Apres l’Ondee

We went and saw the Cindy Sherman show at the SFMoma.  Sherman has been photographing herself in various guises for 35 years. In her photos she uses prosthetics, makeup, staged backgrounds, costumes.  Her photos are beautiful and alarming and sad and above all…odd.  She has a series I really like that is made up of concocted film stills.  They are not actually film stills or publicity shots – she is not actually in the movie she depicts and in fact, none of the movies she depict, exist. In the photos she is variously, the bored housewife, the vamp, the femme fatale, the girl on the run, the glamorous society doyenne.  They look like Hitchcock stills.  She could be Tippi Hedren in some.

(pics from moma)

cindy sherman

Sherman sets the photos up herself with a timer, she is both model and photographer.  She has another series called Centerfolds that plays on the idea of centerfolds in men’s magazines.  But in the shots she is fully clothed, unsmiling, sad, or distracted… vulnerable.  I liked those too.

Cindy Sherman Centerfolds series

On the way up in the car, we listened to a This American Life episode with Ira Glass about his strange experience at the Cindy Sherman show in NY.  As Ira and a friend of his were walking through the exhibit, a woman came up to them, claiming to be Cindy Sherman.  She told them she went to the exhibit everyday as though to spy on the patrons viewing her photographs.  Because Cindy Sherman is a master of disguise, it actually seemed plausible.  For several weeks Ira Glass was unsure if who he had met that afternoon was in fact, Cindy Sherman, until he eventually called her and got his answer.  I won’t spoil it in case you want to listen – it’s a really wonderful episode about people claiming to be people they are not.

When we got there, Arun was really grumpy and so I decided I would just make my own way through the exhibit. He went ahead of me, and I sort of lingered at the entrance to the exhibit, reading the introduction.  Almost immediately, a man came up to me and started talking to me.  He wanted to know what I thought of the show.  He thought it was grotesque, shocking, pointless.  He was fairly adamant about these things.  I knew that there were photos that were quite macabre in the collection, but I’m not easily put off, and I knew there were plenty of other photographs that were not at all difficult to look at.  I have been in galleries since I was a child, toted around by my mother who is a fan of nearly everything from Vermeer to Lichtenstein. That doesn’t mean I’m terribly well educated about art, but a certain amount gets in via osmosis.  He was name dropping about art he liked.  I could tell he thought he was impressing me, which he was not.  He kept touching my elbow when trying to make a point, which I did not like.  He brought up Mapplethorpe in the 80s as if to make the point that shock value is not really art.  He was hoping, I guess, that I would agree with him.  That every artist after Van Gogh was a two bit hack.  Don’t you agree he finally said. “No,” I said. “I don’t.  I like scary things.  I like weird art that is unnerving and makes me feel a little uneasy.” He looked kind of taken aback. “Oh you wouldn’t like the Louvre then.  In Paris.” I smiled. “I’ve been and I liked it just fine,” I said.  And then like that, he totally changed his tune.  He agreed with me, he saw my point. “I can see that, I can see that,” he said.  I don’t know if he was trying to pick me up, or if he just really wanted validation from someone who thought as he did about art.  It was strange.

Things are very strange in other areas of my life as well at the moment.  Everything feels uneasy and unnerving and scary, so maybe I wasn’t as taken aback as the average patron there.  I don’t know.  I think my capacity for sadness and badness has increased.


I’ve been reading about perfumes.  I don’t really know why.  I started doing this about two or three years ago.  I fell down some internet rabbit hole while looking for a perfume for my mother.  When I was growing up she wore Chant d’Aromes, a Guerlain fragrance, nearly impossible to find in the United States.  She’s worn it off and on since her teens.  I remember going with my father to I. Magnin, what is now Macy’s Men’s store in Stanford Shopping center, to try and find it at Christmas time.  Occasionally they could order it for him.  But often we would leave empty handed.  I remember standing at the Guerlain counter with him, looking through the glass case at the black and white boxes of perfume.  They always had Mitsouku and Shalimar, (also by Guerlain) but almost never Chant d’Aromes.  While down the rabbit hole, reading about perfumes, I came across a description of a perfume now discontinued, also by Guerlain – Apres l’Ondee.  The parfum (or extrait) version is now unavailable – an ingredient in it was banned some years ago, and so they can no longer sell it.  Very occasionally, you can find an old bottle of the extrait on eBay.  It is usually priced around $1,500 an ounce.  Cocaine, I understand, is cheaper.

