Imprison Me in Scent

Jaipur by Boucheron, 1995

Naked woman bound by a ring of perfume. Perfume as shackle, as a form of control over the body in an erotic maneuver of bondage. Or, the body becomes synonymous with the perfume, so there is no distinction between self and scent.

Vanessa Paradis as an exquisite caged bird singing as she swings to and fro in this ad for Chanel Coco. Her black feathers flutter as she is eyed hungrily by a cat. Her chic owner gazes upon the stormy Parisian landscape, insouciant of the drama played out between predator and prey.

Both of these ads are extremely elegant and streamlined for an audience accustomed to luxury. What these ads figuratively and literally lay bare is the eroticism that ultimately sells the product. The notion of the forbidden, the apple plucked from the tree that Eve so cunningly fed to Adam, is at the heart of many narratives written about perfume. The message is that the erotic power of women needs to be harnessed and surveilled in order to ensure its suppression.

What fascinates me about these and other ads I have previously posted is a kind of tongue in cheek misogyny, conveying via not so subtle signs the anxiety of a society threatened by women. What impresses me through and through is how susceptible even us women are to the guiles of language and image that are meant to suppress us. Why do I give in to this? Whatever my opinion of Vanessa Paradis is, she represents a kind of femininity that attracts, that lures you in because of her vulnerability, her status as a caged bird. Can perfume cage and limit who we are? Not exactly.

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