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What Does Millennial Pink Smell Like?

Beauty

Talking with The Dry Down’s Rachel Syme and Helena Fitzgerald

On a Wednesday night this spring, I found myself surrounded by a crowd of young women (and a few young men) in the Arlo NoMad Hotel in Manhattan, all of us sipping wine, hovering over samples from Eris Parfums, and waiting in line to draw a tarot card that might reveal our next signature scent. All of us were here for one reason: We had been drawn to the world of perfume by the same gorgeous and irreverent fragrance newsletter, The Dry Down.

Launched by journalist Rachel Syme and essayist Helena Fitzgerald last December, The Dry Down ushers readers into Syme and Fitzgerald’s mutual love affair with perfume, cracking open an enigmatic world long inaccessible to outsiders. Their commitment to making scent easy to navigate, relevant, and fun has caught on with readers and retailers alike. In a few short months, the newsletter’s number of subscribers has shot into the thousands. Their growing audience inspired Dry Down Live, the event I attended this spring, which sold out in less than a day. Meanwhile, the newsletter’s recent partnership with Racked and Twisted Lily—offering the pair’s take on scents for spring—is Twisted Lily’s highest-selling sample pack for May.

No small part of this has to do with the offerings of intimacy and knowledgeability Syme and Fitzgerald both bring to their project. Syme, who has reported on niche perfumerie for The New York Times and twice received a Perfumed Plume Award award for fragrance journalism, brings a wicked sense of humor to The Dry Down. In her hands, castoreum—one of the musky animalic notes that hints at body odor and sex—becomes simply “beaver ass.” When she’s not keen on just sharing the joke, she turns artful, as in her take on Diptyque’s Olene: “Sticky and sweaty and almost feral… right on the side of appropriate.”  

Both women pin particular scents to memories, boyfriends past and present, family members, and snapshots of a rough-and-tumble 20-something’s existence in New York. As a personal essayist and columnist for Catapult, Fitzgerald shines in the area of feeling and memory. Here’s how she describes one of her favorite leather scents in The Dry Down’s latest dispatch:

Metal Hurlant is another Pierre Guillame (swoon) creation, from his Collection Croisiere, and it smells like my bad news boyfriend from the summer when I was eighteen. Or rather, it doesn't smell like him at all, but it smells like the idea of a boy who’s a rebel, the outdated and clichéd image of a guy in a leather jacket on a motorcycle riding in to sweep you away into bad choices. It’s big and loud and has nothing soft or surprising in it, all metal and gasoline and leather. 

The newsletter’s open invitation into Syme's and Fitzgerald’s recollections makes the effect of reading The Dry Down intimate and a little goofy—maybe, at times, even a little melancholy—but, because it’s impeccably and artfully presented, you have access to insights into the world of scents that you would never have imagined otherwise. 

Syme and Fitzgerald write through metaphor and simile, always trying to get closer to what a scent is by describing what it reminds them of. By taking away the department store stuffiness that many associate with the world of perfume, The Dry Down transforms the milieu from one designed exclusively for the wealthy or brand-conscious into one of play and self-discovery. 

Each issue is littered with links to sites like Twisted Lily and LuckyScent, which offer relatively inexpensive ($4 to $6 a pop) perfume samples of bottles that can cost as much as $350. It’s not uncommon to read one of their digests and wind up with an order for six glass vials of scents you never knew you needed, like Montale’s Intense Café, for when you might want to smell like ordering a Frappuccino at the mall, or Equus No. 8, for when you need to smell like a horse, as you do.

I caught up with Syme and Fitzgerald earlier this month after they’d had time to digest the success of Dry Down Live and their Racked partnership. We met at Sauvage, in Greenpoint, where, thanks to its cane-backed café chairs and wide, glossy bar with brass accents, it’s possible to imagine you’re not in New York at all, but in Paris, only steps away from some of the greatest noses in history. We chatted about the origins of The Dry Down, unusual scents for spring, and how to match a perfume to some of our favorite trends.

