Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Smell of Vintage Pantene Shampoo

The smell of vintage Pantene shampoo is as dear to me as the smell of old books. Although they smell nothing alike, the two stand side by side in my olfactory mind and are linked by a teenage memory.

It's a sunny day in the late 1970's and I'm walking down Fordham Road past the Thom McCann shoe store in my neighborhood. I'm about to cross the street to get to the Bronx Central Library on Bainbridge Avenue. I see my ex-best friend from childhood with her new best friend as they are leaving Nardi Hair Salon. They've just gotten their hair done and the light from the sun makes their long hair (brown and red, respectively) look like rivers of color undulating in the sun.

I would always tell the redhead that her hair was orange and wasn't truly red. (Anyone who ever owned a box of crayons would know that.) I avoided both girls on my way to the library because seeing their carefree post-coif stroll reminded me that my family had less money. (As an adult I was informed that the fathers of both girls dabbled in graft and cronyism so who knows who really "paid" for those haircuts.)

Nardi used salon versions of Pantene shampoo and conditioner that they advertised in their second floor window which included generic headshots of tony models donning the latest hairstyles. I remember seeing giant gallon containers of Pantene shampoo and conditioner sitting next to the hair washing stations at Nardi when I met a friend who worked there on weekends (she and I took on summer jobs as soon as we turned 13).

The smell of Pantene that was sold in gold-topped bottles at the drugstore in the 1970's was out of this world. A blend of heliotrope, creamy sandalwood and musk perfumed every strand of hair in a hedonic afterglow diffused by body heat.

The salon versions of shampoo and conditioner had the same prestige scent, but they were more aldehydic which was in step with smelling like an expensive French perfume. (Prestige hairsprays also benefitted from this type of well-executed functional perfumery, which mimicked classic perfumes.)* I don't know why I remember this, but when I think about the shampoos of my youth I can remember all of their smells.
*Functional perfumery can be more challenging than traditional perfumery as functional perfumers, who are chemists, have to manage naturally occurring odors in personal and household products. They are the unsung heroes of the art of perfumery.

In the late 1990's, after jumping on the all-in-one shampoo and conditioner bandwagon, the scent of Pantene took a fruity turn and smelled like a collection of headdresses worn by Carmen Miranda that had been curated for an exhibition in an overripe fruit museum. I hated Pantene for doing this and started buying shampoo sold in salons.

I enjoyed reflecting on those two undulating rivers of brown and red hair that were etched into memory. I wanted to resurrect that remembrance with my sense of smell. Last year I bought a bottle of Pantene Pro-V Overnight Miracle Repair Serum that is formulated to condition hair as you sleep. The hair remedy is packaged in a pump dispenser that cannot be sniffed like other items in the hair care aisle. (The most public smelling you'll ever see happens in the hair care aisle because hair care aisles are veritable smell museums.) This serum had an interesting side effect after I put it on my hair that evening. Once the product was absorbed it began to react with the heat generated by my head, which was resting on a pillow.

An olfactory bouquet of vintage Pantene bloomed and resurrected memories in the dark. It was a powerful sensation that felt like dreaming with my eyes open. The smell of vintage Pantene allowed me to witness the past in the present, and was perfumed by the fact that how I felt about what I was sensing belonged to me and no one else. Not even a Faded Glory and Frye boot-wearing mirage that chose to be friends with an orange-haired girl instead of me.

Many people crave the scent of vintage Pantene shampoo. A post titled "That Old Pantene Smell" and others like it echo this nostalgic sentiment. Rumor has it that Infusium 23 elicits a Pantene flashback that goes back to the Hoffman-LaRoche formula. Pantene was purchased by Proctor and Gamble in 1985.

Shampoos of note from my childhood include: Body on Tap, Castile shampoo, Breck, Earthborn, Egg Shampoo, Flex, Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific, Johnson's Baby Shampoo, Lemon Up, Pantene and Prell. It's not uncommon for popular scents to reappear in the formulas of other brands decades later. If you are bent on the smell of nostalgic shampoos visit the Vermont Country Store. They are currently offering versions of Lemon Up and Egg Shampoo.

