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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

SMELL: CB I Hate Perfume

Instead of perfume, I prefer the changing scents of my experiences in the city to permeate my day. When I heard about CB I Hate Perfume’s scent library, where one can linger, pressing one’s nose into the tops of hundreds of glass vials containing the scents of seasons, memories, daily tasks, even emotions, it seemed I had found my perfume mecca.


According to the sales clerk, the store was started by a former taxi driver, Christopher Brosius (CB), who was revolted by the medley of cloying perfumes and odors that mingled in his cab. He decided to create an antidote, hence the store’s name. On a business card available at the counter, a quote from CB reads: “Perfume is too often an ethereal corset trapping everyone in the same unnatural shape… an arrogant slap in the face from across the room… People who smell like everyone else disgust me.”


The narrow storefront, in north Williamsburg, is spare and inviting, with a nose-level “library” of single-note scents arranged by category—from “Water” to “Skin,” “Smoke” to “Clean”—and quotes from literature elaborating on each theme. Scents from this library are combined into the ready-to-wear perfumes that line the opposite wall, with names like “In the Summer Kitchen,” “Gathering Apples,” and “Burning Leaves.” These fit into existential categories, like “Experience,” “Secret History,” “Reinvention,” and “Metamorphosis.”
 

I decided to dip my nose into the “Clean” section, which contained a manageable number of bottles. A brief quote from Colette introduced the collection: “That sugary smell of new blue cottons.” The scent “Eucalyptus Leaf” brought me straight to the Tenth Street Baths’ sinus-clearing steam room.


“White Camphor” was like the inside of your grandparents’ medicine cabinet. I had expected sweat and floor cleanser in “Locker Room” but instead got the mingled fragrances of shampoos and deodorants. “Clean Sheets” evinced just that: downy, pillowy, inviting, and even suggested a breeze through a screen window. “White Soap” contained the aroma of a Dove bar, with its creamy edges softening beneath the fingers. It was hard to know what to expect from “Plain Old Soap,” but to me it smelled like the paper-wrapped kind found on the bottom shelf of a bodega. “White Pine” was the redolence of pine floor soap, to some the epitome of “clean.” “Beautiful Launderette” was more floral than I’d expected: like the scent of dryer sheets that wafts from Laundromat vents. I had to ask the clerk about the last scent, “Ozone Air,” but he pinpointed it as the sweet smell exuded by photocopy machines. I’m not sure why that smell is “clean,” but nevertheless it was spot-on.


Moving across the room to the ready-to-wear scents, I selected “November.” The store describes it as “pumpkin pie, fallen apples, bonfire, wood smoke, dried grass, fallen leaves, wet branches, damp moss, chanterelle mushrooms, and a hint of pine forest.” Unfortunately, to me it smelled like a Christmas Tree Shoppe: potpourri and “apple pie” scented candles mixed with pine room spray.


A few weeks later, I found myself taking a taxi uptown to a dinner party, an apple-rosemary pie on the seat beside me. Needless to say, I sniffed to see if I could discern the inspiration for CB I Hate Perfume. This cab smelled like a just-uncapped stick deodorant, a ladies’ dressing room in a department store, the vinyl of the seat upholstery, with an undercurrent of cigarette smoke. Through the cracked window came the chill air of a November night. The once-fragrant pie beside me was no competition for these smells of the city.