One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Written Word: Bond No. 9 Brooklyn

There are three main ways to write about a fragrance.

First is the Fashion Magazine approach, which is to condense the press release, rearrange it a little, use all the important buzzwords, make sure it conforms to the stylebook. Maybe you smell it first, but that isn't really necessary. After all, you're busy: you have a lot of other things to write about, and there's space to be filled in your publication.

Second is the Day Trip technique, which is to wear it once (maybe twice), compare it to other things you've smelled, jot down some notes, maybe do a little research, compose a few paragraphs, and move on to the next one. After all, there are a lot of scents out there, and you just don't have time to live with all of them before writing about them.

Third is the Deep Thought method, which is to wear a scent repeatedly, think about it, analyze it, read about it, wear it some more, write, rewrite, wear it some more, rewrite, and finally declare yourself done. After all, fragrance is an art form, and it deserves to be given the same consideration as any other.

There are, of course, gradations between the second and third ways: some people will spend time with a scent and get to know it without completely obsessing over it. But, for better or for worse, the third is my approach. I have to feel I'm doing it justice, and I really need to live with a scent before I can judge it. It's the main reason that, although I'd love to post five or six times a week, I don't. (The other reasons are that I don't have infinite access to samples and would either run out of things to write about or bankrupt myself, and that I have some semblance of a life apart from scent.)

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The press pack for the new Bond No. 9 scent, Brooklyn, contains the following sentence:

On the cutting edge of perfumery, Brooklyn also has what's known in the trade as sillage, which is to say it doesn't cling to the skin, but rather diffuses, leaving a trail behind it.

I thought this was a slightly odd sentence, because it sounds as if the idea of sillage was cutting-edge, which it definitely isn't: it's an old French word for a very old idea, that of a perfume which leaves a little of itself behind. Most oriental scents will do that, among others.

I didn't find Brooklyn particularly sillage-y, at least not any more so than most scents of its kind. But:

Today I put some on before I went to work, just a little, because I intended to finish and publish this review when I got home and I wanted to make sure I could form any last-minute impressions. At work a couple of hours later I was serving a customer, and I had to move from one part of the counter to another, after which she said with surprising intensity, "Oh, you smell really good!" And then she continued: "I wasn't sure it was you at first, but then you left a trail when you walked and I knew that's what it was."

So there you have it: a walking, talking example of sillage in action, and a most definite vote for Brooklyn.

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Cardamom is the new It Girl of notes in men's perfumery. Four of the ten newest scents on Osmoz.com have it (Penhaligon's Elixir, Ed Hardy Love and Luck for Men, Avon's Patrick Dempsey Unscripted, and Davidoff's Silver Shadow Private).

It's how Brooklyn starts out, too: a big, splashy nose-clearing blast of grapefruit and cardamom, each easily identifiable but fused together, and extraordinarily cheerful.

The middle of the scent doesn't particularly grab me, I'm forced to say (though it grabbed my customer, and she spent almost $400, though I don't want to speculate on cause and effect). It's composed of, according to the official notes, cypress, juniper berries (the main flavourant in gin), and geranium leaves. It doesn't smell different enough from any number of other men's scents. (Brooklyn is officially unisex, but it definitely reads as masculine.) What I'm used to from Bond No. 9 is scents with a twist, and there isn't one in the middle of Brooklyn. However, the finale, which lasts for quite a few hours, is charming: creamy-woody, as if wood were edible, with a little hint of smoke, something I often find in cedar.

If I had to guess, I'd say that the most-loved of Bond No. 9's iconic bottles is the cherry-blossom design for Chinatown (you can see it here, along with all the others), but for me, Brooklyn is at the top of the list. There were complaints about the graffiti, as if that were the only thing that defined the borough, but what better way is there to instantly denote the sort of big-city energy that Brooklyn is meant to symbolize? I think it's fantastic: it's just the sort of thing you'd want to see on your dresser every morning--it would immediately put you in a good mood, those big jagged letters and bright primary colours.

However, I can't help but think that the price point, $145 for a 50-mL bottle and $220 for 100 mL, is just a little on the crazy side. I don't have a huge amount of money to spend on fragrance, and for $145 U.S., just a hair under $180 Canadian, a scent would have to fall into the Miraculous category instead of the Really Good. (I've never spent nearly that much on any one scent: the closest I ever came was the current equivalent of about $110 U.S., and I had to take a deep breath before I could do that.) But there will be people who can't live without it (particularly if it garners them the sort of reaction I got this afternoon), and, more to the point, there will be people who can't live without that bottle. I can see why.

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