Scent a Celebrity Series: The Grey Gardens Edition

Scenting the Beales of Grey Gardens
Scenting the Beales of Grey Gardens

“The Scent a Celebrity Series is my vain attempt at picking perfumes for those who don’t know any better, yes I mean celebrities. Let’s face it, most celebrities are incapable of choosing decent clothing, boyfriends, girlfriends, movies, (insert-celebrity-mistake-here) let alone having the ability to make decisions about something as important as their scent – that’s where I come in. Never fear my dear schlebs, I will ensure that you are appropriately scented, all you need to do is listen.”

If you haven’t seen the Maysles Brother’s 1975 documentary ‘Grey Gardens’, please click the following link and come back you have educated yourself. You’re welcome. In lieu of watching the film, I shall provide a quick summary. Grey Gardens was (and still is) the name of the East Hamptons mansion once owned by the Bouvier Beales and inhabited by the mother/daughter duo that was Big Edie and Little Edie. After many years of neglect, both the Edies and the Grey Gardens estate were found to be in a dilapidated state, and in need of lots of care and attention. After a load of hoo-hah in the press and calls for their eviction, along came the Maysles brothers who spent a number of months documenting the lives of these two reclusive, yet utterly eccentric women in this strangest of settings. Grey Gardens the movie, is the result of their labours.

Grey Gardens has become a cult classic over time with Little Edie, who is easily the star of the show, remaining a fashion icon long after her death. There’s tons of memorable quotes  (“he always compliments me on the way I do my corn”, anyone?) and fun moments, but the overarching feeling is one of sadness. Watching Grey Gardens, the sense of loss both Big and Little Edie feel for their past life, wealthier times when they were members of New York’s high society and not shunned shut-ins, is palpable. It’s safe to say that the longing for the glory days and the constant rumination over missed opportunities, and what could have been, is painful to watch, but the Edies have a strong sense of survival, and they get through. As Little Edie would put it, they are ‘staunch characters’. That’s ‘S-T-A-U-N-C-H’. Let’s scent them.

Big Edie wears Angelique by Papillon Artisan Perfumes
Big Edie wears Angelique by Papillon Artisan Perfumes

“My body is a very precious place. It’s concentrated ground.”

– Big Edie

Let’s kick off with Big Edie, the eccentric matriarch of the Bouvier Beale family. Edith ‘Big Edie’ Ewing Bouvier Beale was a New York socialite and amateur singer, not to mention the aunt of Jackie blooming Kennedy Onassis! Due to her ill health, our dear Big Edie spends the majority of the documentary in bed and/or in a state of undress. Where her daughter, Little Edie (who has had no choice but to move in with her) cannot stand the surrounding squalor (her protests of this particular subject dominate many a scene), Big Edie appears to revel in it. She is never happier than when she is in bed, surrounded by cats, old photographs and ice cream, straight from the tub.

But how can we scent Big Edie? Do we choose something that represents her antagonistic side? The side that seems to get on Little Edie’s nerves at every turn? Or do we pick something that represents her failed career as a singer? (L’Artisan’s Tea for Two springs to mind…). I’d say that the best part of Big Edie to scent would be her faded beauty. In one scene in particular, the Edies pour over old photographs of Big Edie, many of which show her as beautiful and glamorous in a classic 1920s manner, and listen to (and sing along to) some of her old records. Big Edie’s longing for the past is what gets her through.

One perfume that perfectly captures old school glamour, but in an unusual and intriguing manner is Angélique by Papillon Artisan Perfumes. Angélique is an off-centre iris fragrance painted in pastel shades. It gives the impression of a faded sepia photograph and boasts a peach note that is melancholic and cold. In Grey Gardens, Big Edie is frail but ultimately, she refuses to be a shadow of her former self. Sure, her physicality is different and she’s not living the life she used to, but she’s an optimist (Little Edie however, isn’t quite so happy about their situation) and her bold character always remains strong, and that’s exactly what Angélique is too – a bold character.

Little Edie wears Tralala by Penhaligon's
Little Edie wears Tralala by Penhaligon’s

“It’s very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. You know what I mean? It’s awfully difficult.”

– Little Edie

Little Edie is easily one of the most fascinating and loveable character to ever have graced the annals of documentary film making. Eccentric, uniquely fashioned, cooky and full of infinitely quotable one-liners, Little Edith Bouvier Beale was a former model and debutante that became an unlikely fashion icon following the success of Grey Gardens. Little Edie may have been living in a dilapidated house with her ailing mother, and more cats than the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (not to mention the raccoons), and she may have lost her hair to alopecia, but she still believed that she was beautiful (and she was). What’s more, nobody could quite pull of a headscarf and a magnifying glass quite like our Edie.

For the iconic Little Edie I have picked an extroverted fragrance that loves to perform – Tralala by Penhaligon’s and Meadham Kirchhoff. Tralala is the olfactory equivalent of a good old rummage through the contents of a dusty old dressing up box, a chest that I’m sure Little Edie would have spent a great deal of time browsing through, before picking out a suitable outfit for the day and proclaiming; “This is the best thing to wear for today, you understand”. She’d fashion it into a skirt-come-cape and rock it like she was on the cover of Vogue magazine.

Tralala and Little Edie share characters. They’re both ridiculously over the top, with one fizzing with boozy aldehydes and dancing amongst a downpour of party balloons fashioned into the shapes of flowers, whilst the other makes dramatic statements about being fighting with her mother over a kimono and parades around with a small American flag (I’ll leave you to figure out which is which). But it’s not just the O, the T and the T that Tralala and Little Edie share, it’s also a disconcerting sense of sadness – a feeling that perhaps, they were both destined for greatness, but neither quite made it.

Join the Discussion!

Have you seen Grey Gardens? How would you scent the wonderfully eccentric characters of Little & Big Edie?

Let me know in the comments box below!