I am a lover of good descriptions and good stories, and just of words in general.  Apres l’Ondee is a perfume often described as mournful and melancholy. Luca Turin, who has authored books about perfume and is known as an expert in the field, describes Apres l’Ondee as “a first-class funeral, complete with four horses and gray ostrich feather.” On the strength of the description, I bought the EDT (eau de toilette) version which is still occasionally available overseas.  It has become my favorite.  It does smell slightly sad, a little melancholy, but for some reason this cheers me up.  I like the smell of anise and there is a little bit of anise in it, not a lot, but enough to remind me of these Flavigny candies my mother used to buy me.  They came in an oval tin with some bucolic, pastoral scene on the front of the tin.  Inside the candy, in the very middle, was an anise seed that I’d chew on when I was finished.  The smell of Apres l’Ondee doesn’t last, has almost no staying power.  By noon I can hardly smell it on myself.  But for some reason, it gives me a boost when I put it on again.

I’ve been reading about other perfumes, some long gone, discontinued, out of favor.  I have quite a few…none I like as much as Apres l’Ondee, a phrase that evidently means something like after the storm or after the rain…the name itself a promise of better things to come.  The happy fragrances or the ones that are supposed to be happy, don’t make me that way.  Not sure why.

I’m interested in what other people wear and why.  I’m interested in what your mother wore, what your grandmother wore, what it reminded you of and if they still wear it today.  I have an aunt who wore Ma Griffe, another who wears L’Heure Bleue and another who likes Joy.  I’d love to know if you have something you wear that people know you by, or maybe a few different fragrances you wear, depending on where you are going.  Tell me.

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16 Responses to “Apres l’Ondee”

  1. Amy Awesome says:

    I wear Juicy Couture’s Viva La Juicy; I’m also feeling Coach’s Poppy, though I haven’t ponied up for it yet. I’m not a huge perfume person, though, so I can’t sell you on why I like them. They just smell fresh and pretty but not overbearing (at least on me.)

    • Tara says:

      I like Poppy too. I think I’ve smelled Juicy Couture’s Viva La Juicy and maybe liked it…but I can’t get behind the packaging which I find kind of silly? I don’t know. I think I have a lot of hangups.

  2. Ginny says:

    My darling grandmother (born 1885) wore “Quelques Fleures” by Houbigant. My sister gave me the bottle she found in the bedroom my grandmother used when she was visiting my aunt. Grandmother also wore some toilet water with a violet fragrance. I don’t know what kind it was.

    My mother wore Chanel No. 5 and Jungle Gardenia.

    In college and several years after, I wore “L’Aire du Temps” by Nina Ricci. I finally gave it up when I noticed every sorority girl in the world wore it. I later got a small bottle of “Bellodgia” by Caron and loved it. But now I don’t wear anything except occasionally “No. 4711.” My great grandmother used it as a headache remedy and when I met the man I’ve been married to for 42 years, he was wearing it. That totally blew me away and I knew he was The One.

    I think most modern perfumes smell like bug spray! Thanks for stirring up all these old olfactory memories!

    • Tara says:

      Oh now I need to look all these up Ginny. Aside from Chanel No. 5, and L’Aire du Temps, I don’t think I know any of these. The sorority girls at my university all wore Ysatis which I think was by Givenchy, though I’d have to look that up. Perfumes as headache remedies, that’s awesome. I put lavender essential oil on the pillows in my children’s rooms, I think it helps them sleep.

  3. Cedar says:

    Mmmm, perfume memories, so nice to revisit. One of my grandmothers wore Shalimar, which I think I liked. The other loved Red Door (Elizabeth Arden). Red Door is much too loud and heavy for me. My mom always wore Tea Rose and I still love the smell and find it comforting. Sometimes I like wearing essential oils (sandalwood, vanilla, cedar, or combinations of those). The perfume that’s stuck with me the most is Mint Julep by Demeter. It’s a low-end perfume but I love it. It’s a refreshing, organic scent and not cloying or chemical-smelling as I find a lot of perfumes to be.

  4. Cassondra says:

    Hmm, well lately I smell more like spit up than anything else, but when I wear perfume I wear Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden. I fell in love with it in high school. Occasionally I’ll branch out with other scents, usually lotions instead of perfumes, but it seems like when I fall in love with something it ends up discontinued. Victoria’s Secret used to make one called Her Majesty’s Tea Rose which I loved, but I haven’t been able to find it for more than 10 years, so back to sunflowers. Lately I’ve been liking more pure fragrances instead of perfume that’s a mixture of scents. I love the smell of honeysuckle, so so I bought some honeysuckle from the Demeter Fragrance library. Just pure scent, so it has no staying power at all, but for a short time I smell like the best of springtime. In the spring, I drive with the windows down, just hoping to catch a scent of honeysuckle as I drive by, and this smells just like that.

