perfume and fashion: 3 posts

Frida Kahlo and Shalimar

“They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality,” Frida Kahlo once said. An artist is inseparable from their art, and this idea is particularly dramatic in the case of Kahlo, whose body of work is based on the explorations of self. Of the 143 paintings Kahlo left behind, 55 are self-portraits, brutal, honest, startling. What’s more, Kahlo was conscious of the power of the image, and she also fashioned self through her choice of clothes, colors and accessories.

I admit that I didn’t appreciate the importance that Kahlo assigned to her clothes, jewelry and perfume until I saw the exhibit of the artist’s possessions at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The image of the Mexican artist—the colorful skirts, the flower-decorated braids, the unibrow—entered pop culture to the point that we risk forgetting the artist behind a fashion icon. In order to understand her art, is it necessary to know that Frida Kahlo wore Guerlain’s Shalimar and Schiaparelli’s Shocking and draped herself in Mexican dresses and Chinese silk?

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Perfume as a Costume

Today Elisa discusses perfumes that she wears not necessarily because they suit her personality, but the opposite–they become her means to fantasize and play dress up.

As a child, I never wanted to be something scary for Halloween; my costumes were always aspirational. Instead of dressing up as a witch or a ghost, I was a bride or a ballerina. As I got older, I’d pile on my grandmother’s costume jewelry to be a fortune teller; for several years in a row as a teen, I borrowed my mother’s embroidered purple suede platform boots from the ‘70s and called myself a hippie.

Colorful Bracelets

Whether Halloween is approaching or not, I think of everyday fashion as a kind of costuming. I admire those chic women with a well-edited closet and a simple daily uniform, but I can’t resist buying beautiful but impractical items that don’t necessarily go with anything else in my closet, then trying to find ways to mix them in. I haunt consignment shops to find my costume pieces: a tie-print Diane von Furstenberg dress that makes me feel like I’m in a Woody Allen movie; the perfect ‘80s-era ankle boots for walking in SoHo (though my ankles were killing me by the end of the night); the black velvet tuxedo vest that I fantasize about throwing on with everything (but never actually wear). When I approach getting dressed as putting on a costume, I never worry about being overdressed or looking like I’m trying too hard; I’m just having fun with it.

Perfumes too can serve as a kind of costuming. I have my go-to favorites that always feel perfectly “me” whatever the occasion – Donna Karan Gold works in any season, day or night – but I also have scents in my collection that I wear to feel less like me. These are a few of my costume scents, the ones I put on to go clandestine, escape myself, or perform a character.
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Schiaparelli Shocking : Vintage and Modern Perfume Review


Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

The Muse

Elsa Schiaparelli was a designer who set lasting trends in fashion with her richly embroidered jackets, shoe shaped hats and lobster dresses, but I discovered her whimsical side through Shocking, a perfume she released in 1937. Shocking was a dazzling collaboration between Schiap, as she was known, Jean Carles, who created the perfume, and the Surrealist artists Marcel Vertes and Salvador Dali through whose drawings the sultry fragrance came to life.

This month, the Metropolitan Museum in New York opened the exhibit “Schiaparelli & Prada, Impossible Conversations.” Running until August 19th, the collection explores the work of two designers in a compare-and-contrast setting. It was the first time I’ve seen Schiaparelli’s work close up, and I was mesmerized. The clothes weren’t simply beautiful; they offered a glimpse into the designer’s vibrant imagination.

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