Jungle Jezebel, the fragrance in our extrait de parfum SARAH BAKER Collection was inspired by Divine aka Glenn Milstead, the legendary 1980s gruff-voiced drag performer and (in)famous star of John Waters’ cult films before moving on to roles, including those out of drag in more mainstream Hollywood movies.
When working with nose Miguel Matos to publish this fragrance that remains the one in our collection that gets the most polarised reactions, we knew that we were working on something special, even more so when it came to creating the hand-numbered limited Artist’s Edition of the juice with its unique bottle and packaging.
What we couldn’t possibly have predicted is just how passionately some people would come to feel about their Jungle Jezebel Artist’s Edition. And we don’t just mean about the fragrance.
Miguel’s composition, the Jungle Jezebel juice, is unique and persistently garners strong reactions from professional reviewers and fragrance enthusiasts alike. Whether “for” or “against”, the commonality in all commentary is that almost everyone agrees that this is a very unusual scent experience like nothing else out there and commands attention and stays with you, regardless of whether you want to wear it or not.
But, let's talk about that bottle. The curious phenomenon that we noticed within months, maybe even weeks, of its release was the way that some fans took to the Jungle Jezebel Artist’s Edition as if she were a little (or should that be big?) personality in her own right. The anthropomorphic bottle probably helps. With its huge eyelashes, blond wig, glitzy headband and beauty spot, it’s a mini homage to Divine’s signature look in—or more accurately, on—a bottle, exactly as was intended.
What we noticed popping up on social media was that fans loved Jungle Jezebel Artist’s Edition almost in a grown-up equivalent of how some kids fall in love with Barbie or a favourite cuddly toy. Their responses are heartfelt and intimate. We are absolutely delighted with the little “exclusive gang” of Jungle Jezebel Artist’s Edition fans and their very individual reactions to “her” with posts that are often very personal.
Sometimes there is something extremely touching, moving even, about how they share their special relationships with JJ.
Take for example @mrsoscentagious , a London-based owner who had this to say in a post:
“Jungle Jezebel is one of the best things in my collection. My teenager is obsessed with this perfume (I don’t want that). She comes to my room every morning to spray this for school. This morning: ‘Mum, I need it. I was smelling this on me all day at school. My friends love it.’ Lol!
“PS: when I’m bored I go around to JJ and sit her down, brush her hair and have a conversation about how my day has been and who got on my nerves. I tell her about my day and she has never judged me. I just feel like I have a strong connection with her; maybe I’m weird. Either way, I love her.”
One of the things that we’ve noticed is that this diminutive art work channelling Divine somehow manages to allow people to open a conversation about their own experience and the things that are important to them.
In an Instagram post, he opened with a more traditional review of the juice, but then went on to say this about his Jungle Jezebel Artist’s Edition:
“Drag ,as an art form, is all about stepping out of the norm, completely changing your persona in order to be the best version of yourself. In order to be the change you want to see in the world. It is unusual, it is heavily built on shock value, and that is also what Divine wanted – to shock the world, to portray unusual beauty and to be accepted as an artist that takes his craft seriously.
“It is very hard sometimes to stand out from the crowd, or to just be yourself wholeheartedly. There is always the fear of rejection, the fear that you will be ridiculed, the fear that you will be stepped on and perish. As someone who has struggled with coming to terms with his identity for a long time, it is always so refreshing and truly beautiful when I see –and smell– something so extraordinarily unique. Something which fear did not touch. Something which has come to fruition by applying genuine individuality and craftsmanship. The baseless needs of society have been left out and no rules have been followed. Jungle Jezebel was born from a place where people hold their heads up high and are unapologetically themselves. And before the artists who create beauty like this, before these artists who dare, I bow my head.”
The particular way in which the Jungle Jezebel Artist’s Edition has captured fans' imaginations on this personal level remains something of an enigma to us. But, in the end, perhaps she is much more like Divine than we ever expected.
Film director and artist John Waters, his star Divine and a whole crew of cult performers arose from obscurity on the art school fringes of Baltimore and spent many years making outrageous underground films that slowly amassed an international cult following in art houses around the world. But they were always off-limits to mainstream distributors because of their irreverent, often shocking and potentially illegal content.
Yet, some truths will out. In the late 1980s, John Waters was embraced by the mainstream studio system that was no longer able to deny his unique talents nor ignore the opportunity to benefit from his loyal fan base. John took Divine with him to Hollywood.
The result was ‘Hairspray’ (1988), the unexpected hit of that year that brought John Waters firmly into the realm of “respected directors”. With roles for Debbie Harry and Sonny Bono alongside a smattering of cult stars from his own underground stable of performers, it was also the film that launched Ricki Lake’s media career.
There, at the centre of it all, was Divine. She proved as able to hold a mainstream audience in her hand with a parody of an All-American mom as she had been to enthrall gay men, punks, artists and advocates of “alternative” cultures with her high-octane, hi-energy dance tracks or transgressive performances in Waters’ earlier films. In the end, everyone loved Divine. So, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised after all at the responses to our own tiny, spritzing diva.
Our biggest Jungle Jezebel fan, Rubens from Brazil, has even created an Instagram account for the fragrance that is a star in her own right. At @bel_jungle_jezebel you can follow her as she saunters around Rio de Janeiro, “City of Marvels”. We kid you not.