Sewage in the Mainstream – by Nava

The other day, I optimistically went in search of some of the newest department store fragrance offerings. A while back, I wrote about how I found some hidden gems among the Clinique Happy clones and the ever-increasing stable of celebrity scents. This time around, I wasn´t so lucky; what I sniffed was not only unimpressive, it was downright vile. I don´t mean to arbitrarily toss around the word “vile” like a Frisbee at a picnic, but honestly, I can´t seem to find a more fitting adjective. If the stalwart cosmetics companies are paying a premium for the services of the finest French perfumers, spending obscene amounts of money on research, development and marketing, and this is the best they can do, we are in trouble. I know it´s only perfume, but it seems to be a symptom of what´s really going on in the world. Have our standards been so badly decimated and our imaginations so atrophied from strenuously trying to please the masses, that we can´t even smell good anymore? Grasse, I think we have a problem…

Perfume gets a lot of press these days, both positive and negative. The new mainstream releases number in the hundreds, and let´s not forget niche, limited distribution, and the ones that involve a ride via pack mule to some remote location to procure a scent so obscure, even the person who created it can´t recall its existence. On the flipside, there is the anti-fragrance brigade, squawking about how we all must co-exist in a scent-free environment in order to spare those individuals who suffer from fragrance allergies. Then, there are the purveyors of bad perfumes; they are the guiltiest of all when it comes to insulting our intelligence.

In my opinion, individuals who love perfume are able to appreciate it on a level that goes beyond the act of simply removing the cap from the bottle, spraying or dabbing it on the skin, and forgetting about it for the rest of the day. We live for what we smell. We anxiously wait for the initial blast to settle, revealing the heart of our scent, progressing to the dry-down, the most cherished phase of our chosen fragrance; the one that mingles with our individual chemistry and causes us to repeatedly hoist our wrists up to our noses and inhale deeply, reveling in the artistry. I can instantaneously alter my mood with my choice of fragrance; a foul mood can be lifted, and a good mood harpooned by a bad choice. I´m not talking about anything with any aromatherapeutic value, like lavender, peppermint or tea tree, just whatever scent I´m in the mood to wear. If it´s not working, I know it immediately. What´s worse than walking around all day smelling of something that annoys the crap out of you? And trust me, right now there´s so much crap out there, that a massive head cold wouldn´t be enough to deter the stank of these vile (there´s that word again) scents. I offer up some examples:

Ralph Lauren Notorious: Yeah, it´s “notorious” all right; notoriously bad. Whoever concocted the “patchouli musk” note needs to destroy it immediately. It has that sharp, metallic, mercury thermometer-tinge to it that permeates the entire scent from top to bottom. Where are the chocolate cosmos and the black currants? Swallowed up by that damn patchouli musk, that´s where. I literally feel like weeping when I think about how the mighty have fallen; from the frosty green, earthy perfection of Lauren and the languid, floral intrigue of Safari (not to mention that breathtaking bottle), to all those insipid “Ralph” scents and now this. Go ahead and fine me a dollar, but I´m going to say it again: VILE!

Lancà´me Magnifique: Remember my post from two weeks ago, singing the praises of People of the Labyrinths A.MAZE? Go buy a bottle of that instead. And splurge on the Parfum for $225.00 while you´re at it. I know $225.00 is a significant investment in these tough times, but if you´re a lover of rose fragrances, think of it as an investment in you. By purchasing Magnifique, you´d be making an investment in Anne Hathaway´s Christian Louboutin fund. Plenty of people will buy it; as a reader of this blog, you don´t have to be one of them. Consider yourself warned.

Jessica Simpson Fancy: You know how sometimes, everything a certain celebrity touches turns to crap? I believe Jessica Simpson is in that phase of her career. And why she still garners as much attention as she does is beyond my comprehension. But, Jess keeps plugging along, and her latest foray into fragrance is another in a long list of “craptacular” achievements. Her defunct Dessert Beauty line of edible fragrances, bath and body products is a faint memory, and her newest offering, Fancy, should have been chucked into the hazardous waste container in whichever laboratory it was hatched in. Did anyone at Parlux Fragrances bother to smell this crap before they bottled it? My guess is no. And that bottle? I read in the July issue of Beauty Fashion magazine that it is supposed to be “a more modern interpretation of Ms. Simpson´s favorite vintage perfume bottles.” There´s a fine line between what´s vintage, and what´s garbage; I´m curious to know just what exactly she considers “vintage.” As for the scent, it is probably an amalgamation of whatever was left over from those horrific foodie Dessert Beauty concoctions, with a drop of the most inferior quality jasmine and gardenia essences that can be had for forty cents a metric ton, thrown in for good measure. Ms. Simpson claims Fancy can be worn “on the red carpet or every day with [your] favorite jeans.” I wouldn´t wear it to my own execution.

