Scents and Mental: Hermes Hermessence Collection

It’s times like this where it absolutely sucks to be a member of the non-working class. 

Frankly, there’s never a good time to be in this group — unless you’ve hit the lotto, or happened to be born or married into insurmountable wealth  where having a job might be considered in bad taste because it distracts you from mastering your equestrian and yachting skills. 

But right now, I am especially experiencing a gut punch from reality, as I sit here grasping onto a fragrance sample as if the vial contained crack, instead of something so hypnotically beautiful on my skin.  It’s a sample of a scent called “Iris Ukiyoe”, and it is one of nine scents from the Hermes Hermessence Collection.  I was hoping to also get a sample of the “Vetiver Tonka”, but I didn’t want to push my luck and be greedy.  The sales lady was already bored with me and my browsing.  

While walking the streets of London, I foolishly thought it was a good idea to walk into Hermes as a motivator and reminder that better days were to come.  Instead, I ended up falling madly and obsessively in love with two fragrances that cost $230 each… effectively killing my carefree buzz and reminding me that I either need to get it together, or learn Arabic fast and eschew any hopes of being in a monogamous relationship because I would be joining a harem to support my expensive habit.

After spending three relaxing days in the English countryside — where my friend’s mom has a garden filled with so many fragrant flowers, including the Iris — experiencing these fragrances was the next best thing.  They also didn’t flare up my allergies as much. 

Created by Jean-Claude Ellena, Hermes’ in-house perfumer, each scent is an olfactory journey to far away places such as Japan, Beijing, and Brazil.  With exotic scents like Ambre Narguile, Rose Ikebana and Paprika Brasil amongst its roster, each coming with its own leather case and presented in the iconic signature orange box, it’s the closest thing to having my very own Kelly bag. 

Lies… nothing will ever compensate for a Kelly, but at the moment I have a better chance of getting a bottle for my birthday.  I’m imagining that by then I’ll have gotten over my silly self-imposed decision to be single, and find a guy who likes me enough to cough up that much for something without wheels or wi-fi. 

Until then, my hustle is in full effect so that I may add that to the list of things to get when my head is back above water… and able to breathe, and smell, and delight in something so decadent, that for a moment, I actually felt like my equestrian days were within reach.

High Infidelity

When I first heard the news about Arnold Schwarzenegger  and Maria Shriver, my friend Angela and I were listening to the BBC radio in London.  The first thing that came to mind was “It took her long enough!”, and we laughed about it.

But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the scope of just how damaged the man was as a husband.  (Not that I spent hours thinking about this.)

Years after the infamous groping scandal during his gubernatorial campaign — which his wife stood fiercely by and defended him throughout — the world would come to learn that the man who gained fame by playing such complex and cerebral characters as “Conan the Barbarian” and “The Terminator” had fathered a child with his housekeeper of 20 years.  It would appear that he’s a better actor than we thought, as he kept the affair and child, who’s reportedly as old as his youngest child with his wife, a secret up until his run as Governor of California ended.

All jokes about his acting, accent, bodybuilding past, horn-dog and political histories aside… even though there’s obviously so much to work with… the real story is how Arnold, like so many other men in powerful positions, managed to convince himself, his family and the public that he was an upstanding citizen all while living a major lie for over a decade.  Unfortunately, it’s become all too typical to hear stories of politicians in sex scandals, and it’s a common (stupid) practice that dates back centuries to a bygone era before people could choose who was even in power.  The new class of elected lotharios have Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, and Mark Sanford amongst their growing list of poster boys.  For Maria, it’s just another day of being a Kennedy scion, having uncles that have had the most notorious and public roving eyes and other parts.  For some reason, they’re not completely satisfied screwing just the voters. 

But truthfully, what drives such behavior?  Is it a “God complex” where they feel no repercussions from their actions?  Are they so emotionally spent from the pressures of having to satisfy their constituency that they need to release their tensions in ways that a session in the gym or masturbation won’t suffice?  Are their marital partners picked more for professional and political leverage than connubial support?

