One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Raspberry Smoothie: Lacoste Elegance

A lot of the time I've read about a scent before I ever get a chance to smell it, so I have at least an idea what I'm getting myself into: I know the general category the scent falls into, and I probably know at least some of the notes.

That wasn't the case with the newest Lacoste scent, Elegance. I had read about it briefly at Now Smell This, which said only that

The oriental fougère fragrance features aromatic top notes around a spicy heart, and a dry chocolate accord at the base. Additional notes include thyme and mandarin zest.

Not much to go on, but it did sound like the sort of thing I would like. Then I promptly forgot about it. When it showed up at the local hyperdrugstore, I managed to get a sample (so rare these days). I splashed on a little and decided that, at the top, it was very nice. A few minutes went by, and upon smelling it again, I was completely floored, because all I could think was, "Good GOD that's raspberry and lots of it!"

Raspberries are probably my favourite fruit: definitely in the top three, anyway (alongside pineapples and pears). Waverley Root, in his enchanting, encyclopedic book Food (subtitled "An authoritative visual history and dictionary of the foods of the world"), has this to say of the raspberry:

          "There is a harmony among all things and the places where they are found," I wrote twenty years ago in 'The Food of France'. "Would you need to know the name of the Pekinese to realize that it was originally China? The peacock, and for that matter the common hen, are obviously natives of India. Where could the eucalyptus have come from except Australia?"
          Similarly the flavor of the raspberry stamps it "Made in Asia". It breathes of the Orient--rich, exotic, spice-laden and with a hint of musk.

It is exactly those qualities that make it such a fascinating note around which to base a scent. I know of only two raspberry-dominated scents that preceded Lacoste Elegance. The first was Byblos, launched in 1989, a veil of dark flowers rent by the bite of even darker, musky raspberry; I had to have it, of course. Then in 2000, I was similarly forced to buy Givenchy's Hot Couture, a peculiar, minimal thing: an uneasy balance between conventionally masculine (black pepper and brittle vetiver) and conventionally feminine (magnolia blossoms and that same musky raspberry). On my skin, the peppered raspberries took over: it wasn't flowery, with the magnolia just a suggestion of petaled warmth lurking underneath.

Even the most commercial of perfumers seem to understand that men's fragrances have already incorporated every possible variation of the usual notes, and so they're opening the doors to more and more possibilities. Nothing could please me more. This year saw not one but two men's fragrances based on orange blossom, Fahrenheit 32 and Fleurs du Mâle, and some recent men's scents such as Dior Homme and Bois D'Argent are dominated by iris. With the standard citrus top notes completely played out, we've also seen scents with other fruit notes playing a major role: the recent Arpege pour Homme contains nectarine, and DKNY's Red Delicious contains, naturally enough, apple. Without a doubt there'll be more and more of these in the future: as men increasingly understand that they don't have to smell only of woods, spices, and grasses, they'll be willing to take more chances.

Lacoste Elegance starts with a whiplash of fresh, vivid notes: juniper berry and peppermint are the most evident, but the scent also contains pennyroyal and thyme, according to the official list of notes. Muscling up beneath them in short order are a batch of spice notes--nutmeg, black pepper, and cardamom. These spices dance around the core of the scent: a huge quantity of ripe, luscious raspberry juice. It isn't, thank goodness, jammy or sticky: it's fresh and liquid. It takes over the entire scent: every other element becomes a doodle in the margins.

The lightly spiced raspberries last for hours, and what eventually replaces them is a relatively standard base of sandalwood, amber, and (as seems to be de rigeur in raspberry scents), musk. There's supposedly that "dry chocolate accord" as well, but it doesn't show up on my skin, which is just as well: I enjoy smelling like raspberries, as long as they're done with a certain sophistication, but the idea of chocolate raspberry is just too strange even for me.

The only real problem with Lacoste Elegance is that it isn't elegant. (The bottle is, mind you. The front is flat, the rest of it is a cylinder with "Lacoste" in raised print on the back--in reverse, so you can read it properly from the front--and it's wrapped in tactile brushed aluminum, with a cap to match. The juice is a peachy colour.) True elegance suggests a sort of restraint, and this scent is far too exuberant for that. It's brash and high-spirited: it's fun.


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