Human hair retains scent longer than skin retains the smell of perfume. This is due to the layers of overlapping cells that form the cuticle, and heat generated by the scalp.

Faded Glory was a brand of designer jeans that were popular in the 1970's.

The Bronx Central Library was located in a building designed by McKim, Mead and White (they designed Columbia University and Pennsylvania Station in New York City). The Georgian revival style of the two-story structure and the inclusion of a wing along the rear facade provided a haven for inquiring minds and book lovers of all ages. You could feel history as soon as you walked inside and smell knowledge wafting out of the pages of books. The building, which was known as the Bronx Central Library when I was growing up, is no longer open to the public as the library has been relocated and is now the Bronx Library Center. The historic structure has been unoccupied since 2005.

Image of Hair Collage by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Smell and Taste of Music: Lemon by Bachar Mar-Khalifé

Can you smell and taste music?  You can if you watch the video for Bachar Mar-Khalifé's "Lemon" which is based on a romantic poem by Egyptian poet Samir Saady. Saady clearly knew that anyone with the good fortune of encountering a citrus tree dripping with fragrant blossoms couldn't deny that nature is the ultimate perfumer. This is evident in the poet's words, which are translated from Arabic to English:

by Samir Saady

The lemons are ripe on the tree
And whoever shakes the tree
after it has been watered by rain,
will fill his lap with lemons.

How beautiful you are, night of the moon
when my love appeared.
And whoever shakes the moon
his eyes are the moonlight.

The lemon tree blossoms
shock the rocky hearts.
When its flowers appeared
I smelled its perfume's love.

Actor Charif Ghattas directs the music video for "Lemon". He is also one half of the comedic duo that salts Saady's "Lemon" with puckering insights regarding the way tastemakers in the arts have a habit of getting tied up in themselves at the expense of others. When devoid of ego this metaphor extends to those who are lost in love, but are too shy or scared to pursue it. The chemistry between Ghattas and Khalifé is as powerful as are the video's synesthesia-inducing effects.

"Lemon" begins with Ghattas swinging a lemon on a string in an effort to hypnotize his subject who is a musician. Bachar Mar-Khalifé's character is cooperative, but unaffected, and proceeds to play harpsichord notes on a computer keyboard as he sings using a mop-headed duster for a microphone (the duster is later flipped and the prop is used as a flute). He is yellow and so is his lei-wearing sidekick. Calisthenic dabbling in tennis, paddleball, ball bouncing, hula hooping and soccer ball juggling ensue. This is followed by the musician allowing himself to be tied up in lemon-colored tape, which takes the lemon metaphor in an interesting direction.

The incarnation of lime from the video "Lemon"
and her fabulous eyelashes

The scene shifts and the musician appears standing upright as an attractive woman in a short lime-colored dress walks towards him to the beat of a heart monitor. Lime enters his lemon world batting large green eyelashes. The woman in the green dress is the embodiment of lime and uses her fruit as a sensual prop. The musician is entranced which is something his hypnotist/coach could not accomplish at the beginning of the video. C'est l'amour, no?

You can taste the lime juice as the woman consumes her own essence by ravaging the tart green fruit with her teeth. The synesthetic effect of the video kicks in as lime is transformed into a palatable sense object when lemon and lime hold court in the same space. A can of 7 Up® and a spritz of Eau de Cologne would do well here as memories of lemon and lime rise to the surface and generate cravings.

The lime woman disappears as quickly as she arrived leaving the aftertaste of a mirage in her absence. The musician's comedic counterpart reappears and after getting tipsy and ties up the musician in lemon tape once again. This time is different than the first as there is no option of escape; the musician is transformed into a living piece of lemon art and he didn't get the girl. This is why you press replay on the video more than once and think of lemon and lime for days after watching the video for Bachar Mar-Khalifé's "Lemon".


Bachar Mar-Khalifé is a French Lebanese singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist. He is a graduate of the Conservatory of Paris and is the son of the legendary Eastern-Lute player Marcel Khalifé and singer Yolla Khalifé. His brother, Rami Khalifé, is also a musician.  

