Manufacturing Tragedy with Marissa Zappas and Ruby McCollister
Inviting tragedy into your life dispels its destructive power
Marissa Zappas is famous for her perfumes which breath new life into old school glamour. I should know… she was the nose behind the iconic perfume WHORE which was released in conjunction with my book!
Recently, Zappas teamed with with actress and playwright Ruby McCollister to create a scent based on McCollister’s play Tragedy. I’d heard on the grapevine that this perfume was sexy, seductive, and even a little spooky… And even was rumored to have a sort of magical, protective power. Eager to hear more about how one can evoke tragedy with a medium as ephemeral as odor, I gave the duo a call.
Liara Roux: Marissa — what was the process of crafting a scent based on a theater show?
Marissa Zappas: I actually watched a different version of the show last year, so I saw it, but I didn't see it. Ruby and I spend a lot of time together — she’s helping me creatively with a lot of different projects. I wanted to do a scent with her, but I didn't really have an idea of what exactly it should be. Ruby did though: the first thing she said to me was tuberose. And I was like, Yes, obviously, tuberose.
Immediately, I knew I wanted it to be a nod to Fracas. It just made so much sense because of the history of that perfume, how it was tied to these tragic Hollywood figures, women like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Bridgitte Bardot. Courtney Love. A lot of famous women from Hollywood have worn it. It's really sexy and overpowering; it was created by this amazing perfumer named Germaine Cellier. Cellier, a lesbian, supposedly said that Fracas was for the femmes and Bandit was for the dykes.
Ruby and I have been fantasizing lately about holiday parties — they're really fun in this sort of gaudy and predictable way, so I had an idea of adding in a Christmas tree note, like a sweet fir balsam. I also added patchouli, sheer woods, and amber to really create a richness, even a bit of a darkness that Fracas doesn’t have. That’s the hook in this scent, this buttery tuberose.
Roux: I'm really curious how one could capture the sense of tragedy in smell; how do you convey it?
Ruby McCollister: Well, this is what I'm articulating in my show. There’s a specific type of tragedy we're conveying. We're not attempting a Shakespearean tragedy. The smell is instead a nod to these hyper-feminine lives born from the Hollywood industrial complex. Tuberose, to me, really does exemplify eternal glamor. And the pine note is a piercing last shriek, a gaseous, phantom-like form. It's a spooky tuberose, very mossy.
Zappas: There is an intense oakmoss note.
Roux: Decay is often associated with tragedy.
Zappas: The oak moss is definitely a note that smells like decay, but there's patchouli too, which is earthy, very earthy.
I think these tragic figures were people who went out into the world and got lost in it. And that's an inevitable part of making the commitment to living: tragedy is inevitable. In that way, tragedy is such a beautiful part of life because it's where it's where growth begins; it's where we become who we are. I was just telling Ruby that I'm always just curious about what happens magically when I wear each of my perfumes.
Roux: What happens when you wear tragedy?
Zappas: I've had a really auspicious couple of months. When I wear Tragedy, it's like specifically non tragic things happen. It functions a little bit like an evil eye.
McCollister: We started working on the perfume in late June, so we had a few trial versions of Tragedy before I left for Scotland. I would wear a different one every night I would perform. The last few months have been the best months of my life, maybe the first ever that haven't felt tragic.
Roux: By accepting tragedy, you take away its power.
McCollister: Yeah. Wearing it proudly. I grew up in the most superstitious household because my dad was constantly in a theater. You always say break a leg, you never say good job out there. Like, turn on the ghost light! You're constantly saying whatever it is that you don't want to happen so that it won't happen. lt's really funny. You never say Macbeth in a theater. Endless, endless rules.
Roux: I was a theater kid, I get it. What's that euphemism everyone uses for Macbeth? The tragic play?
McCollister: The Scottish play. Shakespeare wrote too many tragic plays.
Roux: I feel like a lot of Shakespeare's tragic plays are kind of like secret sleeper comedies... Romeo and Juliet to me is so comedic because it's so over the top.
McCollister: Totally. King Lear is also hilarious and kooky. King Lear is Succession, and Succession is so funny.
Roux: I just recently watched Ran, Kurosawa's film adaptation of King Lear. It was really funny, especially when he's lost his mind.
McCollister: My show, even though it's called Tragedy, is really hilarious. I'm a comedic actress primarily. There are some moments of poignancy, of course, but my friend said that the first punch line is the title itself. It's a comedy called Tragedy. It's the same with the perfume; it doesn't really smell that sad, just dramatic. It's drama! It's girly, but it's not girly. It's a bit of a paradox.
Zappas: It's really fun to wear, but it takes itself pretty seriously.
McCollister: Us too. We're goofy, but we're extremely serious.
Roux: Like Oscar Wilde. "We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality." You have to do that. Especially when you're a bit magical.
McCollister: It's true. It's about balance. There's a darkness to everything. There's a misconception that men shouldn't wear this perfume... it's an ode to women, but men almost like this scent more.
Roux: That makes sense... Who loves being a drama queen more than a heterosexual man? No one.
McCollister: Absolutely. These are very depressed straight men, too... Actually, weirdly enough, now that I think about it, after they've started wearing Tragedy, a few of them have made profound changes in their life, like getting sober, getting out of bad, tragic situations.
Roux: One last question comes to mind. What place do you associate with Tragedy?
Zappas: A backstage theater.
McCollister: Yeah. I imagine the backstage of the Coronet Theatre, which is the theater that I was raised in. On the packaging of the bottle there's a very small emblem of the theater, a sort of hidden secret.