Perfume Diary #13: We Can't Be Ripe Until We're Rotten (Blackbird, Anemone)(HF)

“That fruit which is better as it gets worse / Until it’s at its best when it’s quite rotten / I’m afraid we old men are the same as that; / we can’t be ripe until we’re rotten” -Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

Everyone wanted weird scents, and then weird scents got boring because everyone wanted them. Like all one sentence stories, this one lacks nuance so much as to be almost inadmissible, but it’s not entirely wrong. The trend seems to be turning more and more widely against strange perfumes, against proving that smelling bad is a way of smelling good, that dirt is actually elegant, that one is cool instead of basic because one wants to smell like birdshit rather than like roses. We all kind of want to smell like roses again. Maybe the past two years have just been so damn hard, and we want to smell soft. Looking at fashion, fantasy is in high style, and comfort too, a kind of permissive, enabling maximalism that says to grab whatever small scraps of joy are available--there is so little of it, after all, and time is so obviously cruel. We do not need to seek out ugliness, or demonstrate that we know it exists and where it lives. Ugliness isn't hard to find; anyone can close their eyes and point. In a recent, previous era when so much of this same ugliness was there but so many fewer people talked about it, it felt understandably significant to display on oneself the fact of horrors and bodies, poor hygiene, bad smells, and the fact that sometimes these disgusting and difficult truths could be sexier, more enticing, more what one wanted to smell, than the big sanitized ideas of beauty. Now, it seems, maybe we just want old-fashioned beauty again.

But it’s hard to claim that the clawing animal world beneath the pretty one won’t always be compelling. Right now, it's the weird transitional moment between summer and fall, a season of anticipation and impatience and thwarted longing. Everywhere there’s the feeling of holding a breath at the top of your throat, uncomfortably full, ready to be relieved of the weight of the weather. I want to be reminded that the world is dying, to be watch the green and fragrant abundance fall away and pull the things in my life as artificial as home and love and friends around me. I want to be pushed not to assume bounty from the natural world, to make myself warm only with what I can strike into fire with my hands. But it's not time yet.

Summer is past ripeness, though, and the heat feels like rotting flowers. Rotting flowers have been a particularly favored scent in the pantheon of weird scents. It's rarely done right; rotting flowers and rotting fruit usually smell, well, bad. But when a perfume gets it right I feel its rightness at the pit of my stomach, that human thing that drives us about the smells of decay, the warnings coiled up in sweetness, the bright beauty that hisses and repels, the pile of old coats at the place where tuberose turns to mothballs. It's the smell of how things are always better in the wanting than the getting, and why it is sweeter to desire what we cannot have. But it's also the smell of that very first impatient turn from summer to autumn, of a field strewn with fruit fallen full and wasteful off of trees, ground into dirt and out of potential.

Blackbird was a favorite in the craze for weird scents; their perfumes have names like Pipe Bomb and Broken Glass and Hallow, and purport to smell like motor oil and witches and aliens. Their aesthetic is aggressively goth-minimalist, and many of their scents smell much the same, refusing prettiness. It says something about me, maybe, that the only one of their scents I really like is a fruity floral, but to be fair it is a very weird fruity floral.

Blackbird's Anemone comes close to getting the smell of the turn just beyond ripeness correct, that addictive, rotten thing, that floral hatesex smell. The name has nothing to do with the scent, at least not in what it smells like on my skin; the website copy calls it "undersea flowers" but to my nose there's nothing marine or salty or aquatic about this wilting, overripe scent that starts at plums and ends at tobacco and labdanum, and never pretends to be friendly or kind at any point in between. I thought I didn't like it at first, but I've been wearing it for two days and can't stop smelling my arm. I don't know that its sticky, combative brightness would work in the colder weather, but in this delayed in-between, it's exactly the thing I want to smell, a pile of fruits and flowers on a table at the end of long night, as the party is taken down and thrown away around it, the smell of the bottom of the night at the last wedding at the end of the summer.