The importance of many of the little rituals that punctuated my daily life shifted irreparably this year. The spritz of perfume that capped off my morning, a hit of subtle scent that announced I was ready to face the world, suddenly seemed pointless as we entered the tumultuous period of sheltering in place. And when restrictions were eased, sure, I was left with a renewed appreciation for my family and for my health – but I also had so many nagging questions: Do these gestures of self-care still serve us? Do these luxurious customs have a place in today’s world, in which we are soberly wrestling with indisputably more important issues?
I thought about those questions while considering the beautiful flacon of the newly launched fragrance My Way by Giorgio Armani. After all, the mantra presented to sum up the ethos of the inviting, contemporary white-floral bouquet is “I am what I live” and the scent was purportedly created for women who are looking to connect with something real while navigating uncharted territory. Well, in the midst of a year that seems to have been designed to topple all life plans, I certainly feel like I’ve lost my way.
It seems I’m not alone. “After a crisis, the quest for security, for health, for well-being is even more relevant and more important,” says Veronique Gautier, global president of Armani Beauty, during a virtual press conference to present the thoughtfully designed fragrance to editors around the world. The bottle’s sleek cap has the satisfying weight and curve of a river rock, but the real nod to the natural world is that Armani Beauty has adopted a carbon-neutral business model for the line, crafting the bottle to be easily refillable and sourcing ingredients, like vanilla from Madagascar, in collaboration with on-the-ground NGOs.
But how can we balance the pleasures of our comfortable lifestyle with our efforts to simply be better people? Looking for answers, I turned to French philosopher Vincent Cespedes, who has devoted his notable career to grappling with the fundamental questions that define the human experience. “You are constantly teaching others through your lifestyle,” he explains over the phone from a pastoral town in France. “And let’s be clear: Your lifestyle is how you manage your fears, your desires, your hopes, your way of being. We have to share that with others in order to truly become ourselves.”
If I can be blunt, what role is there for fragrance to play at this point?
“We are living in a civilization in which everything is based on what we see – nowadays often from behind our laptop screens. But I think there’s a shift happening in which we might go from being a visual civilization to one that focuses on the other senses and remembers that we must feel and smell. The more technology leads our lives, the more poetry we need. Our emotions are reminders that we are not objects.”
This has been a year of change and crisis for many of us. How can we work toward healing?
“We have had a social experiment with confinement, and we learned that while we can work with technology and – with Zoom and Skype – it’s not enough to just see each other. As humans, we need to feel the presence of others. We need that energy. I subscribe to the vitalist philosophy, which is a little like ‘the force’ in Star Wars as a concept in that it asserts that there’s energy between bodies and entities. You feel that energy when you’re with someone in real life but not over Zoom, and we need that energy to grow and to understand ourselves. That attitude means you have to care about the world around you, about the difficulties of others.”
What comfort do people need after a crisis? What is comfort, really?
“We often talk about comfort in a very managerial way, saying ‘Get out of your comfort zone,’ which makes comfort seem bad and dangerous because the implication is that you must always seek to venture away from it. But comfort is critical: You can’t think deeply without a certain level of comfort because [other- wise] you’re trapped in thinking only about how to survive. That is an animalistic life focused on survival, but it doesn’t build anything. Humanity is being able to have meaningful thoughts. So, in that way, comfort is a first step toward creativity.”
Can beauty also elevate your life?
“I like to talk about elegance, which is what I think can save us. To be clear: Elegance is not just wearing a cool dress to Cannes. It’s a way of life; it’s a way of understanding others in society; it’s a quest to share with and show respect to others. People are craving elegance in politics these days. Marginalized people are protesting right now because they are not being treated with elegance; they are being treated as beasts, as less than human. Here’s an example of what I would consider to be the most fundamental expression of elegance: You’ve crossed a desert and you’re tired; you meet someone who doesn’t know you, who is different from you, but they show you hospitality without question. That is elegance. It is beautiful, but more importantly it is meaningful. My philosophical point of view is that beauty is hollow without meaning.”
Giorgio Armani My Way Eau de Parfum Spray ($120 for 50 mL) has sparkling top notes of Calabrian bergamot and Egyptian orange blossom with Indian tuberose and jasmine at the core, and it finishes with a warm and woody trail of vanilla bourbon, white musks and Virginia cedarwood.
This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of ELLE Canada. Subscribe here.
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