Perfumes

Imprison Me in Scent

Jaipur by Boucheron, 1995

Naked woman bound by a ring of perfume. Perfume as shackle, as a form of control over the body in an erotic maneuver of bondage. Or, the body becomes synonymous with the perfume, so there is no distinction between self and scent.

Vanessa Paradis as an exquisite caged bird singing as she swings to and fro in this ad for Chanel Coco. Her black feathers flutter as she is eyed hungrily by a cat. Her chic owner gazes upon the stormy Parisian landscape, insouciant of the drama played out between predator and prey.

Both of these ads are extremely elegant and streamlined for an audience accustomed to luxury. What these ads figuratively and literally lay bare is the eroticism that ultimately sells the product. The notion of the forbidden, the apple plucked from the tree that Eve so cunningly fed to Adam, is at the heart of many narratives written about perfume. The message is that the erotic power of women needs to be harnessed and surveilled in order to ensure its suppression.

What fascinates me about these and other ads I have previously posted is a kind of tongue in cheek misogyny, conveying via not so subtle signs the anxiety of a society threatened by women. What impresses me through and through is how susceptible even us women are to the guiles of language and image that are meant to suppress us. Why do I give in to this? Whatever my opinion of Vanessa Paradis is, she represents a kind of femininity that attracts, that lures you in because of her vulnerability, her status as a caged bird. Can perfume cage and limit who we are? Not exactly.

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3 thoughts on “Imprison Me in Scent

  1. It’s a pleasure reading your blog – I’m in enjoying it very much.

    Though I know very little, let alone nothing, about the ‘erotic power of women’ I don’t think that these ads crystallize a desire of ‘suppression’ with regard to women’s erotic power.
    Smells & scents are erotic – epecilly in their human, bodily form. But we can’t sell that – however unfortunate that may be.

    Neither Coco nor Jaïpur are effervescent, light, flighty perfumes. They both burn down to a very heavy animalistic and woody base. I think the ads are just playing on the classic games of possession and bondage which are just that: sexual games. This article brings to mind the superb ads for Opium where women ‘gave themselves’ to YSL under the influence of a powerful drug.

    All in all, I see more a message to the reverse: perfume helps the woman live out her inner desires: temporarily freeing her from society’s constraints of being an exemplary wife and mother.

  2. Christopher,

    First of all, thanks for reading the blog, I’m so glad you are enjoying it!

    You raise a good point. Yes, perfume is about escape into fantasy. It gives you the illusion of leaving your everyday life and entering some place magical. I suppose a better title for this post would have been “Harnessing Sin,” because I read more into these ads than mere sexual games. It’s the excess, the mix of scent, sex, and drugs, that create problematic representations of women as out of control, decadent beings.

    Nothing sells better than sex. But I do think it goes a little far sometimes.

  3. Christopher, I see what you mean in terms of the Chanel ad: i see an id/super-ego thing going on. (Though, as erotic fantasies go, I wonder if whistling on a perch in a birdcage is high on a lot of lists? )

    As for the other ad-…. Pairing up the name Jaipur with a sexualized image of bondage/slavery wrong in so many ways.

    MP. I love all of these ads with commentary you’ve been posting!

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