by Grant Osborne, 09 February 2009
Well, we can now add another string to that bow: fragrance reviewer.
Last year, Puckrik began reviewing fragrances on YouTube. As Basenotes was more familiar with her other work we thought we would find out more about her new venture...
How long have you had an interest in fragrance? Can you pinpoint when it became more of an obsession than a casual interest?
I’ve always been entranced and stimulated by smells – all odors, be they pretty – or pretty stinky. I think that comes from having traveled so much when I was growing up. My dad was in the Air Force, and we were bouncing around from the US to Berlin, Moscow, London, Athens, Tangiers – so many places with distinctive cultures and scents!
I have such bizarrely specific scent associations with different times of my childhood: the sweet plastic wrapping of a toy phone when I was five, for instance. I remember being more interested in the packaging than the actual toy, standing there snorting in the odor while my parents looked on, perplexed. Then there was the garbage dump where all the US Embassy kids played in Moscow, because all the feral cats had their kittens there. It was a kitten petting-zoo! To this day, a whiff of garbage gives me a quick hit of kitty-joy.
By the time I was a teenager, I’d graduated from the fragrant joys of “Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific!” shampoo to actual perfume. I remember bedazzling a young man with the power of my 17-year-old allure and a heapin’ helping of Chanel Cristalle. His next girlfriend grumpily informed me that he insisted that she wear Cristalle as well! That taught me the erotic potency of fragrance – a power that is sure fun to wield!
I was pretty much a serial monogamist with fragrance in my 20s. I’d spend a lot of time choosing a scent, then wear it till the bottle was empty. But as life deepens and gets more complex, so does one’s thirst for experience. And in my case, perfume! I started to seek out more off-the-beaten track frags.
I turned into a niche bunny around 2000 with a purchase of Divine edp by Divine. As the CdGs and Serge Lutens tumbled into my life, I became more promiscuous, ‘fume-wise. Why limit yourself to just one note if there’s a whole symphony of smells out there?
The slippery slope was discovering Makeup Alley and Basenotes in 2006. Finding all these articulate, funny, crazed fumeheads – discussing the great scents that are my past, present and future loves, well, that was an epiphany.
“Code Red” obsession happened in 2008, when I simultaneously found the amazing perfume store The Scent Bar (luckyscent.com's bricks and mortar store) at the same time I was reading Turin/Sanchez’s “The Perfume Guide”. It was the perfect storm, exacerbated by the fact that the Scent Bar folks are just a bunch of playground pushers. My happy indulgence has now turned into a lost weekend that I don’t see any signs of crawling out of.
What was the impetus behind you creating video reviews of fragrances (and any reason why video and not, say, a blog)?
My husband J was the impetus behind the creation of my vlog, Katie Puckrik Smells. He’d done all the polite nodding and “yes, dear-ing” he could humanly muster at my unceasing fragrance babbling. I’d rave about perfume minutiae and all the inspiring and clever blogs out there: Invisible Magnet, Nathan Branch, Perfume Smellin’ Things, Now Smell This, 1000 Fragrances, Perfume Shrine…oh, I love them all.
J did a little YouTube search and found that no-one was doing concise, produced video perfume reviews at the quality level of the blogs. He pointed me in that direction, and whoosh! I was off like a greyhound after a metal rabbit. Now I have an outlet for my passion, and J gets a break from being my only audience.
KP Smells is such a fun and natural development of my work as a TV host and journalist, where I pretty much cover the pop culture waterfront. I’ve hosted talk and reality shows on Oxygen in the US, and UK audiences know me from The Word and The Sunday Show. With KP Smells, I get to expound on something I truly enjoy, instead of rolling porn dwarves in baby powder, as edifying as that may have been!
A few years ago the New York Times hired its first fragrance critic, and now we are getting mainstream books on perfume (such as the one by Luca Turin). Do you feel that an enjoyment of fragrance is becoming more mainstream?
I firmly believe that fragrance appreciation at the mainstream level is the next hot phenomenon – right up there with the foody and wine scenes that have exploded in the last decade. I have no doubt about this.
And while perfume can be aspirational, a luxury item with snob appeal, it is far more accessible than the highbrow wine/gourmand world. Everyone has an opinion on how they want to smell. Anyone can go to a drugstore or department store and acquire the tools to make it happen.
Also, perfume is unique among fashion and beauty products in that it’s a one-size-fits-all work of art. You don’t have to look like a supermodel to smell like one. You’re only one spritz away from a new persona: dangerous vamp, innocent angel, movie star. That’s irresistible.
Do you think more newspapers will follow the NYT's lead and hire fragrance critics?
I hope so – I’m available! At the moment, I’m developing two perfume TV shows in the UK and US, but would love to broaden out to newspapers, magazines and books.
What sort of feedback have you had about your videos?
(the links above will take you to some online discussion of KP Smells)
I’m thrilled that the perfume-lovers who’ve discovered my vlog have been really positive about it. They’re intrigued or excited to find niche perfumes discussed on YouTube. They recognize that I’m blazing new trails, albeit from the comfort of my living room. People are responding to my combo platter: dedication to fragrance, with a side of humor.
When I started KP Smells, I gave a lot of thought to my approach. Luca Turin/ Tania Sanchez and Chandler Burr all take a very authoritative, “this is good, this is bad” stance in their work. Their points of view give a lot of food for thought. Not to mention their supple and witty writing, which I love.
But I felt that it was more authentic for me to adopt sort of “book report” method – to explore a fragrance like an alien territory and report back to the Mothership. I’m not going to love and buy and wear every perfume in the world, but I do have a curiosity about every perfume as a creative work. I’m always open to having my mind broadened, my expectations challenged. And that’s what producing KP Smells does for me every day.
Along with being informative in my perfume reports, my goal is to be entertaining and accessible. I hope to offer enough nutrition for my fellow fumeheads, while seizing the interest of the casual sniffer. It'd be great if someone stumbled across my Burger King "Flame" review, for instance, and then was inspired to have more of a "conscious nose" and develop more curiosity about fragrances.
I think the simple act of wearing a fragrance you love does so many positive things. You feel more "yum", you assert your identity, you make your heart a little happier. Not to get all Oprah on your hindquarters, but a quick spritz does lift you up and make you feel that all is right with the world - even for just a little bit. It's joy in a bottle - and not the Thunderbird kind!
You can see Katie Puckrik's reviews at KatiePuckrikSmells.com
The following fragrances and houses are mentioned in this article. (In order of appearance...)Comme des Garçons
|Cristalle Eau de Toilette by Chanel (1974).|
|Divine by Divine.|