March threw down the gauntlet the other day in the comments section of her “Blu Mediterraneo” post. Her mention of the “pitiful” L´Artisan Parfumeur selection at the newly opened branch of Bluemercury she visited sparked a bit of Vanilia bashing. I will make it clear right from the start that Vanilia is one of my all-time favorite scents. I could give a toss about what anyone else thinks of this beauty, especially Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. March suggested that maybe I write about some of the scents out there that are beloved by many and reviled by few. And, to stay true to my contrarian mindset, I will also discuss a few that should be getting their fair share of love, but don´t. Of course, these are based on my opinions and not influenced by any fragrance industry payola, or a hunting rifle pointed at my head. Here goes:
Chanel No. 5: I´ve made no bones about how much I cannot stand this scent. Regardless of how much it is universally loved, I want it to be universally reviled. It never smelled good on me, or my mom for that matter, nor anyone else I´ve ever encountered who wears it. Yet, women are impelled to wear it because it is deemed a classic; especially when you read things like, “No. 5 is still the world´s most popular scent because, like the Chanel jacket, it radiates sophistication.” Frederic Malle weighs in and says, “It´s soft and warm like an oriental fragrance but has crisp, clean notes, so it´s sexy but not overwhelming” (from the October 2007 issue of Allure). So if a major magazine and a perfumer of stature are telling you this is what you should be wearing, why wouldn´t you? Who doesn´t want to “radiate sophistication” and be “sexy but not overwhelming”? Let me clue you in on something: it smells awful on just about everyone! Never have I encountered a single soul who I could say with complete honesty, smells terrific when they wear No. 5. Instead, it is stale, powdery and completely overwhelming. The fact that anyone can walk around in a cloud of No. 5 without succumbing to an epic migraine or asphyxiation is ponderous. Ponderous, man…
Thierry Mugler Angel: This is another ubiquitous scent that thrills the masses. And I will confess that I became somewhat obsessed with it when it first came out. That I wasn´t banished from my cubicle at work still amazes me. Now, when I smell it on someone, I want to tell them to stay far, far away from me – like three or four States away. Patchouli does funny things on peoples´ skin, including mine. Yes, I did mention that I wore head shop patchouli in my younger days, but this combo of chocolate, patchouli, vanilla, fruit and whatever else is in this noxious scent, now reminds me of a cess pool. How can a scent like Serge´s Borneo 1834, which lists cacao and patchouli in its notes, smell so right and Angel so wrong? Another enduring mystery…
Estée Lauder Pleasures: I have always found this one to be quite inoffensive, but I think it is the generic inoffensiveness of it that annoys me. I know it was groundbreaking at the time of its release because of the pink pepper note, and again, I sheepishly admit that I wore it for a time. What put me off Pleasures was being outed at a rest stop along the New Jersey Turnpike on my way home from a business trip during the summer of 1998. My co-worker and I stopped rather late in the evening for some food and gas, and while our Whoppers and fries were being rung up, the cashier looked at me and enthusiastically asked, “Are you wearing Pleasures?” My male colleague shot me a strange look, and I responded, “Why yes, yes I am.” The rest of the way home he kept snickering, “Pleasures, huh?” I never wore it again.
Clinique Happy: Ah, the grande dame of fruity florals; the Helen of Troy of the fragrance industry. Actually, I think Trojan horse is more fitting, since who hasn´t been fruity-floral bombed by all the countless imitators? Every time I either smell this or see a bottle of it, the theme from “The Partridge Family” starts up in my head, and I get a visual of the bird wiggling its butt out of the eggshell. And, it is a “happy” scent. I guess the Lauder corporation was never able to license “C´mon get Happy!” as the tag line for their hugely popular fragrance. By the way, what´s the deal with all the flankers? Happy Heart, Happy in Bloom; just how many are there? Has anyone else noticed that they all smell exactly the same? Put me down for a bottle of “Happy to Be Alive” or “I´m Just So Happy to Be Here” if and when they are ever released.
L´Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia (You knew I´d be leading off with this one): Discovering this scent was a watershed moment in my life. Never before did I want a scent so badly just from a written description of it. That description appeared in the February 1993 issue of Allure, and it read something like, “The vanilla L´Artisan brews is so bewitching…” I don´t recall the rest, but that was enough for me. At the time, I was unemployed and generally uninspired, but Vanilia changed all that. It was unlike anything I´d ever smelled previously, and I fell head-over-heels for it. A new chapter in my life began and with it, my love for all things vanilla. I have never found any other vanilla quite like it; Indult Tihota was a pleasant surprise, but I cannot justify spending $250 for it, and needing a membership card to do so. Vanilia is an abstract vanilla, not like the vanilla extract you use for baking, or the “candyfloss…devoid of chic…reference holiday from propriety and convention…” fragrance Luca Turin claims it to be. It does not conjure up images of bubblegum-pink lipstick, platinum blonde-bleached hair ditziness. It is just the perfect combination of cozy warmth with just the merest hint of sweetness and spice. It is, in my opinion, the ultimate vanilla; and it´s never given me a cavity in 15 years.
People of the Labyrinths A.MAZE: When you think about the great rock n roll bands of the 1970s, and some of their iconic, blockbuster albums, the following analogy is perfect when it comes to this scent: Luctor et Emergo is so beloved by the cultish, niche perfume community that the follow-up scent couldn´t possibly live up to their expectations; just like how the band, Boston, couldn´t top their debut album, or how Meatloaf was never able to surpass the brilliance of “Bat out of Hell”. I´ve read some of the reviews and, most if not all, describe A.MAZE as nice, but a major letdown when compared to Luctor et Emergo. The comparisons to other rose scents were inevitable: You don´t need this one if you have (fill in the blank). Having never been a really big fan of rose or heavy floral scents, I have found a few I like and wear with some regularity. A.MAZE is one of them. Rose combined with spices and woods can be intriguing if done right, and this one, for me, hits the mark. I also think Elton John´s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” is his best album by far. It was the follow-up to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.
Philosophy Amazing Grace: Honestly, I am amazed that I decided to include this on my Underappreciated list. But, after giving it some thought, I decided to because it is probably the easiest fragrance to wear, when you need or want to wear something easy. By that I mean something relatively inoffensive and not likely to cause someone to recoil from you if you happen to find yourself on a sold-out transcontinental flight or a crowded subway train. In addition, if you are one of those individuals who enjoy layering your fragrance, there are countless ancillary products that accompany this scent. You can shampoo your hair with Amazing Grace, scrub, soap and lotion yourself until the cows come home. Even though the Philosophy brand is flogged no end on QVC, and spotlighted in just about every Sephora I´ve been in, it still has not attained the ubiquity of Angel and No. 5.
Fresh Sugar: The Fresh brand was another one of my late 90s obsessions. I fell in love with just about everything they sold, especially this scent. How could I not? It is the most impeccable vanilla based-citrus scent I have ever smelled. When I first smelled it, the first thing I thought of was Duncan Hines Lemon cake mix. And, there is not a flower to be found in the original incarnation of this scent, even though heliotrope and white lily are listed as middle notes. Unfortunately they´ve tinkered with it, creating the requisite stable of flankers: Sugar Blossom, Sugar Lychee and Sugar Lemon. Not even Sugar Lemon comes close to smelling as good as the original. There´s just something so perfect about the balance of tart citrus with the creamy comfort of vanilla and caramel that makes me reach for this over, and over, and over again. I used to be a huge fan of Annick Goutal´s Eau d´Hadrien, but my Sugar addiction has obliterated every trace of Hadrien from my scented memory bank. Sugar is flat out genius.