When the light hits just right at sunset, Hollywood Boulevard looks like a 70mm strip of celluloid unspooling with memories of the Golden Age of the movies. As dawn breaks in the high bleak valley between the distant eastern peaks of Mt. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio the rays of the Sun race westward toward the Pacific. About seventeen miles before the sea the morning sun slams into the ivory top of the Deco step pyramid that caps Los Angeles City Hall. In its faded splendor at first light the old building that cradled that famous last shot in Mildred Pierce eclipses the modern Manhattanized towers that surround it. By noon when the summer sun is baking the City from Boyle Heights to Santa Monica beach the City Of Dreams is more alive, more exciting, more dangerous than any femme fatale that every walked the pages of a Raymond Chandler novel. Los Angeles is a city of hidden treasures. A city that only shares its veiled beauty to those who take the time to look past her endless prairie of post war tract houses. The very prairie which at midnight from the top of Mulholland Drive becomes a jewel box of lights more spectacular today than they were when James Mason told Judy Garland that all of the city below was hers when her star was born.
It is the city where I was born under the shadow of the walls of M.G.M. The city that gave me my first taste of life in the false lush simi tropical green that would be gone in one summer were it not for the water it syphons from the north. The Los Angeles of my infancy the major exports were Airplanes, Oranges, and Movies. As a child, my grandmother would take me to Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown L.A. and there in a fake redwood forest I would eat strawberry Jell-O with wiped cream wrapped in a day dream of Johnny Weissmuller swinging through the trees. There were trips to the Alligator Farm in Buena Park, to the Huntington Gardens, the L.A. County Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits which have bubbled there for hundreds of thousands of years. Who knows how many Saber Tooth Tigers lay entombed in its sticky goo? Then most wonderful of all, were the high walled movie studios full of secrets and the old movie palaces that lined Hollywood Boulevard filled with escape.
Every Friday night and Saturday afternoon I would go to the movies. They were my textbook of life. They taught me all about history, religion, and love, Hollywood style. Everything a kid in L.A. needed or wanted to know. To me Andrew Jackson was Charlton Heston, David and Bathsheba were Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. Marylin Monroe was cotton candy and lipstick glamour yet somehow sad around the edges. And Elizabeth Taylor? Well, she was not only the Queen of Egypt but Queen of Everything. In the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater I would wander among the hands and footprints of my personal Gods and Goddesses. At ten my hands fit into Shirley Temple’s hand prints. By twenty they fit perfectly with Clark Gable.
As I grew older and began to explore Los Angeles on my own I began to put my Movie star fueled ideas of the world into perspective without losing the dreams. This is when I began to realize that the Spanish words and world that Los Angles grew out of were so very important to the fabric of the city. A major part of what made it so magical. Real History. Then there was the architecture. I began to see the beauty of the unique way in which Los Angles embraces the architecture of the world. The revelation was clear, all of Los Angles is one mega backlot. You can find the walls of Babylon at the old Firestone Tire Company. In Beverly Hills, Italian Villas snuggle up next to Elizabethan country homes. The Japanese gardens in San Marino. Hong Kong re-imagined in Chinatown butts up next to the glorious Spanish Revival cathedral that is Union Station. All at once in one epic sprawl, all of it is tacky, beautiful, insane, and wonderful. Knit together with freeways and festooned with imported Royal Palms. A city like no other on earth. The city where the past is tomorrow.
I have not lived in Los Angeles for a very long time. I miss it often and sometimes I will pop an old movie into my DVR that will take me back to different times in its history from the 1920’s to today. Some of the images I see of the city tug at my heart and whisper to me “come home. The dream is still here.” That opening shot in “Strangers When We Meet.” In particular, reminds me of my childhood. But something is always missing in my movie visit to Los Angeles. The smell of the place in summer. It was the most unlikely mix of smells that could make up a memory, but it is none the less one of the strongest and dearest memories I have of the place. In the summer, the scent covers the city in a loving embrace. The smell of honeysuckle and jasmine, white flowers, and Max Factor red roses caresses by the hint of a Santa Ana wind from the north. Burning Eucalyptus leaves and sharp Italian cedar. Wet freshly mown grass. And everywhere the smell of entire Orange trees from the blossoms to the waxy leaves. This is complemented by the slight burning of carbon monoxide and dangles in the smog, and the clear clean nearly antiseptic sent of chlorine from a million swimming pools.
It is the smell that takes me home.
The new fragrance by Etat Libre d’Orange was inspired by a novel by Chandler Burr and in fact shares the name of the book. “You Or Someone Like You.” The fragrance came into being when Etienne de Swardt, founder of Etat Libre d’Orange read the novel and called Chandler Burr to ask if he could make a perfume based on the book he had so loved. He wanted to base the perfume on the setting, Los Angles, and the narrator Anne Rosenbaum wife of a powerful Hollywood film executive. The story revolves around her resulting transformation when she is asked to create a reading list for the head of a studio. That leads to an unexpected interest from screenwriters, agents, and producers around town. A Hollywood book club is formed where Anne blooms in the process. Then when a religious crisis in her husband’s life occurs when their son journeys to Israel , Anne is challenged to save her marriage.
For Chandler Burr who not only wrote the novel but was also the New York Times fragrance critic and author of “The Perfect Scent” and “The Emperor of Scent” this was both a challenge and very exciting. Over the course of the creation of the scent it became tremendous learning experience for him. The experience was so profound he has noted that he feels that he should have made a fragrance before becoming the critic for the New York Times. For the creation of the scent Chandler as creative director for the Eau de Parfum teamed up with perfumer Caroline Sabas and together they came up with “You Or Someone Like You.”
For me this is an extremely emotional fragrance, moving and nostalgic. Chandler Burr says it is not Los Angeles stuffed in a bottle but to me, it is like coming home to my long-abandoned home town. It carries all and more that I wrote about above in the memories and feelings this fragrance brought up for me. It inspires me to dream of spring and summer in the city of angles. A spring that comes in February and a summer that ends in November. It is a uni-sex fragrance that carries in it the DNA of classic citrus colognes of the past. Yet like the city of Los Angeles it is layered with facades of modernity over a historical base. There is in “You Or Someone Like You.” Elements of the sage brush of this Hollywood hills baking in the heat, of tropical flowers and swimming pools, high above the exhaust clouds of the 405 freeway. Peeling eucalyptus bark and dyeing orange blossoms and the wonderful scent of night blooming jasmine. All it comes together in “You Or Someone Like You” in a bright opening. It carries and holds for me this feeling, this L.A. sensation all the way through the fragrance to the end. Yet it does evolve as it goes along from the “morning” of the fragrance all the way through to the “evening” and finally into a “magic hour” drydown. It swirls, rises, and falls in intensity only to rise again on my skin. I found this aspect of the fragrance to be delightful.
For those to whom such things matter about a fragrance, it projects at about six inches, the sillage is soft. The longevity is substantial, being that is an eau de parfum over an eau de toilette it lasted on my skin nearly to eighteen hours. And even then, the next morning there were faint traces of it. It wears best for most in spring and summer, but I’m sure that I shall be visiting “You Or Someone Like You” in fall and winter for a brief trip to my past, to the land of the lotus eaters, the place where dreams are manufactured and Hollywood Boulevard at sunset looks like a glittering ribbon of celluloid.
(CHANDLER BURR TALKS ABOUT THE FRAGRANCE)