauty.  The personal perception of beauty can act to integrate the mind the body and the soul.

lifelong regret on his betrayal and loss of Clarimonde proves he was most himself and most alive when living in his dream of surrender to beauty in the person of one with whom he could sometimes forget what he believed himself to be.

deep gratitude to all the participants, and to the story itself, I present a list that will bring you directly to the sites where you can lose yourself for a time in the dream of Clarimonde and the perfumes made in her honor. 
Clarimonde Posts
Clarimonde Part 1 Indieperfumes 
Clarimonde Part 2 Indieperfumes
Letters to Lucy Part 1 Perfume Pharmer
 Beth Schriebman Gehring at Perfume Smellin Things and The Windesphere Witch 

All of the above posts are linked to from The Clarimonde Perfume Project site.

Above image - one of the creamy nudes by Ingres that Theophile Gautier loved.
 Samples of the perfumes were sent to me by the perfumers for this Project.
Copyright 2011, Lucy Raubertas, all rights reserved.


lostpastremembered said...

I love the recap of all the wonderful posts your challenge inspired. I have been over the top crazy and have a lot of catching up to do. Thanks for the heroic effort you have made to do this... really remarkable!

Lucy said...

Thank you Deana, it's been a great pleasure, I feel like I went on a trip with my favorite people...

Scent Hive said...

What a gorgeous summation of what transpired over these last weeks with Clarimonde. Thank you Lucy for your time, devotion and creativity. We are all so thankful for you and your passionate blog :-)


Lucy said...

Trish -- thank you for your posts, your insight and graceful interpretations were enlightening.