Several years ago, on a warm, late-summer afternoon, I was walking my pug, Diego de Fontana, in his favorite park. As we crossed a small road to reach a meadow, a car full of college-age men slowed down and stopped. The driver stretched his arm out of the open car window, looked from me to Diego and back at me again, then pointed his index finger at Diego, and yelled: “Dude…inadequate!”
For those of you who are not animal lovers and can’t relate to my outrage at that moment, imagine a person peeking into your baby’s carriage and saying: “Wow. That’s unfortunate!” How would you react if a stranger looked at a photo of your mother or father and said, “I guess things could have turned out worse — considering your gene pool!”
I was happy Diego’s vocabulary was limited but I was full of fury. In the “old days” (before I turned 30) I might have suffered one of my “Frances Farmer Moments” and started whipping the driver violently with Diego’s extra-long leather leash, but my days of unbridled anger were behind me and I limited such desires to the realm of daydreams.
With the word “inadequate” ringing in my ears, I gave the mean-spirited driver an icy smile and with crisp enunciation, said: “I bet your boyfriend says the same thing to you all the time!” I was pleased to see the idiot-driver’s smirk disappear, and as Diego and I crossed the road I heard the other men in the car burst into raucous laughter and one said: “Man, he thinks you’re GAY!” I wondered what had prompted me to say “boyfriend” instead of “girlfriend;” perhaps his use of the word “dude” had given my subconscious a clue that the driver was straight — and straight in a way that would not appreciate being thought gay. And let’s face it, what gay man would EVER disparage a charming pug dog prancing along, tail tightly curled, eyes popping with mischief?
Of course, not all straight men care if you call them gay and I’m certainly not implying that only straight men hurl insults at strangers. No. Gay men inclined to voice unsolicited opinions would leave your dog alone and be more likely to yell: “Honeychile! Those Top Siders have to GO!” or eyeing your white jeans and tight black Lacoste polo combo, remark: “Summer of 2006…here I come!” or, worst of all, as you enter a room, sillage of your favorite perfume wafting around you, trumpet: “Who’s headed to the Amazon? I smell bug spray!”
Our topic, finally, has been reached: Perfume Insults. We don’t “love” our perfumes in the same way we love people and animals, but we don’t want our fragrant “favorites” disparaged either. We’ve all had a beloved fragrance “insulted”…and though we often ignore the barb, straighten our backs and act as if we are above caring what anyone thinks of our perfume, it is aggravating and dispiriting to have a scent you adore abused to your face by…by…MORONS!!!
Here’s a quiz — match one of my favorite perfumes to a cruel description of it (and, yes, friends, family, and strangers, have said these things to me directly or in my presence):
1. L’Eau Trois/Diptyque
2. Eau d’Hermès/ Hermès
3. Baïmé/Maître Parfumeur et Gantier
4. Fumerie Turque/Serge Lutens
5. Timbuktu/L’Artisan Parfumeur
6. Bandit Light Pour Homme/Robert Piguet
7. green green green and green/Miller et Bertaux
8. Hammam Bouquet/Penhaligon’s
9. Miel de Bois/Serge Lutens
A: “You smell like salad and French dressing!” “Herb tea?”
B: “It reminds me of a funeral parlor: flowers and formaldehyde.”
C: “You bought that? It smells like an old tweed coat that needs dry cleaning.” “It smells like a sweaty bra!”
D: “Yum-yum…who’s got dill pickles?”
E: “A pee-soaked litter box!” “A lion’s cage at the zoo!”
F: “Hmmmm…an ash tray.” “Is it a yucky old Caron perfume? Moth repellant?” “Quentin Crisp would wear this!”
G: “This smells like an elderly man I knew! He never used deodorant but always wore rose or jasmine cologne to cover his funk.”
H: “I’m sensing stagnant water…the Dismal Swamp….” “A damp, crumbling shed.”
I: “This screams ‘no testosterone!’” “Come to Granny!”
When I hear such perfume insults, I attempt to keep my mouth shut, but it is hard not to retaliate in some fashion since my scent is being commented on — that’s personal!
There are many types of perfume insults. One of the best perfume insults is silence (when you ask for an opinion of your cologne and the other person says nary a word, you know they hate it). However, I prefer silence to rude descriptions. I try to be silent in the face of perfume insults and if I can’t be silent I base my responses on circumstance: Did I ask for an opinion? Is the person insulting my fragrance an old friend or a stranger? Is the insult mean spirited, meant to hurt or embarrass me, or is the zinger delivered with humor? Have I worn a powerful cologne in a tiny space, or been too liberal in my application? Is the “insulter” a repeat offender?
Sometimes a perfume insult “hits home” and I can’t hold my tongue. Here are some of my standard comebacks: “You’re not a perfume person.” “It takes years to develop a NOSE for fragrance.” “You know, all that smoking you do ruins your ability to smell and taste things…sad!” “Well, it’s not Old Spice or Brut, I’ll grant you that!” (Implication: ‘you like cheap stuff’…and I’ve just insulted two scents myself!)
The worst thing I’ve said after a perfume insult, I admit it with shame, was to a friend who tried on several of my favorite scents and deemed them all ‘gross.’ I said: “With all the medications you take, your skin’s pH curdles all perfumes.”
Please, share a perfume insult that was directed at a fragrance you adore. (And forgive me in advance for anything I ever write that hurts your, or your perfume’s, feelings!) I certainly live by the proverb: “Love Me, Love My Dog.” I don’t go so far as to expect everyone to ‘love’ my perfumes as I do but is it asking too much to “Respect Me, Respect My Perfume?” Say (or write) what you want about my perfumes — but not to my face as I wear them!
(Quiz Answers: 7D, 2G, 5C, 3A, 1H, 6F, 4B, 8I, 9E)
Note: image is Still Life with Skull, Candlestick, Flute, and Flowers, by Abraham van Stry, 1753-1826, Library of Congress permanent collection (A print of this artwork is available for purchase at the Library of Congress online shop).