One Thousand Scents

Friday, December 19, 2008

Three Princesses

I was in a mall a couple of weeks ago and I was in a mood, because Christmas is coming and, well, you know. I went into the big department store to look at the fragrance gift sets and said to myself, "I am not leaving without a sample of something." That's often a challenge at any time of year but even more so at Christmas, but as I said, I was in a mood, so I was determined to have something.

I saw a sample lying on a counter, picked it up, saw that it was Jessica Simpson's newest scent, Fancy, thought, "Oh, you have got to be kidding", and put it back down. Snooping around, I noticed a little stack of samples behind one of those plastic displays for some fragrance or other--a favourite hiding place of the sales clerks. I reached behind and picked up one of each of the two samples lying there, not taking any particular care to be sneaky, because why should I be? They're free samples, and I have as much right to them as anyone: I'm probably not going to buy them, but I might, and I'll get at least as much use out of them as anyone else, because I'll definitely wear them just to see what they smell like and I might even write about them.

A sales clerk who was helping another customer may have noticed what I was doing while she was helping another customer, because just as I was walking away from the counter, she came over to the general area of the plastic display and then (I think) gave me the old hairy eyeball. How dare I touch her samples! How dare I take them without asking!

I work in retail so I understand that attitude. You do get a proprietary feeling towards your stuff, and you hate it when customers touch it without asking. But if I'd asked if she had any samples, she would probably have said no, because I am a guy asking for samples in the women's fragrance department, and anyway they were just lying there, indifferently concealed: it's not as if I took her keys and opened the locked drawers behind the counter.

And then on the way out I picked up that sample of Fancy, just because, and so I ended up with three scents clearly aimed at very young women, with their princessy pink-and-purple colour schemes and their near-rococo ornamentation. And what do you know? One of them isn't terrible.

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Inspire by Christina Aguilera lurches out of the bottle a big, lumbering white floral with fruity overtones (mango and citrus), and it stays a big, lumbering white floral (mostly tuberose and gardenia) for nearly its entire life. If you like white florals, this may the sort of thing you like, but you may also feel that you've smelled it before, and you have, only done better. If you don't like white florals, which I sure don't, this will strike you as yet another thick, bludgeoning tuberose scent. I can't help but think that this is a misfire, because the target audience for it must surely be young women who listen to pop music a lot, and the fruity-floral opening can't disguise the fact that this is awfully mature. Nevertheless, I would imagine that quite a few bottles of this have been sold on the strength of the celebrity's name.

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Despite an almost comical attempt at some top notes, Anna Sui Night of Fancy (a follow-up to Flight of Fancy) consists almost entirely of a large block of creamy candy flavoured with artificial blueberry. It stays this way for a very long time. It's rather pleasant for a while, but it remains exactly as it for so long that eventually you just start to choke on it. The advertising and the name make it clear that this is supposed to be a sophisticated, evening sort of scent, but it's a twelve-year-old girl's idea of sophistication. The bottle, though, is exceedingly pretty, a Lalique-style fan stopper in the shape of a peacock atop a filigreed oblong full of luscious purple juice.

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The sample card for Fancy by Jessica Simpson contains a quote putatively by Simpson herself: "This is a unique fragrance--personal, whimsical, playful and romantic. To me, Fancy is just that: fancy." So she's not using the word in the Anna Sui sense of "fantasy" or "imagination": she means something like...what? Highly ornamented? Classy? Whimsical? All I can say is that if this her idea of fancy, then she's even more vulgar than I thought.

And yet the scent is sort of appealing, in a cheapjack kind of way. The first third or so is like grim death for anybody who's sick of fruity florals and overly sweet gourmand scents, because it's a huge wad of indefinable fruit, vague flowers, and sugar. Just when you start to think that this is the entire scent, it mostly boils away to reveal a candy-store core of vanilla, caramel, cream, and almonds, with an overtone of the cotton-candy scent of Aquolina Pink Sugar. Wildly unsophisticated, yet considerably more pleasant than you might think, unless you really hate gourmand scents, in which case steer clear. Later on the scent takes on a certain bakery quality, along with that Pink Sugar cotton candy; it lasts for hours and calls to mind various Comptoir Sud Pacifique offerings dominated by sweet vanilla. The bottle is also rather pretty, in an obvious way.

It's horrible to think about giving Jessica Simpson your money, but in truth, you could do much, much worse than Fancy, particularly if you need a Christmas gift for a teenage girl.

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