One Thousand Scents

Friday, September 19, 2008

Something New: Lancôme Magnifique

A gradient, as you probably know, is a smooth blend from one colour to another, possibly with other colours in between. Here's a gradient from pink to blue.

In knitting, you can't produce a smooth gradient with solid-coloured yarns, but you can execute a neat trick to give a similar effect; hold two thinner yarns together and change the colours every few rows, using two pinks, a pink and a mauve, two mauves, a mauve and a lavender, and so on until you reach your end colour. (You can use three very fine lace-weight yarns to give even finer graduations of colour: 3A, 2A 1B, 2B 1A, 3B, 2B 1C, and so on.) Sort of like this, which is an indifferently Photoshopped version of the first picture

or like this:

which is actual knitting done with this method.

I mention this because Lancôme's new scent, Magnifique, is the most knitting-gradiented scent I have ever smelled, ticking methodically through its changes, each new element of the scent showing up before the previous one has vanished and gradually supplanting it, everything appearing and fading out in a sort of cadence. It's a remarkable effect, beautifully choreographed.

The opening is bright and cheerful, a citrusy little shimmer. Soon the middle notes begin to slide into view, a slightly spiced rose. The rose-saffron accord bears a superficial resemblance to L'Artisan's Safran Troublant, but with the emphases reversed: a huge quantity of rose with just a little fillip of saffron which peeks out from time to time. Magnifique has two rosy elements working hand in hand; a fresh petally rose (like that in Safran Troublant) and a pleasantly sugary rose that seems like rose jam, or raspberry jam with rose petals cooked into it. It's not godawful sweet like so many women's scents nowadays; it's not a fruity floral. Instead, the sugar is laid on with a steady hand, and it's just enough to warm up the whole composition.

An hour or so in, the bottom of the scent begins to sidle up, and it's wood; specifically, sandalwood plus an Indian plant called nagarmota, which has a dry, papery overtone which calls to mind CSP's Bois de Filao, a little. (There's also supposedly vetiver; it's subtle.) The fresh sweet rose begins to darken, and the scent gradually gets darker and more sombre. Maybe six hours in, what's left of Magnifique on the skin is a deep, resonant wood with just a little undercurrent of that rose, and that's how it stays until it eventually fades out altogether.

It's a real pleasure to see a mainstream company risking the launch of something which doesn't simply follow any of the current trends for perfumery. Magnifique isn't wildly complex, isn't difficult to understand and love; it's not a niche scent at all. But it's something of a novelty, and a very successful one at that.

The bottle is neither good nor bad; it's a bottle, that's all. (I like the shimmery box better.) The name, however, is wrong for the contents. A scent called "Magnifique" ought to be big and imposing, a grande-dame scent of the kind that nobody makes any more. It ought to be magnificent. Instead, Magnifique is youthful, interesting, pretty without being precious, a refreshing change of pace from the hundreds of cookie-cutter women's scents of the past decade.


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