One Thousand Scents

Friday, October 28, 2011

Girls' Night Out: Fan di Fendi

Fan di Fendi looks like hot stuff. Sephora has written or unearthed a rather frantic bit of ad copy for it:

Fan di Fendi is the fragrance you just adore to adore. Like a hit refrain, it's insistent, addictive, and irresistible. Electrifying you, possessing you, haunting you. Getting under your skin, inhabiting you.

A radiant floral scent resting on a leather base, this wildly exciting eau de parfum pays tribute to Fendi's expertise with materials such as fur and leather—plus the arty, rock and festive spirit that defines Fendi. It diffuses Roman sun and electric nights, leather and roses, luxury and seduction.

And the print ad has three women writhing in the throes of passion in a nightclub:

But don't you pay any attention to that. Fan di Fendi starts out with a pleasantly sweet mélange of fruit, mostly citrus and blackcurrant, with a dairy undertone, a bowl of sherbet. After that, a charming, well-behaved floral bouquet, mostly smooth jasmine (no filthy indoles here) and tidy rose (every thorn and edge rounded off), wells up; a few hours later, the whole thing is seen to be sitting on a piece of buttery-soft suede, slightly musky in a warm and unobjectionable way.

Fan di Fendi is a perfectly nice and well-behaved fruity floral which would not smell out of place on a twelve-year-old girl. And isn't that sort of a problem, even ignoring the vast chasm between the way the fragrance is presented and what it really is?

There are already hundreds, maybe thousands, of fruity florals on the market already, with varying degrees of acceptability; most of them have that ghastly, inescapable synthetic freshness that makes you want to retire to a deserted island where you never, ever have to smell such things again, and the Fendi people should be given credit for avoiding this. But still: Fan di Fendi is a fruity floral, and there is nothing at all to mark it as different in any way from all the other hundreds like it. Many of them are being aimed at the very young: the childlike Mariah Carey Lollipop Bling scents clearly are, and you can imagine most of the other pop-superstar fragrances being clamoured for by twelve-to-sixteens. Many of the others seem to be aimed at women who want to be very young: I don't know how else to explain Marc Jacobs Lola.

What they all have in common is that they have no signature, nothing of any interest that could distinguish them one from the other: they're just another product to be churned out on an endless conveyor belt and spoon-fed to the ignorant. They have been engineered to produce a single unvarying response: "Oh, you smell nice." They don't smell good, exactly, not in any meaningful way, certainly not interesting, or great, or novel, or compelling, or intriguing: they smell nice. You can't ever imagine them as signature scents, because they don't even know how to write their own names.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sweet 16: Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Mâle

Some things, as they say, get better with age. Cheese, for example.

Since I embarked on the South Beach thing, I've been eating a lot of cheese. Too much, probably: after losing 30 pounds in three months, I've sort of stalled, which I guess is normal, but still frustrating. But cheese! Last week I bought a chunk of eight-year-old white cheddar for what I thought was a ridiculous price, but I needed to see if it was different from regular old cheddar. And it is. The texture, for one thing: the internal structure has changed into something vaguely crystalline, and it is very hard to cut into cubes because it just crumbles — shatters, almost. The flavour is deep and complex, salty and rich and slightly bitter, with a goodly dose of what James Joyce called "feety savour", not absolutely pleasant (in the way that, say, a smooth creamy-buttery Havarti might be) but still wonderful. And the taste stays in your mouth for literally hours after you've eaten it. There are a lot of cheeses that I like better, but it was pretty spectacular.

Fragrances, though. Two bad things can happen over time: they can spoil (many fragrances can last for years without spoilage — I have a bottle of Molyneux Fête from the mid-1960s which hasn't aged a day — but others just seem to rot in the bottle), or they can be reformulated so that what was marketed in 1980 or 2000 is not what is being marketed in 2011.

I received a bottle of Gaultier's Le Mâle in a swap when it was launched sixteen years ago. I loved the idea of it: the packaging seemed very cheeky and avant-garde to me, innocent that I was, and since I couldn't get it locally, it had an aura of rarity. I wore it a little, but it never took hold of my brain, and so I in turn swapped it away to someone else. I am sure it has been reconstructed since them; it can't always have been quite this single-minded.

