If you’re an American consumer interested in makeup, you’ve probably run across San Francisco-based Benefit Cosmetics at some point. I assume their backstory of twin sisters who launched the company in 1976 and first concocted their now iconic Benetint as nipple tint for strippers is true (hey, why not?) Even before I read their company philosophy I’d have said almost the same thing they do: they treat makeup as fun, something to be approached with a sense of humor and play. That might not seem so novel now in the age of Kat Von D and Urban Decay, but for me and probably lots of other women, Benefit is a welcome alternative to the science-lab approach (Clinique, Prescriptives) or the Veiled Mystery angle (Chanel, Dior and most of the rest.)
As someone with a background in advertising I also appreciate the unified thought and craftsmanship that goes into the company’s branding. Not all the products work for me, but the line’s top sellers have a cult-like following. I know many devotees of BADgal mascara and Benetint, and Dandelion is often discovered by pale women to be the blush that actually works on them, and not as clown makeup. They have a ton of concealers and skin prep items as well. If you’ve joined the Benefit cult, I invite you to pimp your favorite product in the comments. I own Dandelion, and Dallas looks great on my daughter; I swipe it for summer parties, it’s literally the only thing I’ve tried, in my case as a bronzer, for a hint of summer color that goes neither too pink nor too orange.
But I’ve never particularly loved Benefit’s fragrances, although let me state the obvious that I’m not their targeted consumer. Maybe Baby is a sweet, fruity-floral-powdery thing that gets mostly raves from the 18 to 29 year-old cohort on Makeup Alley, along the lines of it just smells really nice, or my boyfriend loves it. B Spot does much worse with only a 35% rebuy rating (to Maybe Baby’s 67%.) It’s arguably the slightly tarter sour candy to Maybe Baby’s sweetness. To my nose they both have a hint of something plastique, that generic focus-grouped synthetic softness that simply isn’t my bag unless you freak it up (Exhibit A: the deliciously twisted Gucci Rush.)
They’re now launching a new trio, set to arrive in stores in July. I got a preview sample vial set from Benefit. (Yes, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I get some advance freebies. No, I don’t feel morally compromised. If you looked at my swag haul over the life of this blog, you’d laugh, and not in envy at my good fortune.)
So, what does a powerhouse like Benefit come up with? A set called Crescent Row, inspired by a visit to the Royal Crescent in Bath, England by Maggie and Annie Ford Danielson, the daughters of one of Benefit’s founders. Quoting their PR piece, “the Row was so exciting, so enticing, the girls felt it was the perfect concept for Benefit.”
Now, I’ve walked the Royal Crescent, and my impression was: imposing, vigorously preserved, highly uniform and wildly expensive real estate that makes our local historic landmark districts of Georgetown and Alexandria look like warrens of tumbledown shacks. Nothing like a trip to Europe to revise your definition of old or stately. Personally I find their cold Georgian formality an odd inspiration for a company like Benefit.
What do these scents smell like? Well, I happened to have an extra eight girls over here for Diva’s 15th birthday party, so I shopped them around.
Laugh With Me Lee Lee – cassis, melon, citrus, black violet, lily, jasmine, blonde wood, amber, santal, “woody floral.” The runaway hit of the bunch with the teenage girls, Lee Lee is one of those high-wattage fruit-bombs that’s about as appropriate on me as a baby doll dress and turquoise eye shadow, and yet it brings a huge smile to my face. It’s not sexy; it’s joyful and playful, the sort of girly scent that should be worn to the boardwalk in summer or to the mall to hit Forever 21 with your BFFs. I am easily two decades too old for this. I’d describe it as mostly fruit with discernable jasmine and violet plus That Sweet Woody Base That’s In Everything Now And I’m Still Not Complaining Because You Could Do So Much Worse. Whatever amount of melon’s in there wasn’t enough to trigger my alarms. People tempted to complain about its insipid airheadedness should feel the pain of a mother tired of teenaged girls being induced to smell like sexpots.
Something about Sofia – mango, freesia, sheer lily, jasmine sambac, peony petal, musk, white caramel, vanilla bean, “oriental floral.” This is their gourmand entry and one great description I got from the girls was “gingerbread, flowers and old people in a good way.” It’s less sweet than you’d think. I smell mostly jasmine and lily at the top, and it’s got a decent amount of spice and woods for such a mainstream scent. The mango and musk add richness rather than sugar. I get something gingerbread-ish as well, although it’s not listed in the notes. My personal favorite.
My Place or Yours Gina – pink pepper, bergamot, tangerine, peony, wild raspberry, white lily, patchouli, tonka, vanilla, “woody oriental.” Epic Fail – both for me and the girls. It starts off with a sour-citrus peppery burst, then fades rapidly into Estee Lauder Sensuous with an extra honking dose of Patty’s patented Tampax Fresh Accord. Also, it becomes weirdly unsmellable on several girls after about fifteen minutes – some sort of temporary anosmia? It did go through a wet-cardboard phase that I of course perversely enjoyed, and I didn’t rush to scrub it off, but I’m not sure they hit their mark with this one.
These are all 30ml for $36 and they are absolutely adorable in the pictures – what you’d expect from Benefit’s design team. They look like miniature cocktail shakers in the photos, with whimsical graphics. Given the price point and the packaging, and Benefit’s clever marketing, I’d say these will sell like the proverbial hotcakes, with Lee Lee first and Sophia second.
Today’s giveaway – my adorable set of three from Benefit, mostly full, say if you want it in the comments and I’ll pick someone.