It was before I became a perfumer.
I was returning a rental car to a destination car rental joint in a forgotten, questionable neighborhood somewhere in southern California. A creepy, greasy, smelly, filthy, shit-show of a place.
But the rental agent employed by this dubious establishment – now he was an altogether different deal.
Crisp shirt, impeccable hair, gracious smile, and smelling of roses. He circled the car with clipboard poised, suavely investigating for dents and dings. An elegant gentleman from India who classed up the entire experience. I was transfixed.
“Pink is the navy blue of India” I heard in my mind’s ear… A guide stone adopted in the ’80’s as inspiration by my performance art co-collaborators and I while brainstorming shows.
We grabbed it from fashionista and Vogue Magazine editor Diana Vreeland, who famously observed, “I adore that pink, it’s the navy blue of India.”
As artists, we got it. We took its message of subjectivity all personal-like and it drove us and liberated us. We questioned rules and limitations. We expanded and created. We invented ourselves and reinvented ourselves. We became ourselves. We expressed ourselves as any seriously silly color of the rainbow we wanted to be. And we invited our audience to do same.
Back to the greasy car joint. Here was a man, elegant, masculine, and smelling of roses.
His rose infused elegance reminded me of the Vreeland quote.
I buried the experience in the recesses of my mind.
Years later, as I launched my little perfumery, I struggled to categorize the scents as I thought was required. Affixing labels on ineffable ethers. Earnestly weighing them I’d ponder, “Would a man wear this?” I thought I should conform and slap that label on each fragrance. Men smell like this. Woman smell like that. This one feminine, that one masculine, etc.
Naturally, at my first public fragrance “showing” (scenting?) this fussing was proven utterly unnecessary. A man strode up, grabbed a perfume I had dutifully classified as feminine – InVisioning Roses – and before I could steer him to the more ‘masculine scent’, he generously doused his wrist and voila! Mind altered. Like a second skin, it was a scent made for his very body chemistry. The rose prevalent but still masculine with spices simmering and electrifying citrus.
It took me back to the elegant rose scented man at the car rental joint, and I got it! Rose is the navy blue of India! Rose is for everyone. Roses all round!
He has been a return customer, my InVisioning Roses fan. Smelling lushly of Bulgarian rose and bergamot, frankincense and cardamom.
I’m grateful to live in a time and place where we can overcome these limitations. Roses are not just for women! Woodsy scents are not restricted to men. Grown up ladies can smell like vanilla and toasted marshmallows and boys can smell like Ylang Ylang. I mean who the hell cares? Do you?