“They take the cotton candy molecule, pour it in a condom, add some helium, put it in a bottle, and sell it.” That’s how New York Times Perfume Critic Chandler Burr described M by Mariah Carey, one of the “neon super sweet” perfumes that Burr said had been created recently and often under the aegis of a celebrity.
At a lecture last month in the New York Times headquarters in Manhattan, Burr waxed rhapsodic on a handful of noteworthy perfumes – which he had the audience sniff on moistened paper samples periodically handed out. Midnight Fantasy, by Britney Spears was to him “Sugar with crystal meth, and Vicks cherry-flavored cough drops. You cannot miss this perfume,” he said.
Burr is a wordsmith, for sure, but he concocted a magical ambiance in which perfumes were not only discussed, but sensed, in ever sense of the word. Accompanying his eloquent lecture, Burr mingled wafting notes of music with projected slides displaying paintings and architecture that evoked the scents dancing under our noses. It was an acrobatic tumble of sensorial stimulation.
Burr pens a perfume-critiquing column in T Magazine, and has written features for the NYT Sunday magazine (it was one article there, about Sarah Jessica Parker sheepishly getting into perfume and describing her own mixture as “really dirty, really sexy”, that hooked me not only to him and to perfume, but even more to SJP), the newspaper, and books like THE PERFECT SCENT: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris & New York (2007) and The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession (2002).
His characteristic flair for describing fragrances on paper make you sit up and take note. Diorella, the classic 70s fragrance from Dior, he says, “Hits you like a woman, in 1972, driving down Rodeo Drive, in a Mercedes convertible, with big hair and hairspray and it knocks you over.” And it does, clamoring out at you gaudily from the paper.
“There is a slight suggestion of bad taste,” he says diplomatically and truthfully, which he equated to the “golden sheen” of the Trump Tower. “You see it has bad taste and it makes it wonderful; it doesn’t bother you.”
Eau Sauvage, for Dior, was likened to Mies van der Rohe‘s architectural maxims, “form follows function,” “ornamentation is a crime,” and “truth in materials,” as well as paintings by Caillebotte and Richard Estes. The former, of the Pont d’Argenteuil, whose steel was the painting’s subject; the latter, of the Staten Island Ferry, with a focus on the freshness of air and ocean, glass, steel and openness.
Perfume usually has an uplifting effect, but with Burr’s eloquence it is rendered a reverential air.