The Smell of the Sixties

I can still smell the sixties sometimes. It had a very particular aerosol type of smell which seemed clean yet overbearing. It was very gay. It was as if one were sniffing Aquanet, new Crayolas, and new Michelin tires while under the influence of a severe sugar rush on the Los Angeles Freeway. The hypnotic scent of Tide detergent, which was to remain as one of my fixations from that era, had the smell of the sixties. I think Tide was so meaningful to me because it had, like Felix and Spic ‘n’ Span, those graduated concentric rings of gleams around the bold “Forward Look”-type logo (which somehow meant some sort of salvation from goodness knows what).  Virgil Exner, who invented the “Forward Look” in the fifties probably hadn’t realized at the time that it would be partially due to his foresight and imagination that products such as Tide, Whisk, and zillions of other daily design experiences would have so much meaning in a six-year old’s life. I sometimes have to face the surreal fact that I was a victim of smell manipulation.  I was twisted around the little finger of cosmetic smell impressions that I was being force-fed, or force-smelled in this case.  Secretly, for years, I had my own type of highs.  When the drug thing was just beginning as a teen, my understanding of it differed greatly from what it actually was. Kologne Kiddles by Mattel, would send me into outer space with the synthetic smell of lilac, strawberry, and rose. The heady experience of a Kola Kiddle, with its sweet odour of purple or pink rubber as only Mattel can manufacture blended with addictive aromatic perfection disguised as cola and diet root beer smells.  Later, with Kosmic Kiddles, I experienced complete harmony with my being, nirvana, as the purple and lime green space saucers had intergalactic homo sex orgies with Upsy-Downsyland creatures. Can anyone deny that the smell of Liddle Kiddles was not totally captivating, hypnotic, enthralling, and addictive?  My harmonic balance would capitulate into the dimension of throbbing pheromonic ecstasy when triggered only by a sniff of a Liddle Kiddle.  However, this was my own experience with ingesting anything artificial. Don’t forget that this was the era when aerosol pizza, chocolate chip cookies, and some type of sweet smell that had the vague title of “floral” were having their big moment in cans. It was so…homo. And, as a side note, I must say, teen boys in the sixties, when they wore any cologne, not only was it homo, but it drove me quite up the wall with some kind of longing. I didn’t know what that longing was, but I wanted to be there! Young man smell with the fake-est smell in the world, surely God did that as some perverse homo trick.

oral mastery

Camp, the British word which defies description, but which can generally be defined as the lovechild between glamour and irony and can have a multitude of manifestations would be something I fell naturally into and upon, without the slightest bit of resistance. I found out through the endless bombardment of my very elitist intellectual gay men friends whom I frequented that I embodied it, but then, according to George Melly, a camp creature never knows one is camp. I also had now the chance to hear in a concentrated way more camp language as many of the dealers were British. I’d heard this strange talk in England, and did not understand any of it though I’d become more and more familiar with this jargon as I grew up. At this landmark show, I learned a few more basics of double entendres and the British homosexual slang known as Polari which incidentally uses a lot of Yiddish. The exhibition was fantabulosa, no naffs to be seen for miles. I zhooshed myself up and I minced the alleys ogling the zhooshy merch, a pocket full of handbag. (The exhibition was wonderful, not a straight person seen for miles, I tarted myself up and walked the alleys of the show, eyeing the showy merchandise, my pocket full of money). Its funny, most people don’t realize how much Polari is used in popular English language. Chicken, drag and naff are just three of the many words which have crossed over into everyday language. While I was swanning around thinking I was a Clara Bow “It” boy, I dated art dealers and collectors alike whom I’d met at this pivotal show. It was all very 1920s “The Plastic Age”, “Hoop-La”  and “Mantrap” films in my mind and in my actions I guess. It was around this time I did an artwork I thought quite clever. I took all my bakelite bracelets and strung them and wore them as a necklace. I still have it and occasionally add a bangle. This got me quite a lot of attention in my incarnation of the “Anti-Bourgeoise” woman I had become. Infact, my personality was entirely based on by that age, a capricious 1930s Schiaparelli woman, like Bettina Bergery and I decided my inner “Anti-Bourgeoise” woman would devour and seduce men, notably bourgeoise men with artistic pretentions. The “Anti-Bourgeoise”, I should mention sucked cock or aspired to it. The bourgeoise woman on the other hand most often loathed that kind of oral mastery.

Barbie versus Bild Lilli or the Bourgeoise versus the Anti-Bourgeoise (myself)

