Slumberhouse Rume, 2011/2015

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(image, Banksy)

Perfumer Josh Lobb.

Slumberhouse recently re-released a couple of previously discontinued perfumes in a limited run.  The two were Grev and Rume.  They make an interesting set of bookends to the spicy, resinous, woody olfactory terrain that the Slumberhouse line has mapped out.  Grev is cold and spiced, as if a slice of Norne’s panoramic portrait of a Northwestern forest was cut out of the picture and studied.  It skips the earthy forest floor, the moist woods and forest gestalt.  It extracts the chill of fir, freeze-dries it with clove and then reanimates it with sandalwood.  It is the least slack, least trippy of the Slumberhouse perfumes.  Rume goes the other direction.  Expansive aromatics are anchored to a dense, resinous base.  The contradiction of attachment and movement gives the perfume a deliberate yet dynamic pace that plays out over a long arc.

Rume also takes on the high/low art dichotomy with a fuck-you and a flourish that makes me smile every time I wear it.  It tackles the ongoing question of representation in art and language by using a pedestrian olfactory vocabulary, namely the gift-shop scented candle.  For anyone who visited an American gift-shop of the 1970s (a surreal experience in and of itself) there is an olfactory convention called “potpourri” whose perfect expression was the gift-shop candle. The smothering scent of faux-pourri became a pinnacle of olfactory sentimentalism, the Hallmark card of fragrance.

René Magritte La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of Images [This is Not a Pipe]), 1929 Oil on canvas 23 3/4 x 31 15/16 x 1 in. (60.33 x 81.12 x 2.54 cm) Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. © Charly Herscovici -– ADAGP - ARS, 2013 Photograph: Digital Image © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA,Licensed by Art Resource, NY

High Art and the Treachery of Perfume:  Rume pokes at the presumption of representation by giving an olfactory spin on the ubiquitous René Magritte painting La Trahison des Images that juxtaposed the image of a pipe and the written proposal that, “This is not a pipe.”  Magritte’s pipe and Lobb’s spiced candle highlight the tension of artistic rationalism.  Magritte implied that what we see and what we say are not the same thing.  Lobb doesn’t simply apply the same visual premise to the olfactory.  While he might imply that what we smell is not what we say, he shows that what we smell is not even what we smell.

The surrealists challenged the correspondence between idea and object.  Lobb follows the tradition, focussing on the questions that his perfume poses rather than the conclusions we might like to draw.  Does Rume smell like a gift-shop candle from the 1970s?  What does a gift-shop candle smell like in the first place?  Rume inflicts a cognitive disruption similar to Magritte’s painting.  It undresses narrative connections until the familiar becomes distorted.

The pipe and the candle both reveal a disorienting side of language.  The ability to communicate is taken for granted, but when questioned, linguistic convention seems like a consensual illusion. The disruptive quality of Magritte’s painting didn’t come from the contradiction between the visual image and the written words but from the unquestioned equivalency the two. Lobb’s use of a recognizable scent presumes a common ground, a lingua franca of scent, in this case, the scent of the gift-shop candle.  Like the pipe, the candle is both recognizable and confusing.

I’ve read online complaints that Rume ‘smells like potpourri’, as if the proportions were miscalculated.  I doubt that the reference was either an accident or a failure of composition.

Junk food might provide a better analogy than modern art. In cuisine, first came the sponge cake with cream, then came the Twinkie.  The latter was a crass, industrial subversion of the former.  Recognizing this, the ironic-foods movement reclaimed the Twinkie and served deconstructed, reconstructed, minimalistic, sardonic versions of it.  Rume is a carefully composed version of the ironic Twinkie.  It rescues the gift-shop candle from tackiness and elevates it to an extrait.  Though ironic, it is a tender and thoughtful perfume that allows those of us who experienced the gift-shop of the 1970s to reclaim a part of our olfactory history.