What’s That Odor? It’s Olfactory Chaos

Perfumes stink!

The world of fragrance-just like its big gaudy stepsister, the world of fashion-has become a huge, incomprehensible mess.

Perfume pollution has made it impossible for you, the ordinary woman on the street, to select a new fragrance. Gone are the heady, simpler days of the late 20th century, when a Giorgio or a Charlie dominated the market, when a new fragrance could stink up an entire nation and signify an epoch. Just as with fashion, there are now 40 million trends-from neo-hippie to inorganic-with no discernible direction. Expensive fragrances, like expensive schmattes, often seem louche and tarty while cheaper merch has gone all subtle and organic and meaningful. Quel olfactory horreur !

Look on the bright side: Since there are no rules, you are now free to smell however you want. So have fun, move the goal posts and smell weird!

Here’s how:

1. Having an identity crisis? Smell like someone else! Click onto GetPerfume.com and fill shopping cart with Jaclyn Smith’s California, Cindy Adams’ Gossip, Priscilla Presley’s Indian Summer or Naomi Campbell’s Naomagic. Since the whole Latin thing is really big, and J. Lo’s fragrance is not due out until the fall, make sure to stock up on Only Crazy by Julio Iglesias. At an average price of $10 per ounce, you can afford to slosh it on really liberally, thereby sending your vicarious celebrity wattage off the charts.

2. Run to the new Foundation department in the lower level of Barneys, stick your head in one of Frederic Malle’s beam-me-up-Scotty futuristic sniffing funnels, and inhale deeply. Frederic-nephew of the late director Louis Malle, who was married to Candice Bergen (who never had a celebrity fragrance, but acted as a spokesmodel for one called Cie)-invited the nine top Parisian “noses” (extraordinarily smell-sensitive people who consult with perfume houses) to create, with no restrictions, the fragrances of their dreams. I recommend the white-lilac-ishone called En Passant (a.k.a. In Passing) by Olivia Giacobetti; it doesn’t smell any better than the others, but it’s the only female nose in this male-dominated pantheon of nasal deity. A 50-milliliter spray retails for $78.

3. If you’re a populist who always buys whichever CD is top of the charts-even when it’s by Hootie and the Blowfish-just wait and see which fragrance wins the Fragrance Foundation’s 30th annual FiFi Awards this week and buy it. My money is on Mary Kay’s Velocity.

Did you know New York has a fragrance museum? The Annette Green Museum at the Fragrance Foundation is located at 145 East 32nd Street (call 725-2755). This week, a new exhibit opens entitled Small Wonders: Aromatic Adornments, Amulets and Objects d’Art , on view until Sept. 27. This exhibit is basically a history of how the uptight rich people of yore protected themselves against the hideous stenches that might waft in their direction if they were ever downwind of the poor. “If you live in New York, those ill winds can blow from the rich or the poor at any time,” said diplomatic Fragrance Foundation president Annette Green when I spoke to her last week. “In the summer, I never leave the house without an amulet filled to the brim with perfume. “Smell her!

P.S.: Mayor Bloomberg’s impending sanitation cutbacks might just make perfume-totin’ amulets the accessory of summer 2002. What’s That Odor? It’s Olfactory Chaos