Thursday, October 22, 2015

Blue Waltz by Joubert

I've always been a fragrance freak. One of my earliest memories was visiting the Sears Tower as a child. The observation deck, super-fast lifts where my ears popped, even the modern art in the lobby were all wasted on me because earlier that day my parents bought me a set of Tinkerbell Perfumes that came in a small vinyl carrying case. I just wanted to get the Sears Tower visit done and over with so I could tear into those bottles once I got home.
                                                    (Not mine, but similar to what I had)

Ever since, I've associated the Sears Tower with the smell of little girl's play perfume. I couldn't have been more than four or five. What did Tinkerbell cologne smell like? It smelled a bit like the other popular fragrance for little girls, Blue Waltz.

I don't remember liking Blue Waltz as a child. I didn't even like the bottle. I had an older sister with a generous employee discount at a local department store which likely accounted for how quickly I graduated from Tinkerbell's finest to Worth's Je Reviens, but even when I let my curiosity get the better of my snobbery and started trying what my local Rexall had to offer, I still managed to avoid Blue Waltz. I don't know why, all I can reckon is the bottle looked too childish to take seriously (but Tigress with the faux fur cap looked sophisticated). Eventually, children grow-up and Blue Waltz, like Tinkerbell no longer fits. No one I knew wore Blue Waltz, and I can't even remember seeing it around much. Still, it was there, like white noise I didn't pay attention to, but knew immediately once I sought it out. If a cheap fragrance can get into a collective cultural memory, perhaps Blue Waltz is it.

As soon as Blue Waltz hit my skin, I was in that collective memory. Blue Waltz might have been born in the 20's, but it evokes the idealised mid-twentieth century United States better than any fragrance I can think of. If Blue Waltz were a pair of shoes, it would be saddle shoes. If Blue Waltz were a  hairdo, it would be a bouffant. Blue Waltz wears pedal pushers, likes watching the Andy Williams Christmas special, and can get excited by a nice Jell-O salad. Blue Waltz never needed to do the "kneel test" because it wouldn't dream of rolling the waistline of its uniform to make the skirt shorter. Blue Waltz is very well behaved, and never stays out after curfew.

I'm well aware that the era I just described could easily be described as "Preparing the air raid shelter in case we end up going to war over with the Soviets, Beatnik Writers doing" Beatnik tea-head things" in coffee houses, and Jazz. But Blue Waltz doesn't hang with that crowd. Blue Waltz is the air-brushed collective memory. The sanitised memory. The smell of mid-century, middle-American, conformity. Blue Waltz didn't need to" stop worrying and learn to love the bomb"-it already did. Blue Waltz pulled the lever on the Rosenbergs. Blue Waltz went before HUAC and named names without even being asked to testify.

The funny thing is, just as I never knew anyone that wore Blue Waltz, I never knew anyone that wanted the lifestyle Blue Waltz was selling. Perhaps I subconsciously dismissed it as propaganda that wasn't even trying all that hard-the Norman Rockwell of fragrances.

Blue Waltz doesn't have a typical note pyramid because it all comes at you at once, and never really shifts. There's the soft, lightly spiced effect of baby powder, the artificial vanilla, the cheap rosewater-and it is all topped off with a citronella candle to keep at bay the insects that are naturally attracted to that much sweetness. Blue Waltz is pretty. Not glamourous, not beautiful, and certainly not alluring. It is pretty, safe, uninteresting, and all-American, suitable for babies. Blue Waltz is pablum. Corn syrup. Coca-Cola. Blue Waltz, like Tinkerbell is for little girls, but in our current social climate where the prevailing infantilisation ensures one need grow up, we're all  taking our cues from Peter Pan-Blue Waltz is just one more tool in the refusal to face maturity with...well, maturity. We can stay safely in Nursery USA eating finger-food, and drinking our vegetables pureed into a frappe. I am convinced this accounts for the current resurgence of popularity Blue Waltz is having. It went from being a hard-to-find novelty to full-blown nostalgic memento available from "Old-People" retailers like Vermont Country Store and Amerimark, to the Capitalist altars like Target and Wal Mart. You can find it tucked between the furry animal hats for grown-ups, and the 100 calorie packets of mini-chocolate chip cookies. Don't worry , Blue Waltz will keep you safe from the indentured servitude of crushing student debt, employment-at-will, and homelessness. When the Revolution comes, it will be bottles of Blue Waltz smashed on the cobblestones, comrade."

Ahem. Where was I? Yes, right-what Blue Waltz smells like. Well, it smells OK, and is only offensive in what it represents, not the juice itself. Blue Waltz will never grow up, it will never mature, it doesn't need to. A bit of nostalgia for your youth is fun. Manufactured nostalgia makes you stupid, and at its worst, is dangerous. People will fight to the death to protect something they never had if they think someone wants to take it from them.

Nearly every fragrance is selling something independent of what's in the bottle. I can roll my eyes at the aspirational marketing, the faux hipness, the stupid names meant to be edgy-but try to sell me something like Blue Waltz and I will recoil like someone took a swing at me. Blue Waltz is selling the delusion of an America where everything was better because everyone kept quiet and in their place. Blue Waltz is scared to death because someone told it to be scared to death. Blue Waltz saw the counterculture and barricaded itself at home with a fallout shelter, colour TV, and enough Reader's Digests to see it through Armageddon. The world changed, Blue Waltz didn't. Blue Waltz survived two World Wars, but it couldn't survive the 60's.

