DEMORALIZING CRAP: :: : ‘EXTATIC’ BY BALMAIN (2014)

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Although I unfortunately didn’t manage to get to all my usual London perfume haunts on this recent trip to England – those treasure troves of scent I love to frequent, at my indulgent leisure, such as Harrods Haute Parfumerie, Rouillier White and Les Senteurs (mainly due to time constraints, a busy perfumista schedule and my torn, mangled knee), I did manage luckily to get my hands on several samples during this trip away, as well as having ample time in airports and the odd Birmingham department store to peruse the latest fayre.

 

 

And although we probably can’t realistically expect a fabled perfume/fashion house such as Pierre Balmain, instigator of simplicity, elegance – the ‘architecture of movement’ – to produce, in this modern perfume apartheid class system of plebeian, high street trash vs moneyed, ‘higher class’ ‘private collection’ quality (don’t you hate this recent tiered, dystopian, capitalist division along class lines in perfumes?) ….a new, compelling release that could even begin to compare with the beautiful classics of its stable – Vent Vert, Jolie Madame, Miss Balmain, Ivoire…..ah, just writing their names invokes sighs of regret and despair at the current state of the crass, materialist world – we can at least, surely, cradling our inner idealist, hope for a perfume, with that gentle, creamy caress of a name on its flacon, that will not merely make us moan in irritated recognition; make us toss, vehemently, the vexing, plastic tester spray across the room and hit the wall.

 

 

 

Admittedly, as the fragrance, marketed obviously in an attempt to ‘funk up’ the brand with its deliberately misspelled play on mind-bending substances, bright lights and parr-tayys in the manner of Jimmy Choo (‘Flash!’), begins to heat itself up on the skin, it is no way near as bad as what the opening conceptual mess might seem to suggest. And it is at this stage that I begin to understand what the fabricators of this scent were attempting to achieve: a bridge, if you like, between the eighties, the nineties, and the last two decades (who just don’t have a nifty name for them) in terms of style and appeal. The makers, it would seem, are trying to have a bit of that recognisable rosy ‘old school perfume glamour’ in their new scent, while still maintaining the tight, chemical sheen that is a prerequisite in any contemporary high street release (where there seems to be some kind of inherent dictate that there shall no great distinction between the perfume that a woman wears and the scent of the bathroom that she frequents when she is out with the girls.)

 

 

Yes, there are tiny intimations, here in the final, fully played out accord, of the richer, more plangent roses of times past: the lightly spiced, rose-leather-chypres such as Fendi; Armani Pour Femme, and, with the more balsamic notes apparently featured such as the ‘chocolatey Sharry Baby Orchid’, ‘night jasmine’, and ‘Barania leather’ (apparently the flagship cowhide of Balmain); also, a warmth and vague suggestion of sweet, rose bloomed opulence that makes you think, briefly, of Trésor or even Bulgari Pour Femme. Though undoubtedly vulgar, there is something in these latter stages of this perfume that might smell quite shoulder-baringly ‘sexy’ on the woman who has been carried away by the advertising copy (” a feminine and sparkling fragrance full of daring and sensuality “) (such bullshit!!), and the perfume does, at least, in these stages, have some coherence (unlike the aforementioned Jimmy Choo). I suppose it is not so bad, and you could do far worse, certainly, in a cynical, over-egged market of high street and Duty Free garbage that quite frankly you are better off not smelling on the way to your destination for honest fear that it might cause you nausea .

 

 

 

 

 

And yet you could, it also has to be said, do so much better.

 

 

 

 

What I object to, currently, and I would love to spark up a discussion about this, actually, even though I know it has already been talked about before, is not only the aforementioned widening divide between the rich and the poor in scent, but also the gargantuan disconnect between the advertising copy we read about in magazines – for those very cheapos – that somehow just drives the knife in even deeper: the truly luscious sounding ‘ingredients’ that are supposedly used in the perfumes advertised, that you read about avidly on Fragrantica, Escentual, as well as in magazines, and then the cheap, and often quite nasty reality of the scents when you actually try them on your skin.

Is it just me, or is the divide between fantasy and reality some kind of death-chortling chasm?

