Monday, April 5, 2010

Issey Miyake “L’Eau d’Issey” 0 (No Stars)

So I found myself for a week in Phoenix, and it got me to thinking: What does Cindy McCain smell like?

Ok. Now, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve got Cindy McCain’s picture up here, I’ve got a no-star scent to review—this is looking like it's going to be a total partisan knee-capping, right?

Ok. So. This is not what this is. Let me start out by saying that I am not going to say a single mean thing about Cindy McCain, and that I used to like "L'Eau d'Issey"—enough to own a bottle, and even to occasionally wear it, until it started giving me a headache. Which, as you will soon learn, is an important fact. I am not going to be mean to anyone in this review—we have enough political sniping in this day and age. I’ve got something else altogether to talk about.

Regular readers of LCN will not be shocked to learn that I did not vote for Cindy’s husband in the last presidential election—in fact I worked pretty hard to get the other guy elected. My feelings on John McCain have evolved from neutral-leaning-to-positive with a healthy dose of due respect, to, over the past few years, shall we say a more mixed reaction. But I’ll leave that for another day.

No, today I want to write about my evolving views on Cindy, a woman I never thought much about one way or the other until John won the nomination. Then I was asked to think about her quite a bit, and in the few short years since, I am in a perpetual state of evolving understanding of this woman-behind-the-man.

Ok. I said I wasn’t going to be mean, but this is just being honest: I did not like Cindy McCain at the outset. I mean, a size-zero fashion-plate, platinum-blonde, blue-eyed beer heiress Republican ice-queen—not the kind of woman I immediately warm up to. I thought to myself, we already had eight years of Nancy Reagan—do we really need to do this again? (And I may have mentioned somewhere my deep starry-eyed crush on Michelle Obama, who somehow manages to both project the mien of a warrior goddess and soccer mom all in one package. I mean, in the battle of potential First Ladies, it’s not really even a contest.)

But during the campaign, when I did notice Cindy, I kept coming back to one distinct impression: she seemed like the most miserable woman on earth. I mean, really. She did. She always had the perfect ramrod posture, along with impeccable wifely nodding and clapping skills; however, her face always seemed to me to be a study in stoic discomfort. God, did she ever seem like she hated being wherever she was.

During the campaign, I remember reading a profile in The New Yorker on her when she talked about what a private person she was and how much she liked her quiet life back in Arizona, and I got the distinct impression that she did not want John to win. Which is deep when you think about all that: highest stakes race on the planet, with a life-partner who will hate it if you win, and be deeply relieved if you fail.

Ok. So whether or not all that’s true, I’m just speculating. What Cindy’s real feelings were on John’s run and her potential to be First Lady of These United States, we may never know.

What make me sit upright and take notice, however, is when Cindy came out publicly last fall in People Magazine to talk about her life-long struggle with migraine headaches. She said she wanted to raise awareness about this crippling condition and how profoundly it has impacted her life. She’s raising money to find a cure. (And on that note--Cindy—I salute your commitment to charity—one of the things I will always attribute to you. I know you have worked tirelessly to raise money for Operation Smile, a nonprofit that performs free facial surgeries for children with cleft palates, cleft lips, and other facial deformities. Right on.)

In that moment, when I read that, I just said to myself: Sweet Holy Pete--That Man dragged her through all that. I mean, she talked about having to show up at fundraisers and political events, throwing up out of the window of her limo because she was in so much pain. I am grateful that I rarely get headaches, and I’ve only had 10-12 migraines in my entire life, but if you’ve never had one, something I can tell you about it right now: all you want to do is go home, get into bed, lie in the dark, and not be troubled with anything. Seriously. Seriously. It’s primal.

Again, I’m not here to say anything mean about all this, and we can never fully understand other people’s choices. I get the notion of Country First, and the importance of service, and the death-grip ambition can have on some people. But I’m just here to say that when it comes to the people that I’m close to, I choose to hold them more gently than that.

So that made me look at Cindy through different eyes—even if I couldn’t quite understand what motivated her, I saw more fully a picture of her authentic self.

Then I got a load of this image about a month ago:
Well, Holy Cow!! Whaddya know?!?!?! Cindy has come out for gay marriage!! (For my international readers, the “Proposition 8” campaign is the hotly-contested ballot measure here in California put to the voters as to whether or not gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry. The Prop 8 battle has become an important proxy war in the battle for same-sex marriage all over the country.)

