Tag Archives: Andy Warhol

Big girls need big… White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

She remembered reading once, in Time Magazine so she thought, about an Indian film that ran for five years straight in cinemas on its first release.

The same picture, so the article had said, was still playing somewhere on the vast sub-continent to this very day almost forty years later.

Looking across the Hudson at the mirrored towers of Manhattan not quite gleaming in the summer morning sunshine, she wondered why no picture house in New Jersey was playing National Velvet.

If they could run to regular screenings of The Sound of Music over in Brooklyn, surely there would be a demand for Liz’s first big flick in Newark?

Okay so it didn’t have the songs of The Sound of Music ergo no chance of a sing-a-long with giant foam hands and hoards of drunken hipsters hanging out to poke fun.

Plus she had to admit, there were only the two cute kids at the film’s heart not a beautiful Austrian tribe in made-from-curtains clothes.

And yes, yes sadly there was a distinct shortage of both nuns and Nazis in National Velvet.

But people would come wouldn’t they?

Perhaps.

She turns and starts inland weaving her way through the new skyscrapers of the new streets of Jersey City.

In 1944 when the story of a young girl trying to win The Grand National on a horse she had won in a raffle captured the hearts of a world gripped by war, this peninsular was a booming point of intersection.

Here ships assembled to harbour in relative safety from German u-boats before embarking in fragile convoys of floating steel across the Atlantic.

They took supplies to our allies and armies on the other side of the water, including, as she then believed, Velvet and her family.

In return they brought sailors and refugees to flood the streets.

Among the multitudes that made their way here were the women with a ready smile and a willing nature who eased the merchant marines time on shore.

They had a smell unlike anything she had ever smelt before.

Not the sophisticated French scents of the women in Boss Hague’s circle whose apartment s her mother and she sometimes cleaned.

Not the pretty Italian colognes that the Genovese wives of the gang masters who ruled her dad’s world wore, though no one could explain where they got them from in a war.

No this was an altogether different aroma, artificial, but in an exciting, modern, grown up way.

In a manner she felt must be alluring to men according to the fashion in which they fell on these women like bees at the mouths of open flowers.

Ascending the floors through her apartment building, one of the few not to be cast aside in the building of “West Wall Street”, she recalls a trip across the river some time after the war was over.

She had a little money from friends ahead of her impending marriage and determined to spend it on a perfume that would make her as irresistible to her betrothed as those women who worked the docks were to the sailors.

She asked one of the girls for the name of the fragrance she wore.

The answer came back all unpronounceable and French save for the words ‘jasmine’ and ‘lily’.

So she headed to the Flower District first to breathe in the aroma of the real blooms.

But the place she went to didn’t have jasmine, no call for it they said. And the lilies in stock were on the turn and being readied for a funeral cortege.

Without a point of reference in reality she headed up to Fifth Avenue, where even in her finest she felt an absolute scruff, and strode into the heavy doors of a department store before struggling to open them and squeeze her way in.

At the fragrance counter she whispered to herself, ‘jasmine’, ‘lily’ and ‘all grown up’.

The assistant, as beautiful and distant and made up as Miss Taylor in ‘A Place in The Sun’ heard her and smiled

‘We have just what madam’s looking for.’

And so they did: that same chemical composition of the imagined flowers with the names spoken in French accents and that indefinable attractiveness that she felt, no, she knew, she lacked.

“And how much is it?”

She didn’t even hear the woman behind the counter finish, for the first two digits out of her mouth put the prize way beyond the paltry purse she was carrying with her.

She flushed and turned and left and never went back.

Now, many years removed, sat at the small table in her kitchenette she still feels a little hope inside herself fold in on itself, some spark of innocent aspiration extinguish.

She wonders whether had she had the perfume things would have been different between the two of them.

Whether he might have found it in himself to love her, to stay.

Looking through her fan’s scrap book she reflects that she had all the clothes and jewels and fame and fragrances that money could buy but she still couldn’t or didn’t want to keep a man.

Staring into Liz’s violet eyes, a studio shot from the 60s, she smiles back at her and says aloud

‘But you never let me down’

Through Butterfield8 and both their health scares, through the bad tv movies and battles with weight, they were there for one and other.

And long after she’d stopped dreaming of owning that sailor-magnet scent, MissTaylor had even provided that for her and at a price she could almost afford.

Her only wish: that it would have come sooner, like a cure, and that she could have worn it out to the movies with her son and not to his funeral.

She closes the book with sadness and then a growing smile covers her face as the thought comes into her mind…

“Cleopatra, now that must be playing someplace”.

On its release in 1991 Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds already seemed like an antique aroma.

An aldehyde driven olfactory relic many wrote it off as a desperate attempt to cash in on the diminishing fame of a falling fading star.

Critics were proved wrong on both counts.

This is a robustly made scent that knows how to make the best of its slender means and the legend of Elizabeth Taylor has proved bright and enduring enough to see it through to two decades of healthy sales.

To be sure this is no premier perfume even amongst its peers.

However, it is an economically and elegantly composed pastiche of the great perfumes of the middle part of the twentieth century.