Can you tell me about the genesis of The Dry Down and where the project is taking you?
Helena Fitzgerald: Perfume has always been a part of our friendship. It’s something that we write about professionally but also something that’s important to us personally. We would always write each other long emails and texts about perfume, then we’d have hangs where we would try on seven perfumes at once.
Rachel Syme: When LuckyScent made it possible to order samples online... that was big for our friendship. We would both order a bunch of samples on LuckyScent, get our packs, rip them open, and then text each other. At the same time, I started writing for the Times' style section [about scent] and started talking to people in the perfume world. I also felt that the corporate writing about perfume is so PR. You say the notes—this is a top of rose and a bottom of ambergris and a heart note of sandalwood—and it doesn’t do anything to bring humor, light, or actual lived experience to [perfume]. 
HF: Because that corporate writing about perfume [has] no door in the wall, if you don’t already know what that stuff means, there’s no way into it, and there’s nothing that’s going to attract you to it. This is for people who already know about [perfume], and there doesn’t seem to be any process by which to become one of those people. That was, for me, one of the things about starting The Dry Down. This can be playful, this can be something that is about lived experience, that isn’t about scientific categorization that is not accessible and very static. We’d wanted to do a collaborative project for a long time, and we wanted to find the right one...
RS: ...and we realized it was already happening, it just wasn’t public. We’re writers first. This is a writing prompt for us. We found that the more hyper-specific we could be, the more universal it felt to people.
HF: We definitely want to do more events. The event was so much fun, for the sense of community we’ve been talking about. We want to bring in more bloggers for the Tiny Letter…
RS: ...and for the podcast. We’ve recorded the podcast, we’re just producing it right now. That’s definitely the future. What we’re most interested in is creating a community around The Dry Down. We want you to know that when you go to a Dry Down event, you’ll have this open space to talk about memory and creativity.

You recently wrote a piece for Racked about ideal scents for spring, but one of your pieces of advice for readers is to avoid thinking about only wearing certain perfumes during certain seasons. What are unusual scents for spring you think readers should consider?
HF: My boyfriend’s favorite scent right now is by D.S. & Durga called Mississippi Medicine, which is very, like, spice and smoke and patchouli. It’s supposed to smell like the medicinal rituals of Native Americans in the South. It’s gorgeous. It’s the kind of scent that conventional wisdom would say that you should never wear in hot weather, but it smells great on him in the summer; it’s just very sharp.
RS: I’ve been wearing this scent called Dark Moon from a perfumer called Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, who has an independent perfumerie in Boulder, Colorado, and is probably one of the best independent perfumers in the country. She’s a genius. The smell is unmistakably chili and chocolate and should not be worn—if you were to do seasonal rules—in this time of year because it’s actually a Christmas smell. It smells like hot cocoa and burning cedarwood and mulling spices. It’s just so festive and sumptuous, and I’ve been feeling like I’ve wanted to drag some of that energy with me into the spring.

What do you imagine millennial pink smells like?
RS: Santal 33.
HF: Because every store that is conscious of millennial pink as a trend has either literally sprayed Santal 33 in the store, or has been passed through by so many people wearing Santal 33 that it lingers in the air.
RS: But also because of the very nature of millennial pink. It’s this color that’s supposed to be high femme but also gender-neutral. [Santal 33] is a powerful scent, but it’s also gender nonconforming. It’s clean, it’s cool, you have a sense of feeling very modern when you wear it. I would also say Mojave Ghost or Gypsy Water.
HF: Gypsy Water! Gypsy Water smells like millennial pink.

What would you recommend for someone who wants to smell like Mitski’s Puberty 2?
HF: There’s that moment on “Best American Girl,” when everything kicks in. It’s that sense of something bigger than yourself lifting you up and carrying you away. So you could do a really dank jasmine or an oud.
RS: It could be that, or that combined with something like D.S. & Durga’s Coriander. It’s really really clean, and she has that lyric, “Today I will wear my white button-down/ I can at least be neat/ Walk out and be seen as clean.”
HF: Do you think it could also be After the Flood?
RS: After the Flood is a really gorgeous post-rain scent. The main note in it is mushroom, which sounds funky, but it’s actually beautiful and rich. There’s the sense with that record that there are the delicate, quiet moments and then there’s the explosion, so I think it would be those two things in concert.

Which scents would you pair with the idea of stealing your partner’s leather jacket or wearing a bomber jacket this spring?
HF: There’s a really obvious one that both myself and my boyfriend are obsessed with currently. It’s the most literal possible answer to your question. It’s called Metal Hurlant by Pierre Guillaume, and it’s just supposed to smell like a biker. It smells like diesel and leather and a little bit like sweat, but it’s a lot cleaner than you would expect from that description.
RS: My answer is also hyper-literal, and it’s one that I recommend a lot. It would be Mona Di Orio’s Cuir. Her leather is the ideal of leather. It smells like the inside of a suede bag, like a driving glove, like a riding crop. It’s leather before it’s scuffed. It’s the opportunity of leather. For me, that feeling of putting on a leather jacket before you’ve broken it in is one of my favorite feelings. And that’s what that perfume smells like.

You can subscribe to The Dry Down newsletter here.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.