European Diary

Smound No5

There is only one smell commonly found on earth that is worse than the chemical smell of rotting orange rinds.  This, oddly enough, is a woman’s perfume—Chanel ?5.  As it recently emerged from World War II archives that Mademoiselle Chanel was, in her spare time, Agent F-7124 of the Abwehr, the Nazis’ military intelligence, I began wondering whether there might not be a connection between the two odors, one of decrepitude and the other of fear.

The thrall, verging on hysteria, in which Western women since the times of Marilyn Monroe have been held by the advertising and publicity agencies acting on behalf of Chanel ?5 can only be compared with mass adulation for totalitarian leaders like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.  Yet no man I know likes the smell of ?5, or finds the scent even remotely useful for olfactory—dare I say pheromonal?—communication with the opposite sex.

Put bluntly, it stinks to high hell.  Western women take offense when told that it smells like an old lady, yet what they ought to be told is that it smells like an old lady who is a barracks supervisor in a concentration camp.  As it happens, during the Russian Civil War, Ernest Beaux, the Russian perfumer of French origin who compounded the perfume for Mademoiselle, had run an internment camp in Mur mansk, above the Arctic Circle.  Beaux later recalled that the black waters of the Barents Sea had been...

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