Le Mâle, after its opening herbal freshness dies down, is disconcertingly monochromatic: a barber-shop fantasia of soapy lavender and orange blossom blanketed with sweet powdery vanilla, to the point of dullness. It is unexpectedly loud (you could easily overdose on this and choke everyone around you) and quite sweet and as persistent as you would think an oriental should be, lasting for twelve hours without breaking a sweat. But when something is so unchanging, so essentially uninteresting, do you want it to last twelve hours? Do you want to spend twelve hours in a barbershop? I don't.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Unfinished Business: Bond No. 9 Bryant Park

A month ago I wrote that I had signed up for Google Adsense, that they put little ads at the top of my blog for a theoretical payment at some point down the road depending on how many people clicked on the ads, and that I didn't expect to ever see any money from it. And then a week ago I got an e-mail from the Google Adsense people saying they were about to send me a cheque if I gave them my banking information.

Wouldn't you be suspicious? I would! So I left it to stew for the day (I had to go to work) and then I poked around a little, and unless someone has constructed a very convincing but poorly thought out phishing scheme, it looks like the real deal. I didn't disclose my banking information, of course: I asked them to send me a cheque instead. We'll see how that turns out.

And just over a month ago, I wrote that I had gotten an e-mail from Bond No. 9, since I am on their mailing list, asking if I would like samples of their three newest scents; I said yes, but I didn't expect to actually receive them, because I have not uniformly adored all the Bond scents as I'm sure they would like me to. (Fashion magazines are in the business of flogging whatever samples they receive from advertisers, and have an active disincentive to ever say anything bad about anything. Bloggers, on the other hand, have the freedom to say what they think. Money changes everything.)

I haven't gotten them, either: I might, but I doubt it, which is a shame, because I would like to try them, and I was also hoping to maybe score a sample of their newest scent (they sure do crank them out!), New York Amber, which has a gorgeous bottle

and a thoroughly appealing-sounding list of notes (even if it does contain a typo, "magestic rose").

But that's probably not going to happen, especially if they should happen to read this.

Bond No. 9's Bryant Park isn't great, but it sure is fun. It is completely dominated by two fruit notes, rhubarb and raspberry. The rhubarb is pointy and astringent, as rhubarb will be, and amplified by citrus, probably bergamot: it actually suggests Mugler's B*Men a bit, except that there appears to be a dose of that inescapable modern air-conditioner freshness as well. The raspberry is dry and tart, not at all sweet or jammy, and this is a bit of a surprise.

Underneath it is a bit of floral, a smidgen of rose but mostly lily of the valley, and some very clean modern patchouli. It doesn't seem to have an ending point, no real finish: there's a sort of a base that is neither here nor there — amber, I guess — but the whole show is about the raspberry and the rhubarb, which stick around for a surprisingly long time (they're still noticeable 12 hours later — modern aromachemistry is a wonderful thing) and then just trail off.

I give Bond No. 9 credit for making a fruity floral that isn't sticky-sweet, but still, it's a fruity floral that isn't exponentially better than so many others on the market (although a lot of people on Makeup Alley just adore it), and I don't know how they can charge $160 for it. Some of their scents are absolutely worth their indie-niche prices: I would probably have to retry them to make sure they haven't been reformulated, but Great Jones is retro-terrific, if I didn't already have a bunch of coffee scents I would have a bottle of New Haarlem in a heartbeat, and I adored Lexington Avenue when it was launched. Bryant Park, though: is it really worth that kind of money? Really?


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Garden Variety: Estee Lauder White Linen

A little while ago I said that Samsara, whatever its actual ingredients, smelled of three things, and this is an interesting aspect of perfumery: an artistic perfumer can make a fragrance smell more or less complex that it actually is. A single element of the scent might be extremely complex, with many overtones — tobacco, say, or sandalwood, or tuberose — and seem to have many facets depending on how it is employed: such a scent can be more than the sum of its parts. But the opposite is also true: a complex scent might be engineered to seem very simple, to have many of its components balanced and arrayed so that they don't have a strong character of their own, but complement and enhance the scent's main focus.

Estee Lauder's White Linen, created in 1978 by the genius Sophia Grojsman as part of her quest to execute every possible variation on the theme of the rose, like Samsara consists of three elements. At the top is a mighty tempest of aldehydes, big, clean and soapy-fresh, like the opening chords of Wrappings (also a Lauder scent under the Clinique brand) and Guerlain's Vega and of course the emperor of aldehydes Chanel No. 5. It isn't that noxious, ozonic-aquatic freshness that everything seems to have these days, either, or at least my little bottle isn't (it may have been reformulated since to make it even fresher, which would not surprise me): it's just breezy, freshly washed laundry hanging on the line. Just underneath that is a big rosy rose. And underneath that is a big bright spike of vetiver. There are certainly other things in there — a grating of citrus peel, a few petals of jasmine, a shaving of sandalwood — but they don't matter, not a whit: White Linen is all about aldehydes roses vetiver, and every element is put into the service of a single idea, that of sitting in a sunny garden with the smell of good clean laundry soap hovering about you. Like so:

