Decadence is relative. It can be Nero, Fellini, ‘The Last Days of Sodom’, or Otto Dix. It can be thick, sweet aouds, like the new Tutti Frutti collection by Roja Dove. It can be the classical Guerlain parfums – their very nature powdered and liquorous, sensual and indulgent; Caron, vintage Dior or Patou, or the modern, Roman equivalents in the Italian houses of Profumum, I Profumi Del Forte; Nasomatto. Strong, come-to-me fragrances redolent of ransacked flower beds and steeped, ancient woods: skinned, animalic musk;, sloe, sweet-fingered unguents, and the lavishness of unbridled sexuality veering into putrescence.
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘decadence’ in two different ways. The second, more common contemporary definition is ‘luxuriously self-indulgent‘, in which case I plead guilty. I always was. I live for beauty and for pleasure, I am Dionysian, and perfume, as the ancients knew, is a bridge to the divine: a way to escape the mundane, grey realities of the daily grind, to bypass the stultifications of the physical, caged strictures of the world and to be transported in a second to an alternative sphere of reality in which your soul sings and you transcend the barriers of matter (a decadent description, perhaps, but that is what perfume is to me). When I spray on Vol De Nuit, or Tubéreuse Capricieuse by Histoires de Parfum – now there’s a decadent perfume house for a good current olfactory example of this concept – I am embellishing the moment, transforming it; twisting it in my direction and lacquering it in art, because though the smells out there in nature are pure, triumphant and ecstatic – where we come from and where we will return – the man-made, to me at least, is equally beautiful (which is why I choose to live near cities). Forced to live in the stark terror of mountains and their spirit-choking ‘purity’, I would surely choose to throw myself off one.
Which brings me to Marc Jacobs’ first supposedly ‘mature’ release, ‘Decadence’. Although that second definition, that ‘go on, be a devil’ trope used in chocolate advertising, has taken precedence in the current parlance, the first, and original, definition of decadence is, according to the Oxford, something ‘characterized by, or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decline‘. Which seems very appropriate to me, given the absolute lack of decadence in a fragrance with that name, and the general plunge into sickening cheapness and triviality that is the current domain of most mainstream perfume. Like Lalique’s appalling Living or Balmain’s dire Extatic, Marc Jacobs, ‘purveyor of women’s dreams’ and seemingly ever relevant in New York fashion and beyond, has taken an extremely tame and very standard current fixture – here the vanillic woodsy (‘warm liquid amber, vetiver and papyrus wood’), and then packaged it up into a glittering and clasping handbag shaped bottle that will appeal to the unthinking masses; a sweet, brain-melting accord that I expect to soon be smelled in many a dress-coded club under EDM speaker pounding lasers…………..smooth, inviting and both familiar enough yet appealing enough for him to self-consciously lean in; run his strong but manicured hands over her immaculately depilated and beautifully toned little body and and invite her – a shine-buffed and long haired creature straight out of the fashion pages – back to his hotel room.
This section of the perfume is fine, in a way, if intensely mediocre and dull – but only ‘decadent’ in its relativity to the mindboggling banality of ‘Dot’ (Dot for god’s sake: I could never get over that name – the tweeness of Carey Mulligan and ladybirds all chemicalized up in a dainty little carbuncle of a bottle); Daisy, and Lola, all of which I loathe with an absolute passion. Yes, the vague hint of something a bit more ‘oriental’ is a bit more ‘sensual’ than the other workaday fragrances in the Marc Jacobs lineup, but, despite the alleged existence of ‘rose, jasmine sambac, orris, iris, saffron and Italian plum’, the perfume, in the head and heart notes, smells cheap as shit. Confused and ill-blended: ‘Oh my god that’s stomach churning’ says Duncan as I proffer up the bottle.
