Monday, July 9, 2012

Alyssa Harad continued

So the 2001 live-tweet was a rousing success! Unless it wasn't. Guess it's not really my place to say, huh? I hope I didn't alienate too many of my followers. (No pun intended, really.) Anyway, as promised, here are some more excepts from my conversation with Alyssa Harad (stuff that didn't make it into the piece in Open Letters).

On feminism (portions in italics are me, regular text is Alyssa):

I love what you said about queer theory, because I think that’s a really good way to frame it for people who think that if you’re going to be a feminist you have to reject so much of femininity, as though that’s all sort of constructed by men, like we have no part in that. And to look at queer theory is to realize, well, there’s other ways of being a man too, so why do we have to be like straight men? 

Joan Nestle was writing about the power of wearing red lipstick in the ‘70s, you know, like when she and her butch lover were getting kicked out of lesbian dances for giving in to the patriarchy because of how they dressed up. And now people are crossing gender lines in all kinds of ways both in terms of dressup and how they think of themselves and also physically. I think what you’re talking about is a very old kind of hard-line version of feminism that really hasn’t been relevant since 1973 or something.

Well, what’s dismaying to me, as a "real live feminist," is that irrelevant, outdated, and sometimes entirely false ideas of feminism completely rule the discourse, in the real world when I’m not just talking to my hypereducated, hyperliberal friends. I mean, my boyfriend teaches college classes and a lot of times he’ll ask them, how many of you are feminists, and usually it’s no one. In the class he’s teaching now one guy raised his hand, but none of the women, and what they always say is, “Well, you know, I believe in women’s rights but I don’t burn my bra or anything,” like that weird stereotype of feminism is still alive and well.

Yeah, that is depressing, but I find almost every political discourse has that problem among young people in the US, or just in the general populace, like we don’t have a lot of subtlety and complexity when it comes to our political discourse on any side, so it’s not just feminism, it’s just our inability to speak about ideas in general. And our love of a few dramatic images to stand in for what’s really a very complicated narrative.

I wrote an essay a long time ago for an anthology on third-wave feminism. I still don’t really know what that means, but the basic idea was that we have this tendency to talk of a political movement as having this life and history, like certain things are decided in the '70s and then we move on to ideas in the '80s and so on, but in fact all those stages have to be relived personally by each new generation of women. Some things genuinely change, so young girls today will grow up with the idea that they can participate in sports and that they can run for office and a bunch of other things that you and I didn’t grow up with, but I think the basic change of consciousness where you kind of understand that you’re part of a system, that you’re not just an individual, that your gender matters, that has to happen for every generation. But they might have a different kind of negotiation to make. And I hope that one day they won’t have any negotiation to make, maybe I’ll be wrong and the whole thing will become irrelevant, but so far, no. So it shouldn’t be really a surprise to us that for each new class of college freshman we have to explain feminism; they have to be given the chance to discover how to think for themselves. I wouldn’t have said I was a feminist as a freshman.

I wouldn’t have either. I was still operating under the illusion that, do we really need that? Do we have to come forward and say I’m a feminist? I mean, everyone I know agrees that women are just as worthwhile as humans. And it just took me a long time to realize that not everyone I know thinks that. Most people I know don’t think that. You actually do still have to be a feminist. But it’s not that I’m judging them, it’s more like a disappointment that we’re always going to be fighting that fight – just even the basic fight of what is feminism? Sometimes it’s hard to even get past that. 

Yeah, I mean I’m living in a state that just defunded all of its women’s health programs because some of them might offer abortions so all those fights are very alive right now.

General perfume chit-chat:

I was going to ask if you had a favorite mainstream house.

Some of the perfumes I consider to be – even though I may not wear them all the time – somehow I think of them as mine, my perfumes? They are mainstream, commercial perfumes, like Coco from Chanel, especially in the parfum, it’s definitely something that feels very "me" to me … and then also Black Cashmere from Donna Karan.

I just got a bottle of that! 

Did you get the pre-reform?

I think so, it’s like a black pebble? That’s pre-reform, right? Yeah, I love it!

I have more than one bottle.

It’s a little quiet for me, so when I put it on I spray it like 10 times in one spot, and then I just stick my nose right in my arm and huff.

You are probably radiating some serious clouds, because that’s got major, major radiance. Probably the reason you can’t smell it is because your nose is fried!