Quite a while ago I wrote that while I could imagine a man wearing White Linen, I was not that man, but I was being unnecessarily evasive: I did in fact wear White Linen quite a lot, back in the late eighties when I was discovering and wearing everything I could get my hands on. I wouldn't wear it now: it no longer suits me, though I still don't see why a man mightn't wear it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Old-Style: Bois 1920 Sutra Ylang

Let's start with names. Apparently, Bois 1920 has nothing to do with wood ("bois" is the French word for wood), but instead is an acronym referring to creator Enzo Galardi's grandfather Guido, who opened a perfumery in Italy in 1920 called Bottega Italiana Spigo, "Italian Lavender Boutique". Sutra Ylang seems designed to make us think of, well, what exactly? "Sutra" is a Sanskrit word from India which brings to mind for most North Americans the Kama Sutra, which is not exactly the sex manual that most of us seem to think but more of a guide to sensual living; the word "sutra" more or less means "aphorism", but it literally means something like "connecting thread" and is the ancestor of the word "suture", a thread used to sew things together. "Ylang" is a Tagalog word from the Philippines which most of us known as "ylang-ylang" and is generally accepted to mean "flower of flowers", although the word "ylang" itself apparently means either "wilderness" or "rare", depending on which etymology you believe.

India and the Philippines are a few thousand miles apart and neither is really the home of what Westerners think of as oriental perfumery, so I assume that Bois 1920 was going for some sort of generalized and far-flung orientalia or at least Asiatica in the name of their scent, and they succeeded. Sutra Ylang is a somewhat scaled-down version of a big ambery eighties-style floral oriental, and thank god for that, because there aren't nearly enough of them around, the market having been crowded with disgusting perfumes that smell like decomposing fruit salad or floor cleaner or automotive air freshener. A blissful shot of crisp fresh citrus in the opening stages; a rich carnation-rose middle; a big chunk of sandalwood and cedar; all tied together with tons of amber, which manages not to be cloying as it was in their Real Patchouly.

The bottle, of course, is gorgeous, and you men may safely ignore the apparent pinkishness of the box, because there is nothing girly about Sutra Ylang: there have been plenty of warm sweet men's scents over the years, and this one, with its woody-amber base, fits right in. Bois 1920 considered their first eight scents to be unisex (they later launched some scents aimed specifically at women, in extremely pinkified versions of their house bottle), and there's no reason on Earth a man couldn't wear this.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

More Than Meets The Eye: Odori Tabacco

It is, I suppose, like one of those movies in which a man is searching for the perfect woman and doesn't realize until the last reel that she's been right there in front of him all the time.

Tabacco by Odori is not exceptional at first. The opening has a bit of orange-pop fizz to it and a short-lived gasoliney herbal mélange quickly overwhelmed by the smell of tobacco leaves, which is where it stays until the very end, when a warm vanilla takes over. Nice enough, but not really special, and certainly not worth $200+: in truth, I was beginning to wonder if I had wasted even the $12 I paid for it.

But the more I wore it (and I've worn it a lot in the last few weeks), the more it revealed itself to me. The vanillic bottom is laced with oakmoss, not enough to make it a true tobacco chypre, but enough to give it an earthiness and a dollop of that honey that sometimes accompanies oakmoss. The middle isn't a monolithic block of compressed tobacco leaves: it has nuances, a bit of the fruitiness that you often find in pipe tobacco, the occasional wisp of incense smoke, and a complex interplay of notes that suggests now autumn leaves at the cusp of decomposition, now freshly tilled soil or just-unearthed roots. A woman could of course wear it, but it is instantly recognizable as the smell of masculinity, of a pipe-smoking farmer or a tweed-jacketed gentleman with a humidor on his desk.

The bottle overall looks better than it is. Out of the box, it has a supporting wedge of cardboard jammed between the bottle and its wooden frame, because the bottle doesn't actually fill the frame: it's suspended within it (as you can sort of see in the larger image). The cap is made of leather and is beautiful, and the bottle is heavy, solid glass. But the text is badly, blurrily etched into the glass, and the frame itself, though it looks nice enough, feels kind of cheap and knocked-together: it's so lightweight as to seem hollow when you tap it, and perhaps it is. These little details matter, I'm afraid.

But perhaps you are not overly concerned with trifles such as packaging and concern yourself only with the contents, and you are looking for a truly excellent (if appallingly expensive) tobacco scent, in which case I have saved you the trouble of looking any further. Tabacco is a wonderful thing.