One of the most intense and emotional moments in a VERY intense and emotional episode was the conversation between Candy (Angelica Ross) and her mother (Patrice Johnson Chevannes). In particular, a memory from the past is brought up: as a young boy, Candy wore her mother’s perfume, a symbol of the “silent pact” she thought was between them. Despite her assumptions and hopes, though, Candy got rejected by her family for being a transgender woman and this felt like an unbearable betrayal.
This scene reminds me of another emotional moment from Paris is Burning (1990) by Jennie Livingstone: Pepper LaBeija, mother of the House of LaBeija, explains how her parents found out she dressed as a girl. Her mother found a fur coat in her closet and realised it was hers from the perfume on it, Tuvaché Jungle Gardenia. The gendered notion of perfume – now almost completely gone, thank God – could really give away a lot about oneself, sometimes with horrible consequences.
The perfume worn by Vivica and Candy is another strong symbol: Revlon Charlie was launched in 1973 and marked the beginning of a new era in perfumery. It was a fresh chypre fragrance, arguably one of the first feminist fragrances: as Barbara Herman explains in her book Scent & Subversion, “it was marketed to American women during an era when feminist consciousness was at its pop-culture height.” No wonder that Candy saw that specific perfume, worn by the most important woman in her life, as a “gate to femininity”.
The advertising campaign of Charlie was about independence, gorgeousness and sexiness: as the slogan said, it was a “gorgeous, sexy-young fragrance”, embodied by statuesque model/actress Shelley Hack wearing trousers.