Lanier Smith is a remarkable man and a very great friend of The Perfumed Dandy.
He is also responsible for the truly exquisite site Scents Memory a collection of meditations on matters fragrant through the medium of remembrance.
Encompassing, film, travel and extraordinary personal stories in its perfumed posts it is one of most the moving and inspiring of all the blogs on the scented block.
For all of these reasons, and because he’s a pleasure to correspond with I’m delighted that Lanier Smith is the subject of the very first Sunday Supplement Inteview.
Q. I heard until quite recently you were a one cologne sort of a fellow. How so? And which fragrance was yours?
The first perfume I ever smelled was Evening in Paris by Bourjois. You know in the little blue bottle with the silver cap. The perfume Addie Loggins slathered herself with in “Paper Moon”.
Well the little girls in my school all had bottles of it and they reeked of this cheep Parisian glamour. They all strutted around pigtails and crinolines across the playground like snotty Rhoda Penmarks thinking they were the end all wearing that stuff. It was like going to school in Pigale!
My mother wore Chanel No.5 as did all the women in my family. That smelled like pure glamour to me. They got a new bottle each Christmas from my Uncle Bud. And of course Marilyn Monroe most famously wore it to bed, I remembered that always.
When I went away to college I saw a bottle of Chanel For Men in a drug store. (in America at the time Chanel Pour Monsieur was called “For Men”) This was in the early 1970’s and Chanel was trying to hit the masses by selling in drugstores here in America. It didn’t last very long when they realized it was cheapening the Chanel name to sell in such a common shop right next to the Band-Aids, aspirin and suntan lotion.
That 50ml bottle cost twenty five dollars and for a college kid at that time that was equivalent to One hundred forty one dollars today. So if I bought that bottle my allowance for the month was shot. There was no hesitation. I bought the bottle. I may have been starving but I smelled fabulous.
Mind you this was in the age of the Hippie and the scent of choice was patchouli oil or frangipani oil. Nobody wore perfume. So I stood out with my long Cher like hair and and tye-dyed tee shirts as the only hippie with style. I was besieged with questions as to what was that marvelous fragrance I was sporting. When I said Chanel For Men…well they were speechless.
So in it’s many forms and for many years I wore Chanel for Men, Pour Monsieur and Concentree as my only fragrance… That is until…well… all that changed.
Q. All that changed. Why?
Nothing new came into my olfactory life, only the bottle changed every couple of years. Then a good friend of mine, Steve died.
He was only 38 years old at his passing. I had the job of helping clean out his apartment. He had an interesting medicine cabinet. It was full of exotic bottles of Dior Fahrenheit and Calvin Klein Obsession, Van Cleef & Arpels. They ended up coming home with me. That was back in the late 90′s.
I used them and as they grew older I often thought I should get rid of these and buy something new. A few of them had turned. But I never did anything about it. Then about two and a half years ago I met a man, an actor and director in New York. We fell in love and he asked me to be his life partner. This unexpected man, Bryant Lanier, came at the beginning of my third act.
I had given up on ever having a life partner and was quite content to move into old age on my own. I was used to that and knew how to do it. Besides I enjoy being with me.
I had it all planned I was going to be magnificent like Katherine Hepburn.
On December 28th 2011 Bryant went to see an ear nose and throat doctor about a mild complaint. That night he was admitted to the hospital and the next day he was diagnosed with Leukemia.
Three weeks later on January 19th he died.
I was in shock.
He was planning to move from New York to San Francisco and begin a new life here. He wanted to build a small theater and create great shows for undiscovered talent. But he wasn’t going to do that now; he was going on a different trip. His friends packed up his apartment; his body was cremated and his ashes sprinkled in the sea in Key West. (He once told me he never wanted to go back there because that place held bad memories for him.)
When thinking about all of that I can hear Big Mama in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof talking to Maggie.
“Life never really turns out the way you expect it to.”
A month later still numb unshaven and unwashed I opened my medicine cabinet. My bottle of Chanel Pour Monsieur was empty. Steve’s old bottles were looking sad. So I went shopping and bought a new bottle of Chanel, then a bottle of Versace Eau Fraiche, then a bottle of Givenchy this and Bulgari that.
