One Thousand Scents

Friday, September 12, 2008

Shoe-In: Bond No. 9 Lexington Avenue

There are two things I don't get about Lexington Avenue, Bond No. 9's latest scent and third in their Andy Warhol series.

The first is the shoe motif, though I understand the idea behind it. At the start of his career, Andy Warhol lived on 242 Lexington Avenue and made his living doing commercial illustrations, particularly of footwear; he even illustrated a little book of poems called "A La Récherche du Shoes Perdu". Warhol's fascination with shoes makes it a natural fit for Bond No. 9's Warhol scent, but I'm sufficiently literal-minded that if I think of a fragrance associated with shoes, then I'm going to think of the smell of leather. There isn't any leather in Lexington Avenue, to say the least; it's a floral-gourmand scent, and the darkest thing in it is the patchouli in the base.

And that's the second thing I don't get; I think it's a gourmand scent with a floral core, but the company has positioned this as a floral chypre. Perhaps I'm very old-fashioned, but to me, if it doesn't have oakmoss (which virtually nothing does any more, at least not in any quantity), then it isn't a chypre. (Bond No. 9 says that a chypre is "fresh citrus topnotes and a lingering forest-like base", but Lexington Avenue doesn't have either of these.)

For the last few years, perfumers and fragrance manufacturers have been trying to redefine the chypre scent to get around this restriction on the use of oakmoss. The original Miss Dior, for instance, was an honest-to-god chypre; the company launched Miss Dior Chérie a few years ago and positioned it as a "new chypre", which meant that it had a lot of patchouli in the base, and that (or a lot of vetiver, or both) seems to be the new benchmark for what a chypre is. It doesn't make any sense to me; it's like saying something's a floral and then not putting any floral notes in it, but instead using mint leaves and saying that's the calling card of the "new floral". I have Estee Lauder's Knowing and Boucheron Pour Homme in the original formulations and they're serious chypres, laden from top to bottom with the earthy-honey glow of oakmoss; I know what a chypre is, and Lexington Avenue (alongside so many other so-called chypres of the last few years) really isn't one.

What Lex Ave is, however, is heaven. It's as if they interviewed me behind my own back and concocted something they knew I'd find irresistible. It has suggestions of other gourmand orientals, such as Todd Oldham, L Lempicka, and Byblos Cielo, but it's not saturated in vanilla, the usual keynote of the gourmand scent, instead going off in an entirely different direction.

The top note seems to me to have a green-pineapple smell to it, a bright berry scent (because a pineapple is botanically a collection of berries under a single skin) fused with a bit of tropical greenery, just what you get when you smell the top of a not-quite-ripe pineapple. I Googled some other reviews and nobody else seems to have noticed or mentioned this, so maybe my nose is just weird, but I don't care. It's what I smell, and it's lovely.

What else is in there is a distinct cloud of wood, supposedly blue cypress but smelling very much to me like Yves Rocher's bristly Cédre Bleu ("blue cedar") cologne, and the anisic prickle of fennel smoothed off with sweet fondant marzipan. (That's why I think it's a gourmand scent; the food notes are there at the very top, and they progress through the scent almost to the very bottom.)

The middle slides into view as a slightly sharp peony cosseted by a warm patisserie aroma that is, apparently, crême brulée; it doesn't smell quite that specific to me, just a caramelized-sugar scent with a bit of vanilla in it. Flower-filled vanilla custard with a sugar crust doesn't sound as if it should smell any better than it would taste, but it's delicious. After this starts to burn away, and it takes hours, the woody-patchouli base takes over, and it's that cleaned-up patchouli that everyone uses nowadays; no complaints from me, because it's very appealing. The whole thing stays close to the skin throughout its eight- to ten-hour life; it's not radiant or overwhelming (though I guess like any scent it could be if you really doused yourself), preferring to beckon rather than broadcast.

When Bond No. 9's first Andy Warhol scent, Silver Factory, was launched, the intention was to create a series of unisex fragrances: "Like all the scents-in-progress that we are designing for our Warhol repertory, this one is of ambiguous male-female gender." They must have discarded that idea at some point, because it would be very hard to call Lexington Avenue ambiguous in any way: it's clearly aimed at women. The scent itself, while not classically feminine, would probably not announce itself to many men as a masculine scent; the floral heart and the sweet gourmanderie are going to be read by many people as a women's fragrance. It's not decidedly feminine, mind you: I can wear it (and what's more, wear it to work) without feeling like some kind of olfactory transvestite. It's just not going to strike most people as a men's scent, or even a unisex one. I sure don't care: it smells good, and I like to smell good.

And then there's the icon abstract-star bottle, which, while smashing and very much in line with the rest of the Warhol series, is covered with illustrations of women's shoes in bright neon colours. (There's even an upcoming limited-edition bottle wrapped in a necklace bearing four little silver shoes.)

The company couldn't make it more obvious that they've ditched the ambiguity; they even say that the scent is meant "to link two of the most ultra-feminine commodities a woman can own; fragrance and footwear."

Whatever. I don't care a lick about shoes, but I know a good scent when I smell one, and Lexington Avenue is one of the best things I've smelled all year.

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  • I've been confused about the "new chypre" thing, too. I recently fell in love with Chanel's 31 Rue Cambon, which is also a new chypre (does not contain oakmoss but instead a mix of patchoulis). Whatever 31 is, it is gorgeous. Would it be too difficult to invent a new name? Instead of calling a non-chypre a chypre - to just create a new scent category?
    Anyway...back to the 'fume at hand...I LOVE Lexington Avenue. I was surprised I love it so much. I think it's my favorite Fall launch. I will be wearing it frequently this fall...

    By Blogger Abigail, at 12:49 AM  

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