  5. Jessie Lewis says:

    When I was little, and my mother still worked as a secretary, she wore Navy or White Musk by Johan. Both were (are?) incredibly 80’s in nature – a bite of synthetic shoulder pad. I remember as a child thinking they smelled like something of an acquired taste, like something I knew adults appreciated but in which I had no interest. She had one small bottle of something very fruity and floral, perfect for a little girl. It had no name on the bottle, nor did it have a spray tip. She would put her finger on the top of the bottle and then dab some behind each of my ears before special events.

    My grandmother sold Avon for most of her adult life to supplement a family with 6 children. Those perfumes always fascinated me as a child because they came in bottles that looked like kittens or cars. I would always end up spilling one on myself.

    In my early and mid twenties I wore Victoria’s Secret Wings and Lancome Attraction. The former especially has that sex on a stick theme to it. I imagine if I walked into a room and smelled the latter I would be transported back to a night of changing clothes a thousand times before heading out to the bars and clubs.

    Last Christmas as we closed in on our 3 year anniversary I told Rich to give me a perfume for Christmas. I thought it would be wonderful to know that he went out shopping, discerning what fit me and what he liked. In some ways the request was an extremely abstract test. Now I wear Givenchy Ange Ou Demon Le Secret and it’s something of a little love note each time I put it on. I also love knowing that he picked something so much like what I would have picked.

  6. Jen D says:

    My mom wore Chanel 5 which I bring out (yes, I have a little of hers left though she died 20 years ago this year). There’s nothing quite like using just a dab, she becomes very real to me again. Myself, I’m a Chanel girl too but I’ve used Cristalle for years. Living in the Gulf south, fragrances can be too overwhelming in our humidity. Cristalle is just right.

    • Cassondra says:

      I’ve never thought about the humidity affecting scents before. I’m in Georgia, and always wondered why many of the popular scents don’t appeal to me. I tend to wear much lighter scents. Thanks for explaining it to me, now I understand why!

  7. françoise says:

    I love perfume. My mother, too, wore Chanel No5 which never suited me. As a young woman I wore Chamade by Guerlain for years but as I aged i felt it was too young and tried this and that till I finally settled on Femme by Rochas.
    Last week, at the local drugstore, I was paying for a quart of acetone and light bulbs for the bathroom when a young woman came close and then closer to me, inhaled and whispered, “Oh, you smell divine.” It made me happy to give her this small intense pleasure.

  8. Artemis says:

    My Mom favors the aroma of Chanel No5 and I’m a Chanel No19 girl. Unfortunate for us, damned allergies prevent us from enjoying them (itchy noses & headaches). I have found, though, that I can tolerate essential oils. I love Egyptian musk and food-related scents like vanilla, lemon and grapefruit.

  9. Marian Allen says:

    Left to myself, I love musk, ambergris, oak moss. I used to match my perfume to my mood, and I favored a blend of deep and rich with light floral notes.

    My husband actually expressed an opinion on scents, which is unusual for him; he usually says, “It’s your hair/clothing/jewelry, you please yourself.” So I got him to tell me what he liked about a scent and tried out various ones until I found one he loves on me: Wind Song by Prince Matchabelli. So that’s the only perfume I’ve worn for years. I don’t wear enough of it for anybody to smell unless they’re very close to me. 🙂

  10. Renee says:

    You should read Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins. It’s fiction but about perfume making, and a lot of fun to read.

  11. Erin Olsen says:

    I live the idea if perfume and would love for my son to grow up and associate me with a particular scent. That being said, I rarely wear perfume. I don’t know why. When I do, I wear Very Hollywood by Michael Kors. When I was younger I favored something called Sun Moon Stars. I don’t even remember where I got it or who made it.

  12. bridgitt says:

    How do i get a password for the protected posts?

  13. Amber says:

    I wear OP’s “Juicy” – yes, OP stands for Ocean Pacific, that brand that was really popular in the 90s but is now a generic walmarty-brand.

    It’s an incredibly sunshiny smell. Supposedly it ” features cyclamen, apple blossom, melon, amber, musk, freesia, jasmine and lily-of-the-valley. ”

    When I smell it, though, I smell primarily daffodils in the really early part of spring that still kind of smells musky and cold. I’ve been wearing it since I was 18 or so. It’s been discontinued for a while, but it’s almost always on ebay, and is absolutely dirt cheap. I tend to buy it in bulk pretty often.

    It’s my daily scent, and everyone knows me by it. It’s a fantastic “casual” smell.

    The other scent I wear for more of an “evening smell” is Bath & Body Works “Jasmine Vanilla” or “Sensual Amber”. Both lean heavily toward the warm sandal wood/pine end of the spectrum.

    The biggest thing is that I am not allergic to any of these, because I tend to be allergic to…………. everything.