She was just passing through, on her way to Alaska on her motorcycle with her black-and-tan Chihuahua dog tucked into a sidecar that served as his doghouse. I can’t remember her name, only what she looked like: a tall, big-boned woman with a wide, smiling face—her long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail—wearing leather chaps over her jeans and a leather vest over her denim shirt. Her motorcycle was tricked out in all kinds of things: leather fringe, chrome-studded leather guards, a couple of those little American flags on sticks, attached to the back of the bike where they fluttered in the wind, and a handmade sign on the front that said “Alaska or bust.” She was an immensely attractive woman—there were dimples in the corners of her mouth when she smiled—and her build, sturdy leaning towards thick, worked in her favor. She looked like she was built to ride in the saddle of that motorcycle.
I was working for a small weekly newspaper in upstate New York, my second job in the six years I lived there and my favorite job ever, perhaps because it was a kind of newspaper I‘d never encountered before and was most certainly a relic, even in those days, the mid-eighties. In addition to items most people consider newsworthy, this paper had a fair amount of “social” news, owing to its graying readership, and it regularly published items that read like so: “Mrs. Elsie Wood and her niece, Miss Josephine Shawley, attended an afternoon tea and bridal shower at the Woodstock home of her cousin on the last Saturday of April. Tea and assorted sandwiches were served….” It wasn’t that I found the social items in and of themselves particularly endearing, it was that I loved how this quaintness extended to the staff of the newspaper and to the way the whole affair was put together. Oddly enough, I didn’t write for the paper but did everything else: from selling and designing ads, to being in charge of the newspaper layout—which was not done on a computer but by pasting everything up with the aid of light tables—to proofreading columns, and even to managing the paper boys and mailing out subscriptions. Don’t ask me why I found all of this so exciting, I just did. I loved staying at my job until 10:30 pm on Tuesday nights, which was when we “put the newspaper to bed” before it went to the printers in the dawn hours of the next morning. And working elbow to elbow with the editor, a sixty-year-old country gentleman who loved Manhattans and regaled me with his stories from a lifetime of working at the paper. Then having the entire next morning off to do as I pleased until the freshly-printed papers arrived back from the press in the early afternoon, all smelling of ink and ready to go.
It’s funny to think that when the motorcycle lady rolled into our parking lot, her story of riding to Alaska, from whatever Southern state she rolled out of originally, was deemed important enough to be a feature story, yet it was. This smiling Amazon in leather with her tiny-dog sidekick charmed the country-gentleman editor. So much so that, rather than assigning her story to someone else, he wrote it himself on the spot and asked his best reporter (who usually wrote the features) to take a series of photos to accompany it.
Of course, she thrilled the rest of us too, being that free-as-the-wind American dream that each of us had squarely tucked up in our heads but had never taken out to contemplate, for all of life’s valid reasons. The motorcycle lady didn’t have a husband or kids, and she didn’t mind looking for odd jobs that she could do on the way to help support her trip. (The oddest of odd jobs, at least in terms of availability, because she was intent on moving on, and how many restaurants only need a dishwasher for one or two nights?) Who knows whether she even made it to Alaska—at some point she might have turned around and headed back home—but that thought never crossed any of our minds, and if it did, I’m not sure we would have cared. She was living the dream we wanted to believe in, and everything about her (including her pint-sized dog, clad in his own leather gear) seemed larger than life.
Over the past couple months I’ve been wearing the gorgeous plum-leather fragrance Boxeuses, by Serge Lutens. Boxeuses is French for “lady boxers” (yep, women who box), but when I wear it I have a hard time conjuring up such an image. The fragrance is leathery, yes, but it’s a little too fun, a little too breezy to make me think of a lady boxer, or anyone in the heat of combat. This leather has a green-tinged (almost absinthe-like) anise coolness on initial application that spurs the image of my motorcycle lady to come riding into my consciousness. Give it a few minutes, and this leather is as fringed and tricked-up as her ride, with its dried-plum yumminess enhanced by a hint of chocolaty patchouli. If I were to use only one sentence to describe Boxeuses, I’d call it leather in the guise of a Fruit Roll-Up (that densely chewy, pectin-based confection approved by mothers for inclusion in school lunch bags because it fulfills the requirement of “fruit” while being conveniently portable).
Leather is one of my favorite notes in perfume. Sometimes it reminds me of men (for whatever reason its a scent that triggers masculine associations in my brain); other times it reminds me of freedom (because of saddles and horses), as it does here. Green-tinged, slightly woody, and sweetly prune-like, Boxeuses is one far-out-of-the-ordinary leather perfume that tugs at my heartstrings with its free-wheeling beauty.
Serge Lutens Boxeuses eau de parfum can be purchased from the official Serge Lutens website, as well as from Barneys.com, where a 75-ml bell jar is currently priced at $300. My review is based on a decant I received from my blogging friend, Ines, of All I Am – A Redhead.
NOTE: This post is reprinted from my other site, Suzanne’s Perfume Journal, where it originally appeared on April 17, 2011. The story is true: I can see that woman in my mind as if it was yesterday, and I still wonder whether she made it to Alaska (and if so, did she stay or motor on?).
Image credits: Yamaha motorcycle is from Motorcyclecruiser.com; photo of Serge Lutens Boxeuses is from Fragrantica.com.