Rosalyn: There’s this top coat that you can only get from Switzerland and I don’t know what I’m going to do because I’m running out but I love the smell of it. Irving and I can’t get enough of it. There’s something…the top coat…It’s like perfumey but there’s also something rotten and I know that sounds crazy but I can’t get enough of it. Smell it, it’s true. Historically, the best perfumes in the world, they’re all laced with something nasty. It is true! Irving loves it, he can’t get enough of that stuff…Carmine…sweet and sour, rotten and delicious…
Mayor Carmine Polito: What am I smelling? It smells like flowers!
Rosalyn: Flowers, but with garbage!
Mayor Carmine Polito: You know what that is for me? It’s coriander for me…it’s coriander.
Ever since David O. Russell's "American Hustle" came out, people far and wide have been talking about the perfume scene in which Jennifer Lawrence's character Rosalyn gushes about the bewitching smell of a fingernail polish from Switzerland. (Perfume-lovers on Basenotes, Badger & Blade and Perfume Posse talked about it, too). Hell, I even wrote about the scene, saying it sure did sound familiar.
It didn't take long for me to decide that Rosalyn was referring to Diorella by Christian Dior (1972). And that yes, I think that a reasonable person could conclude, from seeing the dialogue side-by-side with my writing, that portions of the movie dialogue were copied from my blog post. Here's a portion of what I wrote about Diorella in 2009:
This paradoxical combination of lightness and darkness, freshness and bodily funkiness, makes me think of the song Suzanne, by Leonard Cohen: "She shows you where to look/amid the garbage and the flowers." Because, at its heart, it smells like garbage on the verge of going bad that someone has thrown a pile of flowers onto, Diorella shows you how to find beauty in the intersection of garbage and flowers. I know this doesn't sound like an endorsement, but it is!
Top notes: Sicilian lemon, peach, basil, Italian bergamot, lemon, green notes (galbanum?)
Middle notes: Honeysuckle, jasmine, violet, rosebud, carnation, cyclamen
Base notes: Oakmoss, clove, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, patchouli
After wearing it daily for about a week now, I can say that one of the things I love most about it is its kaleidescopic nature. First of all, the clove and basil mixed with flower notes contributes to the strange mint smell Chandler Burr refers to. If you look for that, you will smell it, the way blue and red mix to form purple. As for the Vietnamese beef salad Tania Sanchez refers to, I was very skeptical about this, until one day, sitting at my desk, I could have sworn I smelled the coriander and fish sauce (along with lemon juice) that serve as the marinade for the beef salad. Perfumes exist now with salt notes; this one, at times, indeed smells salty. And I smelled the beef! (Perhaps the basil and indolic* flowers created this olfactory hallucination.)
Continuing on in the stinky Vietnamese food vein, Luca Turin's "fruit going bad" metaphor made me swear I smelled a touch of Durian fruit in the sweet/rotten undertones of Diorella, or maybe more accurately, jack fruit. Subtle, but unmistakably there. (From the melon note?)
Honestly, does anyone do "funk" as well as Roudnitska? It's as if he's reminding us that these ripe smells connote death as much as they do life. It's profound, really, this reminder in his perfumes — that it's the mortality of these bright and alive things that makes them beautiful...
*Gorgeous fragrances often contain notes of something nasty.
And here's the side-by-side comparison of the "American Hustle" dialogue and my Diorella post:
Uncanny, right? Film critic Stephen Metcalf at Slate had an interesting question about this scene in a recent podcast. "Like, why does the mayor of Camden NJ have a set of associations with the smell coriander?" he asks. It is a reasonable question. Seriously — why does he? (And since when do people sniff fingernail polish? But I digress.) Metcalf has an intriguing theory: "I'm not saying he couldn't, that in 1979, that this couldn't be a possible smell he picks up out of the top notes of her fingernails. But that certainly is a complete improv moment." Metcalf concludes that Jeremy Renner must have improvised the coriander reference. Hey, it's as good a guess as any. Or, perhaps the dialogue was copied from elsewhere. Like, you know, my Diorella post.
In any case, you folks out there who don't hoard vintage perfume must be dying to know what something "sweet and rotten, sour and delicious...like flowers but with garbage" might smell like. And here's your chance.
Tell me in the comments section below if this scene in "American Hustle" intrigued you, and why or why not, and you'll be entered into a draw to win ONE of THREE 1 ml. decants of VINTAGE DIORELLA perfume that I'm giving away from my personal stash. Christian Dior sells a reformulated Diorella at their counters, and it is lovely, but if you want that funk that Rosalyn and I are talking about, you gotta smell the vintage.
I'll announce the lucky winners on Oscar night — Sunday, March 2! And please note, U.S. contestants only. If you're commenting from outside the U.S., please let me know that you're commenting only. Thanks for playing!