17 May 2008


First, it was Bonne Bell lip gloss. In high school my best friend and I would amass our collections and revel in the flavor choices, like old misers running our knubby fingers through golden coins. Dr. Pepper, Strawberry Banana, Cotton Candy, Vanilla, Raspberry...we were shamelessly addicted to these candy-colored plastic tubes of lip flavors. We counted them, traded them, shared them, and laughed at our infantile obsession with little-kid "make-up." We gave ourselves up completely to the temptation and bought new tubes without a second glance. We were obsessed with Bonne Bell lip glosses, but our juvenile indulgence was acceptable because...we understood each other. These days I'm still impressed by the flavor offerings (and licenses with candy brands such as Skittles and Hershey), but as I walk down the Target aisles, I simply make a mental note and walk away. My temptations of late have moved to other departments.

It was never cigarettes or drugs, but instead, vices that were less obvious to the public. Smoking is hard to hide. But very, very few people know what your underwear looks like. In college I turned from lip gloss to lingerie. Before Victoria's Secret turned neon green and trashy, back when it was pink and white and feminine, that was my temptation. Lip gloss was tossed in favor of colorful bra-and-panty sets. I realize now that all of my indulgences--lip gloss, lingerie, perfume, chocolate--I can chalk up not to being vices, but simply to being feminine. I wasn't falling for anything, I was simply being a woman. Hah.

It all got worse when I went to France, the lingerie capital of the world. (Come to think of it, all of my obsessions intensified while I was in Paris). Lingerie boutiques line the streets like bakeries, and walking into one gave me the same feeling that walking into sugar-free candy stores in Madrid would give me many years later. Look at all those colorful choices. Indulgence is always sexy, with or without the calories.

And of course, laced throughout the years and the changing obsessions was the one that would always remain: perfume. Working in the perfume industry, with entire closets filled with every fine fragrance and body wash imaginable, my interest in perfume has not lessened in the least. But part of my job is also monitoring the cosmetics market. I am forever on the internet, in Sephora, in The Body Shop, looking for new fragrances but only after sweeping through the cosmetics aisles. It's another type of candy shop altogether. It's hard not to confuse eye shadow with cupcakes, lipsticks with candy sticks, cheek stains with fruit juices. Makeup is a delicious and, if not kept in check, quite expensive habit. When a coworker and I discovered our mutual obsession with lip products, it was like high school all over again. We trade information, we compare results, we drop brand names, we share new loot. (She started off with Bonne Bell lip glosses as well, a good 15 years ahead of me, but she progressed to Chanel long before I did. She was wearing Chanel in high school while I didn't buy such a serious lipstick until 2 years after college). But no matter. Now we're on to warming, stinging, plumping lip glosses and blusher compacts with zig-zagging summer shades and crisp magnetic closures.

Makeup is such a sensual indulgence. It's not just about trying to look "pretty." It's about pleasure, just like a good meal and a glass of wine. Color palettes flirt with your eyes, rosy perfumes tickle your nose, magnets and brushes and powders and liquids beg for your touch, occasional flavors talk to your tastebuds. It's a miracle I can separate Sephora from La Perla from Godiva, because when I use makeup, I may as well be smearing chocolate on myself.

Last week I broke down and bought an eye shadow compact. It was expensive, but it's covered in cushy fabric and closes with a delightful 'click.' (With more expensive brands, no detail is left to chance. Some designer on the other side installed hidden magnets to create a closure with a "luxury feel." I've been obsessed with makeup containers and closures my entire life. When I was little, my mom would ask me not to open and close her lipstick tubes so frequently, because if I continued I would wear down the bumps and the caps would no longer stay attached. But I love feeling the clicks. I love the smell of blue minerals ground into particle dust. I love the soft brushes on my eyelids. I love that it feels like I'm painting my face).

I knocked on my coworker's door to share the the latest find. She stopped her work, smiled with understanding and approval, and said, "Good for you, my dear. It's fantastic. Enjoy."

Silly, maybe. But it's marketing at its finest. Nobody needs more eyeshadow, but nobody needs any kind of temptation. I'm just sharing mine.

"Perfume School"

For everyone interested in studying perfumery, I'm happy to share with you what I know. The program I completed at ISIPCA (www.isipca.fr), called The Fragrance Academy, very sadly no longer exists. (It was a one-year program for non-French students in perfumery and evaluation). If you are not French but would still like to study fragrance, there is a 2-year program available to those with a degree in chemistry or pharmacology, called EFCM (European Fragrance & Cosmetics Masters). The first year is spent studying cosmetics and fragrance in Versailles, the second year studying business in Italy. I believe you can find application details at the above-listed website.

The only other perfumery schools I'm aware of are within fragrance companies themselves. I think your best bet is to try to get your foot in the door at a fragrance company, be it as a fragrance compounder, sales coordinator, etc. Work hard, express your interest in fragrance development, make a real effort to get along with everyone...and hopefully through this route, you will find a way to move up.