"Lemon" is composed by Bachar Mar-Khalifé and appears on the album Ya Balad (translation: O Homelandwhich is available for download on iTunes. There are two remixes of Khalifé's "Lemon" song. One remix is a collaboration with Deena Abdelwahed. The other is a version featuring Yolla Khalifé (this version of "Lemon" is ripe for a movie or television soundtrack and is hauntingly beautiful).

Image of the lemon tree replete with blossom and fruit by Elena Chochkova.

Image of a lemon in hand and the actress who portrayed the incarnation of lime is from the video of "Lemon" are the property of Bachar Mar-Khalifé.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Scent in Film: Master of Perfume

When was the last time you saw a video for a perfume brand that felt like poetry? Mi7 Cairo created Master of Perfume for Abdul Samad Al Qurashi (specialists in Oud fragrances) and did a brilliant job of speaking to the mystery of scent and scent creation; literally. The video manages to do this in only two minutes, which is a minute under the online standard for attention grabbing.

Glass Petal Smoke has transcribed the narrator's monologue in Master of Perfume as it embodies the kind of questions inspired by wearing a fragrance that doesn't feel separate from one's "self." You can also listen to the video for Master of Perfume in Arabic as an unfamiliar language can be experienced as emotion through intonation.

Master of Perfume

How did you become the master of scent?
That passing rebellious shape-shifting ether.
How did it surrender its freedom?
The keys to its chains?

Who taught you the language of air?
Words of the wind
What breeze whispers,
The meaning of the silence of dewdrops.

From where that knowledge of ancient secrets?
Of the darkness within the darkness,
The source of all light.
What authority do you hold over Oud,
Amber, Musk?

To what power does the blossom surrender its essence?
What does the heart choose to present which words cannot express?
How did you capture that uncontested mastery of perfume?

Abdul Samad Al Qurashi.
The masters of royal scent. 

Another example of the poetic approach to branding is Prada's Thunder Perfect Mind starring Daria Werbowy. It's longer than the three minute standard for capturing attention online (it clocks in at 4:47 minutes), but it's worth a look. The video is inspired by Gnostic Nag Hammadi text and is a modern riff on female archetypal essence. American mythologist Joseph Campbell would have loved it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Food Memories: Red Shoes and the Art of Cookie Face

I was five years old when I received a pair of red shoes the color of candy apples. The undyed leather soles were perfectly stitched and smelled like singed salt on a hot pretzel from a food cart vendor on Fordham Road. Inside each shoe was a rubber arch called a cookie that the salesman at Foot Adductor glued beneath the insole. The cookie was the same color as a pencil eraser, but it wasn't as soft. I didn't know what flat feet were and remember feeling somewhat perplexed because ducks had flat feet and I wasn't a duck. I also wondered why someone would put something called a "cookie" inside your shoe that you couldn't eat.

I must have looked at a lot of sidewalks when I was five because whenever I recall this time in my life, all I can see are those new red shoes. One foot in front of the other, moving slowly at first, then picking up the pace while holding hands with a grown up. I remember the asphalt blurring beneath my feet when Dad and I had to run under the elevated train tracks to cross the street in order to make the light or avoid pigeon droppings on our weekly trips to Weber's Bakery.

There were times the sidewalk seemed to move like a conveyor belt. When you're little you can't look over the crowds and figure out how you're going to get where you're going. That's a grownup's job. I'd look left and right when something caught my eye, but most of the time I marveled at my feet and the magic of walking. From 191st Street to Jerome Avenue, under the IRT past Tru-Form Shoes and the florist. I skipped over sidewalk cracks and random black patches of old gum until the smell of Weber's Bakery stopped me in my tracks.

Once inside the bakery, a distinct mix of anise, cinnamon, lemon, orange and vanilla left me in a condition that is best described as "smellmatized." Loaves of fresh bread with light and dark caramel colored crusts were stacked behind the counter by the cash register. You could smell an occasional burst of caraway when a seeded loaf of rye bread was being sliced, but the aroma never asserted itself into the perfume of the bakery. It hovered over the bread slicer and quickly disappeared.

