Monday, May 30, 2011

Scent in nail varnish

I had a note from someone at the New York Times asking me for comment. She wrote:“Wacky nail polish colors seemed to be just a passing trend a few years ago, but now it’s mainstream for non-fashionistas to wear neon green, blueberry or copper metallic, instead of one of the thousand shades of red and pink they preferred for generations. What has changed?” I was happy to comply, and gently to suggest that almost every premiss here is wrong, viz. “passing trend,” and “preferred for generations,” in other words, as far as I can see nothing much has changed since synthetic varnishes in strong colors arrived in the early 1920s. I doubt that my 300 words are quite what they had in mind. Anyhow, in gathering together my thoughts I came across a little scrap of advertorial, “Scent in Nail Varnish”—varnish; how I wish I had insisted upon using this neglected, once-omnipresent term in my book, so much more accurate than polish. This note (by Doreen B. Simpson) appeared in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, Thursday, August 18, 1949, on page 8:

“Let me pass onto you a tip about adding scent to your nail varnish, (just a drop or two) to give a fascinating and almost undetectable fragrance. Remember the hands are always noticeable, for every woman uses them to emphasise a point in her conversation and the flutter of the hands can (if not overdone, of course) be an attractive feminine gesture. But it should be remembered that the very act of gesticulating will draw attention to the hands.”

It is not easy to follow Doreen B. Simpson’s reasoning. Her principal point about perfumed fingertips is well made, but she seems thereafter to be slightly undecided about how this elides with gesture. Being already noticeable and useful because expressive, feminine hand motions might yet benefit from the addition of subtle arcs of fragrance, but only if prevented from crashing through the barrier that separates flutter from heavy gesticulation, she seems to say. Perhaps this was simply a point about the overriding need for restraint: Depending upon the choice of fragrance, after all, one or two drops might easily pack a hefty olfactory punch—and Doreen B. Simpson is not at all clear about the dosage: Two drops of Mitsouko, say, added to the bottle of cutex, shaken well, that is one thing. But two judiciously dripped onto each tacky tip would almost certainly disrupt a rubber of bridge, or raise eyebrows at the Rockhampton Club. Especially at the height of the rainy season. Still, it is a splendid idea, lately revived by Revlon.

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