So it is quite significant that the wife of the most recent Republican presidential candidate and her daughter (the fierce and compelling Meghan McCain—if she’s the face of the New Republican Youth movement—welcome! Bring it on!!) have come out so strongly and so publicly for gay marriage. (Mr. McCain still believes marriage should be between a “man” and a “woman.” I am wondering if he can clearly tell us how each and every one of God’s children fall into one of those two categories.) (Was that mean? I don’t think that was mean. I’m really trying hard not to be mean…)

So this whole posting is a study in looking harder, looking deeper, being patient with people that you don’t really know and that you’re not inclined to like. I suppose it would have been more charitable for me to assign a scent to Cindy that traced the same arc of appreciation: something that I didn’t care for initially that I came to like/love over time. But once I had the headache connotation, I thought to myself: Cindy McCain smells like Issey Miyake’s monster smash hit “L’Eau d’Issey.”

I mentioned that I once owned a bottle: I bought it some time in the mid-90s. It smelled sporty to me. I was living on a farm those days, and something about the scent said tom-boy outdoors-y-ness. (I encountered it on a scent strip in a fashion magazine, and I remember driving the full 60 miles into town to get it.) I wore it for a while, and then it just started to go south for me: I couldn’t help but notice every time I put it on I got a headache.

Now, I know there are differing stories about this scent: it’s the smell of “water”, whatever that means, or sometimes referred to as a "sharp aquatic." It is supposed to be clean, refreshing. Ok. Whatever. I liked it enough to buy it.

But when I smell it now, here’s what I wrote in my notes: “Sharp lemon rind open. Ages quickly into melted lily/vanilla lemon cream. Sticky.” I’ll tell the world right here and now, I don’t get “water”, I don’t get “crisp.” LEdI reminds me of the slightly sanitizing smell of lemon-scented hand wipes. Only gourmandy—sticky sweet. Not a good smell.

And that was the final fixed and immutable connection that married Cindy to LEdI in my mind: she often wears this specific color that I call “couture lemon yellow”:

It’s a color I always associate with her-- she wore it both on the night that she spoke at the Republican convention and the night of the concession speech, and IMHO, she kinda owns it —she looks really good in it. So you can see why I felt compelled to give her a lemon-scented headache-inspiring scent. But not in a mean way.

Thank you for your honesty, Cindy, and for your bravery, and for your service to our country, your charitable works, and your fortitude. Now that John is just a US Senator, and that is all he will ever be, I wish you from here on out days and nights without pain, the freedom to speak your mind, and a life that is as simple as you want it to be.


  1. I don't know much about McCains (I just know they are not the party I would ever vote for) but what you wrote in your post made me think of how many times it is actually the woman of the couple who is the one responsible for their success. The stronger, braver and more resilient one. Although, from my experience with men, it is the usual situation. :)
    Btw, I agree on L'Ead de Issey and still don't understand how is it possible that so many people like it...

  2. I don't know Cindy McCain either, and while she digs with the other foot to me politically, I sympathise over the migraines, from which I do occasionally suffer, as well as umpteen tension headaches every month. And Eau d'Issey is a sure-fire trigger. However did this scent come to symbolise the "clean fresh minimalism" of the 90s beats me. It has the consistency of a freshly vacated shower cubicle with added peony and rose and something melonesque that isn't listed in the official notes, and general stickiness as you say.

  3. "So you can see why I felt compelled to give her a lemon-scented headache-inspiring scent. But not in a mean way."


  4. Interesting post. At the start, I had no idea who Cindy McCain is but I was drawn in & by the end, I was actually thinking that she sounds interesting in an unexpected way.

    On a different note, I'm surprised that California doesn't already allow same sex marriage!! For some reason, I assumed it would be one of the first places in the world to legalize it. Shows how wrong you can be.

