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.