One Thousand Scents

Friday, June 15, 2007

No Fun: Puma Aqua Woman and Man

Writing reviews of bad movies is fun. Writing reviews of bad perfumery is not. There's something dispiriting about trying to make sense of the latest assembly-line offering. It sucks some of the life out of you.

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Of course the companies that create and launch fragrances are in it for the money. They examine the zeitgeist, they try to figure out what will sell, and then they set about making and marketing that product.

The trouble is that they aren't just serving a market. They're tastemakers. That's why there's no excuse for the endless array of identical, indistinguishable, and almost uniformly bad fragrances that are being trotted out these days. If these companies were to--even every now and then, every third launch or so--present a wider array of possibilities to young people and market them properly, then they could have a hand in advancing and promoting the art of perfumery and not just contributing to an ever-increasing pool of fragrant mediocrity.

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Nobody expects world-shaking innovation or timeless classics from Puma, which is a company that makes sports gear and has recently branched out into fragrances, so I didn't expect too much from their new scents, a pair called Aqua, but of course I was willing to give them a shot. (I'll always grab free samples to give something a shot.)

The bottles are very clever. Their previous offerings are packaged in look-twice bottles that resemble crumpled tubes of oil paint, a clever idea for a product called Create. Too bad the scents inside the bottles were as blah and generic as everything that seems to be on the market these days. The bottles for Aqua look like miniature water bottles: you expect them to be in that easily crumpled plastic, but they're glass, of course, and delightful. Every detail is perfect: the ridges around the bottles, the sprayers that resemble the pull-up caps of sport-drink bottles, even the plastic caps that fit over the sprayers.

But the scents are exactly what you'd expect nowadays. The first clue is the name: anything called "Aqua" in the last ten years or so has followed the same template--a boring, watery, fresh scent. Even Bulgari couldn't shake the curse: When they launched a men's scent called Aqua (or, in the house style, "Aqva"), I knew what I was in for, and I tried to approach it with an open mind, but it was more of the same.


The Puma scents are even more of the same. The women's fragrance is a fruity floral, of course, and as impersonal, dull, and obvious as everything on the market nowadays; this one has synthetic peach and strawberry mixed with wood-laced flowers. You hardly even experience it: it's like a whiff of fabric softener on clothing or a trace of toilet cleaner in the air, something you'd expect to be there. It's not unpleasant, mind you: the trouble is that it isn't really anything else, either.


The men's scent is an aromatic citrus scent, of course, and it's essentially indistinguishable from all the other hundreds of similar men's scents that have been launched in the last decade. Grapefruit and spices in the top with that usual wet ozonic quality, more wet greenery in the middle, insipid wood and vetiver in the base. It's exactly like the rest of them. It doesn't have one single quality to set it apart. If you smell something distinctive and well-made like Dior Homme or L'Instant du Guerlain Pour Homme, then you can identify it (if you're well-informed), or at least realize that it's got a name and a personality. If you smell Puma Aqua or David Beckham Instinct or even one of the Axe scents, how can you possibly put a name to it? How can you tell it from anything else out there?

An amusing mistake that shouldn't have happened: Each sample that I got was packed in its correct colour (ocean blue for the men's version, turquoise for the women's, with an orange and a pink puma, respectively), and with the correct product name on the front, AQUA MAN and AQUA WOMAN. But on the back, the men's says "Floral-Fruity" and the women's says "Aromatic-Green". Now how on Earth did those get switched?

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