  5. Brava! What a great path to where you went.

    Sympathetic vibrations on quite a few fronts here, but I'll stick to the two anchor poles: migraines and L'eau de Issey. I've got 'em both. Not happy to still have either. And how WEIRD is that...L'eau is sometimes a potential headache trigger for me, too! But--and this is important--I'll never give it away. Because that was the first full bottle of perfume I bought in this era of my life, and the fourth one ever. A bottle of Anais Anais in my teens, a bottle of KL on the cusp of twenties, and a Carolina Herrera for my wedding. Otherwise...nothing. Until the messy fall down the rabbit hole. And the bottle of L'eau d'Issey I bought for myself. At full price. It was a Big Deal. And I did like it at the time. It was a gateway of a sort; I don't know if I could have gotten to my current location without it.

    Remember how Barbara Bush quietly sat on her views about abortion while George HW was in office? Cindy and her views on gay marriage remind me of that. Neither pair are the first nor last couple to find themselves disagreeing on a rather inflammatory issue. But when one needs to navigate the public eye that's always compelling for me, watching how different couples navigate territory that's as old as the hills, but unique to each individual that faces it.

    I think that most people are deeper than they might seem.

    I'm not sure that L'eau d'Issey is.


  6. Wow. This was...this was a great post. And once again, I share so many of your thoughts -- re: my movement toward a 'mixed reaction' to McCain himself (you, me, John Stewart, and a WHOLE LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE), to incredible sympathy for Cindy, to fascination with Meghan and whether she will ultimately follow her own values or collapse under the weight of conservative expectation...

    Didn't know about the migraine piece. Did know about her philanthropy and service. She never gave me the "ice queen" vibe, but then I have known lots of military/law enforcement wives in my life and I think it takes a special kind of person to be willing to love someone who goes to work every day and might die, and knows that, and does it anyway, and you just have to accept it to be part of their lives. It ultimately means accepting that the other person is committed at a fundamental level to something that means more to them than you do, even as a spouse or child. It's a calling. I can respect that, even if it's not a life I'd choose for myself, and I have immense respect for the women (and more than a few men) who choose to shoulder the burden of being their partners.

    No, for me the pain in that relationship is the totally craptastic way he treats her a lot of the time. I look at the stuff that he's done to her in public, the name calling, etc. and I just pity her. (See for some examples). Their relationship, at minimum, is emotionally abusive and I really have a lot of sympathy for her.

    Lastly, I just received a sample of Issey Miyake L'Eau D'Issey last week. Maybe I'll write a little something something this week. You've inspired me. :)

  7. I know better than to talk sex, politics or religion with my work superiors. I did it anyway because I thought we were talking fashion. During the presidential campaign I said I liked Cindy McCain's style of dress more than Michelle Obama's. I thought and still think that fashion-wise Cindy understands what works for her and knows the art of simplicity and for me, her style is aspirational. First Lady Michelle has grown in style since the campaign days. She's less Gap and wears more American designer labels. Also, her teeth are suddey too perfect and that look's a bit too ordinary and lacking in personality IMHO.

    L'Eau d'Issay has been on my to-try list. I'm anticipating it to be a bit akin to Cindy's style--colorful, clean, mature in the best sense. If it falls short of that at the least it'll be citrus-y/tart and perhaps light. Kinda nice for summer...but still it's gonna need SOMETHING to make me buy it.

  8. Howdy Ines!! You are so right about the woman-behind-the-man dynamic, and that's exactly why I wanted to write this piece.

    However, I won't go into it in depth here, but it's pretty clear that John McCain, a war hero who was shot down over Vietnam-- imprisoned and tortured for over five years-- and here's the kicker part for me-- offered a shot at being sent home due to his rank and his family connections, but said "no" following his Navy code-- was a strong and courageous man, beyond what many of us can comprehend. That, however, is not the only fact that defines him.

  9. ~FS So nice to see you're back!!

    Yes!! I am so with you on the 90s "clean" scents. Why someone would want to smell like a laundromat is ever beyond me. Hmmmm... "melonesque"-- By George, I think you are right!! What does it mean when they make the claim that it's supposed to smell like water?

    And on that note-- anyone smell the new Serge Lutens "L'Eau"-- less lemon, more chlorinated, but it's the same bloody stuff...

  10. ~BF Are you laughing because that was mean? I wasn't trying to be mean... :)

  11. ~Hi thre, Beautiful Things-- I've been meaning to look in on you-- I know it's been a while...