Jennifer Lopez Deseo: I genuinely believe that Ms. Lopez has made a fragrant career out of ripping off already existing scents, instead of indulging in a bit of creativity that would add some credibility to her image. Her J Lo Glow is a spot on duplicate of Body Time´s China Rain perfume oil. Now, with Deseo, she has shoplifted another scent: this time, it´s Creed´s Virgin Island Water. Oops, she did it again. And I´m sure she´ll do it again, with whatever else happens to be in the development hopper. China Rain and Virgin Island Water are not in the mainstream; my assumption is that someone in her inner circle was aware of their existence, and steered her towards them as inspiration for her eponymous scents. Let´s not forget that the celebu-scent industry is one of the most successful out there at the moment. For some people, a celebu-scent completes the fantasy: while watching your favorite stars on the tabloid television shows Access Hollywood and Extra, or flipping through the pages of People magazine, you too can smell like your favorite celeb! See Jennifer Lopez on the cover of People cuddling her newborn twins while wearing a size 2 frock she was able to fit into mere seconds after giving birth. Witness a paparazzi snap of her frolicking in a bikini while an army of nannies is charged with the care of her infants. Boy, I bet she smells good! Hey, wait: I can smell like Jenny from the Block if I dash to the nearest Macy´s and pick up a bottle of Deseo – Spanish for “desire”, and my life and looks will instantly be transformed. Ah, the bliss of ignorance. When you revel in the search-and-sniff as I do, you deservingly give yourself a pat on the back for rooting out the scam, and keeping the cash in your wallet to spend on something infinitely more worthwhile, like $4.00 a gallon gas for your politically and environmentally incorrect SUV. Not to worry, I´m getting rid of mine; it´s severely cutting into my perfume budget.

Can you handle one more? This is the last one, I promise.

Sarah Jessica Parker Covet Pure Bloom: Let me get this out of the way first: I like Covet. I´ve almost drained the bottle I bought last year when it was released. I know a lot of people didn´t like this one, and the fact that it is pretty much MIA as we speak, is an indication that it is on its way to that great perfume graveyard in the sky. What a shame. That just illustrates the fact that once something different, or heaven forbid interesting, hits the stores, if it is not a success right out of the gate, it goes bye-bye. Less than a year later, a flanker emerges as an afterthought to the disaster that was Covet. It bears no resemblance to the original scent, and is in fact little more than a tropical floral mishmash with no personality to speak of. Original Covet has a tart-green citrus opening, and a touch of creaminess; the middle hangs on to a bit of the greenage and on me, the dry-down is not unbearably sweet. I was mortified when Pure Bloom´s debut was announced on the Home Shopping Network, where it was being sold purely for its name recognition and as a cross-promotion for the release of the Sex and the City movie. I heard it was going to be exclusive to HSN for a while, which is a deal-breaker for me. Even though I´ve confessed to loving Philosophy´s Amazing Grace, which is sold on QVC, I discovered it well before they partnered up with the evil, and generally tasteless, cable shopping empire. Again, here is another case of, “You want to smell like one of the hottest celebrities in the world? Then get out your credit card and dial that phone, so you too can have a snort of SJP.” I happened upon Pure Bloom a few weeks ago, in the Duty Free shop at the Thousand Islands border crossing between Ontario and New York State. It was vile. You heard me. And such a pretty purple bottle, too. Very disappointing…

 I´ve made the mainstream sound pretty horrible haven´t I? I tried to do so with a bit of humor and irony to cushion the blow, but seriously, it is bad, isn´t it? I look forward to reading your comments, and please don´t be shy about mentioning some of your favorite horror-show mainstream and celebrity fragrances.

  • Tania says:

    I tend to agree about the mass-market scent boredom factor. I wandered around a couple of perfume departments yesterday, and everything I sniffed (except the stuff I already like/have) seemed just WRONG in some way. Like for instance, Bulgari Jasmin Noir – not what I’d call jasmine, not noir at all, and gone in half an hour. Or Vera Wang Bouquet – so ‘meh’ I’ve totally forgotten it. And all the Paris/Kate/Britney crowd…. are they serious? They want actual money for it?
    I did like Secret Obsession, though. Not at all what I was expecting. I forgot I’d spritsed, and hours later I was wondering what smelled so good!

