Andy Warhol’s Perfume Philosophy


Andy Warhol, Polaroid photograph, 1979. Via Kasmin Gallery

I just re-read The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again and enjoyed it much more than my first reading, more than a decade ago. Plus, I was even happier to re-familiarize myself with some of Warhol’s thoughts on perfume. Here’s an excerpt…

I really love wearing perfume.

I’m not exactly a snob about the bottle a cologne comes in, but I am impressed with a good-looking presentation. It gives you confidence when you’re picking up a well-designed bottle.

People have told me that the lighter your skin, the lighter the color perfume you should use. And vice versa. But I can’t limit myself to one range. (Besides, I’m sure hormones have a lot to do with how a perfume smells on your skin — I’m sure the right hormones can make Chanel No. 5 smell very butch.)

Warhol, Chanel no. 5, 1985

I switch perfumes all the time. If I’ve been wearing one perfume for three months, I force myself to give it up, even if I still feel like wearing it, so whenever I smell it again it will always remind me of those three months. I never go back to wearing it again; it becomes part of my permanent smell collection.

Sometimes at parties I slip away to the bathroom just to see what colognes they’ve got. I never look at anything else — I don’t snoop — but I’m compulsive about seeing if there’s some obscure perfume I haven’t tried yet, or a good old favorite I haven’t smelled in a long time. If I see something interesting, I can’t stop myself from pouring it on. But then for the rest of the evening, I’m paranoid that the host or hostess will get a whiff of me and notice that I smell like somebody-they-know.

Of the five senses, smell has the closest thing to the full power of the past. Smell really is transporting. Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting are just not as powerful as smelling if you want your whole being to go back for a second to something. Usually I don’t want to, but by having smells stopped up in bottles, I can be in control and can only smell the smells I want to, when I want to, to get the memories I’m in the mood to have. Just for a second.

The good thing about a smell-memory is that the feeling of being transported stops the instant you stop smelling, so there are no after-effects. It’s a neat way to reminisce.

The Paramount Theatre on Broadway, via New York Public Library Digital Collections

My collection of semi-used perfumes is very big by now, although I didn’t start wearing lots of them until the early 60s. Before that the smells in my life were all just whatever happened to hit my nose by chance. But then I realized I had to have a kind of smell museum so certain smells wouldn’t get lost forever.

I loved the way the lobby of the Paramount Theater on Broadway used to smell. I would close my eyes and breathe deep whenever I was in it. Then they tore it down. I can look all I want at a picture of that lobby, but so what? I can’t ever smell it again.

Warhol, Flowers and Gloves, 1955

Sometimes I picture a botany book in the future saying something like, “The lilac is now extinct. Its fragrance is thought to have been similar to — ?” and then what can they say? Maybe they’ll be able to give it as a chemical formula. Maybe they already can.

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) was originally published in 1975 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. I bought my used copy at East Village Books.



    • I agree! The passage was well-chosen. If I had glanced at just the book title or even a jacket blurb, I wouldn’t have suspected that the book contained such intriguing material. My husband is recovering from surgery so this was a much-appreciated read during a tea break. Good on the Art Fairy for a charming start to the new year.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m super-late to the party here, but so glad I found this, Jessica. He talked the way he thought, and I find it so relatable. Too bad he was taken way too soon…


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