It's the night before the Golden Globes, where Tilda Swinton's latest movie, I Am Love, is up for Best Foreign Language Film. If Tilda were a proper movie star, she'd be spending the evening marinating in a bath of yak milk after having her face sandblasted, her colon irrigated, and her lips spiked with ass fat.
But Tilda is a delightfully improper movie star, which is why she's hanging out at LA's bijou Scent Bar, nibbling on ginger cake and talking to perfume fans about her Etat Libre d'Orange co-creation, Like This.
I tell Tilda I'm wearing Like This for the first time, and finding it unexpectedly vegetal. I'm a bit thrown because perfume's subtitle, Immortal Ginger, had me anticipating something mapley and spicy, and not the carrots I'm smelling.
“The longer you wear it the more you'll love it, I predict,” Tilda says, confidently. “Have you heard the spiel?”
Oh boy! Tilda Swinton is my sales associate!
“Spiel me, Tilda.”
“The spiel is, Like This is based on the smells I associate with Scotland, where I live. My grandfather's greenhouse, and whiskey, which is the smell of the earth there.”
“A peaty smell?”
“Yes. And of course ginger, because I'm ginger -- and everything that goes along with being a ginger.”
My mind whirrs -- what goes along with being a redhead? Naughtiness? Feistiness? Sauciness in the sack? Before I can formulate a question on the psycho-social impact of Titian tresses, I realize that Tilda's gone full-speed ahead on the spieling, and I'm in danger of missing essential details.
“My birthday's in November, so there's pumpkin in there,” she's saying. “And orange things generally: mandarin, carrots. Also, the smell of my dogs' paws, which smell like baking.”
“Your dogs' paws smell like baking? Not Fritos or Doritos?”
This elicits a baffled look from Tilda.
“No! Baking!” She's adamant. “In fact, the original idea was to do a perfume based on my dogs' paws.”
A pause. Then we both crack up at the idea of Tilly's Paw-fume.
She continues, “But then we decided to broaden it out.”
“We” includes perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui and the good folks at Mane Flavor and Fragrance. Tilda elaborates.
“I don't speak the language of perfume. There's a whole language. I was in the room with the people from Mane. They're perfumers, but they're also philosophers and mathematicians.
“I was,” she pauses, considering her place in this new world, “the child. We'd talk about the associations I wanted for the perfume, and they'd have me smell raw materials like ambergris and civet. And when I walked out in the street afterward, I'd suddenly be aware of all the smells I'd never noticed before!”
|The Scent Bar scene was like this|
I comment that Like This is simultaneously warm and dry, while also being surprisingly fresh.
“Yes! There was a concern that given the elements, it could be too cloying, which I didn't want. But we put the vetiver in, and it cut the heaviness.”
Despite her protestations, Tilda's speaking “perfume” quite fluently. I ask her about her “scent bio”.
“The first perfume I was aware of was the one my grandmother wore, which was Joy. I started wearing that when I was 15. I was trying to be 'a lady'. And then for an embarrassing number of years, I wore Penhaligon's Bluebell.”
I inform her that Bluebell was a favorite of the unlikely trilogy of Princess Di, Kate Moss and Margaret Thatcher. Tilda's huge blue eyes widen alarmingly in horrified fascination.
“Margaret Thatcher? Really! Margaret Thatcher! Oh!”
|Margaret Thatcher: Blue Belle|
Mention of the UK's former Prime Minister triggers some conversational hopscotch from Tilda's teenage boarding school hardships (“They didn't allow music! And punk rock was happening!”) to the distinctive smells of different cities.
“There is a Los Angeles smell, isn't there?” She considers a moment. “It's in every hotel, and in people's houses. It's really sweet -- and strange. What is it?”
I venture that it's a combination of the local flora -- decayed jasmine, orange blossom, jacaranda, etc, combined with the ozonic odor of air conditioning.
“Whatever it is, it's cloying -- almost disgusting,” she summarizes, leading her neatly into a review of some of Etat Libre d'Orange's more, ahem, challenging offerings.
Have you smelled Sécrétions Magnifiques? It starts to make you...” she fans her throat in mock distress, miming the rising gorge. “But some people absolutely LOVE it!”
I go in for another sniff of my Like This'd wrist, which has now bloomed from its disorienting vegetal opening into a mellow and friendly scent. The carrots have made way for a soft-focus leathery floral where the ginger and sweet-ish immortelle blend into a gentle background burr.
Tilda notes my conversion with satisfaction.
“I really and truly love wearing Like This,” she says, warmly. “Not only do I wear it all the time, but I put it on twice a day.”
Tilda Swinton -- she may be an improper movie star, but she's a helluva sales associate.
Scent Bar scene photo by Steven Gontarski. See more here.