  • zara says:

    hey, thanks for this post, very entertaining to read (in a purely positive way). actually, i was going to try the lancome and the lauren, but after reading this, i think i won’t bother 🙂
    it’s so disappointing with the today’s mainstream perfumery, i’m not sure if it’s my impression only but in the past, even walking into a mall perfumery yielded much more interesting stuff than today. now, it’s all about massive marketing and i better like things quieter than that. (loved the a.h.’s laboutin fund 😀 comparison). so annoying.

  • Maltesia says:

    I Had exactly the same experience today. I went through the mainstream scents in a department store. I liked ONE, it was Escale a Portofino. I tried Marc Jacobs Daisy and it became one symbol of today’s typical perfume: It was so thoroughy uninteresting and unirritating it almost smelled like nothing. If I had to describe it I wouldn’t be able to, I don’t have any adjectives for it. Wearing it I felt like I lost my personality, charisma and colour and transformed into… nothing.

  • Olfacta says:

    Let’s face it. The whole world’s gone to crap. Celebrity-worship, polyester, reality shows, you name it. I do my scent shopping online, so don’t really encounter the “designer” perfumes much, but once in a while an acquaintance will bring out smething for me to sniff, usually some designer horror, and wait expectantly for me to tell her how great it is. I usually manage to stammer out something neutral. There was one, recently, came in a red bottle, shaped like an apple I think, a fruity-floral so awful, so chemical, that it made me recoil, but I don’t remember the name.

    IMHO this is all about focus-group marketing. Find a statistically-balanced group of the lowest common denominator, put ’em in a little room where no one wants to risk the group’s or the facilitator’s censure by actually being truthful(reference Stanley Milgram’s classic Study of Obdience)and shove some scent-strips under their noses. Record their positive responses. This is Proof that The Consumers are going to like it!

    Attach some bimbo-celeb’s name to it to assure shelf space and give the P.R. flaks something to put in the press release.

    Repeat 100,000 times.

  • Asta says:

    I just picked up Covet (50 ml) for $15 at Marshall’s. Sad to see it go so quickly…

    I usually don’t go for mainstream but I recently bought a bottle of CK Euphoria. I kept spritzing it whenever I walked through Macy’s, and finally gave in. It’s somehow very comforting, although it doesn’t last more than 3-4 hours on me.

    • aelily says:

      At a family gathering last weekend, one of my sister’s friends smelled wonderful and when I asked what she was wearing, it was Euphoria. Having not set foot in a department store in a long time, I hadn’t tried it myself. I keep thinking I’ll have to test it next time I’m out and about. Of course, with my luck, it will not smell as wonderful on me as it did on her (plus she had just applied it, so I don’t know how the dry down turned out).

      My sister (knowing my obsession)was laughing at the interest I took in her friend’s perfume and promptly announced to me that she had forgotten her perfume and was not wearing any. I offered her one of the five samples and/or two decants I had on hand, AND SHE DECLINED! One of us must have been switched at birth!:)

  • Masha says:

    I’m getting a bottle too, Karin (The 25,like the 4400? 😉
    I tried it last week, and that sharp note (I know just the one Nava’s referring to) faded quickly in the Miami sun, leaving a nice citrus/chocolate scent. It didn’t last long, but it’s been my favorite of dept. store scents this year.

    • Nava says:

      Another notch in the chemistry bedpost. That patchouli hung on for dear life on me.

    • karin says:

      Ooooh! This is encouraging! Thanks, Masha. Guess I’ll have to report back once I try it. Also, Kristy mentioned D&G’s The One as really “terrible.” I received it as a gift last fall, and when I first tried it, I didn’t think I cared for it at all because the top notes are quite perfumey and overpowering. But after using it a few more times, I really grew to like it. After the initial heady blast, it dries down to a really wonderful scent.

