“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” — Oscar Wilde
I recently posted a handful of perfume ads featuring kisses on Instagram, to mark International Kissing Day (July 6). In an effort to be clever, I included two women embracing perfumes bottles (Chanel Chance and Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps), plus the above promotion for Lanvin’s Kiss Me. The latter was the clear favorite among my followers.
Do you remember this fragrance, developed by perfumer Domitille Bertier and launched in 2013? I don’t, although Robin at Now Smell This liked it well enough. I’m more of an Arpège woman.
My art historian side can’t see an image of a person enamored of his or her own reflection without thinking of the ancient myth of Narcissus. The images above are an ancient wall painting preserved in the ruins of Pompeii (left) and Caravaggio’s Narcissus at the Source (1597-99, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, right).
I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of narcissism, or perhaps with the lowercase-n narcissus flower, but I’ll recap the original story here, with the assistance of my yellowed copy of Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths and a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (by Anthony S. Kline)…
Narcissus, the sun of a river-god and a nymph, was so handsome that by the time he was a young man, he was pursued by would-be lovers of both sexes. However, he was also incredibly self-absorbed, and he mocked and rejected every single suitor.
Dismayed by the number of broken hearts (and suicides!) that Narcissus was causing, the gods decided to deal him a unique punishment. When he stopped to drink at a stream and glimpsed himself mirrored in the surface of the water, they cast a spell: he would be so enthralled by his own image that he couldn’t even perceive it as a reflection and/or illusion. As Ovid wrote,
“Unknowingly he desires himself, and the one who praises is himself praised, and, while he courts, is courted, so that, equally, he inflames and burns. How often he gives his lips in vain to the deceptive pool, how often, trying to embrace the neck he can see, he plunges his arms into the water, but can not catch himself within them! What he has seen he does not understand, but what he sees he is on fire for, and the same error both seduces and deceives his eyes.”
Caught in this trap of unfulfillable desire, unable to tear himself away from this vision of his own beauty, Narcissus wasted away and died beside the water. In some retellings of the myth, he was transformed into the flower that now bears his name.
As usual, I have no idea of knowing what the Lanvin creative team and photographer Steven Meisel were thinking when they posed model Iselin Steiro regarding herself in various mirrors for a Spring 2009 ad campaign. (I’m not sure why they recycled one image four years later for the perfume ads, either.)
A wider shot allows us to take in the rest of the model’s reclining body and her outfit, including her chain-strap Lanvin handbag. (Ah, so that’s the source of the perfume bottle’s wee chain and dangling rhinestone.)
I love the detail of the dark sunglasses, which might account for some of her apparent confusion?
Maybe not, though. In other images from this shoot, she’s seems fully aware that she’s admiring her own reflection. A modern-day Narcissus (Narcissa?) or just a more casual conceit about vanity?
Either way, I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that you should wear perfume for yourself before you wear it for anyone else…although I’ve never ended up quite this entranced by my own olfactory aura.