Though its sparkling chemical overture is a little rough around the edges in more recent reformulations, like a melody from a golden age musical played on an out of tune piano it still has the ability to conjure up the magic of the original.

The heart is much better with a lily that manages not to cloy for all its intensity and a jasmine that is sheer without being purely synthetic.

As spices and a speppery carnation yield to a base that is quite prettily musky with a slight oakmoss bite, the perfume enters a dry down which, though not as extended as it might once have been, is genuinely sophisticated, shimmering even.

It is here that the most effective allusion to the heyday glamour of the Dame whose name the perfume borrows is to be found.

This is a third act to be enjoyed with maturity and life-earned perspective.

There are better aldehydic, white florals with rose and spice and we all know what they are.

But in the celestial heavens of the celebuscents, the constellation of Elizabeth Taylor is among the most impressive and White Diamonds is its brightest star.

Can a man wear diamonds?

Well of course he can, if he finds the cut to his liking!

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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Of Andy Warhol, Art and Imperium Scenes from The Perfumed Dandy’s American Adventure Part Three : Washington DC

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The seemingly endless curve of the circular exterior wall of the Hirshhorn Museum is broken here and there with radial partitions, creating segment-like rooms that conceal surprises.

Entering one such space I find myself face to face with the grand master of Pop Art, a floating torso against a black void rendered in brilliant white and lurid pink paint Andy Warhol appears a dark angel of death.

Staring into his grey eyes it is impossible to put aside thoughts of his technicolor on steroid screen prints of icons from Queen Elizabeth to Elizabeth Taylor by way of Liza Minelli and David Bowie.

Equally, images of his notorious electric chair and car crash series invade the consciousness.

But what perfume would the world’s shyest egomaniac wear?

Of course Bond No 9 have asserted their retrospective right to him releasing a whole range of fragrances alluding to his life, his work, his NYC, none of which, despite their likability, alights on the spirit or the sensibility of the man.

Parfums Andy Warhol too for all their blunt use of their namesake’s most famous works as product packaging, miss the point.

After all Andy preferred to turn packaging into art not vice versa.

So I will choose instead a fragrance I have read filled the air at Studio 54, the New York club that I always feel, after the Factory, to be the master’s natural habitat.

Halston for Woman as was: it goes by different names today and has been endlessly diluted and the composition occasionally disturbed.

Yet in every variation from the genius of the original to the bordering on generic of the contemporary, this is the most bone dry of floral chypres ever to have donned a gold lamme jump suit and stack heals to grace an underlit dancefloor.

Are we still in Washington? Is that Bianca Jagger on a horse?

Perspex discs arranged in improbable suspensions and Sol le Witt’s over bright disco light wall-sized paintings only serve to add to the night club vibe.

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I am sure if music had started to play like Pavlov’s discotheque dog I would have begun to sway rythmically and to worry about last dances, looking cool and getting all my apparel back at the coat check.

As we leave the Hirshhorn, the stuff of coat check dreams appears…

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How I wish I could have taken home from any club of any sort at any time Yayoi Kusama‘s bronzed, rose embroidered manteau, rather than my own affair, no matter how dapper it might have been.

It’s meticulous craftsmanship and eloquent opulence call for a powerfully elegant and self-possessed perfume to go with it.

The baroque intensity of Chanel’s Coco tempts for a moment, then Serge Luten’s Sa Majeste la rose seems perfect.

But reflecting on Kusama’s troubled existence, an uncalm rose seems the only thing, and the medieval splendour of Paco Rabanne’s la Nuit the only one that could possibly do this warrior of the heart’s armour justice.

The National Botanical Gardens

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Outside the air has warmed to an improbable early afternoon high of near ninety degrees.

Of course the logical thing would have been to seek out air conditioning and art once again, but mad dogs and Welsh men go out in the midday sun and so we amble on to the most unlooked for treasure of our trip.

Tucked away in a corner at The Capitol Hill end of The National Mall, The National Botanical Garden is a diminutive delight both inside and out its ornamental glasshouses.

Here plants unfamiliar and familiar-looking but with new and unfamiliar names jostle for our attention in a ready made riot of colours and non-colours.

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Who knew grey petals could be so beautiful?

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One plot of botanical beauties has me rhapsodising once again on space travel, for surely they cannot be of this world…

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Their elongated alien forms exploding here and there into fronds and antenna-like extrusions are the stuff of science fiction fantasy, and yet they sit here quite happily before me bustling up against one another in the breeze in their busy bed.

Immediately Norell by Norell comes to mind.

A now nearly lost vision of the future from a point some point in the middle part of the last century, it is the perfect scent to accompany these tiny Trifids, who sadly have no smell to call their own.

Its hyperspace hyacinth, bright green nettle-like laser beam heart and nuclear charged pepper fired carnation are just perfect for these Star Trek saplings.

Looking above the flowers and into the distance, the most unusual of all the domes that surmount this city comes into sight.

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Like a parliament of an ancient nation or world, the organic form of the angle avoiding National Museum of the American Indian is as inviting and enveloping as a mother’s arms.

Walking towards the sunshine the smell of woodsmoke is on my mind.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.

The Perfumed Dandy

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