One Thousand Scents

Friday, May 23, 2008

I Didn't Have To Have It But I Bought It Anyway: Covet by Sarah Jessica Parker

Last week I mentioned the love that fragrance mavens have for categories, using Le Feu D'Issey as an example: it's a baffling, near-uncategorizable scent, and I never did assign it a family, but I suppose it's an oriental, or, with its roses, a floral-oriental: the milky thickness and the ambery base notes make sure of that.

Today I have another scent that defies easy categorization. Sarah Jessica Parker's Covet seems to occupy a number of spaces simultaneously. It mostly seems to want to be a fougere, that mainstay of men's perfumery, but at the same time it has a warm, glowing undercurrent (supposedly chocolate in the top note, though it doesn't smell like any chocolate I'd put in my mouth), and there really isn't any centre to the fragrance at all: it seems to transition from the fougere top to a woody, almost oriental base with nothing in between.

You might as well watch the commercial for Covet, which has something of the unhinged operatic intensity that made the one for Chanel Egoiste, which is insane, absolutely the greatest thing of its kind that has ever been. (In fact, the music in the Covet commercial is the opening notes of the aria "Pace, pace, mio Dio" from Verdi's "La Forza del Destino". The Chanel music is the Dance of the Knights from Prokofiev's ballet "Romeo and Juliet".) Parker got a lot of flak for the ad, partly because she seems so demented (which I personally love, because a perfume-maddened Maenad who'll kick the shit out of a window to get what she wants is a woman I want to know) and partly because she has the temerity to not be classically, or at least surgically, beautiful, to which I say good for her--she's more striking than lovely, to steal a Simpsons line, and she looks just fine to me, like a normal human being and not, as most Hollywood types seem to do these days, carved from a bar of Ivory soap (as Pauline Kael put it in her review of "Beaches", referring to Barbara Hershey). (In a nice coincidence, today the Project Rungay gents posted a blog entry about Parker, noting accurately that "The bitch knows. How. To. Wear. Clothes.")

As for the scent itself, I'm a little less enthusiastic. It's pretty good; it's much better than most everything a celebrity slaps her or his name on these days. Obviously Covet took some time and money to make, and apparently Parker herself had a hand in it, which is almost unheard of but which is believable--the scent is offbeat, not one of the usual fruity-floral monstrosities that the celebs put their names to. It doesn't smell focus-grouped and safe. I like Covet, and I wear it and will continue to wear it. But I wish it were more interesting than it turned out to be.

The upper register is the most enjoyable part of the scent. It's a flurry of activity; sharp green lemons, leafy greenery, and lavender, rather dry, pretty much the definition of a fougere scent, except for that would-be chocolate that reads, to me, as some indefinable warmth. What I like about it is that the lemons are so brightly green as to be almost shocking; the first blast of the scent is dizzyingly blatant. The long-lasting base is nice, but nothing particularly special, a durable wood-amber scent of the kind that most men's fragrances nowadays are built upon. (Very durable; it will last through a shower, no problem.)

The list of notes, which tells you very little that's of any use:

Top: Wet Greens, Geranium Leaves, Lemon, Chocolate, Lavender. Heart: Honeysuckle, Magnolia, Muguet, Michelia. Base: Musk, Vetiver, Cashmere Wood, Teakwood, Amber.

Michelia is a relative of the magnolia. Despite all those flowers supposedly in the middle, there isn't really any floral presence to the scent at all. Any man could wear this and nobody would bat an eye.

The bottle is a squat cuboid thing full of brightly chartreuse juice with a peculiar top--not even a cap, just a ring of dark-brown imitation topazes that clicks smartly onto the sprayer. Everyone seems to hate it, but I kind of like it. It doesn't resemble anything else on the market. Like the contents and like SJP, its public face, the bottle seems to be saying that it takes orders from no one.


  • You know that Pauline Kael is a main-line right to my heart?

    Thank you for such a stupendously great review. I've been intrigued by the semiotics of SJP and her scents. I was mesmerized by the HSN footage for the Lovely/Covet box set. How does one sell scent on TV unsniffed? A model in a pink sun dress keeps spraying her wrists with Lovely, sniffing and smiling. Covet does not get a model. Instead the host mentions that it "smells more unique."

    By Blogger the oblitterati, at 12:46 PM  

  • Love reading your blog! What a coincidence, I tested "Covet" on my skin last week. To be honest, I didn't like the beggining. Too greeny for me, but not in a good way... but the base notes were so confortable... I'm not sure if I could buy it... but, who knows... in a near future... Greetings from Brazil.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:32 PM  

  • Pauline Kael, of course, is a goddess. I haven't seen a movie in the last fifteen years without wondering how she would have viewed and reviewed it. I read Anthony Lane and David Denby in the New Yorker but it just isn't the same. I love that even when I disagreed with her (her politics, her opinion on the movie, just plain her), I always thought Kael had something to say that was worth reading.

    I'd read about the Lovely/Covet sets being sold on the Home Shopping Network. Spray smile spray smile spray spray spray! I hope that bottle was full of water, or the studio would have been unbearable in short order.

    I can see not liking the opening of Covet; it is startlingly bright and green, almost glaring, really. And I can certainly see preferring the smooth and cuddly base notes. I think the reason I have it the other way around is that I have lots of scents that have a similar base, but nothing that opens with quite such a shock of green lemons. It's a bit like Demeter's Meyer Lemon only more so, fleshed out and supported like a fully conceived scent (rather than being a one-note snapshot of a single object, as all Demeters generally are).

    By Blogger pyramus, at 12:29 AM  

  • pyramus!! i've missed your reviews since the demise of the late lamented needless to say, i've bookmarked your blog.

    By Blogger stellaglo, at 5:56 PM  

  • And I remember you, too. used to be really something, and I miss it a lot. There's a Yahoo group for it, but it's not the same (though I read it every day). Luckily, there are a whole bunch of fragrance blogs nowadays, so I don't feel completely deprived, but they don't have that same sense of a free-for-all (for good and for bad) that had in its glory days.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 10:42 PM  

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