words Sam Jacob
I’m wading through marketing blurb that reads as though Heat magazine has been Magimixed with a compendium of Victorian poetry.
I suppose this is entirely appropriate, because these blurbs concern the modern reinvention of the gentle art of perfumery. The blending of oils, spices and herbs in delicate balance has, over recent years, become an alchemy of brand, fame, licensing, marketing and endorsement.
A massive array of celebrity and personality-led signature scents has been brought to the market. Britney Spears’ Fantasy (“A love potion of sweet temptation”), Paris Hilton’s eponymous perfume and Jennifer Lopez’s Glow have been joined by some seemingly ironic or ridiculously hopeless ones, such as Jade Goody’s Shh… and Ronan Keating’s Hope (“I hope that one day we may have true peace on earth”).
But we can’t dwell on any of these, as we’re here to sample David and Victoria Beckham’s double perfume Intimately Beckham. Packaged in an overdramatic, self-obsessed manner – His in black (though pink text shows that we’re talking modern maleness) and Her in pink – both fragrances share the same sculpted-glass bottle. Her perfume is pale pink, and His a slosh of amber liquid, like a urine sample on a hot day.
His promises “to bring the confidence of masculinity with a magnetic, provocative, cool, yet never aloof” blend of grapefruit zest, bergamot and cardamom, perhaps inspired by mixing a Weight Watchers breakfast with last night’s curry – an accurate picture of binge-and-purge confused male behaviour?
Her aims to convey “the essence of Victoria known only to the people closest to her”. It is a strange ambition, one that seems drawn from Victoria’s relationship to the media and perhaps a bid for the most self-referential perfume ever made.
Intimately Beckham – like all the other signature scents – is personality distilled into product. It not only tells us what celebrities would like us to think of them, but also provides us with an insight into the strange mechanics of contemporary product design.
Celebrity has moved from endorsement to becoming the product itself. The construction of celebrity identity is now stronger and more sophisticated. It has grown so monstrously that it has consumed the product itself. This is a ravenous, expansive, capitalist vision of personality.
Intimately Beckham is manufactured by Coty Inc, the world’s largest fragrance company. Coty Beauty is the division that deals with personality-based brands – developed in conjunction with celebrities’ own management teams. Thus “Beckham” is a brand that is licensed to Coty by 19 Management, the music, media and fashion empire run by Simon Fuller (of Spice Girls and X-Factor fame), which represents the Beckhams.
Significantly, the actual mechanism of puffed up, fame-gorged celebrity product goes beyond the celebrities themselves. Image and product – manipulated by svengalis who are in league with the military-industrial complex – consume personality like some kind of sci-fi monster. They take over the host body and turn it into a factory that produces facsimiles of itself. The process continues until the host becomes an exhausted, empty, useless husk, appearing on where-are-they-now TV shows. Actions, image, skin, hair, history, even true love are devices in a production line. Ironically, the foregrounding of celebrity personality becomes the atomisation of identity into clouds of dispersing particles.
Perhaps Intimately Beckham will turn into a kind of public epitaph for David and Victoria, with her music career stalled and his loss of the England armband and relegation to Real Madrid’s bench. The bitter-sweet smell of success.
Intimately Beckham, manufactured by Coty Inc, £32.50