I found the fragrance website Fragantica and began to learn about notes and olfactory groups and sub groups. I met really nice knowledgeable people there in the forums; I got out of bed on Saturdays again.
I began to review my newly purchased scents creating a screen name from my boyfriend’s last name, I became Lanier Smith, my nom de fume.
I began to shave and look in the mirror, I went shopping, I rediscovered life and laughter and the joy I always had for life. The world moves on and I rejoined it all because of something as ephemeral as a fleeting scent on my wrist.
Q. So that’s how you became involved in the world of fragrance criticism and blogging.?
Yes it is. My reviews on Fragantica were different than most and drew a lot of attention because I talked about how the fragrance awakened my memories and/or my imagination.
A story was always in there in that bottle of perfume.
It was my story and not the one that the perfumer or the ad men came up with, something personal to me that comes out of the bottle and speaks to me. Sometimes it is instantaneous, other times it takes a while to find the hook. I have even woken up in the morning with a word on my mind that was the key to the review. For one review on Leather Oudh by Dior the word I woke up with was “Wildfire”.
As time rolled on people at Fragantica started to ask why I didn’t have a blog? I didn’t think much of it until I wrote a thread called. “My Trip To Chanel, What Exclusifs Did Lanier Buy?” It added photos to that post and had such a fun time that I thought why not go all the way and do a blog.
Q. But your writing style is both unique and, if I may say so, quite expert. Had you written anything before?
I began my creative life as an actor in college but soon moved on to become a painter. During this time I wrote my first novel (now lost) about being a gay teenager in Southern California in 1969.
Something was missing.
At thirty-five I decide to write my second novel about my life at College a coming out story entitled “The Hand of The Hunter” it took me three years to write and was a real stinker. I had been bitten by the bug and realized that all my life I had been trying to tell stories.
Acting, painting, but it was writing that held the key for me.
I wrote my first and second novels on my father’s old college typewriter that was missing the A so I used @ for the A. I went to night school and took some short story classes. From then on I wrote off and on, I sold one story for fifty dollars to a gay literary magazine (the story is on my blog entitled “Glamour Bowl”) and some screenplays.
In 2005 I began to make Machinima films (this is a form of animation) my program was a game called “The Movies”. It was supposed to be a movie studio simulation game you could play on the computer but it had the capability to make films. An entire film community grew up online from it. I wrote all my screenplays, built and dressed the sets and hired (in the talkies) the voice actors.
My films were more or less homage to the golden age of Hollywood. Westerns, Film Noir, Romantic “Women’s Pictures” and a little epic that took two years to film; “Cleopatra”.
The Perfumed Dandy: Ah… now I understand the poster shots!!
Yes. At the time of Cleopatra’s premier is when I first met Bryant. He attended the online world premier with me that was our first “date”. After Cleopatra I took a break and during that time the film community around The Movies collapsed. (You can still see the films on YouTube) I had done what I wanted to any way so I moved on. And here we are now.
Q. I mentioned earlier that your writing style is unique. two particular strands stand out: the movies and overseas travel. Are these particular passions of yours, or is it that like perfume they are means of transporting yourself away from the present?
I grew up in the movies and like our friend Vickie Lester of Beguiling Hollywood once said I have a talent to make life into a movie.
That is because of my up-bringing in the movies. My childhood in Los Angeles in the 1950’s was a time when television was new and hungry for things to fill the airwaves. So being in Hollywood and having connections to the studios the local stations ran old movies from the 30’s and 40’s all day long. It was the first renaissance of the movies. The first time Hollywood realized old films still had a life.
I got my education in film as a child watching films. And then on the weekend we went to the drive in or the local theater to see the great films that were coming out then.
My first movie memory is of that high crane shot of the old Cadillac streaking across the Texas prairie kicking up a cloud of dust as it roared toward that monstrous Victorian mansion in the middle of nowhere in “Giant”. Dmitri Tiomkin’s Score booming in resplendence in the brand new technology of stereophonic sound.
