One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Shore Thing: L Lempicka

There's no doubt upon encountering a Lolita Lempicka fragrance that this is a woman who sees herself as a capital-r Romantic. Her bottles are dreamy and abstracted. The bottle for her first, eponymous women's fragrance looks like an apple, in lavender glass wrapped with ivy leaves and signed with her name in a loose, girly script. The men's follow-up, Au Masculin, is in that same lavender glass, and looks like a gnarled tree trunk with the name carved into it--you can easily imagine its bearing your initials instead, "SG + LL"--inside a heart.

The scents are equally romanticized, sweet and luscious gourmand scents, both based on ivy leaves, licorice, and vanilla. I find them both a little cloying, as well, but the men's version at least has some drier elements (rum and cedar) to thin out the sugariness.

There's no point in expecting anything shocking from Lempicka; she won't be doing a whip-cracking leather scent or a dry chypre any time soon. After a few of what the industry calls "flankers", new scents leveraged from older ones and capitalizing on their established name (even if they have nothing in common with the originals), she launched her second original women's scent last year, L.

One glance at the bottle would tell you it's another Lempicka scent. Instead of a forest motif, this one has an oceanic theme, to say the least. It's an aquamarine heart embossed with a starfish and draped with a bit of gold fishnet. Attached to this with wire are a tiny glass starfish, a pearly little teardrop of beach glass, and her initial done up in fake rhinestones, all tied to the sprayer cap (itself a triangular chunk of beach glass) with fine rope.

The scent itself isn't especially oceanic, mind you. It's flat-out romantic again, another gourmand oriental, and an extremely nice one at that. This time the star of the show isn't licorice but immortelle, a flower that has a peculiar but pleasant maple-syrup note to it. The scent opens with a brisk shot of orange peel and cinnamon, but it doesn't smell like potpourri or mulled wine, because immediately underneath it is a slosh of vanilla, which will be present throughout the entire scent. There's an element of the top notes that could, if you put your mind to it, suggest seawater, but it certainly isn't an important or dominant note.

The immortelle makes its appearance soon afterwards, and that maple smell--not strong, certainly not like a puddle of syrup--mixes with the vanilla and a very soft, indistinct floral note. It's charming: neither flowery nor cloying, but soothing and sweet. The middle notes begin to fade fairly quickly, in an hour or so, and from then on the scent is a slow gourmand progression towards the base notes of musky wood and still more vanilla.

I like L a lot. The bottle is girly, practically a parody of teen-girl arts-and-crafts romanticism, but the scent itself is unisex and charming.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Darkman: YSL Body Kouros

I didn't think too much of Yves Saint Laurent's Kouros (Greek for "young man",used to refer to sculptures of young athletes) when it was launched--I didn't really know anything about scents then--and I didn't pay too much attention to it in the intervening years. I suppose I'll have to revisit it one of these days and see if my opinion's changed. (It's an aromatic, heavily floral, sort-of-oriental men's scent, if I remember correctly.)

When Body Kouros was launched in 2000, though, I sat up and took notice. First, I have to try everything that comes down the pike (a pleasure that's getting ever harder to indulge), and second, it's exactly the sort of thing I love, a dark, smoldering, almost gothic scent.

The scent is remarkably simple. It opens with a riveting blast of eucalyptus, saved from smelling like a cold-and-flu vaporizer by a cool hint of anise and the spicy warmth of mace (a relative of nutmeg). The middle is a big chunk of just-lit incense (with a little lavender and carnation to brighten it up), which gives way in a surprisingly short time, only a couple of hours, to a warm, rich base of vanillic benzoin and tonka bean, supported by sandalwood.

It suggests a number of other men's scents to me: it has aspects of Yohji Homme, Mugler's A*Men, Givenchy's Pi, and Rochas Man, among others, which means that it reads as a men's gourmand oriental. It's not quite like any of them, though: much incensier and much less sweet, the perfect middle ground for someone who thinks that that category is too candied for them.

The Body Kouros bottle by itself isn't anything particularly noteworthy, but when you place it next to the original Kouros bottle you can see how very clever it is in comparison. It looks like the original bottle, with two exceptions: it's wrapped in a shiny black sheath which looks like skin-tight black leather, and it's placed on a glass pedestal. Sexy!

The original print ad is equally clever, something meant to suggest all of this all at once: the youthfulness and athleticism, the oriental gothiness, the black-leather sex. See?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Double Feature: Dolce and Gabbana BY Man

As a general rule, oriental scents play their hands quickly. On first sniff, you can tell you're getting an oriental scent, even with light or fresh top notes: there are intimations of darkness, perhaps, or a full-out barrage of darker, heavier notes evident right from the beginning.

Sometimes, though, a particularly well constructed scent will fool you.

