One Thousand Scents

Friday, October 26, 2012

You Again: Ambre d'Or by Il Profumo

I don't know. Maybe after smelling thousands of different scents you get jaded. In fact, no maybe about it: there is, like it or not, a finite number of possible smells, and if you go around the block enough times you're going to start to notice some serious repetition. It can't be helped. Every fragrance line that gets big enough is going to do a floral bouquet, a white floral, a citrus cologne, a straight-up oriental, a gourmand, a green, a wood, an amber, an so on: and there is only so much variation possible within the parameters of each kind of scent.

Last year I ordered a bunch of samples of amber scents from Luckyscent, since I love warm sweet oriental things and ambers have always my cup of tea. And they still are: a couple of months ago, I couldn't say enough good things about Ambra Nera, even in the heat of summer.

Luckyscent lists these notes for Ambre d'Or by Il Profumo (the only scent I've tried in their line): mandarine, white peach, grey amber, ambretta, datura, opium flowers, white iris, myrrh, rose wood, patchouli leaves macerated in citrus fruits‚ honey.

"Patchouli leaves macerated in citrus fruits"? Really?

Advertising silliness aside, Ambre d'Or is very beautiful, a soft, powdery concoction, all dreamlike warmth and honeyed languor: if you don't have a lot of experience with amber scents it might just take your breath away, and I really would have to recommend that you try it. (It's $135 for 100 mL, which is a lot of money if you're new to niche scents but actually a pretty good price.)

If you've smelled as many ambers as I have, though, then there's no getting away from the fact that it's just another amber, slightly lighter than but otherwise not much different from Ambre Précieux, the one that started my obsession with niche scents and ambers years ago and still pretty much my reference point for what an amber ought to be (and, I suppose I ought to add, even more affordable than Ambre d'Or at $120).


Friday, October 19, 2012

Beast: Kenzo Jungle L'Elephant

Isn't that a great bottle? The stylized elephant is charming, the name "Kenzo" is in tactile raised script in the lower right-hand corner, and there's hardly a straight line to be found, just lush swoops and curves. It's a bottle that wants you hold it, to run your hands over it and explore it.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the contents, which you would think would be right up my alley: Kenzo Jungle L'Elephant (to differentiate it from Jungle Le Tigre) is warm and spicy, with a dose of weirdness (always a plus), a rich gourmand oriental anchored by tropical flowers and laden with vanilla. (The official list: mandarin, cardamom, caraway, clove, heliotrope, ylang-ylang, mango, licorice, vanilla, patchouli, cashmeran. Make of that what you will.) But as it develops you discover it's more than just weird: there's something horrifying about it. It's too spicy, too sweet, assaultively so, and it just goes on and on. It's the Attack of the Killer Dessert, a thick, clumsy pot of heavily spiced pudding made by someone who has lost their sense of taste. A lot of people love this: every time I put it on, I just want to take it right back off again.

But the bottle's terrific!

Labels: , , ,

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"?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Gold Standard: Fan di Fendi Pour Homme

If you do a search in Basenotes for fragrances that were released in 2012, you will see that they've listed 998, and that's only scents that have made it into their database — there must surely be omissions — and with two months left in the year. Sturgeon's Law states that 90 per cent of everything is crap, and I think he was being generous: I think 99 per cent of everything is crap, so by Sturgeon's reckoning there have been a hundred good-to-great scents launched so far this year, and by mine, perhaps ten. It is impossible for any industry to sustain that level of product launch and have most of the products be any good. Even if every single perfumer were an artist, every company desirous of achieving greatness with every perfume, the economics of the industry guarantee that they will fail, because there is still the marketplace to contend with, and customers don't want avant-garde, they don't want art, with all that that entails: they want to smell nice (a samey, copycat, mass-market idea of nice, not an artist's or an innovator's idea of nice), and they want to pay a reasonable amount of money for the privilege.

So I don't think I can be blamed for giving the side-eye to department-store men's fragrances. Most of them, since Sturgeon's Law holds in perfumery as in every other field of human endeavour, aren't very good, based on the basic template that was established in 1988 with Davidoff Cool Water, which took over the world and was cemented in place over the next decade or so: men must now and henceforth smell freshly showered, clean, airy, watery. It may have seemed new then, but an endless stream of watery-ozonic aromachemicals ensures that there is no end to the theme, and now, a quarter of a century later, it's as played-out as anything can possibly be.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I tried Fan di Fendi Pour Homme and discovered that it's attractive and wearable!

The gold colour might have tipped me off: usually, fresh-aquatic scents are some shade of blue (or, to be daring, pale green, especially if they have green notes), whereas gold usually denotes a warmer, more oriental scent — not universally true (oriental A*Men is blue, fresh Life Essence is yellow-gold), but often a reliable visual shorthand.

Fan di Fendi Pour Homme does start out fresh, but not noxiously so: a little gust of fresh air (as if no men's scent can be without it any more) riding on the coattails of bright citrus notes. Almost immediately afterwards, the main theme is introduced: woods and spices, as masculine as you can get. There's supposedly a "soft leather accord" in the base, but it's not important: mostly you have those gorgeous spices — now sharp-edged, now smooth— dusted over rough wood (supposedly Texas cedar, probably mostly synthetic, not that it matters), for hours and hours.

This is a terrific thing for a man to smell like. There's nothing innovative about it, and if you have a spicy scent or two in your collection (it suggests the discontinued Escada Casual Friday and the still-available Halston Catalyst for Men, among others) you probably don't need this one: but in a market saturated with poor imitations of fresh air and noxious shower-clean soapiness, Fan di Fendi Pour Homme is a welcome change of pace.