One Thousand Scents

Monday, April 03, 2006

Awakening: Versace The Dreamer

From today's Washington Post, "Teen Boys Picking Up On A Scent", an article about teenage boys and Axe or other douse-yourself fragrances.

Axe is not the only brand out there. More established scents -- think Dad's stocking stuffer circa 1975 -- have repositioned their products to appeal to a younger generation. Old Spice has a line called Red Zone. Gillette launched a body spray called Tag in 2004.

But the boys at Loiederman Middle will tell you Axe is their fragrance of choice. "It smells good, and it's cheap," said Nic Weinfeld, 12.

Brett Goyne, a physical education teacher at Loiederman, said he noticed the body sprays turning up about three years ago. Before that, he can't remember seeing a middle school boy use anything except maybe the occasional stick of deodorant.

"It's priced perfect for the middle school student," he said of the body sprays. "But, boy, if they sweat a lot and then put it on -- ohhhh -- it just takes over the whole locker room."

I've run into the scented-deodorant thing before; I knew one teenaged boy who carried one around with him wherever he went, not because he had body odour but because it was an easy, relatively discreet way to apply a scent.

As for Axe and its ilk, I've told more than one despairing mom, "Tell them to spend twice as much and wear half as much." Or I suppose in this case spend eight to ten times as much. They're never too young to learn the virtue of subtlety, and if they have to wear a scent, why should it be what everyone else is wearing? Perhaps it's another rite of passage that parents will have to coach their kids through: shopping for, trying out, and buying one or two really good, really worth-it scents rather than a bucketload of plonk.


Versace The Dreamer is not plonk, to say the least. It's off-kilter and magnetic and it takes a while to get--not the sort of thing you sniff in the department store and say "Nice!" about, certainly not the sweet, approachable scent you might expect from the name.

The top is a bristly melange of herbs, predominantly the anisic tang of tarragon, one of my favourite fragrance notes (Van Cleef and Arpels Tsar also has it). But mixed in with this are two strange, strange notes. One is something odd and unplaceable that reminds me of gasoline. It doesn't smell like gasoline exactly, but without fail that's what it calls to mind. The second is a bitter note that suggests chamomile; it's the same bitterness that made me hate Hermes' Bel Ami for about ten years before I suddenly understood and fell immoderately in love with it.

Basenotes' list of notes for The Dreamer tallies "juniper, lily, iris, tobacco, amber, tarragon". Another, from Osmoz, promises "clary sage, lavender, mandarin, mace, tobacco, geranium, carnation, rose, vetiver, Atlas cedar, tonka bean, and balsam fir". I don't smell many of these things distinctly, except for the tarragon; there's a tobacco-ness about the drydown, but I'd never call The Dreamer a tobacco scent--it's much more complex than that, and the tobacco is only a part of its appeal.

Is the heart of the scent primarily lily, as the Basenotes list says? Some think so, but scent can be a real Rorschach test--different people see (or, in this case, smell) different things. What I smell is a hazy, sort-of-floral middle--nothing as specific as lily or carnation--with much of the top notes' prickliness unexpectedly lingering, and then a soft, intimate drydown like a memory. This would be a harder sell for most teenagers--most people--than something as obvious as Axe or the latest Tommy Hilfiger, but a shot of The Dreamer would let any smart, reasonably sophisticated teenager boy stand out in the crowd.


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