Dolce and Gabbana's BY Man--what a strange name!--opens like a standard herbal-aromatic men's scent. In fact, it smells very, very much like Versace The Dreamer, with its chilly-spicy top note (in this case pepper and nutmeg) and its expansive lavender note. It more or less sits there for quite a while, and doesn't do much in the way of changing. It's very nice, but nothing more.

But then, if you haven't been applying your nose to your skin every ten minutes, something strange and unexpected happens while you're not paying attention: it simply turns into an oriental scent. There isn't the slightest hint of it in the top and middle notes: all of sudden, it's just a wholly different scent. It's the most inexplicable thing. I've been wearing nothing but this scent for days now and it always comes as a surprise.

The base notes, what I think of as the real scent, are delicious: warm, slightly sweaty leather (a sprinkling of patchouli gives it that sweaty-earthy scent); sandalwood, and the milky-woody scent of guiacwood; and, most of all, my beloved ambergris. They last, as you would expect, for hours.

The scent is wonderful, but I'd like to know what the deal is with the name, and with the bottle, which sort of has "tacky" written all over it in big zebra-skin stripes. (The women's version, just as inexplicably, is the same bottle except with leopard-skin.) The fact is that although many Dolce and Gabbana scents are wonderful, their bottles are probably, taken as a group, the worst in the trade, either boring or ridiculous. I just don't understand it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Tough: Cabochard by Gres

I often say that you can't tell what a scent is going to smell like just by reading the list of notes, and that's usually true, but sometimes you can have a fairly good idea of what you're going to be getting, and Cabochard is the perfect example of this.

Here's one list:

bergamot, mandarin, galbanum, ylang ylang, jasmine, Bulgarian rose, clove, oakmoss, tobacco, musk, iris, sandalwood, vetiver, leather, castoreum, patchouli, labdanum

and here's another (almost the same, but I try to be thorough):

Aldehydes, bergamot, mandardin, galbanum, spice notes: Jasmine, damascene rose, geranium, ylang-ylang, orris: Patchouli, vetiver, castoreum, oakmoss, musk, labdanum, sandalwood.

If you latch onto "galbanum" and "leather", you've got a pretty good sense of Cabochard.

The scent opens with a brilliant flash of citrus notes that last no time at all. They're almost immediately replaced with a dark-green garden courtesy of dry galbanum and a shadowy floral midnote. The shadows are cast by the animal notes (everything but ambergris, which would have sweetened the mix unacceptably), by the patchouli and, most of all, by the leather. Cabochard is, ultimately, all about leather, which threads its way through the entire scent from start to finish.

It is absolutely dry, possibly the driest chypre I've ever smelled. If you can ignore that bow on the bottle, it is also absolutely unisex: if someone told you it was a new men's scent, you wouldn't even think twice. Cabochard is resolutely strange: a late-fifties idea of modernity, resinous (by turns it suggests turpentine and cardboard, gasoline and rubber tires), animalic, severe and uncompromising. It means business.

Monday, March 05, 2007

All Wet: Escada Sunset Heat for Men

For the last seven or eight years, Escada has been launching a limited-edition summertime fragrance for women. Virtually all of them have been fruity florals, as they're meant to appeal to the young, and that seems to be all they're wearing nowadays. It wouldn't be fair to say that they're all identical, but they really are more or less interchangeable. This year is no exception: the offering this time is called Sunset Heat, and it smells of, according to the official list of notes, "Papaya, Lemon, Mango Sherbet, Pineapple Mousse, Icy Watermelon, Peach Lotus Flower, Hibiscus, Sandalwood, Musk, Amber Crystals.". Doesn't sound like anything I'll be wearing anytime soon.

There is something new, however: this year they've also launched a men's version, Sunset Heat for Men, and naturally enough I did have to try it, and if they wanted to make a flowerless version of a fruity floral, they succeed. Whether they should have is something else altogether.

The Sephora notes are "Kaffir Lime, Pomelo, Lemon California, Star Fruit, Sea Breeze, Lavender Wave, Surfer Flower, Crushed Leaves, Pacific Amber, Costa Rican Driftwood, Musk", to which Osmoz adds "combava, driftwood, willywood". The top note is a brazen shot of extremely synthetic fruit; it's beyond a doubt the most fruit-laden men's scent I've ever smelled, with the starfruit giving it the smell of a perfumed Japanese eraser. This, according to Osmoz, is the "party drink" accord.

That doesn't last forever, of course and fortunately, but at least it was strange and riveting, even if it isn't any good. What's underneath is a standard men's ozonic scent, with all the boringness that that implies. (That would be the "surf" accord, followed, eventually, by the "cabana" accord, which is to say the wood notes.) There's nothing to be said about it that hasn't been said about any of a hundred other scents aimed at the young-man market, except possibly "What the hell is a surfer flower? And what the hell is willywood?"

The bottle is a variation of the house bottle (as seen in Escada pour Homme and Casual Friday): the cap is the same, but the bottle has been attenuated and sharpened.