Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Can a fragrance be in black & white?

Classic topic among film folk: color vs. black & white.  (Discuss among yourselves.)

Today's New York Times discussed a new DVD release of two Michael Powell films, and I took special note of the discussion of "A Matter of Life and Death." Apparently, in the film "heaven is in black and white, while...bursting Technicolor is reserved for earthly delights."

I spent a fair amount of time with film at one point in my life, so it was easy to have a quick flood of associations,  Wim Wenders "Wings of Desire" being foremost among them.  I don't know why scholars and critics didn't point to the Powell movie when Wenders released his film, since clearly there are strong parallels between the two.*  That aside, I began ruminating on the effect of b&w versus color in film and if there was a way to connect this to fragrance.  Motion picture film, mind you, not still photography; scent exists through time, and frequently has a development, whereas a photograph is a frozen moment--even if motion is implicit--for the viewer to linger on, with, within, without.  That's what you learn when you make movies:  it's not just sound + vision, it's sound + vision + time.

Is there such a thing as a black and white fragrance?  I tried at first with the historical angle, but that just doesn't work.  It's like the notion that people dream in black and white, and color dreaming was an aberration; dreaming in black and white was more commonly reported in an era when films (and then television) were in black and white.  Color has been with us for the duration of our history; its obviously an option for a perfume from any era.

So black and white is more about...what?  Focusing on contrast?  Emphasizing moments over movement?  Filtering out extraneous information so that one examines a particular set of details?  

I don't know yet.  I'm pondering this.  I'll tell you this:  It's hard for me to conceive of a white floral that isn't a fragrance that is in "color," soliflore or not.  And I'm thinking that maybe Knize Ten is a black and white fragrance--so clearly about that sharp leather that one starts to see the nubbies in the hide.  But I'm not convinced.  

Maybe if I tried to triangulate it with music...but what is the musical equivalent of color versus black and white?

Sorry...all I'm doing here today is raising questions.  Clearly, I'm not done rumbling this around in my head.

*A male character falls to earth, one due to the mistake of an angel, the other an angel himself.  Both are in love with a woman on earth.  Both need to explain why they should stay on earth.  And, for both, earth is full of "information," i.e., in color.


The Daily Connoisseur said...

Oh what a great question... I guess when I think of black and white, I think the classics (Cary Grant, Lauren Bacall etc.) But unfortunately I'm having a mind blank and can't think of any fragrances to match lol!

ScentScelf said...

It's a toughie...that's why I'm still thinking.... ;)

Lucy Fishwife said...

Happy New Year! And thank you for mentioning two of my favourite films in one blog post. I think of Chanel No 5 in black and white, maybe because of the label, or maybe because I think of Marilyn Monroe in black and white - and Jicky definitely. Mitsouko is maybe sepia..?

Musette said...

Chanel No 5 is definitely black and white to me! I hadn't considered Jicky - will have to think about that one. To me, Mitsouko is very pale bronze with touches of green and mercury bubbling through.


Lucy said...

I am thinking that Psychotrope is a black and white, either/or yin/yang type too...
anything rather chemical in nature.

I also think of black and white as the words on a page, handwriting in both pencil and ink, etching, printmaking, the graphic arts... handwritten labels on bottles, too.

So there follows some Noir types,
and perhaps some white flower types in contrast. I guess you could layer one of the many noir perfumes besides a white flower type...that would be pretty rich.

ScentScelf said...

Lucy AND Musette, :)

Loving these ideas. Given my feelings about No.5, in my mind it would be one of those high contrast B&W images with precious little in the saturated black realm...

Going to go home and try a hit from my Psychotrope sample, and see what comes out of that. Intrigued, I am.

Now I'm thinking there's not really an amber that could be B&W. Not because of word associations with the color, but because ambers tend to be warm and fuzzy at the edges...need color to convey that....

Divina said...

You always ask the interesting, thought provoking questions. This clearly needs more thought, but the first thing that comes to mind is Ellena's minimalism for Hermes. Does this make any sense? A sort of focus that comes when there is not *too much* or even simply *much at all* going on. And yet enough to make you discover more every time you return to it. (not that I like all of Elena's work mind, or that I don't wish he'd give us something richer from time to time...)

ScentScelf said...

Oh, Divina, that's an excellent path! You are right; in the layered temporal realm of scent, what is typically called JCE's "minimalism" could be thought of as a rendering in black and white. Brava!

Yes, much more thinking to be done...thanks for pushing the conversation along!

Rose said...

Hello, late to the party. I agree this is very interesting. Purely in date terms we could classify scents up to a certain time in film as black and white- and No 5 fits. It fits too with lots of characters I love from black and white films, although I don't love No 5 myself.

However I find black and white films often have more intensity than colour ones, or perhaps it's just that we only re watch the really great black and whites and we see so many mediocre colour ones. Anyway when I think of black and white I think of more intense emotions and therefore stronger and more complex scents.

On the other hand I suppose black and white is simpler and therefore soliflores or very simple colognes are more like it.

I guess it really depends where you are starting from!

ScentScelf said...


But that is just it...how to define where we are starting from? The lists change as a result. I am just the sort of person who enjoys pondering these things, though...

...at least, sometimes, I do. ;)

Will be giving a go at a list in the future.