One Thousand Scents

Friday, February 15, 2013

Room for One More: Rose Anonyme by Atelier Cologne


Virtually every fragrance that hits the market these days seems to contain notes of apple, pink pepper, or oud. They're the Internet meme of perfumery: cheap, modish, and inescapable. It seems to be a feedback loop, and I'm guessing it runs along these lines:

1) Researchers discover a new aroma molecule which is safe, pleasant, easily manufactured, and cheap to produce.

2) Company, whose market research tells them this is something that will sell, makes massive quantities of this molecule and sells the liquid to perfume manufacturers as the New Big Thing.

3) Manufacturers tell their in-house perfumers to employ the new molecule in everything (they've got a lot of it to get rid of).

4) Resultant perfume sells well due to some mysterious combination of marketing and zeitgeist (actual quality is completely irrelevant).

5) Everyone else jumps on the bandwagon, because in the world of commerce, the only good bet is a safe bet: every perfume manufacturer wants a risk-free way to make something that will sell as well as something someone else already made, and the best way to do that is to make a near copy.

6) Eventually, tastes change and people get tired of the New Big Thing.

7) Researchers in the meantime discover another molecule and off we go again.

When YSL's M7 was launched in 2002, oud, aka agarwood, was still an uncommon ingredient in Western perfumery, costly and time-consuming to produce (and from an endangered resource to boot), and it's possible that M7's oud was the real deal, but now it's safe to assume that most or all of the oud used in commercial perfumery is a less expensive synthetic. At least a hundred scents launched last year contained oud, and since oud has a way of dominating everything it touches, it seemed to be literally everywhere in more than one sense.

Rose Anonyme — an incomprehensible name — contains oud, which means it has a dark, mucky overtone amplified by the addition of patchouli, which means in turn that Rose Anonyme is yet another rose-patchouli scent in a marketplace already awash with them. It's intensely rosy, I'll give it that: and it's not quite like any other rose scent I know of. But it's also not entirely pleasant. I'm not enough of a philistine to think that every scent has to be immediately or persistently attractive, but I do think that there has to be at least some point in the evolution of a fragrance that you aren't thinking of scrubbing it off just to be rid of it.

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