One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Haste Makes Waste: Tokyo by Kenzo


There are three ways to buy a scent.

1) You can buy something you already know. Maybe you were lucky enough to get a sample or a decant, or maybe you've worn it before, but you've had it on your skin long enough to know that you like it and want to own it.

2) You can sniff it in the store, be immediately pleased with it, and decide on the spot that you ought to have it.

3) You can decide without ever having had a chance to smell it that you want to own it anyway.

The first, of course, is the only way to be sure you're going to get your money's worth. All of us fanatics have bought something unsniffed: it was just a great bargain ("Even if I don't like it, I can give it away, and it was only a few bucks!"), or we'd read good reviews and decided to take a chance. But flat-out buying a whole bottle of an unknown quantity is rarely a good idea; I think it leads to more disappointment than joy.

When in London, I had a rather limited time in a department store called Debenham's. They had dozens and dozens of things I'd never smelled before, and I pretty much wore out my nose sniffing them. I had smelled Midnight Poison a couple of days previously and was pretty sure I wanted it, but took a second sniff to confirm this. Wandering through the store, I didn't find anything else that really screamed "Buy me or regret it for all eternity!"

Then I stumbled across the new Kenzo release, Tokyo. I had found Kenzo scents to be a mixed bag in the past: some real winners (the original Kenzo, FlowerbyKenzo, Jungle for Men) along with some so-so scents (Été, Kenzoair, Kashaya). I sprayed some Tokyo on one of the blotters--all of which were folded up like little paper airplanes!--and sampled it. I liked it quite a lot: it started out fairly fresh, but there was a darkness to it, an incensey undertone, that I was quite sure would work well on my skin. I carried the blotter around for about ten minutes, and liked it more and more, and decided to buy a 30-mL bottle of the stuff.

When I got it home and finally had a chance to wear it a couple of weeks later, I couldn't understand what I had bought. It bore almost no resemblance to what I had smelled, or thought I had smelled, in the store. Had my nose simply been overtired and playing tricks on me? Was the blotter contaminated with something else?

Tokyo is aimed at a very young market (18 to 25, the young men who are just outgrowing monstrosities like Axe), and it shouldn't be any surprise that it's a fresh, bright scent; most of the new releases these days are, particularly those aimed at a younger demographic. It's meant to suggest the colours of the city at night: yellow electric lights suggested by bright notes of grapefruit, citron, and ginger; red neon evoked by bitter orange and pink pepper; green trees conjured up with maté, shiso, and green tea; and the blackness of night with dark spice and wood scents--nutmeg and clove, gaiac and cedar.

Well, that's the theory, anyway. What it really smells like, unfortunately, is most every other young-men's scent released in the last five years. It isn't offensive, but it isn't interesting, either. It opens up with brilliant citrus notes underscored with green, all of which soon burns away to leave a rather generic clean freshness, with a lightly spicy undercurrent, on the skin. It dies quickly: a few hours later, there's a ghost of a scent, but what it is and whether you liked it are irrelevant.

The packaging, however, is smashing; it takes that Tokyo-at-night theme and interprets it beautifully. The box has a satin matte finish; it's white, and wrapped with a picture of a tree at night radiating streaks of bright colours, The bottle is likewise satiny matte, a deep black with streaks of colour representing city lights as seen from a speeding car. It's very touchable. A photo doesn't do it justice. The shape is a minor variation on the curved bamboo bottle that Kenzo has used for previous men's scents.

Tokyo by Kenzo isn't a terrible fragrance: I'll probably wear it from time to time, until I swap it away. It just doesn't have much to recommend it. If I had had a chance to wear it on my skin and really get to know it, I wouldn't have bought it. The best thing I can say about it, apart from that gorgeous bottle, is that it wasn't very expensive.

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