Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hotel Scents

In an interview of a few years back, cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum told ArtForum that if he could create his own perfume he would name it "Hotel" or "Standing Room Only." When asked which word would best describe it, he answered simply "banquette." Recently, Koestenbaum has published Hotel Theory (Soft Skull Press), a Heideggerian deconstruction of the place, category, and metaphor of hotels alongside a dime novel starring Lana Turner and Liberace (!!) printed in a parallel column on each page. While catsitting last week at a friend's loft, I read it and mused on the category of what, for me, could be dubbed "hotel" scents. Would such scents be anodynes to the appalling blandness of so many chain hotels? or ways of bringing traces of "home" into the mix? Or, alternatively, would they revel (olfactively) in the smells and sensations of such temporary, multiply occupied dwellings? Or, in a different way entirely, would they suspend their owners between the domesticities of home and the exoticisms of "the grand abroad," in artificially-created, private fantasy worlds? Would they, in fine, transport?

For myself at least, the scents for which I reach when packing my toiletries are all too often the ones that travel well: Hermès Eau d'Orange Verte scented soap (whose translucent green case is strangely for me a travel essential of nearly fetishistic significance), a deluxe-sample-size flacon of Annick Goutal's Eau d'Hadrien as well as the matching shampoo, and a small spray bottle of Montale's Oud Cuir d'Arabie for when I'm feeling just a tad "Indiana Jones." For protracted overseas travel, I add to these a bottle of Etro's Vetiver, which I feel is one of those ever-appropriate scents, as fitting at breakfast as it would be during intermission. Travel scents are not risky scents. They do not call attention to themselves. If anything they call attention to the wayfarer's identity, his masculinity, and the simple fact that, what with the foreign water, the temperature and the possible lack of some amenities, he's going to smell like a packhorse if he doesn't spray something. Now, what do women pack? (Also curious about other guys.) Is there a particular note or accord that suits airplanes, trains and hotels?


Blogger Divina said...

Mmm, I don't know, I decant the perfume that fits the particular holiday (and season) each time and none of them seem particularly connected with the hotels themselves, just the mood of the period/holiday/weather. But of course when I think hotels and scents, I immediately have to think of the Costes 'fume... Too, the soaps and body lotions of Molton Brown are irrevocably connected with hotel experiences in my mind ever since I stayed at Westin in Paris.

September 28, 2007 at 3:02 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Hi Divina, For warm shadowy "contemporary" hotel elegance, Costes' sandalwood, coriander, laurel and spices signals a move away from starched linens and room service trays to another world: at once imaginary and thousands of miles away.

September 28, 2007 at 7:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work in conference organisation and thus have a number of "conference scents", perfumes which should make me feel competent, coolly gorgeous and in charge of every situation, without being too overriding or having too strong a sillage: Caron Nuit de Noel, PdN New York or Dior Bois d'Argent. These would do well as travel perfumes as well. A travel perfume would need to make you feel good (and gorgeous but not too sexy), competent, in charge, but also comfortable, safe and happy (important on long trips!). So I would add Chopard Madness or Lutens Miel de Bois (both "second-skin" scents and not at all terrible on me. But my skin tames skank...), and a small sample of Habanita , Agent Provocateur or Tabu - just in case a hot date should suddenly come my way! And for long flights in close company with other people: Thierry Mugler's Cologne. Makes you smell freshly showered for an entire muggy day!

September 28, 2007 at 8:40 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dinazad, "Safe and happy" could be the names of certain chemicals our brains produce so that we can possess a sense of comfort. Most likely, these are the things we associate with the nest, with home. I haven't sampled either the Chopard or SL scents you mention. Now I will. Thanks for the contribution to this discussion.

September 28, 2007 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger carmencanada said...

Hotels have two families of scents to me: the one I buy at the duty-free shop (thus, strangely, Montreal = Sira des Indes and Beirut = Jicky) and the one associated to the provided toiletries. Rome: Eau d'Orange Verte. Beirut, again: Blenheim Bouquet. Decants are always a quandary with an unknown or lesser-known destination. What sounds intuitively right might go all wrong in a different light, climate, environment, diet...
If it's business, I tend to pack non-divisive scents that carry less risk of negative reactions: no old, popular classics (don't want to remind anyone of their mothers), no skank, heady florals or orientals. Guerlain's Derby is always appropriate; Patou 1000 ; Chanel Cuir de Russie. All of these make me feel safe and in charge, an important point in a new environment. Of course, a little Tubéreuse Criminelle might get packed on the off chance of a romantic encounter. Once the strange top notes, which I love, evaporate, it's got quite an effect. An international woman of mystery needs her secret weapon!

September 28, 2007 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

How I admire the way in which you, Carmencanada, equate quite literally the place with the scent, and admire too the apparent discontinuities spawned by the placement of the equal-sign. Beirut=Jicky conjures up both the fin-de-siècle grandeur of Beirut, its present state, and the (perhaps) apocryphal tale of Aimé Guerlain and his "anglaise." Rome=Eau d'Orange Verte spawns a mythological misreading of the Hermès "étiquette orange" (its almost Hazmat hue) and Hermès the messenger god bearing turn-of-the-century postcards and ephemera ... which brings us to the Guerlain Derby you pack for travel wear and which, at once, brings images of Degas' race paintings and looks back to the phaeton carriage adorning the Hermès logo. Somehow, each of these scents is itself a hotel, a holder of transitory persons and things, as well as a transitory thing in itself, as its molecules fall away and disappear until the next spritz.

September 28, 2007 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger carmencanada said...

It would really depend on how one wore scents, wouldn't it? If scent is perceived as an extension of identity, then it isn't "a holder of transitory persons". If it is an invisible vehicle functioning much like the the TARDIS time-travelling phone booth, in the classic british series Dr. Who, then, yes, many scents are like hotels. One inhabits a succession of them, in a succession of cities (mental states, moods, situations, affairs), appropriating them briefly and keeping their imprint in memory. I did like the "décalage" between Beirut and Jicky (and Blenheim Bouquet): it corresponds neither to the cliché of Orientalism, nor to the bling-bling aesthetics of the rich Sunni bourgeoisie I was led to encounter. Hermès, by essence of course, travels everywhere. With Derby, despite its being much more recent, they are all "Grand Tour" scents.
None of these are gender-specific: another Hermès trait.

September 29, 2007 at 12:22 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

With a sizable collection of scents, it's difficult for most of them to become "extensions," as you call them, of identity. More often, to borrow a Koestenbaum term, I "check in" to a scent, be it for an afternoon encounter or a weeklong stay. For example, right now I am yearning for the world of Miller Harris Feuilles de Tabac (its spicy mercurial traits) but, while there, I may tire of the Spice Route and want something more restrained, drier, in its tobacco aspect: Vintage Tabarôme. Multiple dwellings such as these can even grant the perfumeophile rara avis in crossing the gender divides which bisect our personality. Out one night wearing just the last few traces of Derby, I may fall into Attrape Coeur. But, it is really interesting to think how, more often than not, the hotel scents elude gender entirely, as for many of the nomadic peoples of the Near- and Middle East perfumes, ointments (even cosmetics) straddle such divides.

September 29, 2007 at 7:02 AM  

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