It was spellbinding to a five year old.
People of my generation and from that specific part of the Untied States, Southern California have a real love for film and a grasp of the enormity and scope of its history because we were all exposed to it after school and on the weekends. Norma Desmond said of silent film stars “We had faces then.”
Well, my peers and I had ears and eyes then and we soaked it all up.
So movies are my language, everything I know about art, love, religion, history, the world, I first learned in the front row at Gruman’s Chinese Theater. And mind you not just from Hollywood films but from the entire World Cinema. Movies always lead me to books and books are where I learned the truth about what was up on the screen. I was always bored in school because I somehow new that there was so much more to learn that what I was taught over and over by rote.
If I saw it on the screen and it interested me I had to learn all I could about it in a book; Ancient Rome, the Wild West, Queen Elizabeth I, Genghis Kahn, Outer Space, and a voyage to the bottom of the sea.
Movies also showed me the world. From them I knew I wanted to see Rome, and Paris, and London.
I wanted to see it all wider than CinemaScope in color more real than Technicolor. So my love of travel comes from the front row at Gruman’s too. But I have to tell you that real London, the Rome of today and the streets of Paris are much better than any movie I ever saw.
Movies were a window, never an escape.
Q. Back to your perfume journey, what would you say are the major discoveries you’ve made along the way? Not just new scents, but about yourself, your taste?
Oh now the hard questions! Hmmh. Well I have always been a person who wanted to understand who I am and what makes me unique into myself. So I think I have a pretty good handle of who I am and what makes me tick.
Here is a thumbnail of what I have discovered about me over years of contemplating my navel:
Lanier is 6’3″ tall, fine featured and a blend of both the masculine and feminine.
He dresses to the nines to go shopping, but if depressed prefers a nice classic pair of pajamas and an afternoon of movies on T.V.. Outgoing, shy, funny, sharp, smart, slow to anger quick to love: an introverted extrovert.
He has been a painter, a flag designer, a writer, a film maker, a bill collector, an expediter, a waiter, and nurse’s orderly. He has many acquaintances but only a few close friends.
He loves to be alone and finds that he is his own best company. He has always been able to entertain himself. He has imagination and pazzaz. He is theatrical and private. His interior world is so immense that when he falls asleep there is always an overture by a 70 piece orchestra.
He dreams in both color and black and white and often times shares the billing with a classic movie star or two.
Last night it was Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
But in relation to perfume and any changes that have come along in the last year because of my journey with scent that is not so easy to answer. I would say it is more about taste than personality.
I have learned that my taste in perfumes is rather un-American. I am not one to get all excited about a “Fresh clean” scent.
I like my laundry to smell fresh and clean but not my perfumes.
My tastes are for the exotic, the Orientals, and Chypre, Leathers and the Bad Girls of the perfume world.
I have learned that I don’t care much for many gourmands, there are a few but if it begins to take a turn for the carnival and I smell that unmistakable scent of the cotton candy machine that exploded next to the port-a-potty then I am out of here.
Q. And where do you go now – ever deeper into the forbidden garden of fragrance or will you branch out into writing or pursue your artistic career again?
The only way to answer that is to quote the wonderful Christopher Plummer as the Emperor Commodus in “The Fall Of The Roman Empire” (1964)
“If you listen closely, you can here the Gods laughing.”
Q. Just one final thing for The Dandy – or five final things, in fact. Could you name – one pick for each – a scent..
You love to wear: Mitsouko by Guerlain
You love to smell on other men: Chanel Sycamore
You love to smell on women: Chanel No.5
A fragrance you always recommend: Mitsouko by Guerlain
A perfume you would discourage a friend from buying at all costs: Fracas for Men! (by Robert Piguet)
The Perfumed Dandy: Lanier Smith, the scentsational star of Scents Memory, and an extraordinary human being, thank you for sharing your very human story with The Perfumed Dandy.
The remarkable ongoing adventures of Lanier and his travels both fragrant and trans-Atlantic can be found at Scents Memory, both the blog and the man come heartily recommended.