I am always wary of programme art: Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring was composed in complete ignorance of its title, with Martha Graham merely asking for a piece “on an American theme”. Yet Copland got a lot of mail afterwards telling him how the piece nailed spring in the Appalachians. One thing is to give a piece or a perfume a brilliantly apt name after it is done, as in Lento or Angel, quite another is to produce one or more fragrances hanging on a concept. On this I am entirely with Stravinsky who said “music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc.” Even truer for perfume, in my opinion.
This preamble is meant as a sort of apology for nearly overlooking four perfume samples from essayist and perfumer Catherine Haley Epstein that come from an installation at the Hammer Museum. They are titled Forget Last Night, Forget 5, 10 and 20 years ago. They came in the most awkward of all sample formats, small glass vials with a little plastic cork and no dipper. It is almost impossible to get the stuff out of the vials without getting it all over your hands. [Everybody please send sprays or, in the case of attars, those little roll-on bottles like a giant ballpoint pen]. In a nutshell, I was irritated by the fiddly samples, could not understand why the stuff represented forgetting things at different times, looked on the website and found no info, and I tossed the whole thing on the pile of samples I’d rather not talk about.
Then I walked around the house and smelled my hand. Damn, thought I, this smells good. Back to the samples, this time forgetting the Forgetting. These are all really nice fragrances, but the one that brought me back turned out to be Forget 5 Years Ago. I have no idea what happened five years ago in CHE’s life, and as I said above I doubt it had anything to do with the fragrance, but this thing smells really good, a rich, melancholy, powdery floral hovering between gardenia and tobacco. Definitely worth remembering.