 

 

 

Obviously it is only my subjective opinion what any perfume smells or doesn’t smell like, but the descriptions, here, of ‘nashi pear, osmanthus, and crystalline rose’ with lashings of ‘dark iris’, ‘amyris’, and whatnot, not to mention the orchid, make you imagine that what you are about to smell might be something lovely, at the very least something pleasant .

 

 

 

But you are not. What you are about to smell in fact just feels excruciatingly, laughably overfamiliar and painstakingly obvious. And, terribly for Balmain, formerly a house of great taste and luxury ( listen: I think I can hear Germaine Cellier, innovative creator of such beautiful, beautiful perfumes, silently weeping in her grave), a perfume that is utterly devoid of beauty.

25 Comments

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25 responses to “DEMORALIZING CRAP: :: : ‘EXTATIC’ BY BALMAIN (2014)

  1. Katy

    You are preaching to the choir! So many beautiful perfumes languishing behind counters while all the safe and utterly bereft of any character pink things sit out there front and center. Found a bottle of Tuscany per Donna today, at a major department store, no tester, I had to purchase it to smell it. While that phlegmatic Modern Muse, I shudder, was everywhere, not a single bottle of Lauder’s Private Collection or Azuree to be seen or smelled. Why is there always Angel and Alien and no Womanity? No Guerlains, no decent Diors, let’s be truthful, not many of those anyway! I smell more interesting things in the produce section of my local grocery store. I am not certain about a class divide. I see it more as an education divide. Here in the states, a beautifully constructed, with quality ingredients, niche fragrance can be had for less than the modestly priced Lauder I bought today. Here is the kicker though, you are not going to find it in a store. You must educate yourself, with help from wonderful and inspiring writers like you, educate your nose, develop a perfume language and sensibility. Many lovely and worthy fragrances can be had for less than what people spend on Starbucks in a week. You just have to know where to look! There are many kind and generous perfumistas out there who are willing to swap and share with the uninitiated and initiated alike. Find them! Share with your friends, take perfume to work, when appreciated, leave samples and unloved bottles on the break room table. I think I work with the best smelling Booksellers in the entire universe. You can catch trails of Coco, Lolita Lempicka L de Lolita, Chanel No 22, No 5, Bvlgari Black, Rochas Homme, Bal A Versailles, to mention just a few. Did I have a curious and receptive audience? Indeed…….

    • Beautifully put.

      I HATED Modern ‘Muse’ when I smelled it the few times I dared last week. Hygienic Republican romance.

    • Although maybe ‘class divide’ isn’t entirely the right way of saying what I want to say. However, it comes close.

      Back in the day, there were just the perfumes by the houses. A rich person could buy many bottles of, and a less well off person could save up to buy, say, Jolie Madame or Diorissimo, and that was that: you just had a proper perfume.

      Nowadays, unless, as you say, you educate yourself, you have to pay three times more for a decent perfume. In Dubai airport, I saw that almost houses had ‘private collection’ types of perfumes; not only Chanel, Guerlain, and Dior, but also Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce and Gabbana, Boss, Chopard, everyone: and the truth was, they genuinely did smell better. But only people with more money can buy them, meaning the plebs have to make do (happily, I imagine) with The One or The One The Rose or whatever else these shit things are called.

      • Lilybelle

        Yes, you are right: there is an obviously ever widening class divide, and not just in perfume.

    • Indeed you did and indeed you do!

  2. Katy

    I think it may be an access divide. Truthfully, many of those fragrances will end up at discounters or in the hands of decanting services. We all have our fatal weaknesses ! Mine is Eau Noire from the Dior private collection, and Tom Ford’s Lys Fume from the exclusive line. I have decants I use sparingly. Maybe it is really more about our strangely perverted sense of luxury which involves the notion that “only I can get this and afford it.”Luxury is really about a well made, not necessary for survival, object that pleases our sense of beauty. That can be as simple as a perfect daffodil or as complex and expensive as rare works of art. I think our modern notions about who can have it and who cannot defies my sense of fair play. I want everyone in the world to be able to enjoy a beautiful thing, whatever that may be, to have access to it and truly appreciate it because they have educated themselves.

