One Thousand Scents

Saturday, January 27, 2007


I have nothing against cheap, mass-market scents. I even love some of them. But a lot of them are, let's face it, the lowest possible common denominator: designed to appeal to as many people as possible, to offend no-one, to offer no surprises or, in fact, anything of interest to anyone except the sort of person who doesn't usually wear scent. As snobbish as this is going to sound, they're created to appeal to people with no taste of their own--to people who have to be told what they like.

Here are three.

Daytona 500 is boring almost beyond human endurance. The notes, in case you might care, which you shouldn't, are as follows:

Top: yuzu, bergamot, mandarin.
Middle: Tarragon, sage, maté, and a watery accord.
Base: Nutmeg, cardamom, ambergris, sandalwood.

It even has tarragon, which I love, but here it's just another part of the nebulous nothingness of the scent. (I will admit that the drydown is pleasant enough, in a generic sort of way. But that's it.)

As this amusing review says:

Elizabeth Arden's eau de speedway smells like . . . well, it smells like men's cologne.

And how.

The review also contains this gem:

"Fragrance is all about trying to communicate emotion," said Rolleston, in a telephone interview from New York. Men wearing Daytona 500 can expect to exude adrenaline, excitement, confidence and a passion for speed, among other things, according to the Elizabeth Arden executive.

Men wearing Daytona 500 can actually expect to exude a complete lack of individuality, which may well be the whole point. It will probably sell a jillion bottles, to men who don't wear fragrance but are seduced by the racecar theme. It is, beyond a doubt, the most generic, uninteresting, plagiarized men's scent imaginable.

H2 by Hummer--do all mass-market men's scents have to have an automotive theme?--is at least not the usual fresh men's scent. (That slot was taken by the original Hummer scent.) H2 is an oriental, and not a terrible one, either. But also not an interesting one. The notes are

cinnamon leaves, mandarin peel, bergamot, bourbon pepper, cardamom, elemi, incense, and red myrrh

and the whole thing smells like a mad pick-and-choose blend of twenty other men's oriental scents: Casual Friday, Opium Pour Homme, a few discontinued Yves Rochers such as Aztek, Tel Quel, and Samarkande, and, well, practically any other you can name. Not, as I said, terrible, certainly a step above Daytona 500. But a baby step.

I know what "phat" means (it means "cool" or "desirable", and it's an abbreviated form of "emphatic", despite the folk etymologies that have it meaning "pretty hot and tempting" or worse), but I'm old, or old-fashioned, enough to be of the opinion that "Baby Phat" is not a very good name for a clothing-and-fragrance line. I suppose the marketers have done their research, though, and they're not selling to me, so what do they care? There are two fragrances in the Baby Phat line, and the second one, Golden Goddess, is surprisingly not-bad for about half of its life. The notes are supposedly

bubbling champagne, seringa, blue lilies, night orchid, caramel, vanilla, patchouli, vetiver

and while the top note smells nothing like actual champagne, the rest of it smells pretty much exactly like what you'd expect; warm, sweet floral notes wrapped in warm, sweet oriental notes. (The vanilla-caramel scent is already present, giving the whole thing a candy-store quality, but the middle notes are not as sugary as Aquolina Pink Sugar.) It's very pretty, for a while. The trouble begins as the floral notes begin to fade, about two hours in, and the base notes come to the fore: the whole thing gets sweeter and sweeter, almost to the point of nausea. Even the vetiver and patchouli in the base can't control it.

At least it's not one of the hundreds of interchangeable fruity florals that everyone has been doing for the last five years.


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