Bookish Accoutrements: Anaïs Anaïs

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The very first perfume I fell in love with was Anaïs Anaïs. I was 14 years old. A friend was wearing it, and I was intoxicated — I never smelled anything so lovely, but strange, but disturbing! The very next day I bought myself a bottle. Then another. Then another. This act has repeated itself countless times over the past 30 years. Even after one bottle flirtations with other perfumes and several bottle affairs with a few fragrances, I have continued to wear Anaïs Anaïs all of these years. A new bottle is due to arrive in today’s mail, hence my musings.

It was marketed as a fragrance for young women, but now that I know a little more about perfumery it surprises me; it is a heady and sophisticated little number. Look at the ingredients: Bergamot, galbanum, hyacinth, honeysuckle, orange blossom, lily, lily of the valley, rose, ylang-ylang, tuberose, carnation, cedar, sandalwood, amber, oakmoss, incense, vetiver. On me, I smell green floral, those lilies — sweetness, decay — then darkness. Leather. Animal. It stays with me. My winter coat, my watch band, and my cardigans all smell like Anaïs Anaïs.

It wasn’t until college that I read Anaïs Nin. Of course, my first thought was, “Is my perfume named after her?” Cacharel would say it was named after the ancient Persian goddess of love, Anaïtis, but I can’t help but think that the fragrance, released a year after Nin’s death, owed some inspiration to her. Could the perfumers have read her diaries?

 “Perfection is static, and I am in full progress.”

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.”

“Luxury is not a necessity to me, but beautiful and good things are.”

“If happiness is the absence of fever then I will never know happiness. For I am possessed by a fever for knowledge, experience and creation.”

“Everything could undergo conversion except the artists. How can you convert disorganizers of past and present order, the chronic dissenters, those dispossessed of the present anyway, the atom bomb throwers of the mind, of the emotions, seeking to generate new forces and a new order of mind out of continuous upheavals?”

“I gathered poets around me and we all wrote beautiful erotica. As we were condemned to focus only on sensuality, we had violent explosions of poetry. Writing erotica became a road to sainthood rather than to debauchery.”

“It is right that you should read according to your temperament, occupations, hobbies, and vocations. But it is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar, unwilling to explore the unfamiliar. In science, we respect the research worker. In literature, we should not always read the books blessed by the majority.”

Others that knew and admired her seemed to think that the perfume is named after her. Lawrence Durrell wrote in a letter to Henry Miller, “It will please you to know that the new Cacharel scent named after Anais (`Anais-anais’) is a great success and when last I had . . . a youngling to bed in Paris that was what she smelt of. I lay there in the dark smelling it and thinking and saying never a word.” Erica Jong writes, “…In fact, there is: her own name, Anaïs, which has become a perfume…”

Am I wrong in thinking that Philip Kaufman (and his cinematographer) might have been influenced in part by the iconic Anaïs Anaïs advertisements for the look of Henry and June?

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Love, lust, creative work. Romanticism, duality, complexity, sensualness, and sensuousness. Whether my perfume is actually named after Anaïs Nin is least important. The fact that I was on the scent of all this beauty and wonder at age 14 and continue to have it be my guiding principle is the thing that has actually stuck in my watch band and woolens. A way of being in the world. Connections and contradictions. Head notes, heart notes, and base notes. Time to pick up the diaries again…

‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

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7 comments

  1. Candiss

    What a lovely post!

    I remember this perfume from my childhood. I remember falling in love with the name (along with that of another perfume, Xia Xiang.)

    While I do love Nin’s diaries, my favorite Nin-related work is her letters to/from Henry Miller, collected in “A Literate Passion.” (ISBN 015652791X) Ah, now I want to reread that!

  2. Patty

    That brought back memories! I believe we all went through the same phase, which introduced us to a new world, and gave new experience. After Anais (loved it!), I ventured to Lulu,and was thus introduced to the world of Louise Brooks…

    • jackiemania

      I’ve never smelled Loulou – and now I desperately want to! It sounds incredible:

      Top notes: Bergamot, black currant buds, green leaves, marigold, mandarin
      Heart notes: Jasmine, heliotrope, mimosa, tiare, ylang-ylang
      Base notes: Tonka bean, incense, iris, musk, vanilla, sandalwood.

      Thank you 🙂

  3. ebookclassics

    Did you like Henry and June? Oh, I want to read those letters to Henry Miller too! It’s been a long time since I’ve read Anaïs Nin’s diaries, but I remember she was my first encounter with a female writer who could express her sexuality and emotional desires so exquisitely. I don’t think I’ve ever smelled Anaïs Anaïs before, but it sounds like they have attempted to capture her spirit in a scent.

    • jackiemania

      The film? Oh yes, I love it! It’s one of the few movies I own. Although it’s a romanticized version of the relationships and time, I find it so captures the spirit!

  4. Pingback: They Don’t All Work Out | Life During Wartime Challenge

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