If you visit the Dianne Brill fragrance blurb on Beautyhabit, in search of information about the scent, it says “Instead of giving you a list of the many precious ingredients in this fragrance, I would like to offer you a moment to FEEL THE SCENT.” And it goes downhill from there, with cringe-worthy prose about being fulfilled and feeling the vibration. I probably would have stopped there, in disgust, with any other celebrity – particularly one whose heyday was the 80s club scene.
Except I love Dianne Brill. When I first heard about her fragrance I deeply, perversely wanted it to be brilliant. I had no idea she was already something of a success, with a website featuring her own makeup line and confirming the main thing I liked about her in the first place – she clearly has a sense of humor, even (especially?) about herself. I remembered the outsize 80’s personality that matched her big hair and generous … poitrine and was happy to hear that, unlike so many other figures from that time, she hadn´t gone down the tubes, a sad-sack victim of drugs and debauchery.
Eventually Chandler Burr did a review of her fragrance for the NY Times and in his interview managed to come away with a sense of the process (Brill worked with Valerie Garnuch) and some of the suggested inspirations/notes, cribbing from Burr´s review, include: a piece of leather Brill bought in a flea market and kept in a box because she loved the smell; an unnamed, discontinued Kiehls body oil that had “a sort of naughty/beachy/salty scent;” wood from “construction sites, I didn´t want sandalwood, nothing Indian or exotic;” figs, both ripe and green; the smell of a Cuban cigar box Brill owned; and spices, “although the spices were a real tough call for me. My husband and family had just bought a wonderful sailboat, and we were off the coast of Mustique, and we found the producer of an excellent West Indies nutmeg, which has a very weird, disco-nasty smell, people just starting to sweat on the dance floor. So Valerie put that in.”
The result is what Burr beautifully describes as “edginess polished with a gourmand brush.” It´s strange from the top to the bottom – a sweet, rich, floral opening that is slightly off kilter, letting the wearer know immediately that the trip will be interesting. As Patty noted in her review, “it has the resemblance of something more traditional on the open, but quickly veers off into some completely new territory, then back to traditional fruity-ish floral, then completely heads down the path of something far more interesting.”
The figs interwoven with the smell of the interior of a tobacconist shop is one of the most singularly strange and delightful combinations in recent memory – sweet fruity ripeness and bitter astringency pushing against a backdrop of hay and tobacco. Underneath that, a salty smell that reads less as “marine” and more as salty, sweaty skin – “disco-nasty” indeed. Also, there´s a whiff of something peculiar and ozonic and a teeny bit nasty that runs through the whole thing, a chemical smell reminiscent of the synthetic/hairspray note in Gucci Rush (apparently a reference to a popular brand of poppers).
Once you get past the misleading sweetness of the first 20 seconds (additional notes Garnuch gives are ylang, Peruvian benzoin, and chocolate) it smells pretty unisex to me, although I can´t imagine many men (or even some women) wanting that froufrou bottle on their dresser.
In the end, the thing I love most about Dianne Brill´s fragrance is it´s the rarest of birds – a perfume with a sense of humor that also manages to be very good (Burr gives it three stars). In this respect I´d compare it to Cumming – it doesn´t smell a thing like Cumming, of course, but it shares Cumming´s wearability and quirky charm. Based on what I´m smelling, the perfume Brill described is very much what she got — Garnuch did a brilliant job of combining a fairly disparate set of Brill´s loves into something easy to love in itself.
I feel like starting a new filing category on the right – one labeled “Perfume Contrarian” – for fragrances like this that I can´t help but sense I´m swimming against the popular tide on. Who besides me wants to wear something made by Brill? I have no idea. I also feel duty-bound to report I tried this on at least two people on whom it started out – and remained – unbearably sweet, as if it had turned into straight vanilla-fruit hitting their skin. All the other notes simply disappeared. Also, it´s tenacious, so if you hate this, you might be hating it for hours.
I wonder if you, reading this, have a fragrance you´d file under “perfume contrarian” – something you continue to love and wear while feeling it doesn´t get the respect it deserves, and whether that bothers you. As for me – I want a bottle of this stuff. I think it´s kind of cute, actually.
Dianne Brill is available from Beautyhabit for $95 for a 50ml bottle; and if you´re still trying to figure out who the heck Dianne Brill even is, here´s a link to her website – and wow, she looks amazing, doesn’t she?