One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Old School: Badgely Mishka

There's nothing inherently wrong with the category of the fruity floral: it's been around for quite a while, and some of its inhabitants are very nice. But the huge majority of scents released in the last decade or so, possibly longer, have been fruity florals of a very specific style. If you pass a teenage girl and she's wearing a fragrance, it's probably some artless decoction of cheap synthetic fruit (never lush and juicy, always bright and astringent, a sort of high-pitched whine in olfactory space), vague indefinable flowers, and sticky-sweet musk. Like so:

Mandarin, Juicy Pear, Wild Berries, Jasmine, Creamy Florals, Vanilla, Soft Musks. (Justin Beiber)

Natural Raspberry, Grapefruit, Pear, Violet, Wild Rose, Apple Blossom, Musks, Cedarwood, Plum. (Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau So Fresh)

Alphonso Mango, Blood Orange, Watery Blossom, Sweet Primrose, Raspberry, Coconut Cream, Musk, Sandalwood. (Escada Taj Sunset)

Pomegranate, Orange And Green Leaf, Rose, Freesia, Lily, Cedar Wood, Sandalwood, and White Musk. (Burberry Summer)

That's four chosen at random from Sephora's best-seller list, four scents released in the last few months. (I really did choose them at random, though I just checked and most of the others are in a similar vein.) The details are a little different, but they're all essentially the same, as if they were all dispensed from a gigantic vat somewhere in, well, somewhere. Does it matter where? (And "natural raspberry"? Really? Raspberries don't release a fragrant oil in response to the arts of perfumery. It's synthetic, like nearly all fruit aromas used in fragrances.)

But 2006's Badgely Mishka, whose alarmingly chic and slightly dangerous bottle you can see up there, is not really a fruity floral, not in the usual sense of the term, because the emphasis is reversed so drastically. It starts with a joyous tumble of plump, ripe, almost fermented-into-brandy fruit dominated by peach and blackcurrant, with the apricot scent of osmanthus just beneath the surface, and though the scent gradually evolves into a sort of a floral, the fruit — still full and rich, more drinkable than eatable — stays and stays and stays, and dominates all the way through. It's like a magic trick, and how was it accomplished?

Badgely Mishka is something you may have thought was extinct or impossible, a fruity floral for grownups: it's sweet, yes, but sweet in the service of something grander than mere teenaged prettiness.

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