    • I agree with what you are saying, but I do think that in recent times there is a very overt divide being made in society, from VIP packages at concerts, which are getting more and more extravagant, to even theme parks, where the rich get to have the fast pass packages of various tiers while the masses just have to stand and wait. I mean, just statistically, the gap between rich and poor is getting wider and wider all the time, and it almost feels to me as if the trend for houses having two entirely distinct levels of perfumery is part of this. If you smell the Diors or the Yves Saint Laurent collection, which I was sniffing at Dubai airport, they were clearly well made perfumes with decent materials, but deliberately set a price range beyond most average people. When you then smell the crap in their general range, Parisienne and so on, it smells utterly vile in comparison. The difference is so big that I can’t help feeling that a big schism has opened in modern societies that wasn’t quite there before.

  3. I feel it all has become such merde. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s one could find fabulous scents, that were affordable to the masses. These days even the “haute” fragrances are lacking compared to what was “commercial” in days of yore. So sad that this is what such a noble house has to resort to these days. I just do not even think of finding anything that will sweep me away these days, that I why I am “The Queen of Vintage” and remain as such. Truly, Germaine Cellier and Monsieur Balmain must weep for what all of this has become, but then again…we weep also.

    • I’m glad I’m not alone, then! This is a slightly overly rude title for a post, but I just reacted instinctively and wrote. I can still smell ‘Extatic’ ( I must use inverted commas for this one) on my left hand, and it smells perfectly pleasantish….it was the beginning that had me furious. It all does just smell so CHEAP, doesn’t it? So damn cheap.

      It was ‘only’ twenty years ago or so that I went into Birmingham to buy my mother Ivoire, which felt expensive, but affordable, and totally luxurious. Everything about smelling it, choosing it, and buying it, was a real treat and thrill. And yet for the same money probably allowing for inflation, we get this muck.

      I sometimes wonder if it just my age: but then I have no modern/vintage divide for the other art forms: I love current cinema as much as films from any year; I am an eighties boy music-wise but am still constantly finding new music I love, and the same theory holds for literature – doesn’t matter when it is written. And of course there is a lot of good perfume being made, just not mass-market, popular, high street, whatever you want to call it. It is all so BANAL.

      • Lilybelle

        I’m with you and Brielle. It’s a different world now. I ignore the two tiers and enjoy my vintage classics while I can. I wouldn’t bother sniffing something called Extatic, although once I would have in the interest of fairness, but now I wouldn’t bother as I feel many of these offerings are cynical and insulting (yes! the idiotic ad copy!!) and I no longer have high expectations of an esteemed House. And I doubt I’ll ever encounter the top shelf stuff in Dubai’s airport, as it isn’t a top destination on my bucket list, lovely as it may be there. We packrats of the past have our own mission.

      • A marvellous way of putting it, and I love the admission that a perfume itself might be not only boring, or irritating, but actually cynical and insulting to one’s intelligence. I couldn’t agree with you more.

      • You can imagine the boardroom ‘moodboards’ with the ‘creative’ department coming up with the name ‘Extatic’: ….”Yeah, but let’s change the spelling, yeah, to make it just that bit more edgy….yeah”

      • Just found this in my “in-box”, and it was to good not to reply to it.

        “Cheap”, is the perfect way to sum up most of the merde that is being pumped out by most fragrance houses. There is no comparison, nor precedence for the abject abandonment of selling a decent scent at a decent price, one that truly is a pleasure to wear and will pass the test of time.
        Even things that do not truly “offend” my olfactory gland, do not send me to the heights of abandonment either, things that smell “alright” never go beyond that. Everything has just become so pedestrian. Yet all the niche houses have just become as weird in the opposite direction.
        There is no other art form, maybe with the exception of fine-art, where there is such an intense demarcation. The time period in the latter part of the 19th century is a good one when thinking of fine art, yet there were still classicists to be found at the dawn of the 20th century. But that is a tangent for another day.
        The word “muck” sums up most commercial fragrance releases at this point in time, not to mention many of the niche ones also.

