One Thousand Scents

Friday, June 06, 2008

Any Other Name: Paul Smith Rose

A couple of nights ago I came home from work, and as I stepped into the parking lot of my apartment building, I was swamped with the blissful scent of fresh lilacs. There are three lilac trees within ten yards of the small lot, one of them right on its edge, and they'd finally bloomed! It had rained earlier, and though it wasn't hot enough yet to be oppressive, the air was pleasantly humid and weighty. Lilacs are not a flower we usually consider lush or heady--they're not gardenias or tuberoses--but in that night air, they were dense, thick, and enveloping as a scented fur coat. There may be pleasures on Earth greater than smelling ribbons of fresh lilac perfume twining through the air, but there are not many of them.


One of the things I like about "Perfumes: The Guide" is its snarky, brusque tone: Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are people who take perfumery seriously and are sick of the nonsense, the mediocrity, and the repetition endemic to the art form. But they employ a sort of Gatling gun of snarkiness that they fire blindly at most any target, and it can get out of hand. This is their entire review of Paul Smith Rose:

Amusingly, this competent but dull tea rose soliflore claims to contain the extract of a varietal named Sir Paul Smith. Vanitas....

Honestly. How does that qualify as vanity? There are lots of reasons to dislike a fragrance, and competent dullness is one of them, but Smith didn't make up a rose, name it after himself, and then pretentiously advertise the fact. Many new roses are named after famous people* (or not-famous ones such as presumably yourself, but it'll cost you), and Smith's wife had a rose named after him as a birthday gift, which, if you love scented flowers, seems like a pretty damned great birthday gift. Who could blame him, if the flower had a beautiful scent, for using the rose as the base for a new perfume? It's going to have his name on it anyway, so he might as well use the Paul Smith Rose in Paul Smith Rose.

The scent, unfortunately, is dull. Not at first, because the scent is top-loaded to be enchanting straight out of the bottle, as many commercial scents are nowadays; a lot of people decide they like a scent after smelling it for a few seconds or minutes, so the manufacturers make sure that the opening is spectacular. It's only when you wear them for a while that you discover all the perfumery's energy was employed in the first few minutes, and what remains after that is something you've smelled a hundred times before.

I am naive enough to think that this couldn't have been done deliberately. I refuse to believe that some bean-counter said, "Just make sure the first few minutes are pretty enough to get the suckers to buy it, and then throw in any old crap." (For all I know, this actually did happen, but as I said, I am disquietingly naive about such things, or at least imbued with a fatal Candide-like optimism.) I think it's just an unfortunate byproduct of the insane glut of fragrances on the market today. A department-store scent can't cost too much (niche brands have more leeway as to pricing--it's part of the niche), so there's a ceiling to the cost of the raw ingredients, and the scent has to make a strong impression straight out of the bottle; it has to be instantly gorgeous, or the customer is just going to move on to the next bottle. I don't think the scent was cynically constructed to grab the buyer and then leave her stranded: no doubt perfumer Antoine Maisondieu simply had to work within certain limitations of cost, and most of the effort and money did end up going into the opening.

The top of Paul Smith Rose, though, really is joyous, a fresh rose-violet scent with fruity touches and a sugar-candy sparkle. It's nothing particularly novel but it's so very pretty; it suggests the recent reformulation of Givenchy's L'Interdit with a young and modern twist. It's easy to imagine some young woman falling in love with the scent after spraying it on her wrist and sniffing it a few times. The trouble is that it doesn't develop very much after that; it just turns into a rather flat, tired rose scent without very much at all to recommend itself. The addition to the middle of magnolia and a very obvious green-tea note (or what passes for the smell of green tea in the long shadow of Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert) isn't enough to lift the scent out of the ordinary. I wish it were better than it turned out to be; after that enchanting opening, it's a real disappointment.

*Eleanor Roosevelt supposedly said,

“I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: ‘No good in a bed, but fine up against a wall’”,

and maybe she did, but the joke has been attributed to others as well--it's told about a Lady Hillingdon, and Jim tells me that Jean Marsh, a British actress, told the story as well, but perhaps she was quoting Roosevelt. I can't even find any proof that Jean Marsh actually had a rose named after her, but if she didn't, she should have: she played the character of Rose in "Upstairs, Downstairs".



  • I agree that this perfume has a great entrance and then falls flat, but the drydown is heavenly. Takes a couple hours to get there, though. At least on me...the drydown is magnolia/rose/cedar and is quite sexy and heavenly. But I do have to endure an hour of generic rose/violet/dullness before I am transported to the good part =) Your conspiracy theory about perfumes that smell wonderful the first few minutes tickles me, though, and I am prone to believe it!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:19 PM  

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