What Does Classy Smell Like, Anyway?

Perfume is a great way to bask in the reflected glory of a brand without breaking the bank. Maybe we all can’t be running around in this season’s jacket from Chanel (I certainly can’t) but we can spritz ourselves with No. 5 and feel like people who might buy a $5,000 fantasy tweed in the hour we had to kill between our manicures and ladies’ lunch. When I wore Poison and Paris back in the day, I felt buoyed not just by their strength but by their panache – I was someone to be reckoned with; I had a hint of darkness and mystery. The fact that half the gals in the elevator smelled like me didn’t dim the allure.

So now it’s 2018 and everyone who’s anyone in fashion needs an eponymous scent, I guess. And on the one hand it should be “you” (whatever that means) and on the other, it’s supposed to sell.  Maybe it’s my particular quirk, but I find these scents fascinating. If you’re entering the crowded ring with your first scent ever, not its umpteenth flanker, what direction do you go? Should it be more “like” you, or more like the image its buyers want to project (these are not necessarily the same thing.) What does classy smell like, anyway?

I pondered these questions twice recently. The first was at Saks sniffing Jason Wu (the scent, not the man himself). Wu’s a New York based designer (although he’s a Canadian from Taipei) whose recent claim to fame is clothing Michele Obama in jaunty (yet sophisticated!) American-made style. Wu does some really stunning gowns, and I’d use words like elegant and tasteful and also young. His clothes aren’t cheap, but they’re not wildly expensive for designer goods.

The bottle is fantastic – exactly right. It’s heavy in the hand, and I think if you dropped the cap on your foot accidentally you might break a toe, it’s that weighty. It feels sleek and expensive and unfussy.

And the fragrance itself? Saks lists: Jasmine Sambac, Pink Pepper, Fig, Iris, Sensual Woods (lol). It opens up with a burst of fizzy citrus and pepper – the sort of top you expect on a summer flanker. It’s very pretty and gone in a flash, and then it’s the cleanest, least sexy jasmine on earth, a little fruity, a little summer-woodsy. It’s a quiet, safe little scent with zero surprises and decent longevity. I think I’ll call it a success. It doesn’t cloy or annoy, it doesn’t smell like laundry detergent, and it’s not going to kill anyone next to you on the Metro. Do I like it? Who cares? I think it’s going to sell just fine to Wu’s fans and stylish folks at Saks.

I wandered into Talbots for their winter 50% off sale – I’ve struck gold in those jam-packed racks of woolen knits many a time – and bumped into their new Talbots fragrance, Blossom. The original Talbots scent was a dull white-floral-fruity affair, its three sad reviews on Fragrantica (“upscale BBW Pearberry”) wildly outmatched by its many rabid fans on the Talbots website, their most-used adjective being “classy.” I wear Talbots clothes, so I’m allowed to mock: Talbots is the sort of scent that people who buy Talbots because they think it’s “classy” would probably like. Those same people are now clutching their (fancy-fake) pearls because it looks like maybe Talbots is dc’ing the original and replacing it with Blossom, which is not winning them over.

How is Blossom? God, it’s awful. It hasn’t popped up yet, Freddy Krueger-like, on Fragrantica, so all I have to go on is the website blurb: “Created exclusively with you in mind, this delicate floral fragrance has an easy elegance with notes of apricot and honeysuckle – and sandalwood for a memorable finish.” It’s as delicate as a dump truck and equally fragrant, a shrill mash-up of sourpatch candies and drain cleaner. It should be teal-hued, and also leaking from the bottom of a 55-gallon drum. It followed me around for hours – I’d wrinkle up my nose while looking at teacups in Anthropologie and think, what is that awful smell? And then sigh and remember, oh yeah, it’s me. If you handed me a bottle of Blossom and said you’d created it with me in mind, I’d throw it at you, and even with those tacky plastic flowers glued on the side, I guarantee you it’s going to hurt.

Jason Wu – 3 oz, $145.

Blossom – 1.7 oz, $59.

  • maggiecat says:

    Still laughing (as I browse the ‘Net studiously avoiding Work). I was likewise disappointed by Jason Wu (the perfume not the designer himself). I love jasmine, and the list of notes was so tempting I was tempted to blind buy. I’m glad I didn’t: it’s very meh, and not very jasmine-y at all. I found a sample and probably won’t even finish it.

  • Kathryn says:

    Decades ago when I was in college, the late Nancy Talbot, who founded Talbot’s, was often seen at events and in her store in Boston. She was easy to spot in a crowd with her thick, unruly white hair and very often wearing the signature bright “Talbot’s Red” color that they don’t seem to carry any more. Talbot’s tailoring was always conservative but their colors used to be brilliant. Nancy was such a vivid, engaging person that I can’t imagine her approving even the insipid name “Blossom”. I’d bet she wore Roudnitska Diors and Ernest Beaux Chanels. She was actually classy, not a pale imitation of the real thing.

  • Kathleen Smith says:

    Thank you for the enjoyable post and laughs! I’d agree most clothing store fragrances at the checkout counter have been awful in my opinion, over-the-top loud, heady, and shrill. I was curious as well about Jason Wu fragrance, mostly because I love the look of the bottle. I’ll have to spritz next time I’m in a department store.

  • Portia says:

    HILARIOUS March.
    Portia x

  • Tom says:

    I love this! Too funny!

  • rosarita313 says:

    Ach March, you are so refreshing and funny :). I buy everything online and have a couple things from Talbots, they have great sales but more importantly, they do very well with the fit of their plus size clothing and that’s hard to find. That description of something called Blossom leaking out of the 55 gallon drum made my day lol.

  • springpansy says:

    heh heh – still smiling after reading your post. I have some Talbots clothes – never smelled the perfumes.

    But I have smelled Jason Wu and dang it, I just didn’t like it at all. Loved the bottle, like the idea behind the scent, but… I got lots of that fresh ozone with it and that destroyed it for me. Calone maybe? Anyway, I found it unpleasant to wear on me, but probably wouldn’t mind getting a whiff as I walked past someone wearing it. Ah well, more money for other fragrances.

  • Tara C says:

    I used to buy a ton of Talbots clothes when I was working, but they closed my local store and then I retired so I haven’t been in one for a long while. I am not surprised Blossom is horrible though, I never cared much for Talbots accessories. The shoes always hurt my feet and the jewelry and scarves were meh.

  • Neva says:

    Loved this post March! Every bit of it!

  • HeidiC says:

    “leaking from the bottom of a 55-gallon drum” — I AM DEAD NOW

  • Fabs says:

    Ha ha that was a good read. ” I’d throw it at you “

  • Sarah Patton says:

    you crack me up – too funny

  • Koyel says:

    Thanks for a good laugh 🙂

  • MMKinPA says:

    Snorted my drink! Sour patch kids and drain cleaner…. I am also a Talbots shopper, and have never smelled the perfume(s) – somehow something that sits by the checkout registers for impulse buying didn’t seem like it would be worth smelling…. or buying.

  • Musette says:

    Holy cats & crackers! I haven’t laughed this hard since Winter began. Thank you! xoxo

    • Musette says:

      this reminds me of an overheard convo in SFA, 40yrs ago (when they still had elevator operators in white gloves) – lady, looking at earrings, falls in love with a stunning pair of silver earrings. “But I want DESIGNER earrings. What do you have that look like these but are DESIGNER?”