Thursday, January 27, 2011

Offskin, aka The Space Between Us

One of the worst professors I ever had said two of the most memorable lines from my undergraduate life.

The first was part and parcel of satire:  {cue gravelly voiced, tired, tousled, deigning, gray haired presence at front of room, with what might appear to be the somewhat older denizens of Fast Times at Ridgemont High filling seats in a classroom furnished more like a high school than a college} "The mind, class, is like a sieve..."  {Various reactions make clear that this is a refrain as familiar, and perhaps as frequently punctuated, as "...take one down and pass it around..."}

But the other, the one that I have revisited many times: "It was not the icon itself, but the space between the icon and the viewer, that was worshipped."

Score one for Byzantine history, the Orthodox church, and the professor.  This one has not fallen through the sieve, and will not, ever.

Recently, I have worn two scents that have struck me as beautiful, but never when snarfed/huffed.  Only when experienced as that which floats above the skin.  It wouldn't be fair to say their "sillage," for in my mind the idea of "sillage" is a nearly visible vapor trail that is left in a wearer's wake.  No, this was the air above my wrist, discovered as I leaned over to pick up a paper, or reached up to open a cupboard.  If I tried to put nose to skin to discover the source, I got something different.  It was only as I pulled back that I got a hint of how to find the source.

It was a space above my skin, waiting to be discovered.  It would not be left behind as or after I left the room, but hovered there, somewhere above me, but not exactly part of me.  It took a combination of perfume on skin, plus a "viewer" searching the area above, to discover it.

"Many people make the mistake of thinking that these images were created as idol worship.  That is wrong.  They were an image of an idol, or perhaps more accurately, a concept, something to be reminded of.  The purpose of the image, which you will notice is rather two-dimensional, was to allow for an interaction between the viewer and the representation.  The act of reflecting, of contemplation, caused the space in between to be sacred.  That space was only "alive" or sacred during the act of contemplation.  

Thus, it was not idol worship, but idol contemplation, if you will; but do not confuse reverence for object deification.  Or, indeed, deification of a person.  It was as if the idol allowed for, in combination with a reverential viewer, a sacred space.  It was the space that mattered, and it only mattered during the act."

Vintage Houbigant Aperçu and Nina Ricci Filles de Eve are two examples of perfumes that I find are better experienced off skin than on it.  Filles de Eve in particular; when I go in for the close up, it falls apart.  It's all old lady perfume, and not particularly complex.  I persisted in trying it, because I had smelled it on a friend in perfume, and remembered it as beautiful.

The trick of memory was to adjust the preposition.  I hadn't smelled it on a friend; I had smelled it off a friend.

Sure enough, I've caught the cloud a couple of times now.  Much better.  I am still sussing Filles de Eve out, and not sure if I love it, or I am just having fun visiting.  In fact, I may decide I have fun visiting, but don't like it at all.  Aperçu is actually more likely to be my bag, though I am still not sure why.  For one thing, it has more layers to it, at least as it plays out in my nose.  The thing is, taking time to think about exactly what is playing out in my nose is distracting me from that space, that beautiful space just off of my skin.

I'll be spending time in the future sorting out whether or not I find this phenomenon more prevalent in older style perfumes than newer ones.  As it happens, I am wearing Andy Tauer's Reverie au Jardin as I write this, and this is one that I love discovering offskin.  But, and perhaps and important "but" to consider as I try to sort this out, Reverie au Jardin is pretty faithful in the huff.  What you catch in the cloud is what you find on your skin.  Not that I'm complaining.  Just saying.

Today, I am all about offskin.  This space between us.  Present, perhaps, only when someone stops to contemplate it.

image of Saint Stephen icon from


Musette said...

I don't know if I have that in perfume but I certainly have that with viburnum. Their scent seems to be carried only on the wine and even with that, only as the wind deems it necessary (I've had it waft strong one minute and 10 minutes later, the same wind carries...nothing).

Perhaps it's just me, but I have had no luck smelling viburnum directly from the flower. It just will not give it up to my nose.


ScentScelf said...

Absolutely, viburnum. Especially the korean spice viburnum, which can really pump out the smell...but goes all quiet when you put your nose up to the flowers. Funny, lily of the valley is the same...much more powerful carried on the breeze than trying to find it with your nose in its bells. I tend to think that well-told story about Roudnitska lying "under" some LOTV really involved him lying about among or near some LOTV. Even when you bring stems into the house, their waft is stronger than an up close huff.

But at least they are huffable. That viburnum...zoiks. (Now calculating likely remaining time until my own spicebush aka Korean spice viburnum aka viburnum carlesi) starts wafting outside my kitchen window....

ScentScelf said...

Clarifying my comment, Musette...lily of the valley is similar, in that the power display is away from the flower itself. But, unlike the viburnum, you have a chance of getting something nose near flower.