    Gay marriage in California. Oh, goodness. Well, the short answer is a few years back the courts ruled it was legal, and a whole bunch OF MY FRIENDS got married, and then they put the issue on the ballot, and it was struck down by the voters in a little power move known as "The Tyranny of the Majority." (This is a bit of a sore spot in American history-- just ask women, black people, and now gays.)

    Now the courts have ruled that those who were married in that 9-month interval can remain married, but other than that, same-sex marriage is not allowed in California. Half-assed ruling to the max.

    50 years from now, we will look back on this and scratch our heads as to why anyone even gave a damn, but here we are, in the messy muddle of "progress."

  12. ~ScentSelf -- "I'm not sure that L'Eau d'Issey is." You're funny!

    So whata ya' know? The four scents that dominated my 20s and 30s were-- in chronological order: "Anais-Anais" (Man did I ever think I was cool with that stuff!), "Fendi", "Coco", and then, in my 30s, "L'Eau d'Issey."

    You bring up Barbara-- I remember Laura, ever so quiet while Rome burned, but when asked directly, she did intimate that she was pro-choice on abortion. You know, you and Diana both bring up the psychological makeup of public folks and how different they have to be than the rest of us-- you're right-- you never really know what folks are thinking.

  13. Howdy D Thanks for the kind words-- it means a lot to me coming from you...

    John McCain- Right!?!?!!? Gawd (shaking my head.) But yes, the whole family continues to challenge and fascinate me, and as the women emerge, I see signs of hope and renewal.

    D, you bring up a most excellent point, which is the unique dynamic that holds military families together-- so different from what I was raised with or regularly exposed to.

    And yet, you don't let John off the hook-- I, too , have read/heard terrible things about emotional abuse in their relationship. For a long time, I dismissed it as Internet-generated horror gossip, until I read something witnessed by someone I had gone to school with-- an academic and a serious person not prone to making sh*t up, and it really sobered me.

    As I said before, I hope, as John's career comes to a close some time in the next decade and being his wife isn't the main thing that defines her, Cindy can spread her wings a bit.

  14. Princess Glee-- Well, I think you bring up an interesting point when talking fashion smack-downs. Cindy is blessed with the figure to pull off all of those classic suits, and she looks great in them. I'm built a lot more like Michelle-- big-boned, with a waist, hips, and butt. She's an inspiration to me, since so many women in high't shaped like us.

    Definitely hunt down and try LEdI-- so many people love it-- it's a touchstone scent, massively influential. It's not to my taste, but it's a huge hit for a reason. ;)

  15. Have I understood you correctly regarding gay marriage in California - it was legal, then it was put to the ballot and stopped, (which must leave loads of people in some weird legal no-man's land)?

    Is that legal? Wouldn't that weaken the legal system to allow something, then go, mmm... not sure about this so lets stop it and see what people think?

  16. Yes-- your summary is correct. And apparently, it is legal. California pioneered the system of legislating through ballot measures-- putting issues to the public and letting them decide. Funny part is, stuff gets on the ballots and is voted on all the time that isn't constitutional, so then the courts have to rule on the new laws. So it's just a big mess.

    As for the 18,000 or so same-sex couples who did get married in that legal window, for now the courts are treating them like everyone else-- may it remain so.

  17. Ohhhh.... love this post. You are incredible. I know nothing of the perfume, but when I saw the Cindy prop 8 ads, I too wanted to give her another look, a nod. You have done that for me, and I appreciate you for it.
    Likewise loved your interpretation of her ability to be a wife to JM, to a guy who doesn't always seem to be the most caring and careful. Good for you!

  18. L'Eau D'Issey is one of those fragrances that everybody seemed to buy in the 90s - me included. I don't know anything about Cindy Mccain - but what a fascinating post. Great to learn about US politicians and the people surrounding them.

  19. Hello Mrs. Jonsie!! Not always the most caring and careful-- that feels about right.

    Yah-- I know I'm going through a detox phase in this heated, horrible political environment-- I had a lot of anger and a lot of bile at a lot of things over the past decade or so, but I am realizing that I need to hold people I don't agree with a little more gently myself. We've *got* to get our political discourse back to a more civil tone. I pray every day that it doesn't take a huge act of violence to press the reset button.

  20. ~SignatureScent Right-- LEdI just caught the public's imagination-- no two ways about it! So influential-- I still smell it (or the men's version, or one of it's 1,000 spawn) in the elevators of my building all the time.