Shooting from the Lip
My rip-snortin’ jaunt from ballet girl to punkette to pop singer to TV host & all the messy stuff in between
Perfumes: The A-Z Guide
Witty and provocative reviews of 1,800+ perfumes
What the Nose Knows
A fun and quirky romp through everyday smells
A cultural history of smell
The Emperor of Scent
Maverick Luca Turin's entertaining tussles with perfume and science
The Perfect Scent
An insider's look at the creation of two bestselling fragrances
A Natural History of the Senses
An aphrodisiac for all five senses
The Secret of ScentLuca Turin's scientific look at perfume
Essence and AlchemyThe voluptuous history of natural perfume.
...the leathery iris lets them know who’s boss.
One million years B.C., I was a young pop singer in London determined to give Madonna a run for her rah-rah skirt. I performed in dive bars and gay clubs all over town, singing to backing tracks in my glow-in-the-dark Trick-or-Treat dress while furiously lassoing eight inflatable Dalmatians over my raspberry Krazy-Kolored head.
A couple of times, I played in the cafeteria at St Martins College of Art -- at lunchtime -- which sounds a bit Spinal Tap-billed-beneath-the-puppet-show, until you learn that the Sex Pistols made their debut in this very same venue some years earlier. Okay, at least the Sex Pistols got to play at night, but the advantage for me (aside from all the tater-tots I could eat -- try getting that on your rider, Johnny Rotten!) was that I met some talented student photographers who asked me to be their model.
It was a good deal: they worked their chops, and I snagged some shots. I remember one of the women in particular, because she was the first person I ever met who wore Chanel No. 19.
Caroline was about 20, an English maiden-type whose silky blonde hair created a dramatic contrast against her art-school black turtleneck. I was impressed by her manner: she had an easy way with me, a near-stranger, and was confident with both directing me and managing her complicated-looking equipment.
At one point, Caroline decided she wanted to do some portraits of me wearing black against a black background, so that my face and hands would be highlighted in the gloom. Since the only clothes I had with me were a pink metallic Vivienne Westwood goddess bustier and mini-crini that made me look like Aphrodite crossed with a go-go dancer, she lent me her black turtleneck.
As I slipped the wool sweater over my head, I was enveloped in a powdery cloud of Chanel No. 19. She had to tell me what it was, and mentioned it was the only perfume she ever wore. I had no reference point for the smell, which was completely new to me. It was pretty, but not at all sweet. It was youthful but not childish. No. 19 seemed to share Caroline's easy, unfussy beauty, as well as her cool restraint.
I was thrilled with the finished portraits, which revealed an arch self-possession I didn't know I had. And maybe I didn't have it. Studying the photos now, it occurs to me that the poise Caroline captured had nothing to do with me at all, and everything to do with Chanel No. 19.
Photo by Caroline Hughes