Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Preferred Fragrance: Here We Go Again

It feels like Groundhog Day here at FirstNerve Manor: it’s snowing again and we’re reading another lawsuit against Preferred Fragrance, Inc. This time the case was filed by Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, sister companies owned by L Brands, Inc. (formerly Limited Brands). They allege trademark infringement by Preferred Fragrance and its corporate owners, as well as by Ezriel Polatsek, the former chief honcho of PF. (The new owners of PF fired him for cause last fall and are now suing him themselves. He’s suing them back.)

At issue are the VS Fantasies collection of fragrances (Vanilla Lace, Coconut Passion, Mango Temptation, etc.) and BBW’s Signature Collection (Pink Chiffon, Sweet Pea, Black Amethyst, etc.) To take just one example cited in the lawsuit, PF’s Vanilla Blossom “is positioned to compete directly against” VS’s Vanilla Lace by copying bottle shape, label design, and name. (Take a look at the images above and see what you think.)

Then there’s the matter of VS Coconut Passion versus PF Coconut Dream, VS Mango Temptation versus PF Mango Seduction, and so on.

According to the Federal Court filing on February 6, in the Southern District of Ohio, the Preferred Fragrance “business model involves copying the trade dress and trademarks associated with successful competitive products to gain a foothold in the market by trading on the reputations and goodwill established by others.” That’s standard boilerplate for trademark infringement claims. Adding some spice to the mix is the VS/BBW assertion that the defendants are “recidivist infringers” [Ouch!—Ed.] and that Ezriel Polatsek “exercised ultimate control over every aspect of the Infringing Products, from their design, development and naming to advertising, promotion, distribution and sales.” [Sounds like a Batman villain: The Infringer—Ed.]

VS/BBW want PF to stop producing and promoting the allegedly infringing goods; to destroy the remaining stock; to cough up all profits derived therefrom; to pay court costs and . . . oh yeah, treble damages. Plus they want a jury trial.

Looks like we’re going to have to order more popcorn along with this week’s shipment of rock salt. Stay tuned. Same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Late Sixties Version of The Feelies

Morton Heilig is considered by some to be one of the technological pioneers of virtual reality. Jon Turi wrote yesterday about Heilig’s 1962 3-D Sensorama simulator in Engadget’s Time Machine column. Turi mentions Heilig’s concept of a cinema-sized, multisensory Experience Theater that included a smell component. Given my fascination with the previous technologies of Smell-O-Vision and AromaRama, documented in What the Nose Knows, I took a look at Heilig’s U.S. Patent 3,469,837, issued on September 30, 1969. Heilig begins his description of the smell component with this observation:
Aroma systems without 3-D have been attempted in the past but they have always failed because of the psychological paradox of smelling a flat two-dimensional image. Odor implies a physical reality—a palpable presence—thus, the object providing the aroma should preferentially be three-dimensional, if a satisfactory natural impression is to be made on the spectator.
This is a questionable assertion, to say the least. I have never heard of the “psychological paradox” of the smelly flat image, and in all my research on the topic I have never seen it cited as a reason for the failure of Smell-O-Vision or AromaRama. I also disagree that smell always implies a palpable presence. Garlic on someone’s breath does not imply that garlic is still present and available for you to eat. The remembrance of someone long dead triggered by the smell of an old shirt does not imply his physical presence. And so on.

In the patent, Heilig describes two ways of delivering smell to a person seated in the Experience Theater. The first involved tubes that deliver a scented air stream to the person’s face. This is an invidualized version of Smell-O-Vision which delivered scents through tubes on the back of theater seats. Heilig’s concept also includes a suction/exhaust feature that carries the scent away from the viewer and out of the theater. Here’s what he says about this feature:
One of the serious problems with other attempts to add aromas to films has been the contamination of the theater air with one odor and the inability to clear the air of this aroma before the next one arrived.
Here Heilig overgeneralizes. Scent built-up was a problem for the shoddily designed AromaRama; it was not an issue for the more finely-tuned Smell-O-Vision system. People tend to exaggerate the residual odor problem because they overestimate how much scent is required to provide create a successful impression—it doesn’t really take a lot.