  4. Katy

    I am still chuckling that you chose to malign D&G The One. My beloved, who works in a cubicle, wears this office friendly fragrance, which smells quite pleasing on him. He is also the man who wears Jacomo Silences, Cartier Declaration and Chanel No 5. Not all luxury brands are as wonderful as the hype they receive. My first ventures into a Uncle Serge territory have not been all that rewarding. Chergui is not as pleasing or long lasting as I expected. I prop it up with Bvlgari Black. Borneo 1834, I hope this is the correct name, smells very similar to Davidoff Zino, a beautiful rose and patchouli, that does not get enough love and is 1/8 of the price. Serge Noire, quite intriguing, but am I comfortable wearing it? Is it wearing me? Notions of exclusivity, branding, accessibility all get in the way of truly and fairly smelling fragrances. Think about your Desert Island fragrances. Would you love them less if they could be found at every drugstore or pharmacy? Would you love them more if they were criminally overpriced and exclusive? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? I often wish we could initially test perfume in identical packaging, no dumb names, no ridiculous and fabulist hype, and everything at the same counter, none of this masculine, feminine crap. Maybe then our assessment could be fair and honest.

    • True, and that is why it was quite interesting recently as I had to help judge the Perfume Extraordinaire category at the upcoming Fragrance Foundation awards. We were given ten numbered bottles to live with for a while and give ratings for, and of course stripped of luxury, concept, pre-given visual cues and so on that was all there was: just smells. I know that I myself get carried away with the surrounding stuff with perfumes as I enjoy it all so much, but ultimately, you are right; it is the perfumes that count and nothing else really. I don’t think I am a snob though: in my all time top ten would be Noix De Coco by Yves Rocher, which costs 9 euros. It just smells lovely; simple, fresh, the best coconut I know. What I can’t stand is shit dressed up as luxury, like Extatic and so on.

  5. Katy

    I totally agree with your assessment of banal perfume for the masses. Most of it is utter dreck. I understand why many people passionate about fragrance love their vintage, it is better! Unfortunately corporate greed is driving the market now and people who do not know anything better than the newest pink juice exists are helping them to do it!

  6. Katy

    Feel free to use dreck, it is even fun to say! You, my friend, are no snob and I have been trying to get Noix De Coco but the Rocher website does not like my computer! I did get Harajuku Lovers G recently, a delightful coconut. I will be wearing it more when the weather warms up!

    • Y’see, that for me is a cheapo, fun, extraordinarily simple, but somehow rather well executed little number that just works. As I said, I am aware that it is all subjective, but some of these drecky designer fragrances are just too complicated, but in the worst possible manner, just piling loads of rubbish on top of each other in the latrine.

      G is simple: ozone, coconut, a slim wood note. YEY!

  7. Hygienic Republican romance is a wonderful description for the Modern Muse. Accurate too.
    As for the discussion, I do see more and more niche perfumes mentioned in the glossy mags, and I assume this will have an effect on interest in/ availability of niche fragrances. And while I’m aware that not all niche is good, I do think that smelling something different from the fruity cheapo will spark curiousity in many. I know how I felt after smelling my first Serge Lutens, Dyptiques and Artisans. And may be I’m an optimistic fool, but I believe that high street brands will have to up their game accordingly. Eventually. Not because they care about the quality of the stuff they produce, but because of the profit that can be made. At the moment they think the Private Blend route is the one to take, but as with everything, the real money is where the masses are, so there is hope that with more awareness and education comes more demand for a different kind of scent.

  8. My most treasured vintage find was a still sealed vintage Jolie Madame perfume bottle… it’s lost some staying power but it remains wonderful. To think of that, and to compare it with the modern launches, is just disheartening.

    Then again, the same can be said to the whole house of Balmain. I can only imagine poor Pierre Balmain rolling in his grave to see his name turned into a synonim for sequined jackets and ripped t-shirts with obscene prices.

  9. jennyredhen

    Is this because perfume houses arent allowed to include certain ingredients anymore? Oak moss is one that seems to be lamented for not being in modern incarnations of many classic perfumes also musk and civet sndalwood ambergris orris root etc which seem to have replaced by synthetics. I have been interested to discover that ambergris is deposited on the beaches of the West coast of New Zealand where I live and in fact there has been punch ups, car rammings etc on isolated West coast beaches where ambergris hunters have turf wars. If you find ambergris it is worth a lot of money..

    • I know: but you certainly won’t find any of that in this cheap shit. I think it’s just stinginess, a lack of imagination, and cynical economics to be honest. The formulas for the perfumes have just literally been getting cheaper and cheaper. You can’t even vaguely COMPARE the quality of something like this with an older Balmain scent.

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