One Thousand Scents

Friday, October 24, 2008

Energy Shortage: Kenzo Power

When I sample yet another in a never-ending stream of men's scents, one of the hundreds upon hundreds I've smelled over the years, I sometimes wonder if this is how theatre critics feel when they sit through the latest social-issue play or the twentieth revival of "King Lear" or "The Importance of Being Earnest". The audience might not have seen it all before, but then they don't make a lifelong habit, and even a career, out of seeing everything that rolls into town. It's the same with fragrances. If you're a man who wanders into the department-store perfumery once a year, or under duress, or if you've just turned twenty, then you won't have experienced the extreme sameness of most of the industry's offerings, and you might well try, and fall in love with, something that I'd consider painfully run of the mill. The huge majority of men's scents for the last twenty years have been some variation of the fresh aquatic scent: because human ingenuity is unbounded, there's still new territory to be trod here, I think, but Kenzo Power isn't it.

There's nothing particularly wrong with Kenzo Power. It's nice enough, unobjectionable and even a little interesting at times. It's just that for all its vaunted novelty--a men's floral!--it's neither remarkable nor new. If you didn't know that it had a floral heart, you wouldn't think of it as being anything out of the ordinary.

Up front is a fizzy shot of peppered bergamot which is promising, and charming, for the few minutes it lasts. Unfortunately, it's quickly drowned out by a very standard fresh composition with a suggestion of vanilla.

The core of the scent is a floral accord of rose, jasmine, and freesia, but these flowers have been so neutered and compromised and lavatory-freshened that they barely read as flowers at all. Using flowers in men's scents isn't new: many of them contain rose and jasmine as grace notes, and some flowers such as carnation and lavender appear in as many men's as women's scents, possibly more. The flowers in Kenzo Power, though, are abstracted beyond recognition. I doubt you could name the flowers if you didn't know what they were supposed to be: I doubt that most people would even interpret them as flowers.

The burndown is as pleasant as the top, a cozy little piece of cedar burnished with more vanilla. It isn't much different, though, than the woody-balsamic base of a lot of other men's fragrances. The whole thing feels like a lost opportunity: Kenzo could have created a genuinely bold and fascinating men's floral scent--I can easily imagine a scent which showcases rose, jasmine, and freesia, yet still reads as masculine--and instead he dumped a little vial of synthetic florals into someone else's fragrance.

The bottle is very beautiful--a solid, surprisingly heavy little chrome beaker that's like a stylized sake bottle, bearing the scent's logo complete with an equally stylized flower. I wish the contents had been as compelling.

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