Nothing brings back memories like scent. Lilac blossoms can send you rocketing back to a specific summer; the cloying perfume of Abercrombie & Fitch will always scream high school to the popular set. But what happens when the scent triggers a memory that never actually happened to you?
I've long been obsessed with the 1920s in general and F. Scott Fitzgerald in particular, but that doesn't quite explain the fact that when I dabbed Fitzgerald's favorite cologne on my collarbone — Lieber Gustav 14, by Krigler — I'm pretty sure some of the writer's memories were implanted in my brain. I could see Zelda and Hemingway. I knew what it was like to write about the myth of American advertising while living in Paris.
I exaggerate, but only slightly. Of course, not many are as enthralled with F. Scott as I am, so not everyone is going to have a near-holy experience while spraying themselves with the man's favorite scent. But if you've ever dreamed of a life in the glamorous 1910s and 1920s, Lieber Gustav will certainly take you there. The woodsy, mysterious fragrance was created in 1914, designed to capture the essence of Berlin in the 1910s, and inspired by a love letter between the creator's daughter and her fiancé, who died in WWI. Fitzgerald wasn't the only one obsessed with the scent, with its notes of leather, black tea, and lavender — Marlene Dietrich wore it, too.
The spicy, androgynous fragrance is exactly the type of perfume you want to wear indoors, preferably in a luxe basement bar, perched on a barstool with a glass of champagne in hand, surrounded by intellectuals who are hopelessly in love with you. That wasn't quite my experience while wearing it, but maybe I just didn't find the right bar. I wore it for one Fitzgerald-obsessed day, in honor of his 118th birthday on Wednesday, and I'm going to wear it when I want to feel like I'm Fitzgerald reincarnate — or anytime I need to wear a really great pantsuit. It can't hurt my prose or my street cred, can it?
Woke up, dressed, and dreamed up six impossible things before breakfast. Lewis Carroll recommended that, not Fitzgerald, but it got me in the authorial spirit. I dabbed my precious sample in all the right places: Behind the ears, into the clavicle, and a wisp of scent on each wrist.
Coffee in bed
Did Fitzgerald drink coffee in bed? Probably, because the man was an alcoholic, and there's no better way to ease out of a hangover than by slowly imbibing healthier liquids while lying flat on your back. Thankfully, I was hangover-free, which made me feel even more glamorous as I lounged in bed surrounded by the ghost of Fitzgerald's scent, as though I was a great thinker whose massive brain needed time to warm up.
In a massive stroke of luck, I was writing another article about Fitzgerald on the very day I wore his perfume. (What can I say? The author of The Great Gatsby only turns 118 once.) Reading through his novels and letters was a surreal experience, since I was still experiencing Lost Generation-esque olfactory flashbacks. Mostly, I focused on the article, but occasionally I either felt like I was Fitzgerald or imagined that Fitzgerald was sitting next to me. You say "delusional," I say "don't knock it until you've got Lieber Gustav 14 on both wrists, baby."
Casual lunchtime reading
In any given section of my bookshelf, you can probably find a Fitzgerald novel. The one pictured is particularly dear to my heart, because the two main characters are such a wonderfully sloppy mess.
In the afternoon, I sat outside at a coffee shop with a fellow intellectual, secretly pretending that I was in Paris. No baristas flung themselves at me, demanding to know what novel I was working on, but a weird old man commented on my taco t-shirt. You should feel sorry for the old man, not me, because he should never have messed around with a girl wearing the musky, androgynous scent of her favorite author. Fragrance is power.
Afternoon attempts at genius
Inspired by Fitzgerald's heady aura all around me, I decided to work on my own writing. Look what autocorrect did to my FLAWLESS first line. How are we supposed to paint sensitive, nuanced portraits of society in the age of autocorrect?!
A friend finally asked what I was wearing, probably because the mysterious evening breezes were blowing it into her face, or maybe because I stuck my wrist under her nose. By now, the cologne had mellowed into something sweeter and laced with lavender. "Do I smell like a powerful, masculine thinker?" I asked. Nobody on the roof spoke, probably because they were worried I'd quote them in my novel, The Greater Gatsby. "It's Fitzgerald's favorite cologne," I said finally, a phrase I hope to say again, extra-loudly, with really overbearing hand gestures, preferably at a snobby literary party. (Fitzgerald was all about creating drama at parties. (Once he boiled the party guests' purses in tomato sauce because he thought the shindig was getting boring.)
I had to end my day of channeling Fitzgerald at a bar, because the man obviously loved to drink. I channeled the 1920s one last time by quaffing French 75s, most glamorous and bubbly drink of the era. In my memory, I held my glass like Marlene Dietrich and made perceptive, witty observations about the human condition like Fitzgerald — but that may have been the cologne talking.
Images: Tori Telfer