Heilig’s second idea for scent delivery is a cartridge that fits into the theater seat. It contains a dozen chambers with scent-saturated pellets; a solenoid system triggered moves the correct scent into a position where it intercepts the air stream to the view. Yes, it would have been kludgy; and imagine the clickety-clacking as a hundred solenoids simultaneously move their aroma cartridges into position

Still in all, I have to admit that Heilig wasn’t afraid to think big.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Literary Smellscapes: A Jack London Vignette

One of my favorite places in California is Jack London’s former ranch in Glen Ellen, up in Sonoma County. I love the setting—the serenity, the views, the scents—and can see why the place meant so much to him. Even the burned ruins of Wolf House are haunting and beautiful. Another house serves as a museum and is full of evocative stuff from his adventurous life. I’m finally reading The Road, a 1907 memoir of his hobo days in the 1890s. The prose is rough-and-ready but the stories are vivid. Here London gets his point across with some olfactory, even multisensory, imagery:
Often I think over my tramp days, and ever I marvel at the swift succession of pictures that flash up in my memory. It matters not where I begin to think; any day of all the days is a day apart, with a record of swift-moving pictures all its own. For instance, I remember a sunny summer morning in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and immediately comes to my mind the auspicious beginning of the day — a “set- down” with two maiden ladies, and not in their kitchen, but in their dining room, with them beside me at the table. We ate eggs, out of egg-cups! It was the first time I had ever seen egg-cups, or heard of egg-cups! I was a bit awkward at first, I’ll confess; but I was hungry and unabashed. I mastered the egg-cup, and I mastered the eggs in a way that made those two maiden ladies sit up.  
Why, they ate like a couple of canaries, dabbling with the one egg each they took, and nibbling at tiny wafers of toast. Life was low in their bodies; their blood ran thin; and they had slept warm all night. I had been out all night, consuming much fuel of my body to keep warm, beating my way down from a place called Emporium, in the northern part of the state. Wafers of toast! Out of sight! But each wafer was no more than a mouthful to me — nay, no more than a bite. It is tedious to have to reach for another piece of toast each bite when one is potential with many bites. ( . . . ) 
At any rate, it gave my tongue time to wag. Those two maiden ladies, with their pink-and-white complexions and gray curls, had never looked upon the bright face of adventure. As the “Tramp-Royal” would have it, they had worked all their lives “on one same shift.” Into the sweet scents and narrow confines of their uneventful existence I brought the large airs of the world, freighted with the lusty smells of sweat and strife, and with the tangs and odors of strange lands and soils. And right well I scratched their soft palms with the callous on my own palms — the half-inch horn that comes of pull-and-haul of rope and long and arduous hours of caressing shovel-handles. This I did, not merely in the braggadocio of youth, but to prove, by toil performed, the claim I had upon their charity.
Jack London
The Road (1907)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ISDP: Getting Chummy

By the time this post goes up in the desolate early hours of February 13th, the first flakes of yet another Nor’easter will be coating the warped shingles atop Firstnerve Manor. The grounds are already under a foot of rock-hard snow so this accumulation could keep us indoors, huddled around the kerosene space heater, for another week or so. (Yeah, carbon monoxide risk, yadda yadda. Buck up. What’s a few cortical layers when the alternative is frostbite?) Needless to say, with two-thirds of the country blanketed by snow, these are times that offer scant material for FN’s highly popular ISDP feature. Not surprisingly, this month’s sole item comes from the ever sunny climes of Southern California.

Foul smell leads to discovery of body” reads the headline in the San Diego Union-Tribune. The source of the odor was apparently the remains of a man whose death the police regard as suspicious. Also found in the apartment in Oceanside, California, was a woman in her 50s who was unconscious. No details are available, but the circumstances could pose a vexing metaphysical issue concerning eligibility for the Norman Bates Award™. Specifically, does one need to be conscious while living with the malodorous corpse?

