When I did my post a couple weeks ago on swag, someone commented that it was obvious we weren’t corporate shills because if we were, there’d be a lot more reviews of mass-market celebrity-type fragrances. Which struck fear into my heart, because what if my handlers at Proctor & Gamble realize I haven’t been reviewing that stuff?!? They might come to my house and take back the Rolls Royce and the pool boy! And we can’t have that, can we? So here are my addled musings on some new mass-market celebrity scents (including a nice surprise or two) — reviews made even cheesier by the fact that I am basing one of these on a magazine scent strip. Yeah, baby! Always searching for new ways to lower my standards!
There I was, minding my business, all curled up with a bowl of caramel popcorn and the latest issue of Glamour, when I espied the ad for Sarah Jessica Parker’s new scent, SJP NYC. And my first thought was, here it is! This is it! This is the fragrance, the cool fragrance, the one she wanted to release that was based on CdG Avignon + some sort of musk oil blah blah but they said it won’t be commercial enough so she did SJP Lovely instead. Followed by Covet, about which … well, the less said the better, but you couldn’t accuse it of being a shameless pandering to popular tastes.
SJP NYC is that shameless pandering to popular tastes, however. The bottle looks like the tawdry spawn of Ed Hardy and the D&G animal-print Man/Woman bottles. And the fragrance, as sniffed out by my discerning nose? The consummate insipid fruity floral. Notes are: mandarin, white osmanthus, wild strawberries, gardenia, honeysuckle, mimosa, red Damascena rose, vanilla absolute, sandalwood, rum and creamy musk. I have one word: strawberries. Ugh. Nobody’s gonna build the Taj Mahal out of strawberries. To be fair, five minutes of research online reveals that this is some sort of Sex and the City tie-in fragrance, so it’s meant to be insipid – er, youthful and fun. SJP, you disappoint. Maybe you could take some of the gazillions of dollars you’ll earn from this scent and do the interesting one next time.
I was still cross about SJP when, a few pages later, I ran across – wait for it – the new celebrity scent by Kim Kardashian! Famous for … I have no idea what, being a fame whore? Sisters Kourtney and Khloe? I’m ashamed I know their names. I asked 15-year-old Diva about Kim and she said, “she’s the genius.” I am not sure what she meant by that. Perhaps she was being sarcastic.
But look at that ad up top. You know what? I LOVE that ad. No, seriously. It’s all retro-fabulous (those lips! those nails!), she looks pretty, her bits are covered, I see no giant, ugly tattoos, she doesn’t weigh 82 lbs., and I love that bathing suit (lingerie?) I knew my kind thoughts were going to come crashing down when I smelled the scent strip, so I ripped it open and smeared it on my wrist and … okay, fine, Kim Kardashian, you are messing with my mind, because I like it. I really do.
Notes for Kim Kardashian via Sephora are mandarin, honeysuckle, orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose, sensual spice, lush gardenia, jacaranda wood, tonka bean, vanilla orchid, musk, creamy sandalwood. As the notes would indicate this is a rich white floral, musky/woody rather than sharp. I get mostly creamy tuberose, a touch of orange blossom and a clean gardenia on a light musky/woody base. It’s sexy and heady at first and kind of man-candy-ish, assuming your man doesn’t want you to smell like a sugar cookie. It’s not fruity, fresh or gourmand (yay!), and I thought the drydown, which is where some mass-market fragrances completely fall apart, was still decent – woody tuberose and a spicy vanilla musk. Even the girls liked it, which surprised me. I didn’t buy a bottle, but I’d wear it. Okay, okay, it ain’t Fracas (what is?) but for me it’s a manageable tuberose that doesn’t threaten to smother me. I wouldn’t necessarily wear it to work in a regular office job, but it’d be a fine going-out (or staying-in) scent.
I went to two Sephoras looking for Kim Kardashian – the one at the mall and the fancypants one smack-dab in the middle of our snooty local retail area. I wish I had a photo of the face of the sweet young man at Snooty Sephora when I told him they were getting it in. Poor guy probably went in the back after I left and sobbed into his hankie.
For those of you reading this who think either a) I must have fallen and bumped my head or b) the blog’s been hijacked, CHECK IT: When I went to the online Sephora reviews of Kim Kardashian, the lowest (one-star) reviews consistently use descriptors of this scent like OLD-LADYish, or TOO STRONG, or SOMETHING MY GRANDMA WOULD WEAR. Ding ding ding!!!! The sure sign of a (potential) winner! Several Sephora reviewers mentioned White Shoulders by way of comparison, and the notes look right, although I can’t remember the smell of White Shoulders at all, except to say that (like everything else) I think it used to smell infinitely better in the 1950s than whatever they’re selling in the drugstore right now, next to the execrable current version of Emeraude. Any opinions on that?