Actually maybe I’m anosmic to something in it! Because ... if you think it’s really voluminous, that makes me think I must be anosmic to a musk or something ... because to me it’s really quiet. [Err, I wore two sprays of this on a shirt over the weekend and could smell it for hours, so I'm not sure what I was talking about in April.]

Well I think rather than quiet, it’s dense. You know how sometimes when you pour a wine, it needs some time to breathe. I think Black Cashmere goes on kind of like a little wooden ball that’s sitting on your skin and then it starts to unfurl and get those beautiful spices and that beautiful ashy incense underneath … I love it.

I’m going to put some of that on later and think about it. I think it would go with what I’m wearing actually. I’m wearing Nu so it has the incense connection.

I can’t wear that one – I have a little bit of it and I keep going back to it to try to understand what everyone else is smelling.

Oh, it doesn’t work for you?

Not as an immediate gut thing. But sometimes I change my mind.

Do you like Ormond Jayne Woman? 

I do, but I get so overwhelmed by the amount of Iso E Super in her perfumes. It was only recently that I was like, Oh there’s the hemlock that everyone gets so crazy about! And then it disappeared underneath a blanket of Iso E Super. I kept spraying so I could get the top notes again.

I think they’re sort of similar, but that would depend on you not being overwhelmed by the Iso E Super to smell it. But I think Nu is sort of like a drier version of Ormond Jayne Woman.

I think Nu is less green and more metallic. Like sweet and metallic. You know how metal can smell kind of sweet?

No, that’s new to me! Well it’s supposed to have a jasmine accord, so there may be some helional in it. I mostly smell – there’s this whole kind of category of scents that have cardamom, and I think they all smell kind of alike. Theorema is one of them. And some of them are sweeter, and some of them are more citrusy, but the cardamom note just sticks out to me really strongly.

There’s a note like that for me that I’m hypernosmic to, and I only know about it because Denise from Grain de Musc is hypernosmic to the same thing and she described it in a post and I was like, Oh that’s that thing that I keep running across! And it was in exactly the same perfumes.

What is it?

I think it’s called Karanal.

Ah yeah, it’s a woody amber.

It’s a spiky wood note, and it completely ruins like four or five Annick Goutals that I would otherwise like.

Which ones are they?

It’s in Vanille Exquise, and it’s in their jasmine, and it’s in the figgy one, Ninfeo Mio.

Oh yeah, I’m not a fan of that one. 

And it’s in Matin d’Orage.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about that one actually. I think it’s especially loud in that one. 

The other thing that it’s in is Amouage Jubilation.

And I believe it’s also in one of the Frederic Malles – Une Rose?

I haven’t smelled that in forever. I went through a huge rose phase, and then I was done. Which is one reason not to buy full bottles. That was early on, my rose phase.

My rose phase seems to keep growing and growing. It’s the one thing that I crave almost every day. 

For me lately that’s been orange blossom, which is weird because I used to hate it.

What else have you been wearing lately? Name-drop some stuff that you’ve been loving.

Continuing my orange kick, today I am wearing a very rare full-bottle purchase of Parfums d’Empire Azemour. I bought this bottle on the strength of Robin’s review on New Smell This.

I read that review. It was impressive. 

A very enthusiastic review, and as you know, Robin

Is never that enthusiastic about anything. 

I knew that it was pressing a lot of her buttons because she loves citrus and she loves oakmoss.

You know, I don’t have any full bottles from that line, but they look so beautiful! I really like that line. I’m a big fan of Wazamba – do you know that one?

I can’t wear Wazamba, but I love –

Is it the amber?

I do have a bottle of the amber [Ambre Russe] because it was one of my first loves.

I knew there was an amber in the book that I was sure was that one.

Rasputin’s armpit.

Yes! It has a sweaty note. Like you’re sweating out booze.

It has a “dull leather note,” I think that’s the same thing we’re talking about. It was March [formerly of Perfume Posse] that called it Rasputin’s armpit. She’s not a big fan of amber. But it was one of my first loves.


  1. For defended read defunded.

  2. I couldn't read this until my copy had arrived, but now it has and I had such fun catching up. But I do feel I need intense perfume education now. Karanal? Research. Pre-reform Black Cashmere? Research. Etc. etc. through the post. :)

    1. You will definitely have to come over sometime and smell my pre-reform Black Cashmere!