Perhaps LOTV is the Reverie au Jardin to viburnum's Fille en Eve. ;)

Vanessa said...

This is all very interesting and I will have to see which perfumes I appreciate better at a slight remove. Of course a certain person in our household would prefer all scents to be so offskin as to be out the door and technically off-site... : - )

Josephine said...

Hmmm. This is true for me with Femme. Offskin, it sort of calls to me with its plum and vagina seductiveness. But huffed? The magic is lost and the cloying aspects take over.

The 'space between us' is definitely worth contemplating.

Marina said...

I have that tickly feeling I get when I read something that rings so very true! Firstly, love the quote about space between. Secondly, it is so true that some scents only really open up offskin. Bravo!

ScentScelf said...

Vanessa, ah, well...the certain person's preference is a bit extreme to even be considered a distance to make the heart grow fonder. Or worshipping from afar.

Do report back if you come up with any perfumes you find you appreciate better with a *small* amount of distance.

ScentScelf said...

LOL! There's a description of Femme that's not going to leave my sieve. I may simply acronym it to PVS. And shall always attribute to you, Josephine.

Considering Femme in space, rather than on skin, may be the best chance I have of coming to terms with the new version. I have much discussed issues with cumin and skank. Which is why my eventually succumbing to FMK Pour le Soir is so interesting...but that's another story, and involves huffing.

ScentScelf said...

Marina, thank you. Someday, if I'm industrious, I'll compile a list of fragrances I find best offskin and put it up here.

Of course, I'd really rather get back on track with pairings... ;)

Anonymous said...

I love, *love* this post. Have been thinking about it for days, while I've been busy with the mundane.

I grew up with the usual Baptist suspicion of anything both decorative and religious - our sanctuary was painted cinderblock and wood pews, and WE LIKED IT THAT WAY. Yet I was fascinated with St. Andrew's Church downtown: the yellow brick, the towers, the bells, the stained glass windows, the gilding, the paintings, the monstrance ("All that, just for the bread??"), the echoey spaces.

Was further fascinated with the churches in Poland: again with the gilding and exuberant colors! It was only when I saw the Black Madonna at Jasna Gora, and the nuns with ardent faces pressed between the bars of the iron gate guarding it, yearning toward it, that I began to understand the Space Between.

Or, in words from a sci-fi novel I read in high school and have forgotten the title of (yes, a sieve!): Stand not between a god and his worshiper, for that is holy ground.

Sometimes the difference between the huff and the waft is considerable. Cuir de Lancome, L'Aimant, SMN Gardenia... there are more. I should retry Apercu.

ScentScelf said...

Muse, I am so glad you liked it, and that the post triggered such beautiful thinkings. Thank you for coming back to share them.

The austerity thing versus the opulence thing has always intrigued me in religious practice. My young mind was particularly whallomped, then, to be introduced to this idea of space, which relocated and reframed the objects/no objects argument. Nice move, thought I.

Now, as a not young person, I am getting a mini-whallomp when you come by and tell me this line from the sci-fi novel. Cue music...

Yes! Cuir de Lancome. That one is tricky in this way of thinking; you kind of need a preliminary half huff and then a quick backing off to the hover space. At least, I do. ;) L'Aimant...hmmm, now I'm going to go back and try that one again. I have a cute little vintage mini, and don't use it much, but it's worth it for purposes of this conversation. :)

Perfumeshrine said...

The comment about the icon is of course so very true: People in the Orthodox faith even simulate a kiss, hovering their lips just a milimeter over the surface of the icon. We were taught to do that as kids; it somehow feels more sacred too. It's interesting that it happens with coffis of the dearly beloved dead: again, a kiss on the wooden panel, just hovering a bit over it...

Scents gain from their "offskin" distance I find: what is fusing into a melange thus becomes a bit of the memory of how another smells your skin, your aura, when coming close.

ScentScelf said...

Oh, E, now you've got me thinking about hovering and memory...

So it does feel more sacred to you? My mind is quickly jumping to the idea of a virtual communion...which brings me to a tea party (in childhood, with empty cups and plates)...which makes me think how nearly tangible and somehow more special/memorable some of those experiences were...which in a way can bring us back to the coffin and conjuring.

I do think that scent, when it comes to personal biology or perfume, always combines what is present plus perception. Perception gets an interesting twist when the beholder is an Other, not you.

Ah, deep thoughts. :)

Lucy said...

Narcisse Noir by Caron acted this way for me.

That lovely St. Stephen!

ScentScelf said...

Someday I wish to obtain at least a small amount of vintage Narcisse Noir. The current version seems a positively perky orange blended with an element that is more medicinal than dark. I was once able to sample the older THAT would cause me to stop and reflect.