On Ruthless Self-Love and Marc Jacobs’ New Scent, Perfect
When Narcissus leaned over the pool and gazed down at his own reflection staring back at him, what he saw was perfect.
According to the Greek myth, Narcissus was widely considered to be the most attractive person alive, and legend has it, he would tell you as much. After being cursed by the goddess of revenge, he saw his own reflection on the surface of still water and fell deeply in love with it. Finally, he realized that he was actually just staring at himself, and that this love could never be reciprocated. Consumed with the fires of longing and passion, he eventually withered away from the most beautiful man on the planet into a little yellow flower.
The tale of Narcissus is one of the oldest parables in history, warning against the dangers of vanity and loving yourself too much. Because god forbid someone would look at themselves and love what they see. Shame is ingrained in us since birth. It has been our inheritance since the beginning of time. A weight passed down to every generation from the one before. We are all encouraged to foster self-love, but to stop just short of self-obsession. But where is the line? Who decides how much is too much? Why is it that some bodies are applauded for celebrating themselves while others are chastised for it? And what would be the consequence of loving yourself too much?
Marc Jacobs has always been about “too much.” Maximalist. Hedonistic. Indulgent. And always done with a wink. Bigger patterns, brighter colors—you can always tell when a piece is by Marc Jacobs, even if you don’t know for sure.
Marc Jacobs fragrance, on the other hand, while being just as big (or arguably bigger) than his fashion, isn’t always quite as bold. His original women’s and men’s scents were light, balanced, and truly beautiful, but never really took off in the way that I believe they deserved to.
But then came Daisy, a light, white floral with the irresistible bottle that launched a thousand flankers. Daisy Dream, Daisy Love, Daisy Bloom, Daisy Blush. The list goes on. After cracking the code that paired a light scent with a fun bottle that you just had to have on your vanity, there then came Dot, Lola, Mod Noir. Oh, and Decadence, the overindulgent spicy, boozy rose scent that absolutely captivated. That, to me, is what you’d expect from a Marc Jacobs scent. A lot of a lot.
All in all, with every fragrance and flanker, Marc has around 99 perfumes.
As he neared his 100th, Marc finally found a balance of the light florals and heavy scents he’s played with in more recent years in a scent that, from someone who has almost a hundred fragrances to their name, somehow feels new to him.
We’ll start with the cap that crowns the bottle, which, let’s be honest, is really what draws everyone in in the first place. It’s a pile of charms that have nothing to do with each other but come together in a way that’s pleasing to the eye. A banana, a domino, a silver mylar star balloon, a big, cockeyed blue bow. It’s adorable.
But the scent is why we’re here.
Perfect is built around the narcissus flower, or the daffodil—the flower that Narcissus withered away into after he was engulfed by his self-obsession. I don’t love floral scents, so at first spritz, I didn’t find this exactly enthralling.
But, to borrow from another Greek legend, Perfect is a trojan horse. When you first spray it on, you get a top note narcissus flower, a light floral that’s more earthy than your standard white flowery note. Soon after, you realize that under the floral, it sneaks in a bright, sharp sweetness. This comes from the other top note, rhubarb. Its edges are softened by the narcissus flower, but it’s not altogether muted. They don’t blend together as one as much as they balance each other out. Throughout wear, it’s a push and pull of a misty floral and a tart sweetness.
An almond milk note (???) makes up the entirety of the middle of this scent. I’m a little surprised that almond milk is the only heart note, because it doesn’t have much of a scent at all. Also, the middle notes are where a fragrance really shows off with many notes or accords, and Perfect employs only one. Here, almond milk is more of an idea. A soft, creamy, nutty note to temper the two contradictory top notes. It allows the scent to breathe a bit, gives it space without cramming it with too many ideas.
At the base, we have cedar and cashmeran (an accord, or blend of notes, made to smell the way cashmere feels). Soft, woody, musky. Cashmere, like almond milk and even more so, doesn’t have a distinct scent, so Perfect is really playing with concepts here. The base as a whole is dry, fragrant, and really pulls through the scent throughout wear, adding a beautiful texture. It’s almost fuzzy.
Perfect is really lovely and not what I expected. It’s a bit more reserved than some of the other Marc offerings, but it’s alluring in a way that keeps you coming back to sniff it again and again, to make sure you really got it. It’s gonna be nice now that we’re moving into fall but it would be equally as nice for spring and summer.
Perfect has a perspective, but it’s not so rooted in a mood that it relegates itself to one season or another. It really strikes this balance of being just enough. It’s almost like one of those “skin-like” fragrances, if those ever actually smelled good. It’s not going to enter room before you do, but it will accentuate your arrival.
It’s a fun idea that the scent is built around a flower whose origin story is one that warns of the pitfalls of loving yourself too much because, to me, it’s a scent that perfects what you’re already working with. It draws the attention to you without taking it away. It puts you front and center. It shows you off. Perfect isn’t the star of the show—it’s a finishing touch.
There are some fragrances that pull focus from everything else about the person, so strong that they reduce the wearer to their fragrance and nothing more, the way Narcissus turned from a man to a flower. Others fade away so quickly that they burn off skin before you even get to smell them from under your collar, and you’re left longing for a scent you thought you loved, like Narcissus gazing longingly into a pool.
Perfect becomes part of the bigger picture, and bolsters everything it touches. It makes an outfit better, your skin sweeter, your presence a little more palpable. To me, fragrances are an every day exercise of unabashed self-love. Scents are like makeup—we don’t wear them for other people, we wear them for ourselves. We know we don’t need them—we’re perfect on our own—but we wear them because they’re an invisible extension of ourselves. Why wouldn’t you want to share that with others?
Someone recently asked me if I was still wearing fragrance in quarantine and the question caught me by surprise because of course I am. Fragrance, if nothing else, is a love letter to yourself, a self that you are allowed to love so ruthlessly, so unapologetically, that it deserves and even invites you to celebrate it with each of your five senses.
This summer, this year, is full of uncertainty and we are still allowed to feel joy wherever we can find it, even if it means conjuring it ourselves. With all of this time spent alone over the last few months, I stripped away a lot of what I thought made me who I am, and realized, yet again, what I’m made up of. And I’m still here, and so are you. Even at my worst, if I were to catch my reflection in a pool of still water, I just might fall in love with it, and I hope you would, too. Because to the core, I am, you are, perfect.