Marissa Zappas Gives Mel Ottenberg the Sniff Test

Marissa Zappas

From left to right: Joe Apollonio, Ruby McCollister, and Marissa Zappas.

THURSDAY NOV. 16, 2023 8:12 PM NEW YORK.

Tragedy, the new perfume oil by Marissa Zappas, made in collaboration with Ruby McCollister, calls to mind the glamorous heroines of Old Hollywood. “The list is psychotically long,” says Zappas, noting inspirations from Marilyn Monroe to Barbara Payton. At last week’s launch of the new scent, held at Bar Calico at the Freehand Hotel, our editor-in-chief Mel Ottenberg took the sniff test.


MEL OTTENBERG: I was telling Joe and Ruby yesterday morning that I kept smelling perfume and I realized that my bottle of Tragedy had exploded in my coat.


OTTENBERG: For the record, I think it smells good. I just had to get my coat dry cleaned. 

MCCOLLISTER: Okay, sorry!

OTTENBERG: What notes does Tragedy remind you of?

JOE APOLLONIO: I would say currant and blackberries but my pallet is—

OTTENBERG: Currant is sophisticated.

MCCOLLISTER: He buys all of them.

OTTENBERG: By the way, his hair looks better than everyone else’s hair here, so your opinion matters.

APOLLONIO: Grapes, currants, and blackberries.

OTTENBERG: What are the real notes, Ruby?

MCCOLLISTER: The real notes? The real notes are tuberose, balsam fir, and oakmoss.

Photographed by Max Lakner.

OTTENBERG: I said it reminded me of the movie Carnival of Souls and Lauren Alice Avery. Have you ever seen Carnival of Souls?

APOLLONIO: No, but I know Lauren Alice Avery. 

OTTENBERG: It’s really good. Carnival of Souls and Lauren Alice Avery are quite similar. What perfect heroines does Tragedy remind you of, Marissa?

MARISSA ZAPPAS: I mean, honestly it reminds me of Marilyn Monroe and Courtney Love, and Fracas by Robert Piguet, which it was inspired by. The packaging and scent itself, except our scent, Tragedy, is a little bit darker and kind of more perverted, I would say. 

OTTENBERG: Allison, what does Tragedy remind you of?

ALLISON BRAINARD: I need to smell it again.

OTTENBERG: Does anybody have it on them?

BRAINARD:  It’s amazing, actually. I think it’s really spot on. 

MCCOLLISTER: Now it’s mixed with cigarettes, I bet. 

BRAINARD: As it should be. 

OTTENBERG: As it should be.

Photographed by Max Lakner.

MCCOLLISTER: It was inspired by the fact that I was raised at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles, California on La Cienega Boulevard, next to Trashy Lingerie, and my father ran the Coronet Theater for like a decade. It was a haunted theater in Los Angeles and I was privy to various vanity projects by washed-up soap opera stars. 

OTTENBERG: Oh, wow. 

MCCOLLISTER: People that did theater in Los Angeles were either on their way out or in some very transient space. So, it should evoke that sort of anguish, that sort of tragedy. 

ZAPPAS: Also, ghosts are always in transient spaces. 

MCCOLLISTER: Exactly. Every theater on the planet is haunted. This perfume also goes out to all of the actors of the universe, struggling or otherwise, dead and alive. It’s for them, really. The tragic figures it also goes out to are famously Barbara Payton, who was an MGM contract star, but ruined her career from a love triangle. She was in and out of court all the time and had some really bad press and then she became a prostitute and then she penned a memoir called I’m Not Ashamed.

OTTENBERG: Sounds like a must-read. 

MCCOLLISTER: It is a must-read, it’s unbelievable. So yeah, this really goes out to Marilyn, Barbara Payton, Judy Garland, the rest. The list is psychotically long. You get it. 

OTTENBERG: We get it. 

MCCOLLISTER: Carnival of Souls, in a sense it’s a carnival of souls. You know what I mean?

OTTENBERG: Wow, yeah. Where can she buy it? 

ZAPPAS: Exclusively at

OTTENBERG: Thanks guys. 

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