  • Disteza says:

    I have about as much concern for the music of J-Lo and Brit as I do their perfumes. Same goes for Usher, the guy formerly known Sean Combs, and the rest of ’em. They don’t have anything to offer me, and since the only thing I could offer them is my hard-earned dough, no thanks. I’ll spend my time and $$$ on someone whom I think has enough artistry behind them to deserve it. There’s enough crap in this world already, I certainly won’t be encouraging the proliferation. Guess that makes me a snob, huh?
    [-(

  • Melissa says:

    I SO AGREE! The people making perfumes for the department store masses just plain make me sad.:( I’ve tried in vain to find something interesting at the counters but end up offending some uneducated SA. “Notes, what’s that?” The only saving grace is the bottle of Private Collection I made them dig out from behind the counter & dust off. The young girl at the Estee counter had to ask the older SA what it was. And I do believe the group of people who could take or leave good fragrances are messing things up for those of us who “live” for the next gorgeous scent to touch our skin. Thank goodness for the Luckyscents of the world & the ability to order decants of disappearing perfumes. They save me from the disgusting smells that are out there assaulting my nose!

    • Nava says:

      Franco and Adam should go global with Luckyscent. Those boys know their stuff! Sephora??? What’s that??? /:)

    • MJ says:

      The original Private Collection is next on my list – neimanmarcus.com is out of stock (is it that popular?) so I may just forego my gift w/purchase and order from EL.com.

      Thank Goodness for the original Estee Lauders – they are STRONG and they have character. Though when I wear Azuree I’m never quite sure exactly what I smell like (I’m still figuring out leathers).

  • karin says:

    Hi Nava! Thanks for the morning laugh. Though, I have to say, I’m disturbed by your review of RL’s Notorious cause I’m receiving a free bottle through their 25-bottle giveaway posted on NST last week. I’m hoping it’s not as “vile” as you describe cause I really want to like it…but with the flurry of dept store fragrances not making the grade lately, I admit, I’m worried. EL’s Sensuous has received so much hype, but to me, it’s so boring! It seems that fragrance companies have been catering to the masses by making generic, faceless clones. Why? Too risky to step out of the box? They don’t want to throw money at something that won’t sell, so they play it safe by watching what the majority is purchasing…and the majority is forced to buy clones. Or, is it possible that those of us who know better have turned into perfume snobs and are unable to appreciate the drugstore scents of this generation? Hmmm…were those now “classic” mass market scents reviled by perfumistas when they first came out? Will JS Fancy become a classic that 10 years from now, all of us will be scrambling to find? Ha ha…

    • Nava says:

      Hi Karin,

      What I found to be particularly “vile” about Notorious is the in-your-face sharpness of the patchouli. For whatever reason, it just overwhelms every aspect of the scent and prevents it from developing. Of course, my observations are based on my own skin, and the way it smelled on the two SAs at the Bloomingdales I tested it in. It just wasn’t working. I hope you have better luck with it. 🙂

  • Patty says:

    Hey, you just saved me a lot of time. I was thinking about sniffing a couple of those, holding out hope, but… well, never mind!!! 🙂

  • Francesca says:

    Thanks for the many laughs, Nava. I love your witty indignation..

    I’m not familiar with any of the scents you mention, but I do know what it’s like to apply the wrong fragrance in the morning and regret it all day. Last summer I went to an outdoor evening party, wearing Bulgari Black. I loved it. Then one morning a few weeks ago, standing cluelessly in front of my perfume cupboard, I finally reached for BB, figuring what the heck. Then I realized this is just not an office fragrance, at least not for me. It practically gave me the heaves. Couldn’t wait to get home and shower.

    Have a great weekend, everybody.

    • Nava says:

      Thanks Francesca. I tried like hell to work in “ongepatshket” but I couldn’t find a spot for it. 🙂

      BB can be a tough one. I remember wearing it to my office a couple of times and completely regretting it.

  • Kristy says:

    What’s with the new fresh/aquatic/marine note that’s everywhere as well? It’s like some new version of Calone or something – it ruins YSL l’homme, takes center stage in D&G “The One” and just seems generally ubiquitous nowadays. It’s really terrible, and I usually even *like* aquatic/marine accords.

    • Nava says:

      Those marine notes seem to be making an unfortunate comeback for some reason. In my experience, the worst offender was Aramis New West. Wearing that was like being shot out of a cannon right into the ocean. Bracing! :d

  • Lee says:

    I don’t really know who Jessica Simpson is – count me lucky.

    Nava, you’re a brave woman sniffing where readers of this blog seldom dare to go. You’re like the frontline troops of the sniffa fraternity – your nostrils suffer so that the rest of us may live in peace. Lord bless ya.