Lemon Pledge Very Pretty – 1966

That said and done: Barbie was the ultimate bourgeoise nightmare, a Mad Men classic. My fascination with Barbie was entirely based on the subconscious desire to seduce and then hurt the sense of her raison d’etre, the bourgeoise ethic. I was fascinated with Barbie. At first it was like love, blinding and overwhelming, only later deep within me did I understand it to be horror. With an entire mini-household at my disposal, all I lacked was, as the coined phrase goes, “woman of the house” which incidentally made no sense to me at all. Why did it have to be a “mommy” type? I wanted to do all the dusting, cleaning and feeding of the puppets and dolls but I had no desire to actually be an actual woman or to for the most part, dress like one. While one may think it was my own desire to be a happy housewife, unbeknown to me I was inside already aligned with my “Anti-Bourgeoise” soul. Exteriorly, I wanted to re-arrange furniture, decorate and play with all the neat stuff which came with all these girl-y toys. I mostly wanted to do it though, like in a Lemon-Pledge furniture polish commercial, in an imaginary windswept chiffon evening gown. Well, not exactly IN a gown like that, but that commercial was so appealing to me. It wasn’t exactly a dress, an actual dress I wanted to swept around in, just something dramatic and brightly monochromatic like I imagined a Barbie doll would. I wanted to be as glamorous as that insouciant woman who’d swirl around in a lemon-coloured chiffon Givenchy doing light housework in a sixties’ suburban decor. What even deeper inside of me, I just wanted to seduce her husband, or better, Male Parent. Really queerly though, my first Barbie, was in fact only her early incarnation and was not Mattel’s Barbie but Bild Lilli doll. She was a Hamburg hooker doll of a few years earlier. I had gotten my first German Bild Lilli from my aunt after a trip to Switzerland (just like Mrs. Handler had). Then I even got some of the clones made in Hong Kong, called by doll collectors now by a term I made popular, “Hong Kong Lillis”. There even was Miss Marlene as well as Miss Seventeen by Marx Toys, which were made after Bild Lilli exactly from her moulds. I had Miss Seventeen dolls from Male Parent as I said earlier and treasured them. Although Mattel tried to deny it for years, Mattel and Marx had a lawsuit over their respective dolls actually. Louis Marx bought the rights to the moulds from the Lilli creator and manufacturer Rolf Hausser whereas Mattel, according to Hausser, just kind of cheated him out of it using Mrs Handler’s example she’d picked up in Lausanne, (or Luzerne) Switzerland. But by the time I got these dolls, Barbie was out as well and they were pretty much the same for me. I also had a strange Bild Lilli-type doll which came from Spain, with those very sharp fingernail-ed hands in flamenco pose, a doll which when I turned about 16, I dressed in my own fashions (and I still have this doll). She probably was the doll I kept that inspired me to create so much later my Mdvanii concept.
My completely androgynous mind didn’t realize there were distinctions in human beings other than clothes. My “Anti-Bourgeoise” self was non-gender identified at this early stage. So, Barbie’s incarnation Lilli and Barbie herself were the mega-glamour companion dolls, not like my child-like Kamkins art dolls at all. I was traumatized by these 11 3/4 inch (whom I later referred to as) “goddesses”. They looked nearly identical to female family members and had similar outfits – thus it took awhile for it to sink in that they, like my mini-washer and Hoover, were products and extremely mass-produced. I was under the impression that these feline creatures were created just for me. Also I imagined I was Lilli in every incarnation or name she took. Imagine! I don’t know if she ever had an outfit called “schlampe” though.

I was the perfect fan

It’s a bit of a cliché, going to the movies to wax nostalgic about long gone film stars I realize, but that is what I did to while away the time. In an essay about Mel Brooks, written in the late-1970s, Kenneth Tynan quoted someone who said,“We are all basically antennae. If we let ourselves be bombarded by cultural events based on movies, we won’t get a taste of what’s happening in the world”. I don’t think this to be true but when I read it at the time wondered if infact I was not really living but co-existing in the world, with life on one side, and me observing a parody of it through films, the side I was on. Hollywood’s reality and the dishonesty, sleaziness and drugs, and even crime I disregarded, what little of it I knew about. Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon 1959 book was a vile look into the vileness of it all, though much of it was questioned in regard to it’s accuracy and truth. So, I simply ignored that aspect of Hollywood and the books which did not paint a pretty picture of the scene, sordidly told by Anger and others, even by my avatar Louise Brooks in her book Lulu in Hollywood. I was into the ideal beauty and it was Hollywood’s histrionics that bedazzled me. History would prove that Kenneth Anger for example, invented completely the relationship between Ramon Novarro and Rudolph Valentino, as well as the factoid that Novarro who was murdered, was murdered with an Art Deco dildo which Valentino gave him, an idea I loved. I only related to the aspects of Hollywood which made me dream, nothing else mattered to me especially grime reality and the embellishment of it by various authors. I was the perfect fan.

Frocking Life – The Work of Elsa Schiaparelli by BillyBoy*, to be published by Rizzoli International

Last month, Rizzoli International has signed me, BillyBoy*, to publish my memoirs regarding my Schiaparelli collection. The book, which has taken nearly 35 years to write and complete, has interviews with all the people I have known in regard to Schiaparelli and the book will include all the anecdotes and information I gathered and recorded in a chronological way, simultaneously talking about my personal relationship to these people. The second book is about my life in general as an artist and all the people I have worked with or have known.

I am very excited to see this book through to publication, I have the Senior Editor and a special second editor helping me to edit the book…. and I look forward to finally sharing my experiences in regard to my most favourite subject, Elsa Schiaparelli, with the world.

À propos de moi -Fred Charrière

À propos de moi.


A superb talent, Fred Charrière….his blog is exquisite.

Clothes, Male Nakedness, Long Hair, Emma, Sweat ,….oh and Music, a Few Memories of Woodstock, 1969

Clothes, Male Nakedness, Long Hair, Emma, Sweat ,….oh and Music, a Few Memories of Woodstock, 1969