One Thousand Scents

Friday, June 14, 2013

Back in Black: Comme des Garçons Black

Well, I'm back.

I've been back for weeks, but it was hard to work up enough of a head of steam to write about scents. There have been entire days when I didn't even bother to wear one, which is a new and unwelcome development. Since I last posted, the lilacs bloomed and are gone, the earth has turned on its axis forty times, and manufacturers have launched another hundred and fifty or so fragrances: if that last fact isn't reason for true despair then I don't know what is.

For Mother's Day I took my mom out to lunch — not on Mother's Day, but the day before, because you know on the second Sunday of May every restaurant is packed from brunch 'til close — and bought her some things I knew she'd like: chocolates, a jar of pricey(ish) face cream, and a bottle of her favourite fragrance, Dior Addict. I knew she'd like those things because she picked them out: then I paid for them and had the cashier wrap the Dior so Mom would have the pleasure of opening it the next day.

I bet your moms do this: she slid a fingernail under a piece of tape on the wrapping so she could carefully open the package and then save the paper. I said, "Mom. You don't need to save the paper. Just rip it open. Rip it to shreds." She looked at me. "JUST DO IT!" I said, and she did. And after she had, I said, "You've never done that before in your life, have you?" And she hadn't. But she enjoyed it.

I naturally got the cashier to toss in a couple of samples: they turned out to be Something Sweet, the newest from Canadian cosmetics queen Lise Watier, and Adam Levine for Men, and you don't need me to tell you that they were both utterly dreadful, do you?

After visiting with Mom, I went to Toronto, where Jim flew up to meet me and we spent nearly a week doing most everything we could think of. We went to three operas, we saw a passel of movies, we spent time with our friends Ralph and Ansuya, and we did some shopping — but not for scents, which, in case it hasn't become clear, have started to lose their lustre. Of those hundred and fifty or so scents that have been launched in the last six weeks, there are surely at least a few that are worth sniffing: but most of those are not going to be anywhere that I can get my hands on them. The odds that I would stumble across something wonderful are not good, and they're getting worse all the time: more and more scents, from an ever more restricted palette of ingredients, marketed to an ever more undiscerning population. Hence my despair.

But I'll get over it. I have dozens of Luckyscent samples to try: maybe one or two of them will be up to scratch. It could happen!

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Comme des Garçons scents, as a pretty good rule, revel in modernity, flaunt it: they're more interested in being extreme than in being attractive. The original CdG scent, launched in 1994, was violently spicy and in no way beautiful, though of course it had its fans and is still in production. CdG has produced entire lines of scents that were meant to be off-puttingly modern: their Odeur 53 and Odeur 71 are deliberately synthetic (boasting wacky, improbable notes such as Dust on a Light Bulb and Photocopier Toner), and those were basically trial runs for the five-part Synthetic collection, now discontinued. Even their florals like Carnation and Rose have a certain attack-dog quality to them: they're poles apart from department-store florals.

The newest CdG scent is called Black, not to be confused with the Black entry in their Play series. I don't know if you're as tired of scents called Black or Noir that have no business using the name: it's ridiculous to call a sport scent Black and pretend that it's anything but another sport scent, as Kenneth Cole did with his Black. I think that just as scents calling themselves "Green" should be green, a "Black" should be black: dark, moody, sombre, witchy, or funereal. Givenchy can call a perfume Dahlia Noir, but that doesn't make it anything other than an uninteresting floral with nothing dark about it. (I'm sure the name is an offhanded reference to the Black Dahlia, although naming a scent after a failed actress and famed murder victim seems a trifle strange: but the packaging and the advertising made it clear that Noir was what they were going after, and they failed completely.)

On the other hand, sometimes you actually do get what it says on the package. Bulgari Black, Perry Ellis 360 Degrees Black, and Tom Ford Black Orchid hit the mark, smelling respectively of black rubber, licorice, and dark vanillic flowers.

CdG Black has earned its name, too. The top is aggressive, just a little too much too-much: with its pepper-and-petrochemical bite, it suggests tarry scents like Bulgari Black and Goutal's Eau de Fier. After fifteen minutes or so, it settles down into an unexpectedly comforting pairing of black licorice and smoky incense, where it stays for a few hours, gradually succumbing to a base of leathery cedar. It is dark without being oppressive, and the slow crepuscular transition from powerhouse spice to subtle woody leather is a marvellous thing.

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