What do Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift have in common?

Not unlike Mark Twain, I’ve had my entrepreneurial shortcomings. I never saw an opportunity until it had ceased to be one, and whenever I got in on the ground floor of a commercial venture, there was an SOB in the basement. So I don’t follow business news much, but I’m always interested in advertising and recently came across an article on losses incurred from a celebrity fragrance campaign launched by Elizabeth Arden. Apparently their Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift lines are bombing, leading to a $156 million loss this past quarter.

Personally, I would not like to smell like Justin Bieber for fear of being attacked by a Mississippi leg dog. And pity the poor girl who goes out of the house smelling like Taylor Swift. She’s likely to start those around her singing that old country favorite, “If it walks like a duck and it smells like a duck, it is a duck.”

In 1863, Mark Twain admonished a rival reporter, “The Unreliable,” against the vagaries of perfumery: “In the first place, I must impress upon you that when you are dressing for church, as a general thing, you mix your perfumes too much; your fragrance is sometimes oppressive; you saturate yourself with cologne and bergamot, until you make a sort of Hamlet’s Ghost of yourself, and no man can decide, with the first whiff, whether you bring with you air from Heaven or from hell. Now, rectify this matter as soon as possible; last Sunday you smelled like a secretary to a consolidated drug store and barber shop. And you came and sat in the same pew with me.”

Barbara Herman has just published a book, “Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume.” I’ve not read the book but heard her interview on NPR, during which she quoted Coco Chanel, “A woman needs to smell like a woman, not a rose.” More musky, animalistic scents have been added to the milieu of late, and olfactory experimentation has taken a walk on the wild side, mixing oak, moss and patchouli.

The problem, as I understand it, is that perfume, when mixed with sweat, changes its chemistry so rapidly that you can suddenly find yourself smelling like a wet muskrat, while those people around you take to staring at their shoes and weaving around like willows in the wind.

Some societies, on the other hand, tend to carry the natural scent a little too far, according to my sensibilities. I cite the French. I rode a bus in Paris once as a teenager hitchhiking through Europe, and having been raised in a community awash in Ivory soap, I had never been privy to the singular scent of a bus full of humans au naturel. Well, my eyes began to water, my knees began to weaken and I got off at the next stop.

As God is kind, my sense of smell is waning, a blessing I am more thankful for with each and every passing year.

To learn more about McAvoy Layne, visit www.ghostoftwain.com.


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