Now we’re on to something…

The Hillarys, Jackies, et al have all been extraordinary women with noteworthy pedigrees and powerful careers and personalities to match.  In many cases, their husbands have called on their spouses to use their influence and Rolodexes to make their political aspirations come to fruition.  With the exception of Laura Bush, who was a librarian, and perhaps a few more domesticated examples in history, the modern political wife more often than not tend to be lawyers, businesswomen, or heiresses.  At best, they open doors and provide an understanding of the lifestyle they signed up for.  On the flip side, they sometimes outshine their husbands in popularity once the voters’ increasing demands begin to take its toll, and occasionally the often forceful, opinionated and influential persona that made them so successful in their former careers become undesirable bedmates once the inaugural ball is over.

As much of a colossal douchebag as Arnold may be, I’m a little cautious about the shock being expressed by Shriver.  As I’d read in a news report, during the campaign in 2003, while his wife went on the defense and denied the groping allegations, Schwarzenegger himself never did.  For a woman who spent her entire life around philandering men, and years as an investigative journalist and media personality, I’m not all too convinced that she was as clueless as much as she simply looked the other way because historically that’s what the women in her family did.  She’s a strong, smart woman who is very capable of manipulating the media  — as displayed in the fact that it took months for news of the split to become public — and possibly even her muscle-for-brains husband who now outranks Mel Gibson as the most hated faded action star of the moment. 

My heart still goes out to her.  In the past two years, the woman has lost both of her parents and is now grappling with the collapse of her 25-year marriage, for which she gave up her prominent career to be First Lady of California.  The worst part is the public humiliation and scrutiny that won’t likely see the end of day anytime soon, and the idea her four children will be subjected to it all for years to come.  But something tells me she’s going to be just fine, and as despicable as the acts of her husband and housekeeper may have been, they provided her with the necessary motivation she needed to free herself and her family from a bad situation.

But what of the “Sperminator” and the rest of his ilk?  Do they ever really learn from their transgressions?  Does it always have to end in a disastrous, publicly embarrassing and emotionally and psychologically crippling ordeal for their trusting loved ones?  At what point does the head of one’s penis begin to think in place of the one on top of the body?  Furthermore, at what point does it become a non-issue that the adrenaline rush of being naughty with someone of lesser stature like the intern, prostitute or domestic employee, overtakes the risk of losing your family, friends and the faith of the people who made you who you are? 

Granted, women aren’t immune from making horrible and costly mistakes, but if you can show me a woman in power who’s allowed herself to be toppled by a sexual indiscretion, I’ll show you the DNA evidence that reveals an exorbitant amount of XY chromosomes. 

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking… the answer is he should know better.  Michelle spends a lot of time in the gym, and she will open up a can of whoop ass and not even care about the Secret Service.  In fact, she may just give them a taste too if they try to get in her way.

London Calling

For the life of me, I can’t tell you when my Anglophilia kicked in.

I suspect it may have started sometime in the mid-to-late nineties, around the time I’d gone to London during a college course, and when there was an onslaught of British films (most of them with Hugh Grant) that started making their way across the pond. 

Movies like “The Full Monty”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” appealed to me; here were movies where the main characters were imperfect and played up their imperfections with sometimes hilarious results.  While Hollywood churned out boring, regurgitated remakes and mindless expensive explosion-based movies with plastic actors, England was actually making entertaining and original low-budget flicks with actors so genuinely talented that they became hot commodities in the states (see Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, and my dream husband Idris Elba).  

It wasn’t until several years later that I would start working with companies based in London.  My first semi-gig was working as a promotional representative for a chocolate company (aka sample pusher).  Then, shortly after 9/11, I began working for the first of two luxury fragrance and gift brands.  Penhaligon’s was a traditional classic brand that held all the entrapments of classic English brands.  The packaging dated back to the days of apothecaries and non-adhesive materials. They were bent on history and name-dropped everyone from Winston Churchill to Prince Charles.  They carried “royal warrants”, which in the states would be the equivalent to being on Oprah’s favorite things list — except it’s the royal family version.  Both myself and the customers were drawn into the mystique of it all.  At Jo Malone, it was a little more cut and dry: you either got it, or you didn’t, and a $345 candle was perfectly sensible for those who did.  Both were so unapologetic in their philosophies that I couldn’t help but love them and feel right at home working for them.

