Behind a nondescript garage door in the industrial outskirts of Williamsburg is one of the world’s great perfume gems: The CB I Hate Perfume gallery (http://www.cbihateperfume.com/). CB stands for Christopher Brosius, the creator of this line of scents as well as the former head nose for Demeter perfumes. [I remember trying Demeter’s Thunderstorm for the first time years ago at Bloomingdale’s; I loved the experience but did not realize what a revolution it was going to cause in the perfume world.] I found Brosius’s “Manifesto” on his website, and my curiosity was instantly piqued. Here it is:
- I hate perfume.
- Perfume is too often an ethereal corset trapping everyone in the same unnatural shape
- A lazy and inelegant concession to fashionable ego
- Too often a substitute for true allure and style
- An opaque shell concealing everything – revealing nothing
- A childish masque hiding the timid and unimaginative
- An arrogant slap in the face from across the room
- People who smell like everyone else disgust me
- * * * * * * *
- Perfume is a veil that reveals the soul
- Perfume is the fanfare of our individuality sounding differently to everyone who listens
- Perfume is a signpost to our true selves – a different journey for the brave to travel
- Perfume is the weather of our inner world bringing life to a personal landscape
- Perfume is an art that shows us who we can be if we dare – an invisible portrait of who we are
- Perfume is discovered fully only by our lovers when we are together – naked
WOW. I couldn’t wait to visit.
Firstly, the shop is divided into roughly three sections. The perfume collections on the right, perfume accords organized by category on the left, and special perfume projects in the middle towards the back. I stayed mainly with the accords because I liked the idea of being able to mix and match notes to create my own perfumes depending on my mood. The accords are arranged according to: WATER, EARTH, GREEN, WOOD, FLOWER, FRUIT, ZEST, SMOKE, SKIN, SPICE, FOOD, SWEET, CLEAN, CHEMICAL. Each little 15 ml bottle I opened was a gift. There were things I didn’t know you could capture in a bottle, like French bread and Thai curry that made me feel like I was standing in a kitchen. Soaked Earth and Chanterelle sent me into a wooded forest after a warm rain. Vinyl Handbag brought to mind a bad sale purchase from H&M. With True Rose de Mai, I felt like I was inhaling from the freshest, most beautiful red rosebud on earth. It was the perfect rose.
Eventually, as we went through the bottles, we asked for some help from the staff. A tall thin man in a black long-sleeved tee-shirt and heavy silver necklace greeted us. I realized after a few minutes that he was Mr. Brosius himself. He looked like he could be playing drums in a heavy metal band. His whole presence was a testament to his mission–to desnobbify perfume, to bring it to the masses in a way that is accessible to personal experiences and memories, and yet maintain a high level of creativity to ensure perfumery’s status among the great art forms in the face of mainstream, big brand mediocrity.
I came away with three perfume absolutes: Soaked Earth, Old Leather, and Black Tea. Just opening the bottle of Black Tea makes me feel like I am on board a ship from the East Indies carrying fragrant tea leaves. Sometimes I mix the leather and tea scents up, but mostly I wear them each by themselves to let their notes shine. I cannot wait to visit again.