One Thousand Scents

Friday, September 16, 2011

There It Is: Orange Blossom by Gorilla Perfume (eventually)

Let's see how long it takes me to get to the point today. A while, I'm thinking.

James Jorden, who as his alter ego La Cieca (Italian for "the blind woman" and a character from the opera La Gioconda) heads up the splendidly bitchy opera blog Parterre Box, also writes reviews under his own name for the New York Post, among others. He recently wrote a review of the revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies", and if you aren't interested in reading it (you should), here is a divagation a few paragraphs long that resounded with me:

...When you start writing reviews, or, rather, when you start writing reviews that people actually read, very early on you run into the Siskel and Ebert Dilemma: The realization that potential audiences may be making the decision to see or not to see, to buy or not to buy, based on your published take on the entertainment in question.

Even when the reader feedback is very positive indeed (“I went to see Satyagraha based on your rave review, and it was amazing!”), there’s this little inside-the-head voice nagging at you: “Who the hell are you to be persuading this guy to be spending his money on a Philip Glass opera?” And, when a critic has an inflated sense of his influence, the voice amps up the volume to such absurdities as “Too bad the Met didn’t have you around the last time they did Billy Budd, because that show didn’t draw flies.”

But the real worry here for a reviewer (again, assuming anybody cares what he writes) is this: If I write a mixed review, with maybe a little more focus on the negatives, am I going to scare somebody away from what is, on the whole, a worthwhile experience, or anyway an experience that somebody might find worthwhile?


Luckily, I don't have that kind of influence, but it still nags at me. People are creating works of art — in this case, perfumes — and sending them out into the world, where they have an independent life of their own, and I and others get to experience them and judge them. Where does any reviewer's obligation lie: to be as fair as possible, or to express their opinions as truthfully as possible? This is why I forever find myself saying things like, "I hated it, but I'm not you, and maybe you'll love it."

We may be past the days when New York Times reviewers were able to shut down a restaurant or a play with a single scathing review, but that may only be because the Internet is replacing newspapers, so there are ever more opinions in print. Still, that kind of power is worrisome. It's good to be able to steer the public away from the truly awful, but not to be able to destroy people's honest livelihood with a few carefully honed words.

I think, or at least hope, that people are becoming more sophisticated when they read reviews: they know that what they're reading is still just an opinion, however educated and sophisticated it might be. It's a guideline rather than a diktat. The more you read a particular reviewer, the more you get to know their tastes: if theirs happen to coincide with yours, then you can place ever more faith in their opinions.

This is an easy task when it comes to book and movie critics, but I've never yet found a fragrance reviewer whose opinion I agree with more than half the time. Luca Turin, probably the most well-known, is opinionated to a degree that occasionally borders on the vendetta: his disdain for Mona di Orio seems positively unhinged, well beyond a mere disdain for her fragrances (none of which I have ever smelled), forcing one to wonder if there is some personal animus behind the professional drubbing he gives her. He is not as fond of Serge Lutens as I am (though we occasionally agree, as on the dreadful eighties men's-fragrance rehash Un Bois Sepia, which Turin called a "dim-witted sport fragrance"). His two-out-of-five review for Lutens' Rousse calls it "bizarre" and "one fine mess": would you like to know what I think?

When I wrote about Rousse last year, I noted that I was using a rollerball version that had a base of silicone oil rather than alcohol, and therefore would almost certainly smell different from the actually, commercially available scent (silicone usually means no top notes), and I was right. I got a proper sample earlier this month and I finally got around to trying it as it was meant to be worn. Today is the first properly cool day of the fall (well, the pre-fall, I guess), and Rousse is just the kind of thing you want to be wearing: a thrilling blast of mandarin and spices with all the familiarity of a men's fragrance but taken in a slightly strange and thoroughly Lutensian direction (this is not a clove-studded orange), the autumnal, spicy-woody angularity of cinnamon and cloves dominating the opening and middle, gradually modulating into a warm, dulcet ground bass of amber, sandalwood, and still more spice. I loved the rollerball version but I love the eau de parfum even more, and I strongly suspect that I am going to be owning this in the foreseeable future.

A few years ago, Bond No. 9 sent me an insanely huge press pack containing press releases and samples of all their current fragrances, about thirty in all. I was on their mailing list for a while, and got a few more press kits and samples (which I duly reviewed), and then the largesse stopped coming; I figured they had revised their press strategy and were downsizing the number of kits they sent out, though of course in the back of my head was the less charitable assumption that I wasn't playing by the rules — I was saying what I thought rather than just giving the sort of breathlessly uncritical coverage that fashion magazines are known for — and therefore had been banned. But I'm still on their e-mail list, because e-mails cost nothing to send out.

