The bold, the sexy and the downright odd smells

Barbara Herman, author of Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume, talks to NPR's All Things Considered about vintage fragrances:

Blogger Barbara Herman has spent the better part of the past six years taking a deep nosedive into the world of vintage fragrances. Her quest? To find the bold, the sexy and the downright odd smells that have defined women over the decades.

The segment is a little over 5 minutes long.

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  1. ringthing says:

    Hmm. She presents some interesting things to think about, like the fact that perfumes have become increasingly clean at a time when women (supposedly) have more power than ever before. I say supposedly because from where I sit in my middle 50s, women are more objectified now than they ever have been, due to the proliferation of pornography and the phenomenon of the Internet. I see the cotton candy fruity sweetness of perfume as a bit of a subversive way to infantalize women….. but of course I grew up in that era of Charlie that she speaks of.

    • Robin says:

      It is also true, though, that men’s perfumes have generally become increasingly clean too. It’s an interesting argument but not sure I think it’s all down to gender issues.

      • Thalia says:

        Men’s have both become cleaner and there is also a trend toward candy gourmands for them. 1 Million and its ilk. The ads for men don’t have that baby pink girly-girly Twirl, Lollipop Bling, Meow infantilism, but the scents are just as sweet.

  2. Oakland Fresca says:

    A beautiful moment! Me, sitting in the front seat of my car waiting for my 7th grader to come out from a meeting with a teacher, opening a package of delicious new samples that arrived from Sonoma Scent Studio… and suddenly Barbara Herman is on the radio talking about Scent and Subversion… so I sat there inhaling my new scents and listening to Herman talk about old. Best curb wait ever!

    N.B I actually thought the interview was just so so. I’ve read Herman’s book, which I liked for two reasons. I liked her essays at the beginning and the end, and I liked that she would often address whether the reformulation was or was not similar to the original that she reviews (how many times have you read a description of a perfume to be told at the end that you probably will never lay hands on it!) But I also didn’t think she goes far enough to explore what was happening to American and European women (not to be myopic here! Just that most of the fragrances she discusses were marketed in the US and Europe almost exclusively until the 1980s –at least that is what I think, but perhaps not?) and marketing to those women more generally. She presents the outline of some interesting ideas, but I wanted much more research and more historical context to ground her analysis.

    • Robin says:

      Nice! Love when that happens with NPR.

      I sheepishly admit I still need to read the book.

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