Actress Demi Moore was at the Frédéric Malle counter at Barney's. According to a sales associate (a great story teller and wearer of Bois d'Orage), he started to introduce Demi to the line by grabbing the bottle of Musc Ravageur. "Oh no," Demi said. "I don't like musk." The sales associate then led Demi through the Malle range, from the lush Carnal Flower to the spicy-rose Noir Epices to the Lolita-esque Lys Méditerranée, but Demi wasn't completely convinced that any of them were right for her. In desperation he sprayed Musc Ravageur for her to smell. "What's this?" she asked. "You saved the best for last!"
Another story: A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend a presentation where perfumer Mandy Aftel discussed, among other things, how she makes a custom fragrance. She explained that she doesn't ask a client what perfumes she likes, and she doesn't have her fill out a questionnaire. Instead, she sits with the client at her perfume organ and lets her smell different raw materials. She said that time after time she finds that people have a firm idea about what they like — or especially what they don't like — but when a slip of paper dunked in the essence is tucked blind under their noses, they change their minds. She said, "A lot of people don't think they like patchouli. Until they smell good patchouli."
We've probably all encountered people with definite opinions about what they like in a perfume and what they deplore. "I can't stand aldehydes!" one person says, or "I just can't get into rose fragrances." Patchouli, musk, vanilla, powder, and fruit all get the thumbs down from a lot of people. Some people will even look you straight in the face and say, "I think perfume stinks."
I'm definitely guilty of waving off whole families of perfume. A few years ago I thought, Powder? Why would I want to smell like a baby's hind end? Then a sniff of Lorenzo Villoresi Alumut sparked a powder bender that lasted the good part of a summer. I thought I didn't like patchouli, but Cartier Le Baiser du Dragon taught me otherwise. I was so-so about roses, but Guerlain Nahéma, Amouage Lyric, and Parfum d'Empire Eau Suave have shown me aspects of the rose that I love. Erin's post last week about cologne targets another branch of perfume it took me a while to warm up to. Now I can't imagine a July without a bottle of cologne in the refrigerator.
The struggle between prejudice and fresh appreciation isn't limited to perfume, either. I hear lots of "I don't like Chardonnay" or the truly horrifying "I only drink red" among self-professed wine snobs, but I bet if I uncorked a bottle of Meursault they'd suck it in like the air they breathed. On principle, some people refuse to open up to figurative painting or pop music. (And what is the Mona Lisa? Or Revolver?) Other people's prejudices center on literature. If it is part of Oprah's book club they can't like it, who cares that they haven't read it.
For all my preachiness, my prejudices still run deep, and I know it. I can't smell something named after a country western singer without sniggering, for example, and I have a profound bias against flankers. Still, I'm coming to learn that although a keen sense of smell is important to appreciating fragrance, maybe the most essential asset is an open mind. That mini of McGraw by Tim McGraw beckons.