A few weeks ago I got a notice of a new upcoming line; the e-mail asked if I would like samples and a press pack for the three new scents. Yes, I said, I would. And I still don't have them. Will I? Don't know. In the spirit of fairness I provided an e-mail link to all my previous Bond No. 9 reviews, though of course they could have easily just looked them up. It may be the case that someone there read my reviews and figured they're not wasting the postage on me, or maybe the post office is slow these days. But just to prove that there are no hard feelings, here's a shot of one of their new holiday offerings:

Now just look at that! Ten perfect 5-mL miniatures in a gorgeous gift box. (The scents included are I presume their best sellers: Andy Warhol Union Square, Bleecker Street, Bond No. 9 Signature, Chelsea Flowers, Chinatown, Eau de New York, Hamptons, Nuits de Noho, The Scent of Peace, and Wall Street. For the record: hated Union Square, disdained Wall Street, liked Bleecker Street, loved Nuits de Noho, and haven't tried the rest.) I think the price, $250, is a little steep; $150 would have been closer to the mark. But that is still a terrific gift idea. They do really great seasonal merchandise.

Also in time for the Christmas insanity is a new version of Clinique's Aromatics Elixir called Perfumer's Reserve (stoppered perfume bottle, no sprayer, 25 mL, $75). The press release refers to the original's restrained savagery with such adjectives as "visceral", "intellectual", "unorthodox", "severe", "complex", "uncompromising", and "formidable", all perfectly accurate. And then it tells us that the new version will be "a fresher, smoother, modern interpretation," and that can only mean one thing: no oakmoss. You can tell without reading the ingredient list that it will be a "modern chypre", which means lighter, less assertive, bottom-loaded with clean molecularized patchouli but with none of the earthy-dirty oakmoss that makes true chypres compelling. as the press release says:

• Rose, jasmine, myrrh and patchouli notes are cleaner, lighter, with a contemporary transparency.
• The addition of orange flower absolute and peach lends a creamy luminosity.


I think it's inevitable that there are elements of perfumery that one just doesn't like: I can't stand large quantities of iris, straight-up patchouli is impossible on me, and as far as I can tell, lilac, ravishing though it is in the wild, never translates well into a composed scent. But then there are elements that one just doesn't get, and one of them for me is orange blossom. I don't hate it; I would just usually rather it not be there. Even when it indisputably works (as with Dior's Fahrenheit 32), it never translates into a really wearable, compelling scent for me. Adding orange blossom to Aromatics Elixir seems like it would be a step backwards, although I suppose that if you're already wrecking it by de-chyprifying it, orange blossom is not going to make the situation any worse.

Lush's Orange Blossom by Gorilla Perfume is hardly anything but its namesake, and as usual, I don't get it, but at least you can't accuse it of false advertising. If you like orange-flower, then you will like this; otherwise, you may safely steer clear and be missing nothing.

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3 Comments:

  • I'm totally entertained by this "review of Gorilla Perfume Orange Blossom" (because that's ultimately what it is. :)

    You spent more time describing the Bonds that you hate (which I agree with! Wall Street smells like aging fish to me) than you did on the Orange Blossom, which says a lot.

    I was really excited about the new Gorilla Perfume line about six months ago - concept seemed good, LT liked Breath of God (I agree with him about 70% of the time), etc. But I just couldn't get into *any* of them. BoG came close. But the others are just aggravatingly ANNOYING! They Won't Let Go Once They're On You. Shrill, unbalanced, overly sweet, overly loud, too powdery, not complex enough, etc. I could go on, but you haven't.

    By Blogger Brian, at 1:21 PM  

  • Yeah, they're all super-loud, with the possible exception of Imogen Rose, which is the politest and definitely the best of the line. I sort of like Vanillary, too, though I won't pretend it's the best vanilla on the market. Sure makes itself known, though.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 3:25 PM  

  • Well, that was a fun ride...

    As far as the power of a review goes - there are folks with whom I usually agree about perfumes (I almost always love what Denyse loves) and folks with whom I don't. I take that into account when reading a review and planning a sniff, as I think most fragrance-lovers do. As I think, I'll extrapolate, most even half-intelligent readers of reviews of all sorts do.

    By Blogger StyleSpy, at 10:16 AM  

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