  • rappleyea says:

    Good post this Friday morning, Nava. I personally avoid mainstream department store perfume sections like I would a toxic waste dump! I had to LOL at this – “Grasse, I think we have a problem…” That’s a classic!

  • Melissa says:

    I too was saddened by SJP Covet whatever-it’s-called. Although I don’t own the original Covet, it is certainly out of the mainstream in a sea of vapid (vile) fruity (vile) nasty synthetic (vile) chemical cocktails. (Okay, I’m removing the V from my keyboard now. I’ve had my fix.)

    I spent 20 minutes recently sampling the men’s offerings at Macys, hoping that maybe I could find something for my teenage son. After all, I shouldn’t have to order something costing $185 for 50 ml from Luckyscent for a 15 year old, should I? WRONG! I didn’t even need to go home with an armful of men’s fragrances for him to sniff (labeled in pen, March!) to know that he would have simply turn up his nose and scoffed “crappy commercial dep’t store fragrances, Mom” before turning back to Guitar Hero.

  • March the Maleficent says:

    Wow, it must be the PMS, but you really struck a nerve with your comments about Simpy. I never could see her appeal (okay, beyond her looks) but last night I was staring at her in Elle in rapt horror. Particularly the cover. I mean, it’s ELLE. They have a world of choices for the cover – the model and the clothes. And what do we get? Jessica Simpson in a cropped flannel shirt, some random jewelry, a big, ugly belt buckle, her push-up bra peeking out and 70s hair. I’d call her Daisy Duke except that’d be an insult to the memory of the original. More of the same inside, in case you were jonesing for a plaid flannel BALLGOWN. /:)

    Yeah, the covet-pure-bloom syndrome. The sweet girly flanker with no reference to the original. IT makes me sad, but my guess is SJP’s contract made her do it.

    • Nava says:

      March, I used to inhale Elle when it appeared Stateside, what, 25 years ago? They’ve fallen prey to what every other fashion magazine has in the past decade or so: putting these vapid, of-the-moment celebrities on their cover because they’re flogging a movie, a perfume, whatever. I’m so sick of it.

  • jawhara says:

    Does Dior count as mainstream? anyway, their new Dior Homme Sport is downright gag-inducing… opening is quite nice, “fresh” and citrusy, but then all that remains is a very strong “fresh ironed shirts”-note, and believe me, does shirts have been washed with some nasty detergent. hubby ran to the next bathroom to scrub it off. really vile.

    • Nava says:

      I don’t know where that “freshly ironed shirt” trend came from. Is there a bit of overcompensation going on now that there are so many scented laundry options to choose from? Are we headed in the direction of layering our laundry scents? Detergent, fabric softener/dryer sheet, EDT? God help us…

  • Masha says:

    I, too, have been really disturbed by this years’s offerings. None of them has lasted on skin more than 1 hour (many bailing out after 10-15 minutes). Just a lot of super-synthetic, nose-burning top notes followed by nothing at all. Or nicer top notes followed by a vague, synthetic drydown. Is this because so many natural substances have been banned, as well as a general cheapening of formulae? I treasure my carefully hoarded Niki de Saint Phalle, YSL Nu, and older Guerlains. 10 years ago, it seemed like perfumes actually lasted more than a few minutes.

    • Nava says:

      Ah, YSL Nu. Another one that bit the dust way too soon. I was never a fan of Niki de Saint Phalle, but I’ve always adored that bottle.

      • Masha says:

        Well, hey, at least they’ve brought Chaos back! :d

        • Nava says:

          I am planning to get a bottle of Chaos this weekend. Hope it smells as fabulous as I remember. I could use something positive after all this negativity I’ve been spreading around. :”>

  • tmp00 says:

    well thanks for saving us the effort- I don’t think I would have smelled a j-Brit-Ho fragrance at gunpoint, but I might have been drawn in my the new SJP. Thanks for sparing me!

    • Nava says:

      The SJP one was really disappointing. Expectations were high considering how well done her first two are.

      • Tania says:

        I love Covet. But I also like Full Bloom (do I have to hand in my perfumista card?) I can’t stand Lovely, however, which a lot of people seem to think is, well, lovely! It’s not just my skin, I don’t even like it sniffed from the bottle.

        Deseo smells like Virgin Island Water? In that case, I’ll have to try VIW. I sniffed Deseo and thought it was nice enough for a beachy scent, but I didn’t put it on. Obviously, Creed will have done a much better job, and I’d rather try that one.