Warning: today is a really long post. Get your coffee first. This post was supposed to be an experiment, a rapid-fire sequence of impressions of a much-admired line I hadn’t tried yet, and will now remain nameless, a small perfumer. The scents are not me, and we´ll leave it at that. There´s a mini-review of something else at the end, you can skip ahead if you want, no hard feelings.
Instead, I´m going to post some notes I’ve been kicking around related to a post Robin did recently on Now Smell This, which I´ve been thinking about ever since I read it. I made some notes for this in the middle of the night. The link to her very interesting post is here, and the comments raise some good points too. The gist of it is, everyone has different tastes and she´s defending people´s right to like whatever they want (in part due to her own discomfort when she dismisses something popular, and people justify/apologize for their seemingly poor taste) but really it´s far more nuanced than that.
So. Here are my related thoughts triggered by her post, which I haven´t refined. And I invite your opinions and arguments as I flesh it out in my mind. Apologies for any typos or poor editing.
Classic perfumes are often admired for their structure – their composition, their architecture, their bones. Scents like Mitsouko or Jicky, or random Carons, can be discussed ad nauseam from the perspective of what they´ve added to perfumery, the characteristics that make them masterpieces, whatever. I love Mitsouko, and a lot of people don´t, and even I can see how difficult it can be. Mitsouko is to me a perfect example of the sort of fragrance about which one would say, I don´t care for it, but I admire it very much. Classic perfumes often become inextricably entertwined with their famous creators (Daltroff, Beaux, etc.). You are invited to admire the creation, to revel in it, even. But it does not bend itself to your whims — you must do the accommodating.
If classic perfumery is about the scent itself, then current mass market perfumery is more about the wearer. You may like Dolce & Gabbana´s Light Blue, or you may not, but I think most of us would agree: a) however you feel about it personally, Light Blue’s engineered to be appealing to a broad spectrum of people; and b) it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get into a conversation about the level of complexity of the construction of Light Blue in the same way you could talk about Mitsouko. (Here I will stop to argue with myself: at some point many of the “classic” fragrances of the past, like Ma Griffe, *were* the popular perfumes.) Mass market perfumery has its nuance – maybe it is supposed to make you feel sporty, or reflective, or happy, or be more successful on your booty calls, but ultimately you (or you, only better) are the focus.
Current niche perfumery falls somewhere in between (or combines both?) the focus on the scent and its wearer, and ranges to either end of the spectrum. I think I could argue convincingly that Serge Lutens did not release, say, Borneo 1834 thinking that it was going to be a blockbuster hit and make SL a household name. Some SLs are pretty (Rousse, Clair de Musc); some are not. Malle has some strange ones as well, although they can flirt with a popular concept and amplify it in interesting ways (Lipstick Rose, Une Rose.) Often, niche fragrances seem to be both about themselves and their relationship to you. Are you cool enough, or rich enough, or informed enough in terms of access? (Non export Serge Lutens, locally released Le Labo). Given the internet and the ingenuity of perfume fans, this hasn´t stopped many of us from, say, trying those limited releases, even if we´ve never been to Paris or Dallas. I wonder how much of our attraction to something begins with its inaccessibility. I also wonder how much the perfumers are in on the game. Do they erect obstacles for us to overcome? Do they know, or care, that we spread these things around?
Over the last couple of years, my admiration for some mass market and classic scents has increased, while my admiration for some of the niche houses popping up like mushrooms has waned. Okay, I hate x% of mass market women´s perfume, mostly because it´s too sweet and smells like something my daughter might like – I think of them as Barbie scents. But some of the niche stuff sucks too, not to put too fine a point on it. I´m going to pick on the By Kilians for a minute – which by the way do not suck, poor transition on my part. Kilian Hennessy is hot, and he´s also an heir to the Hennessy cognac family, which the fragrances tie into loosely (e.g., cask packaging, some of the notes.) I smelled these at Aedes, and they´re nice. Seriously, they´re really nice, and they smell expensive, however you want to define it. The packaging is gorgeous, and if you´re a packaging nut, you´re probably damp with desire, gazing at these. I think we´ve all had our little chuckle over By Kilian working its way from Rimbaud to Snoop Dogg in the marketing material, and I believe By Kilian at least partly inspired Robin´s Le Prix Eau Faux competition (where you make up laughably absurd perfume marketing material – and good luck competing with the pros on that one, folks.)
At the end of the day I´m left wondering, though, along the same lines as the Big Cheese and I (and a million other people) wondered – what did Eliot Spitzer get, sex-wise, for his five thousand dollars? Some of that dough was an advance on future sex, but still, that´s the big laugh – for five grand, seriously, you need a bigger imagination in bed than I have, and a larger cast of characters than I´m interested in. Apply that argument to niche perfumery – how much is too much? You can buy your own refillable mini-cask of fragrance from By Kilian, but do you need it? On the other hand, do you need any of this stuff?
While I´m dumping all this out of my brain for you to pick through, I´m going to mention Robin´s post on Tommi Sooni Tarantella. I love the fact that they´re producing a chypre for ages 25+ as their debut for their Australian niche line. I don´t find their marketing stuff any more over-the-top than most of what I read. Some of the comments suggested that the company should have made the scent more evocative of Australia rather than a walled garden in Avignon – you know, something they´d know more about. I take issue with this. Is the right to enchant the senses using “foreign” inspirations reserved for the refined noses of the French (and maybe the Italians?) Should perfumer Andy Tauer stop making his masterpiece Lonestar Memories, an amazing riff on America, cattle country and the Southwest, and replace it with something appropriately Swiss, like … edelweiss? Emmentaler? (I guess all that Moroccan stuff is off the table, too.) And what about American perfumers? Should everything American-made smell more like Tommy Girl and less like Donna Karan Black Cashmere or Estee Lauder Azuree? I’m thinking not.
Estee Lauder Azuree – the original from 1969 (basil, jasmine, citrus, artemisia, vetiver, rose, patchouli, oakmoss, amber, musk) They had it at Saks at the Tysons Galleria, so I gave it a whirl. Here, let me quote Rosarita: “My mother was an Aliage lady in the early 70s, but her crustier golfer sister wore Azuree. I remember it was hard to know where the cigarettes & bourbon stopped and the perfume began.” That gives you a pretty good idea of Azuree on the card. The SA insisted that I put it on my skin, and I´m glad I did. The sharp, smoky fizz becomes much more muted on the skin, and while this is a dark, leathery, aromatic chypre (it reminds me a little of Clinique´s Aromatics Elixir) it mellows significantly on the skin, in an interesting way.
Cribbing from the Estee Lauder website: “Azurée was inspired by the blue of the Mediterranean near Mrs. Estée Lauder’s vacation home in Cap d’Antibes, off the coast of France. The scent is radiant and earthy, with the subtle tang of citrus as if carried in from a neighboring orange grove. The feeling is light and sunlit, with a rich warmth.”
I thought the sole “connection” to Tom Ford’s version of Azuree was just the name (a convenient recycle). Now I am not so sure. Having smelled the original there is something peculiarly … and I am struggling with this … peculiarly “oceanic” about it. NOT aquatic. But in a way that baffles me, it works as described. Its herbal aspect, and some indefinable note in that drydown, make me think of the coast, and the sea, although seriously, at first sniff, beach is not what you´d think of. You´d think of leathery, tanned ladies at the country club, on the tennis court, smoking between sets. Still, though… I would love to hear from anyone who feels the wind and hears the surf in the background. If you’d really like to mess with your head, try layering Bronze Goddess (the new iteration of TF Azuree) over the 1969 original.
image: Cap d’Antibes, petanque.org