Each loaf of bread sold at Weber's was had a white piece of paper the size of a postage stamp affixed at the heel. It was marked with the symbol of the New York City bakers union. If you were ravenous when you arrived home and were quick to make a sandwich there was a good chance you'd eat the thin paper stamp without a care in the world (they were impossible to remove completely). One day archeologists will discover these stamps inside the stomachs of some of the biggest bread eaters in New York City.

There were four triple shelved cases of pastry that contained desserts inspired by France, Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe, including a few cognates that made sense to bakers whose families had been in America long enough to assimilate new traditions. If you were a little kid you were surrounded by delicious at eye level. The experience was torture or resulted in a treat. The outcome depended on your parents.

It was Dad, me, my new red shoes and a scam I ran every time the two of us went to Weber's Bakery. I called it cookie face. It was a fun-loving game of food mischief with eleven distinct steps.

Step One:
Inhale at arrival.

Step Two:
Let Dad take a number so he can get a loaf of rye bread.

Step Three:
Smile at the mean looking lady with the hairnet who is wresting red and white striped bakery string to secure a box of pastry for a customer.

Step Four:
Look at shoes.

Step Five:
Walk up to cookie case.

Step Six:
Take a long deep breath.

Step Seven:
Look at cookies and then look at Dad (who always winks on cue at step seven).

Step Eight:
Look at mean lady with the hairnet and smile a little even though she scares you because her stone-faced demeanor makes it look like she doesn't have any lips.

Step Nine:
Look at cookie case and be sad.

Step Ten:
Look at the mean lady with the hairnet and smile a little longer even if she scares you more than the horror movies you watch on television despite being told not to do so.

Step Eleven:
There's no step eleven unless you goofed somewhere between one and ten. You receive a handful of colorful cookies wrapped in bakery tissue as a reward for being cute.

If the mean lady with the hairnet was extra careful when handing over the cookies it meant a rainbow bar or petit four was tucked inside. You'd smile, show the loot to your Dad, and say thank you to the scary lady who wasn't so scary when she smiled and gave you cookies.

We left the bakery with our respective edibles in tow. I skipped and stepped on cracks as I ate my reward, sharing some with my co-conspirator. When we were done Dad opened up the white wax paper bag with the sliced rye bread and we'd each take an end piece and gobble it up gleefully. Sometimes we didn't stop at the end piece and had a lot of explaining to do when we got home. It was funny for us, but not so funny for anyone who thought they were going to get a whole loaf of rye bread when we got home from Weber's.

This story is dedicated to the memory of my father, Paul Krell, who taught me everything I know about how to enjoy life and food. He was born on May 1, 1927 in Brzeziny, Poland and died on May 30, 2009, in Bronx, New York. He was a Holocaust survivor and U.S. Army veteran.

Norm Berg was the head baker at Weber's Bakery in the Bronx when I was growing up. He and Stanley Ginsberg co-wrote Inside the Jewish Bakery just before Norm passed away. The book and errata are highly recommended as this is an historic account of bakery culture in New York. Stanley Ginsberg, a passionate baker, has authored a new book titled The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America. It will be released in September 2016.

Norm Berg's son, Nathan Berg, was the baker at Vandaag in NYC. I tasted breads he baked before the combination bakery and cafe closed in 2012. Some of the best bread I have ever tasted was made with Nathan's hands.

If you want to understand the role that bakeries played in Bronx culture (and NYC for that matter) pick up a copy of Inside My Father's Bakery by Marvin Korman. It should be a movie (note to Steven Spielberg and Dustin Hoffman).

When I'm pining for my New York childhood I buy a loaf of Zingerman's Roadhouse Bread. It's a tasty blend of rye flour with cornmeal and wheat. If I didn't have access to bread like this I'd move out of Ann Arbor.

Sidewalk Flowers is a wordless picture book for children by poet JohnArno Lawson and illustrator Sydney Smith. One of the most charming things about Sidewalk Flowers is how it illustrates father and daughter relationships. The image of the book cover accompanies this post. You don't have to be a kid to read this book. It's timeless and highly recommended, as is this promotional video for the book.

Image of needle tatted flower garland made from bakery twine by Jenny Doh. Used with permission.