I will admit that my first reaction, from just a little touch from a sample vial on my hand, was that this smelled a bit like the gunk you used to get in the plastic top of an old orange squash bottle. Citrussy, sure, and bit sugary, but, what’s all this nonsense I thought to myself as the perfume began to then slowly de-coagulate into a closer perspective: a thick, Lemon Pledge cake shop scent for an old dear; a cloth; a mop: and a vanilla-themed pastry treat waiting for her over there on the counter at the end of her labours.
The story behind the perfume, to my surprise however, is as follows:
” You’re walking down a cold street in Manchester, listening to Joy Division, sipping on a warm cup of London Fog. This fragrance opens with the smooth sweetness of honey with Earl Grey tea, with a zing of lemon. It dries down to a cozy vanilla, soft tonka bean, and waffle cone base sure to make any gourmand lover smile. “
The second time I tried this perfume, to try and get this very American take on the miserabilist Manchester experience (the ‘waffle cone’ probably gives it away I would say), I put on a lot more, half the sample probably, and, suddenly, there it was: a blast (and it is a blast) of creamy, furniture-polishy lemon bergamot making quite the impression, fused together richly with some buttery, ginger biscuit-like vanillic undertone, quite curious and immediate, but for me, I have to say, a weeny bit sickly. On my skin at least this stage feels a bit like a battle: lead singer Lemon belting out furiously against whatever creamy, fattening business is trying to rise up from below the bonging and thronging stage floor; and and until the perfume softens down to the later stages of a more convincing citrus-oriental, when I start to quite enjoy it, I find this stage of Unknown Pleasures kind of hard to take ( I do like sweet perfumes, but I also have my limits).
The idea of someone’s personal experience being translated into perfume, however – almost like the Etat Libre D’Orange concepts gone more individualistic – is quite appealing to me, as is the basic idea behind this scent. I like the precision. Before I got tinnitus, six or seven years ago (self-inflicted, from dancing too close to a speaker in Tokyo when my favourite Madonna song came on), I was also a headphone wearing pop maniac, and I miss it (though myself I always preferred New Order, the group that Joy Division became after lead singer Ian Curtis hanged himself: more exciting, electro, fun, and danceable). I am similar to Detroit -based Kerosene indie-perfumer John Pegg, however, in that I am also prone to a bit of The Cure, and a bit of Gothic, New Wave misery once in a while, and I can easily imagine the strangely British thrill of the huddled up, cold city ice; the private death-cavern industrialism of music such as Joy Division flooding your brain, all contrasting with the soothing, sugar-cup warming of a hot styrofoam latte warming your hands as you trundle along. The strangely oxymoronic pleasure; literal and aesthetic cold contrasted with the hot sugary invasion from the throat (although it does also have to be said that this is very much the foreigner’s fantasy; the ‘London Fog’ beverage alluded to in the spiel would be unknown to most Brits (looking it up I discover it is a kind of Earl Grey Latte); the entire scenario, like the scent itself to be honest, to me, not personally ringing any Mancunian evocative bells.
But what of the perfume itself? The base of Unknown Pleasures is certainly quite sweet and convincingly neo-gourmand – very literal holographic cake. Where, say, Hermès Ambre Narguilé encapsulated a cinnamon-tossed crême brulée aspect within a pared down, but still very smoothed, classic ambery structure, this, despite the pleasingly richly ambered conclusion, feels a bit ‘novelty’: it really does smell just like a lemoned, honey-centred cheese cake. Quite enticing, actually, if you like a bit of overt miel in your perfume (I’m not always sure that I do), but I must say that the oddness and the lingering sensuality of the base does make me want to try some more Kerosene scents, particularly Copper Skies which I hear is a straighter, heavier, amber without all these extra cake shop condiments. I like Unknown Pleasures, though I think that this perfume would probably have Ian Curtis spinning in his grave. It is much less Joy Division, somehow, no matter which way you look at it; I think it sounds, to me, ultimately, much more like an album track by Bananarama.