Further evidence of my Brit appreciation as the years progressed manifested itself in my taste in music (Estelle, Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, Adele), growing appreciation for football — otherwise known as soccer to the un-initiated (to be fair, have you seen their bodies??), and the uncanny fact that my longest relationship has been with an English-born man. 

So I guess my recent trip to London to visit some friends could be considered my going to Mecca.  Thankfully I refrained from having a Whitney Houston moment and shouting “My land!” as I departed the plane.  Maybe it was because I was so distracted by how awesome Virgin Atlantic was for giving me hours of entertainment, travel swag, and free booze to numb the pain of the loud Hasidic family that took up the two rows in front.  Or maybe it was the jet-lag.  I’m leaning toward the booze.

Funnily enough, it almost did feel like a homecoming.  Although I’d only been there once over fifteen years before with a group of psychotic college girls, it all felt very familiar and took me no time to navigate my way around on the Tube and develop the same feeling I have as a New Yorker; meaning that as great as I think the city is and as many wonderful things that it has to offer, at the end of the day you need a lot of money to really make it there.  That, and it’s just an overcrowded city with really cool buildings and people… much like home.

Maybe the reason I’ve become so comfortable with the Anglo world is because it doesn’t really differ from the American one, which makes sense, since this country is just the rebellious offspring of England.  We’re both obsessed with each other and spend lots of time and money aspiring to have the same things.  We idolize celebrities and obsess over the monarchy because they represent an opulent and — until recently — unobtainable lifestyle (team Kate Middleton in the house!).  Most importantly, we are both still very much stuck in the past with our political views, and for some reason seem to cling on to the whole “empirical” way of thinking that tends to get us kicked out of other countries.  (The Native Americans clearly didn’t get that memo.) 

What really fascinates me about London is the large number of interracial families, and their acceptance of all cultures.  Where New York is considered a melting pot, you literally have every nation fused into various neighborhoods, listening to all types of music, eating all types of foods.  Like here, certain areas are populated by a specific demographic, but the city of London is basically a Coke commercial playing 24/7.  

In a nutshell, my trip opened my eyes to the fact that as much as we boast about our individuality and American “freedoms”, we really aren’t.  From their news, to their entertainment (some of it awful), the Brits have us beat when it comes to expression, and to some degree give you a straight-with-no-chaser approach to life that I’ve come to respect.  Perfect examples of this are Amy Winehouse and her staunch refusal to go to rehab (even though she needed to), and Ricky Gervais, who got so much heat for his Golden Globe hosting gig where he basically told everyone in the room precisely what they were all thinking, but too polite — or facially frozen — to say out loud.  We tend to be more stifled and almost repressive in everything we do to the point where bad behavior becomes sensational news over major world events that should hold far more weight as newsworthy subjects for a country considered to be a “superpower”.

And if we really are so uniquely American, why do we remake movies originally done in Japan, France and England (“The Ring”, “La Femme Nikita”, “Death At A Funeral”), television shows (“The Office”, “Wipeout”), and even magazines (OK)?  As much as people bitch about outsourcing, the major question is “what, if anything, do we really have to call our own when it comes to products, offerings or trademarks?”  For the record, Donald Trump doesn’t count.  (Seriously, anyone can have him.)  Personally, I have enough of an identity crisis as an African-American trying to navigate through the corporate world to have to think about simply being American contributing to the cause.

Thanks London, and jet-lag.  These are the thoughts that run through the head of a woman who’s had too much tea, chocolate, and not enough rest.  You can keep Harrod’s, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace if I can get my sleep pattern back. 

Oh yeah, I’m keeping my Virgin swag, and my commemorative Royal Wedding edition of Hello magazine… At the end of the day, I’m still an Anglomaniac.