One Thousand Scents

Friday, October 10, 2008

Big Money: Bond No. 9 Wall Street and New Haarlem

About six weeks ago, I got an e-mail from the press agent for Bond No. 9 fragrances; she mentioned that they were launching a new scent and asked if I'd like some press information and samples.

Would I! Ever since I started this blog, I've been a little envious of the bloggers who always seem to have all the newest scents; I figured they were on mailing lists of some sort of another, but not having any idea about how to get on these lists (if anybody knows, tell me), I just kept doing what I was doing, which is reviewing scents that I either own or can get samples of. To have someone offer me a press kit, just as if I were a proper writer?

And I didn't just get the press kit for their Andy Warhol Lexington Avenue: I got a huge portfolio full of press releases and photos and an envelope containing samples of every one of their scents. Big samples, too, wrapped in glittery foil like so many tempting bonbons. I was floored, and thrilled, and grateful. And then I began to worry.

This will not surprise anyone who knows me: I've been told by more than one person that I think too much, or that I overanalyze things, and what worried me was that 1) I would feel, consciously or otherwise, that I had to give the Bond No. 9 scents a good review, out of gratitude, or that 2) any good reviews that I did give them would seem tainted, to me if not to anybody else. This is stupid: I've worked for newspapers, and gotten press kits and samples for all manner of things (including a five-pound jar of Smarties when they launched their new blue colour), and I know perfectly well that press agents can't demand positive reviews: they can just get their product out to as many writers and broadcasters as possible and then hope for the best. (Naturally, they're hoping that appreciation of their generosity will also spill over into goodwill for the product itself, which is why movies have press junkets.) But still I worried, because that's the way I am.

As it turned out, I needn't have. I loved Lexington Avenue unreservedly and was only too happy to give it the best of reviews; it's the sort of thing I could imagine buying a bottle of. But the very next Bond scent that I tried was actually kind of dreadful, and I don't feel any compunction about saying that, either.

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Wall Street has a gorgeous bottle, imperiously black and spangled with little gold subway tokens bearing the name of the scent. What's inside it, though, is incomprehensible.

The idea behind Bond No. 9 is that every scent is the distillation of a location in New York. Wall Street the place, according to the press notes, is in "proximity to the top of Manhattan Island--where there's always a salty hint of sea breeze." This is meant to explain why Wall Street the fragrance is a fresh-ozonic men's scent. The list of notes is "sea kale, cucumber, lavender, ambergris, vetiver," and I don't know exactly what sea kale is (except what I read in Wikipedia) or what it's meant to smell like, but perhaps that's the thing that gives the scent its harsh, piercing quality, something which contaminates the scent for quite a while.

I think the scent should smell like money. (It's supposedly "the world's first financial fragrance", but I doubt that, because Donald Trump had a scent out a few years ago--it flopped--and Gendarme's Greed seemed to me to be an attempt to convey the smell of money.) If that's not possible, then it should smell like wealthy men, and I cannot imagine rich guys settling for a scent which seems so much like so many other mass-market and drugstore men's scents.

I hunted down some reviews, and there are people who really love this, but there are people who really love a lot of things, like sauteed calf brains or golf. Me, I don't get it, at all.

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Yesterday I stumbled across a reference to a Philip Glass film score I'd never even heard of, for a French film called "Animals in Love": iTunes has the album, so I listened to their snippet of the first track, "Swans Take Flight", and immediately thought, "Damn, I have to own this." But just to be on the safe side, I listened to bits of some other tracks as well. And then I bought it. A lot of people will listen to it and think, "Oh, arpeggios. From Philip Glass. Imagine that." But it's achingly lovely music, radiant and lissome, and I'm forever astonished that he can do so much with what often amounts to just a handful of notes.

I'm also impressed by fragrances that can establish a unique identity with their own small collection of notes. When Giorgio Beverly Hills launched Red, they boasted that it contained 691 notes, which is all well and good, but it does compel one to wonder if every single one of those was absolutely necessary. It's a great scent, but a greater feat is when a scent uses a limited palette to create its own little universe.

New Haarlem has hardly anything in it: coffee, vanilla, cedar and (I think) sandalwood, patchouli, bergamot. It takes this little clutch of aromatics, though, and turns it into something wonderful; unforgettable, in fact. After a (startlingly) brief shock of bergamot, for a couple of hours there's hardly anything to the scent but coffee, slightly sweetened (one sugar, I guess, but no cream), with perhaps the barest hint of vanilla. The coffee smells roasted but not burnt, unlike, say, Demeter's Espresso, and it really just smells like coffee, unlike A*Men Pure Coffee. It's yummy and oddly comforting.

The coffee is slowly replaced by a woody-patchouli accord, that new clean patchouli that's in everything; there is nothing about New Haarlem that suggests grime or decay or unpleasantness of any sort. The notes drift in and out, and there's a lot of (again, clean) cedar; eight or ten hours later, the scent is still there, the coffee a bare memory against a backdrop of vaguely sweet wood and a hint of chocolatey warmth. The whole scent isn't diffusive: it plays it close to the vest, the kind of thing you have to lean in to get a good whiff of. If I had smelled this at the same time as I tried A*Men Pure Coffee, New Haarlem is the one I would have bought. (In fact, since the Mugler was a limited edition and is no longer available, you're still in luck if you want a top-notch coffee scent.)

Despite its positioning by the company as the sort of thing that hip musicians would wear, you could easily imagine New Haarlem to be the smell of a man in a business suit, the sort who wants to smell subtle but powerful, the kind of man who isn't going to wear a standard-issue fresh scent but instead a close-to-the-vest power oriental. And so here's what I want to know: since coffee (alongside martinis and cocaine) is the primary fuel of the business world, why on Earth wasn't this one named Wall Street?

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5 Comments:

  • New Haarlem is wonderful and I really enjoyed your review. I have a decant and it's my favorite rainy Saturday type of fragrance; also the scent that finally helped me to appreciate the ubiquitous clean patchouli note you mentioned.

    By Blogger Anita, at 12:32 PM  

  • I was at Barney's the other day and the SA for Bond No. 9 let me test New Harlem. It is very nice and I was tempted...maybe next time. She mentioned that David Beckham had been in the store the day before and had bought 5 bottles of New Harlem. I guess it is not only musicians who buy their scents!
    Arwen

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:57 PM  

  • You made me laugh that you were worried about being forced to give a positive review after receiving Bond No 9's press kit and samples! I've only received 3 press kits in my entire perfume blogging history (I've only been writing since June) and I felt the very same way! Thankfully, like you, one of them was Lexington Avenue which I loved. ;-)

    Hey, I love New Haarlem, too. I need to tell you to try Ava Luxe Cafe Noir. It's even better than New Haarlam...I'm smitten with it.

    By Blogger Abigail, at 11:41 PM  

  • Just wrote my first fragrance review, so I don't imagine the press agents are seeking me out yet. http://criticize-everything.blogspot.com/

    By Blogger Joel, at 3:07 PM  

  • Anita--If I didn't have a HUGE bottle of A*Men Pure Coffee, I would have ordered New Haarlem last week. It's really me.

    Arwen--5 bottles? Really? One for each house, or...what?

    Abigail--Ava Luxe, you say? I'll have to get a decant from The Perfumed Court; I should have ordered a bunch of stuff from them a long time ago.

    Joel--It took me almost three years (and I still don't know how she stumbled on me), so unless you are unusually lucky or exceedingly popular, I wouldn't count on being noticed. Stranger things have happened, though.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 10:36 PM  

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