While at the mall looking for Kim Kardashian … (cue the music from Jaws) I tried the new Beyoncé fragrance, Heat. Notes are vanilla orchid, magnolia, neroli, peach, honeysuckle nectar, almond macaroon, musk, sequoia milkwood (?), tonka bean and amber. I have a soft spot for Miss B, her body is slammin’, I love her in spite of her hideous clothing line, House of Deréon, which I always mis-remember as House of Derriere, although I think that’s in a song of hers so it’s not all my fault.
I squirted it on my hand and inhaled. Heat is … well, it’s … it’s … it’s … okay, imagine yourself in a perfumery course, which I have never done. And in this perfumery course the instructor whips out a small vial of civet, or castoreum, for everyone to smell and says, well, yes, it’s terrible – but you just use a drop of that to add sexy interest to the base of another, much more complicated fragrance. Heat smells like a thin veneer of canned peaches in syrup over the most powerful, intensely animalic stank of unwashed ladyparts that I have ever smelled in a perfume, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It doesn’t even smell like a finished perfume (good or bad) – just … well, like I said. So I triple-dog-dare you: go try Heat and tell me if I’m nuts. I tried two different bottles because I couldn´t quite believe what I was smelling. Just don’t spray it on anything you can’t wash, and one small spray is plenty. If I stood next to someone wearing Heat in an elevator, I’d probably throw up in my hands.
I decided to bury my stinky fingers under Queen by Queen Latifah, because … it was sitting right there and I was desperate? Although I went back another day and tried it again. Notes are tequila, bergamot, mandarin. rose, jasmine, cognac, coriander, patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka absolute, Egyptian incense and musk. Queen opens big and a little rough, and then settles into a not-terrible fruitchouli – let’s thank Melissa for that term – that, again, I won’t be rushing out to buy, but you could do a lot worse. I like it better than half the Miller Harris line. It’s neither terribly bitter nor overpoweringly sweet, and it (sort of) ate the worst bits of Heat. The drydown becomes a little more resiny-spicy without getting especially sweet. You wouldn’t want to soak yourself in this one either, it’s got a ton of sillage, which strikes me as appropriate from the Queen, but it doesn’t smell like the candy aisle in the grocery store, and it’s an identifiably adult fragrance while still being warm and flirty. The boozy bits, which are not my favorite notes in perfumery, weren’t dominant. If I had to choose between this and Kim Kardashian I’d likely take Kim, but really, a pleasant surprise. Here’s a link to Robin’s review at Now Smell This, she was pleasantly surprised as well.
A note on bottles — whether you like the looks of a perfume bottle is obviously a matter of personal taste. And opinions can vary widely — I like the cheerfully vulgar Betsey Johnson bottle but hate Van Cleef Feerie, which makes me think of Avon. I think many perfume people feel the opposite about them. In general, a visual stroll through the celebrity-bottle section will inspire new appreciation for the bottle designs of other perfumes, mainstream and niche. I know it sounds snobby, but many celebrity bottles appear to aspire to a kind of bling, or “fancy” concept, that has the opposite effect in reality — the fancier it strives to be, the more cheap it looks. A very simple bottle (think Chanel) can look expensive. The fussy, blinged-out, and/or oddly-shaped gold-etched bottles as an Expression of The Celebrity’s Vision are kind of painful to look at. From a “celebrity” perspective, the Kim Kardashian bottle is a model of restraint, although in person it’s a little cheesier — the KK logo (pink plastic?) is raised and embedded on the bottle front rather than printed. Heat, Queen, and SJP NYC I wouldn’t want to look at on my perfume shelf.
I’ll wrap this up by saying that, as a consumer, the whole celebrity-fragrance trend baffles me. Obviously I’m not their target demographic, whatever that is. I think in general they can be hugely successful in terms of a celebrity brand extension. If I were Liz Taylor’s number one fan I still wouldn’t want to wear White Diamonds. Besides, if I were Liz Taylor herself, I wouldn’t wear White Diamonds. Wouldn’t one perk of wealth and fame be to bathe in Chanel No. 5, or hire Thierry Wasser to make you a bespoke perfume? I guess it’s just my envy talking.
Sources: SJP NYC, scent strip, Glamour; Kim Kardashian, tester, Sephora; Heat and Queen, testers at Macy’s.