I came home today with a headache, having smelled a gazillion tween-y frags in search of something appropriate for my grade-school-aged niece, at the request of her mother (and my close friend) Kate. I am telling you, sprinting through a field of land mines would have been less fraught for me. I want Kate to like me after I present the fragrance(s).
It was an interesting conundrum: given all the complaining I do about the fruity-floral-fresh hell of mass market fragrances that seem like the equivalent of cupcakes on the sophistication scale, how hard could it be to choose one for a young girl? I am here to tell you — way harder than it sounds.
It doesn’t bother me buying perfume for a girl who’s outgrown Disney’s Tinkerbell cologne, at least in her own mind. But girly fragances are tricky. This is not the time for the entry-level adult stuff you got from your aunt in high school, like Joy, which can be forgiven (or even admired) for a whiff of sexuality. Even a middle school girl can be forgiven for a little musk — but a girl less than 12, no. There are three legs to the girly-frag stool: sweet/fruity; fresh; and musky. Kate had already asked me not to go too gaggingly sweet or strong, which eliminated a lot of scents off the bat (hello, Pink Sugar!). But what I was left with either tended to smell pretty fresh — which I don’t personally like — or surprisingly musky, which can read as too sexy for a girl in minute amounts that would barely register on me, a woman who (stupidly) wore Addict to go shopping. Also, I wanted the bottle to be cute, if possible, rather than hip or plain or weird.
So here’s a short list of what was left after I eliminated everything else: Tommy Hilfiger Dreaming; Mariah Carey M or Luscious Pink (bonus points for cute butterfly bottle); the Ferragamo Incantos (okay, a little sweet for me but the girls love the scents and the bottles); Lacoste Inspiration or Touch of Pink; Vera Wang Princess or Flower Princess (bonus points for cuteness) and can I say in hindsight how surprisingly well done Princess smelled compared to most of the competition in the pale pink universe? I feel compelled to mention the Harajuku Lovers here — in some ways their light scents are perfect, and the wee ones at Macy’s are only $25! But I think the hip humor of their whimsical doll bottles are better appreciated by slightly older tween/teen girls who are in on the joke and have clearly outgrown dolls themselves, whereas for my niece who is probably unaware of the brand, I thought they looked too much like the Disney-figurine scents she was fleeing from. I still haven’t made up my mind, and I’m heading for Sephora and Nordstrom next week (MJ Daisy? the Guerlain AAs?), so any other suggestions you have are welcome.
Brands for slightly older (but still young teenage) girls with more hip factor: the Ed Hardy fragrance, which is apparently all the rage in 9th grade; the Ralphs (Hot, Rocks, Cool, take your pick); Chanel Chance Eau Fraiche, the J. Los. Full disclosure: I bought a bottle of J Lo Live and have decided the sweet vanilla-musk drydown, pretty and young as it is, reads as too sensual for my niece; I am giving it to my girls, who liked it a lot and in fact helped me choose it. Better that than giving them their own bottle of Addict, which they want but would probably kill me in the quantities they put on.
My personal favorite discovery of the day for me rather than my niece: the new Calvin Klein Secret Obsession. One whiff of the cigarette-tinged beard that is the 1985 original Obsession (and how could I have forgotten that?) reminded me how much popular conceptions of “sexy” have changed in the last two decades, and I cannot imagine that bitter and strange and twisted original topping the charts in this Age of Angel and Pink Sugar. Secret Obsession is a somewhat different proposition. Notes are plum, mace, rose, jasmine, orange flower, tuberose, cashmere woods, burnt amber, vanilla and sandalwood. So, while being considerably less pushy than Obsession, as you can see, it’s not a light fragrance, and I predict it will be irritating the fragrance-averse in a mall near you very soon. It’s got something akin to that cracked-out hairspray note of Rush, and a perfect balance of ambery sweetness and a slightly naughty cigarette-in-the-next-room spiciness. The longer I wore it the more I admired it; like Rush it is simultaneously comforting and profoundly strange and synthetic-smelling, all big hair and dance music. In the far drydown it reminds me a bit of Eau de Merveilles’ salted amber. I find Secret Obsession less engulfing than Rush — which on the wrong day is like squirting Aqua-Net up your nose — while retaining Rush’s sense of playfulness. Bottle’s fun too.
PS A Question for Club Kids, Current and Former: In Denyse’s review of Rush, a commenter said Rush has the smell of amyl nitrites or “poppers,” of which Rush is a known brand. This was news to us, and of interest given the fragrance’s peculiar synthetic vibe (and the hunch that Tom Ford would know what poppers smell like). Chandler Burr made a similar comment about the smell of poppers in the new Dianne Brill fragrance, which would make sense as Brill was an 80s club queen. The wiki article was somewhat informative (apparently the larger drug class is alkyl nitrites) but nowhere is the smell discussed. Do they all smell the same? Are poppers “scented,” like room spray? What do they smell like? Anyone care to share any light on the topic, please do so in the comments and no, not gonna call your mommy and tell on you. BTW clarifying — I am not suggesting that these fragrances contain poppers, and won’t be shooting them up my nose to test that theory, as I am sure they don’t; I am merely curious as to whether there is a recognizable “popper” smell in either, and wondering how you’d go about recreating that for a fragrance. Same way they fake everything else, I suppose.