One Thousand Scents

Friday, October 12, 2012

Carbon Copy: Lady Gaga Fame

I won't lie: I kind of like Lady Gaga. I think a half-dozen or so of her songs are extremely well-crafted pop confections, and she's always interesting to listen to and look at: she has ideas and she embodies them in her clothing and stagecraft.

A charge that's followed Gaga throughout her career is that she copies everything she does from others, and it's not a completely baseless claim, I guess: she certainly seems to have based at least part of what she does on Madonna, and if you Google "lady gaga copies" you will find other examples. But most art is essentially copying things that other people have done and then putting your own spin on it: there have been very, very few genuinely innovative artists over the centuries. She does have a style of her own, and you don't see many other pop musicians wearing prostheses on their face and body and claiming that they're excrescences of their creativity, a new self bursting forth.

The meat dress

wasn't new: Ann Simonton did it decades ago as a feminist statement on how women are viewed as commodities (and Simonton's outfit was made of processed meat, deepening the idea), whereas Gaga seems to have done it merely to shock. Likewise a coat made of skinned Muppets —yikes!

But sometimes she doesn't just want to shock: she wants to extend the idea of what might reasonably be considered clothing. A corset in the form of a gyroscope/orrery? Don't see anybody else doing that.

Pearls not merely worn but caked onto the face and body? It may have been hideous, but it wasn't like anything anyone else was doing.

And she was clearly born to wear Alexander McQueen's most avant-garde styles.

When she announced that she was launching a fragrance, naturally enough everyone sat up and listened, because if anybody was going to insert a niche scent into the mass market, it was Gaga. She stumbled out of the gate, though: she said it was going to smell of semen and blood, appalling the general public and causing the perfumerati to roll their eyes, because of course blood-and-semen has already been done, in the form of Etat Libre d'Orange's Sécretions Magnifiques. Later on, she pulled back and said more or less that it was going to smell like an expensive hooker, as if there aren't already dozens, probably hundreds, of scents on the market that smell exactly like that (and once again Etat Libre d'Orange beat her to the punch with Putain des Palaces).

The back of the box reads, among many other things, "Compounded by Lady Gaga," but I find it inconceivable that the Lady had anything to do with the creation of this scent, because there is little in it to distinguish it from any of the hundreds of other fruity florals that clutter up the shelves. The official word (again on the chatty back of the box) is that it consists of "tears of belladonna, crushed heart of tiger orchidea, with a black veil of incense, pulverized apricot*, and the combinative essences of saffron and honey drops," which is a load of rubbish.

At first blast, Fame is essentially the smell of a grape Popsicle, sweet and artificial. That vanishes in less than a minute, giving way to a honey-sweet, vaguely apricotty bunch of indistinguishable flowers; they may actually be belladonna and orchids, or they may be some concoction from a clever chemist's vat, but they are nothing you haven't smelled before. I'm guessing there's some wood in there to give it some kind of structure, and definitely something vanillic and slightly ambery to ground it. (The incense is MIA.) It's not, thank god, chokingly sweet: in fact, it's just sweet enough (a very subjective evaluation, I admit).

The bottle may be intended to represent the cosmic egg, the sort of thing she climbed out of at the Grammys last year, but unfortunately its shape also bears close kinship to any one of dozens of other bottles on the market, including Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds, Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely, Agent Provocateur, and Arpége. The cap is briefly arresting for its lack of radial symmetry (it has an unexpected bilateral symmetry instead), but mostly it calls to mind Mugler's imprisoned-in-claws bottle for Alien.

Perhaps the only really unique thing about the scent is the fact that it's opaque black in the bottle (actually, if you hold it up to a strong light, a translucent purplish grey) but invisible on the skin. There was much crowing about this technology, as if it hadn't been perfected decades before in joke ink squirted from joke fountain pens onto people's shirts. There was also much noise made about the scent's lack of traditional structure, how it used "push-pull technology" to "trampoline" various elements of the scent at random intervals rather than have them proceed in the usual chronological fashion. This is complete nonsense: the scent develops as a scent should.

Lady Gaga Fame isn't horrible: it's actually pleasant enough, and while I was testing it I wasn't desperate to scrub it off my skin. I wouldn't cringe if I smelled it on a co-worker. But it's so insultingly average. You could put it in any bottle under any celebrity's name and it wouldn't make an atom of difference, because there's nothing at all to distinguish it from any other such scent. Ironically, given its namesake, it doesn't have any personality.

* If I may take a slight etymological excursus here: "pulverize" is from Latin "pulvis", "dust", related to "pollen", and modern German "Pulver" means "powder". Pulverized apricots, then, must be reduced to dust, and I submit that this is essentially impossible, because fresh apricots are juicy things and dried apricots are rubbery, meaty things, and neither can be reduced to powder, unless perhaps you freeze-dried the apricots to render them hard and brittle (if that's even possible), and then, I further submit, they would likely have no smell. "Pulverized apricots", then, is stupid. What's wrong with "apricot pulp" or "apricot nectar"?


  • Thanks for a *reasonable* and *accurate* review - I don't think it's the most horrible thing I've ever smelled, but I also am completely utterly bored by it. (Maybe horrible would have been more interesting?) I saw lots of people jump on the Gaga bandwagon, only to tar and feather her when the scent actually came out - it really is dull, and I expected a lot more. But it's not vile.

    By Blogger Brian, at 1:47 PM  

  • Horrible certainly would have been more interesting, but I think if it had been horrible, it wouldn't have been horrible in an interesting way — it would have been horrible in an everyone's-done-this-already way. All I needed was one element to shake it out of its stupor, and I hate to ride this pony again but every successful Serge Lutens fragrance has at least one weird or discordant element, so clearly it's not that hard to do. What about a metallic tinge to the top? What if the supposed apricots had been curried? What if there was a dark undertone of not just caramelized but actually burnt sugar in the base?

    No, whoever created Lady Gaga Fame was obviously ordered to keep their eyes firmly on the mass market, and so they produced something that is no different from everything else the masses are buying, and that is a shame.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 2:14 PM  

  • It certainly isn't a horrible scent. In fact, just last week, I was just writing about how much it smells like Love Etc by The Body Shop!

    Fame is probably a letdown in the fact that everything is focused only on the exterior and concept, lacking the actual substance to back it up. Just like her entire persona vs her music.

    I got a chuckle listening to a track called Ego Music in Pet Shop Boy's latest CD. Google the lyrics. I swear it's about Lady Gaga and all the drivel that comes out of her. If only she can channel that same creativity into her music and this perfume.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:55 PM  

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