Words, Jesse Jackson IV | email@example.com
Photography, Reed J Kenney | @reedjkenney
Last summer in Marfa, I commissioned a bespoke scent from a perfumer. It was something I’d wanted to do since learning such a thing was possible - reading about the artisans in Central London who had been creating scents for the good and great of English aristocracy for hundreds of years, and subsequently discovering that work of the sort predated even them by hundreds of years. Given my penchant for artisanship and, frankly, the idea that it would be one of one for me, I was bound and determined to bespeak the perfect scent in to existence. I discovered this particular perfumer in the lobby of our accommodations for the trip, the Hotel St. George. As the trip wound down, having failed in many ways to have the trip we’d hoped for, I still wanted a souvenir of sorts to commemorate my first trip to the West.
I’d hoped to capture some of the magic of the moment, being in the middle of the desert - the heat, the rapidly changing weather, the sense of isolation, the smoke, the fire. The enchanting feel of the perfect summer night. Alas, that particular alchemy was just beyond my grasp. Upon our arrival to a private residence on the outskirts of town, we were greeted by a man clearly bought in to a certain Marfan mysticism - dresses in a flowing shirtdress and clad in mismatched Birkenstock’s. A far cry from the elegance I imagine present within a Floris of London, but I had bought the ticket, so it was time to take the ride. After small talk over a cup of tea, the process began.
We walked through what I can now say was an obtuse process to capture what exactly it was I wanted; at one point, I was asked to free associate for what felt like an interminable amount of time, my wife looking on bemusedly, only to be instructed to burn the piece of paper, the perfumer having glimpsed not a single word. We pressed on, as I was asked to determine the base scent I’d like to build from, and then each scent to layer upon the last. Time and choice after choice passed, until we reached what would be the final product. Asked for a name for the scent, I chose Insouciance - the quality I most hoped would be communicated in the way I lived while wearing said scent.
If you’ve ever created anything without constraints, you can probably imagine what I thought of Insouciance after a few days - I haven’t worn in at all in the last year. Entirely too one dimensional, lacking the subtlety and depth one hopes for, incapable of evolution throughout the day. An end product somehow less than the sum of its parts. I keep the bottle (which can’t be more that 5 oz) as a reminder of the perils of unconstrained creativity, especially in areas you aren’t intimately familiar with.
True insouciance requires a keen understanding of the rules you choose to break before you break them - sprezzatura cannot be achieved if you never played the game to begin with. It’s a lesson well learned in my selection of tailoring, in which, given the sums of money involved, I’ve yet to really stray from the path. I alter small things - the rise of the trouser, belt loops or pull tabs, the choice of lining - while still staying well within the rules. A navy double breasted suit, a very subtle pattern, a repp tie, dark brown cap toe oxfords. Rules well understood, and rarely broken. If the man makes the clothing, five of the exact same navy suit will present five different ways.
The lesson in the bottle.