Yet Another Reason To Visit Paris This Spring (Hint: It Has To Do With Chanel No 5)

ChanelNo5

The City of Light already has enough going for it in the springtime to warrant a trip—the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, the usual hordes of tourists haven’t arrived yet and cafe culture is back in full swing. But on top of all that, a new exhibition celebrating Chanel’s iconic scent is opening in May. I want to go to there!

As reported by Blouin Artinfo, “N°5 Culture Chanel” debuts on May 5th at the Palais de Tokyo. The exhibit uses well-edited bits and pieces of Coco Chanel’s life—including her art, pictures and documents—to show what influenced the creation of the famous fragrance. It also features items from the brand’s archives. The highlights include photos of Madame Chanel’s old lovers, gifts from her artist friends like Picasso and the classic 1971 advertisement featuring Catherine Deneuve.

It’s amazing that the scent, which was made in 1921 by Ernest Beaux, has maintained such a loyal following for so many years. There’s just something about it that’s so sexy and intriguing. It’s not just the classic very French, very floral aroma. The label has done a brilliant job of keeping an air of mystery around the fragrance. Many of the celebrities who have appeared in the ads are the kind of stars who don’t reveal much about themselves like Nicole Kidman and Brad Pitt, although his commercial might have been a bit too cryptic. And, of course, there’s the much-publicized endorsement from Marilyn Monroe. She famously said, “What do I wear in bed? Why, Chanel N°5, of course.” I’m guessing that a spike in sales ensued.

Fragrance has way of reeling us in and playing with our emotions. I was reminded of that when I saw “The Art of Scent” at the Museum of Art and Design earlier this month. I took a whiff of Drakkar Noir and I immediately thought of high school. I swear every guy wore it back then. Chanel N° 5 must trigger all kinds of memories for so many different people because of its long history and status. It really is the perfect perfume to explore in a gallery. So, who’s down to go with me on a transatlantic field trip?

 

Beauty On Display: A Tribute To Fragrance Artists At The Museum Of Art And Design

In true procrastinator form, I went to see “The Art of Scent” exhibit, curated by former New York Times scent critic Chandler Burr, at the Museum of Art and Design on Sunday, the last day of its four-month run. No other museum has ever celebrated fragrance creation as an art form before, but perfumers absolutely deserve to be called artists. They spend months (or sometimes years) designing scents that are loved and worn by people who want to express themselves a certain way or evoke a certain memory or mood. Consumers pay good money for fragrances and connoisseurs collect them. And some scents are considered classics that never go out of style. It’s about time perfumers got their due. Here’s how the exhibit showcased the talents of a select group of gifted noses.

The whole thing was set up in a small-ish gallery on the fourth floor of the museum. Right away, I was sucked in by a scrolling introduction of the show, which was projected onto the floor. It reminded me of Star Wars.

Nestled inside of the stark white walls, there were 15 mini caves, one for each of the featured scents, which included Chanel N°5, Angel, L’Eau d’Issey, Pleasures and Light Blue. Periodic bursts of fragrance were emitted from the caves, but you had to lean in to get a good whiff.

Next to each sniff station, a short summary of the fragrance faded in and out on the wall (lots of projectors were involved in this exhibit).

Another area of the gallery documented the making of Lancôme’s iconic scent, Trésor. During the process of creating a fragrance, a designer will develop different versions (based on direction from the client) called “mods.” The mods get tweaked and tweaked some more until the juice is perfected. This section of the show allowed visitors to sample four different Trésor mods and compare them to the end result.

I got to play perfumer at a table set up with a bunch of raw ingredients to smell and mix. I could see how easy it would be to get completely lost in trying to concoct the perfect blend of notes.

While all of this was going on, the back wall featured a rotating projection of words that described each featured scent’s aroma and vibe.

“The Art of Scent” was really well done and I hope MAD decides to take the show on the road. Did you get a chance to see it in New York City? For those that don’t live in NYC, would you check it out if it came to your town?

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The Price We Pay To Be Pretty

 

Could your desire to feel gorgeous be costing you your health?

I missed this interesting piece in The Atlantic last week, about 1930s movie star Jean Harlow, and how she suffered for her bleached blond hair. The tragic, yet intriguing story made me wonder if women will ever stop risking their health for the sake of looking beautiful.

In the story, writer Taylor Orci describes the toxic mix of chemicals Harlow used to get her signature hair color.

Harlow, towheaded as a child, insisted she was a natural blonde, but her stylist knew differently. “I used to bleach her hair and make it ‘platinum blonde,’” Alfred Pagano, hairdresser to the stars, once said. “We used peroxide, ammonia, Clorox, and Lux flakes! Can you believe that?”

Orci goes on to suggest that there’s a chance the actress’s untimely death at age 26 could have been caused by her frequent exposure to ammonia and bleach—she might have died from dyeing.  Even if it wasn’t the homemade hair color that killed Harlow, the concoction probably had some sort of negative impact on her health. Yet she endured the painful lightening process every week because she believed her success in the film industry depended on it.

We could blame ignorance for her behavior and say that Harlow and her well-meaning stylist were just working with what they had at the time. But even now, women embrace products that are likely to be harmful. For example, they fork over good money for Brazilian Blowouts that contain cancer-causing formaldehyde, relaxers, which have been linked to fibroids and perfumes with hidden ingredients that can cause allergic reactions. I’m guilty of knowingly using iffy beauty products, too. I’ve relaxed my hair on and off for years, and I have a pretty big collection of fragrances (although I don’t spritz myself every day).

Not everyone is aware of the risks associated with some of the beauty products they use, but I bet even women who’ve been informed don’t necessarily ditch everything that’s potentially bad. The desire to feel attractive is a very powerful, complicated emotion—one that apparently causes us to do questionable things.

Is there anything in your beauty stash that could be a health hazard? Have you ever stopped using a product because you learned that it might be toxic? ‘Fess up, please.