Up next(ish)- The anti-Blue Waltz, Yendi.


Bibi Maizoon said...

I remember the Blue Waltz bottle but not the scent.
I don't recall Blue Waltz being worn nor marketed to children. I recall seeing it on the lower shelves of the rather dark & dingy little 5 & dime store we had in the tiny town of Sonoma called "Roscoe's". Blue Waltz was favored by the poor white 'okie' women of Sonoma county (Sorry if that sounded 'classist' but Steinbeck's California still rang true up until the late 70's). At that time Okies had their own little slum on one end of town & the Spanish speaking residents had a slum on the other.
Okie ladies would often wear a dab of vanilla extract behind each ear as perfume also. They smelled of Crisco, hamhocks, bacon grease, Fels Naphtha soap, boiled beans, Downy, & something like J & J's baby powder. No matter how tatty & worn, their clothes were always neatly ironed & meticulously mended.
Skinny Dip & Blue Jeans were marketed to teens & tweens & were on the same shelf as Blue Waltz. Toujours Moi, L'Origan, Heaven Sent, & Muguet des Bois were located on a higher shelf at Roscoe's. Up a little higher up was Evening in Paris, Emeraude, Chantilly, 4711, & Yardley Old English cologne. At the highest shelf was.........a single tiny bottle of Shalimar!
To get something like Je Reviens one would have to drive the tiny treacherous 2 lane road to the great metropolis of Santa Rosa & visit the only true department store that far north of San Francisco- the very glamorous "Rosenberg's".
An interesting aside-
When I was about 7 yrs old I had a a dear friend of Okie descent named Bethany. We were invited to have lunch at a mutual girlfriend's house whom was of Genovese extraction- her name was Mary. We were served a delicious lunch at Mary's including some very garlicky Genoa salami. After our lovely lunch at Mary's we walked to Bethany's house. Bethany's dad was sitting on the porch & upon our arrival announced, "What in the HELL have you 2 gotten into? WHAT IS THAT SMELL?!?" Bethany's dad marched us back to Mary's house & asked Mary's parents "What did in the HECK did you feed these kids?!?! Okies were not familiar with nor fond of the scent of garlic at that time was what I gathered. But that was 1972 & garlic was still new to many Americans I suppose.

Mim said...

Daaaamn you should write about perfume professionally. I so want to smell this now, just to understand. For someone from outside the US, you make it sound like the American Dream in a bottle - of course, that's a dream the rest of the world has been shown but never experienced.

I'm all in favour of nostalgia as long as it's not for one's own life. When a person starts looking back at their own life and feeling wistful, they need to sort out their present, sharpish. I always reckon I'll have the time of my life today or tomorrow, but when it's in the past, there's a problem.

Beth Waltz said...

Mim is right, you should at least consider gathering your rants, er, reviews about perfumes into a collection and peddling it as an online book. I'll be pondering the aspects of Blue Waltz as an "air-brushed collective memory" the rest of the day. Y'see the dear old lady who gave me that sweetheart bottle also admonished me to "be like Jesus, meek and mild" -- and even in the third grade, that seemed unlikely to be my style. (I'll also be meditating on Bibi's hierarchy of socio-economic clases as viewed on shelved perfume bottles in a 5 and 10.)

Propagatrix said...

I went from Tinkerbell to Love's Baby Soft, a flirtation which lasted until I was given a bottle of Lauren (brand-new at the time). I'd probably wear Tinkerbell again if I found the same set I got for my sixth birthday. And I may or may not have bought a bottle of Love's Baby Soft when I saw it at CVS a couple of years ago. (Actually, I wish they'd bring back Love's Rain Scent. Seventeen-year-old Propagatrix adored that stuff.)

Bibi Maizoon said...

I wore Love's Rain Scent as a teen too!
I perused the online altar of capitalism & crass consumerism -AMAZON- & Love's Rain Scent is still available as well as Love's Baby Soft, Love's Fresh Lemon & something called Love's Rain Forest.
I would have thought Jean Nate would have fit the bill for smug & pretentious bourgeois Americana & would be the 1st to go when the revolution comes. Yeah, I'm pointing the finger at you Jean Nate, all tarted up with that black velvet ribbon around your insipid little lemony neck.
Blue Waltz is just a cheap, cheery (but rather Depression era dreary) dream of better times in it's hopeful little heart shaped bottle.

Goody said...


Garlic would have been strange in the Chicago suburbs at that time too-except for garlic powder, which was used on everything from steaks to rice.

I am always interested in hearing how others experienced the same era/fragrances in different places. Ranking the perfume shelves is something I never ran across.

I'm *still* waiting to experience the American Dream ;)
No worries about my looking back wistfully...if I do, I can always get a copy of Mommy Dearest as it is close enough.

I'm not sure anyone outside of the regular blog readers would be interested in reading it. There's a certain language of perfume reviews (much like people who write about food) that I can't manage with a straight face. But thank you, I appreciate the compliment.

I wasn't into Love's (and the ads were unbelievably strange) but a couple years ago I ran across someone that smelled so incredible I had to ask what she was wearing. When she stopped laughing, she told me it was Love's Baby Soft. I don't think I could wear it, but on other people it is a solid, beautiful, fragrance.

I confess to a bottle of Jean Nate because it smells like Lemonheads, which I used to love.