Since one item doesn’t really make for a satisfying installment of ISDP, we feel obliged to serve up some heartier intellectual fare. Such as, for example, this opening sentence from a November, 2013 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which we’d offer under the heading of “No shit, Sherlock” if FN had such a feature:
“Carrion smell is strongly repugnant to humans . . .”
You don’t say. (Parenthetically, can one correctly refer to the odor of a decomposing human body as “carrion smell”? Or is that phrase (subparenthetically) reserved for the scent of non-human remains?)

At any rate, the article in question, “High-affinity olfactory receptor for the death-associated odor cadaverine,” is a collaborative effort by researchers at Harvard and the Universität zu Köln. [What, did they think it would look odd to be listed on this paper as from the University of Cologne?—Ed.]

According to the Harvard Cologne team, carrion smell
. . .is mainly carried by two small aliphatic diamines, putrescine and cadaverine, which are generated by bacterial decarboxylation of the basic amino acids ornithine and lysine.
Well, duh.

Working with zebrafish, who avoid the scent of small aliphatic diamines like . . . well, like we do, the scientists found cadaverine is detected by a single olfactory receptor, the trace amine-associated receptor 13c. Furthermore, TAAR13c “can also be activated by decaying fish extracts.”

It’s just a hunch, but we predict that a lot of science fair projects will be using the class goldfish that died during the snow days.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Charles Darwin: A Tropical Smellscape

Today is the 205th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. He was a keen observer of nature and his descriptions often reveal an awareness of smell. During the voyage of HMS Beagle, Darwin visited Callao, Peru on July 19, 1835.
Callao is a filthy, ill-built, small seaport. The inhabitants, both here and at Lima, present every imaginable shade of mixture, between European, Negro, and Indian blood. They appear a depraved, drunken set of people. The atmosphere is loaded with foul smells, and that peculiar one, which may be perceived in almost every town within the tropics, was here very strong. The fortress, which withstood Lord Cochrane’s long siege, has an imposing appearance. But the President, during our stay, sold the brass guns, and proceeded to dismantle parts of it. The reason assigned was, that he had not an officer to whom he could trust so important a charge. He himself had good reason for thinking so, as he had obtained the presidentship by rebelling while in charge of this same fortress. After we left South America, he paid the penalty in the usual manner, by being conquered, taken prisoner, and shot.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Literary Smellscapes: American Noir

My Sherlock Holmes post smoked out commenter Melissa, who’s been reading Ellery Queen novels from the 40s and 50s and finding perfume references galore. (Being a vintage fan she anoints herself with the scent in question before reading on.) I brought up how Dashiell Hammett invoked a “chrypre” scent to impugn the manhood of Joel Cairo—the character played by Peter Lorre opposite Bogart’s Sam Spade—in The Maltese Falcon. I already had my next move planned—a post about smoke and scent from The Big Sleep—but Melissa got the jump on me in the comments. Well, here it is anyway.

Raymond Chandler’s novel came out in 1939 and the movie followed in 1946, with Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe and Charles Waldron as General Sternwood (pictured above).
Sternwood: You may smoke too. I can still enjoy the smell of it. Nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy. You’re looking, sir, at a very dull survival of a very gaudy life.

( . . . )

Sternwood: The orchids are an excuse for the heat. You like orchids?

Marlowe: Not particularly.

Sternwood: Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men. Their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.
Okay, the orchid bit is a little stagey, but ya’ gotta love a debauched, elderly invalid indulging his vices by proxy. Not to mention the final frame of the movie:

Saturday, February 8, 2014


“Certainly the incident was unusual. What were your next steps? You examined the room, I presume, to see if the intruder had left any traces—any cigar-end or dropped glove or hairpin or other trifle?”

“There was nothing of the sort.”

“No smell?”

“Well, we never thought of that.”

“Ah, a scent of tobacco would have been worth a great deal to us in such an investigation.”

Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventure of the Naval Treaty
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

American Smellscapes: Portlandia

“We save the heads, we dry them out, we sell them.”
Just one problem: “they stink now.”
Says the farmer:
“If you don’t like it, don’t live in the [expletive] country next to a farm.”