Perfume as a Mask
Masks, originally uploaded by Iceman Forever.
"For every path you choose, there is another you must abandon, usually forever". (Joan D. Vinge).
All the late winter carnivals got me thinking about the concept of mask, and how perfume is, in a way, a type of mask. On the superficial level, it masks one's body odour and replaces it with another, just as a mask covers up one's face and facial expression and replaces it with a non-animate object that imitates the face.
On a deeper level, masks share a few other characteristics with perfume that I find fascinating:
- Masks allow a person to come closer to their essence by creating a shield that makes one secure and comfortable enough to release aspects that are otherwise hidden and concealed even from themselves. Similarly, perfume as it is used nowadays, gives a person a sense of safety knowing that they smell good, which may boost their confidence and bring out other sides of their personality that wouldn't come out otherwise.
- Mask comes from the Arabic word "Maschara", also related to "Mascara" - which brings us back to the long-established link between perfume and the beauty & cosmetics world.
- Masks offer an alternate persona that one can step into and interpret their own way (as actors or participants in rituals/carnivals, etc.). Likewise, perfume brings with it a built-in persona that works on a deep and unconscious level to unleash hidden aspects of one's personality and bring forth behaviours that they may not have been otherwise brave or daring enough to show (seduction being the one most obvious of them, but definitely not the only one).
People choose perfume daily based on their mood, the season, the weather and the occasion (admittedly, I often wear more than just one perfume per day, i.e. - one in the morning and another at night time), as if setting the scene and clothing for an act in a show - presenting one aspect of their personality. For example: a crisp and clean smelling perfume might bring out the professional, reliable and organized one for certain situations; or a more sophisticated, old fashioned or glamorous persona with another perfume. It's not always about seduction with the heavier or more complex scents; I find that wearing some vintage perfumes really connects one to the era they are from, just as much as wearing a vintage garment and getting a stiff sprayed hairdo will change an actress' performance and will make it more authentic. I wonder if they are any actors or actresses that use fragrance to enhance their interpretation of a character? Is perfume worn as a mask, to enhance our reenacting of a desired persona?