Which means it will be a hit. In the blandly homogenized culture in which we live: conservative, under surveillance; morally prissy, commanded by conglomerates, the exigencies of the dollar, the yuan, the euro, that sleek of bulimia (no: listen – real decadence is enjoying the food; savouring the vine, the moment, the grape, the skin, the sex, not recording it on your smartphone and photoshopping your perfect ‘happiness’ into a fucking selfie as the Zuckerberg lens hones in on you and ‘tags’ you in your pretend, one dimensional universe of pre-ordained tastes and ideas of beauty. It is surrendering, animal-like, to the human passions, the natural beauty that lies all around us (and, far importantly, within.) LIVING. And not like Lalique.
Yes, there can be no doubt. In this cheapened, wizened universe of exquisitely manipulative ‘trending’, three-second attention spans, and gloss, ‘Decadence’ – this chemical, riskless, dull and soulless, perfume – will, I am sure, for the aeons of brainwashed ciphers out there in the world, probably pass, indeed, as something dangerous and beautiful……………………. as ‘luxurious self-indulgence’.
28 responses to “MARC JACOBS / DECADENCE (20I5)”
What a great post ! I find here all I need to know and to be remembered. Thank you ! My first post here, and I’ve been having a great time reading you for a few weeks now. Love your writings. All about perfume but what I read transcends brilliantly the “mere” topic of scents. A bientôt. :))
Thank you very much. C’est tres gentil. This one was a bit vicious, perhaps. But I have just checked the perfume again and it is still quite nasty.
I cannot stop grinning in a very silly, yet smug way, in response to your delectable description of today’s’ diva. A perfect perfume for the new Stepford wives.
I hate to admit it but it really is.
A fragrance custom made for the mindless, self-important masses. Thank you Neil for summing up this horror of a scent for us, those with a bit more love of scent than the selfie taking hordes. But, you are correct, this will probably go on to become a huge success. It may even become the “it” fragrance for the mindless horde.
I so miss the days of a “real” designer fragrance launch. Those days are but a memory for those of us lucky enough to have experienced them.
Another MJ? Just last week I made the mistake of spritzing Mod Noir on my hand and I nearly ran out of Sephora to scrub it out of my skin. Thanks, but no thanks.
Tell me there isn’t a perfume called Mod Noir.
haha, what a gloriously venomous piece! loved it!
when i tried to think about ‘Decadence’ as a (real) perfume, the first thing that came to mind was Paco Rabanne’s La Nuit. i think it could eat for breakfast most of the current ‘animalic’ niche offerings…
Oh Lordy La Nuit…..That one is decadent without even knowing it herself.
Hahahaha…. I always read your work, but I LOVED this review. The geniality of reviewers typically allows makers to foist their dreck on buyers without consequences …. until now. (Guilty) perfumers need to be slapped in the face more often with such buckets of fish as this.
Thanks. Feeling a bit Monday Morning Irritated this morning so re-edited and reblogged this post. Sometimes a bit o’ UTTERLY WELL FOUNDED vitriol is just what the doctor ordered. And yes: all that shit about ‘INDULGE….have a fucking mouthful of chocolat’, or the DECADENCE of this foul smelling cheap as chips Bath And Body Works bubble bath or whatever…..no no no no no it is all just so goddamn TACKY. And Decadence (have you smelled it?) really is VILE. Ultimately it is just trumped up (pun intended) toilet cleaner.
Gods how I hate the word decadence. SO overused, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard it over the 13 years we had our Espresso Cafe! Usually something like “Oooohhh! This Mocha is positively DECADENT!” Now I get that that’s an appropriate use of the word, but after hearing it 200 times a month, it was all I could do not to scream. My solution however was to look at my customer (usually a poorly dressed woman of a certain age) and say “No dear, that’s NOT decadent, THAT’S delicious. Decadent is Caligula’s sister fucking a horse! Do you SEE the difference??” Didn’t win me any new customers, but the locals loved seeing the tourists blanching and fumbling for their money, and that made me smile. Harsh, I know…
PLEASE TELL ME YOU ACTUALLY SAID THIS.
All the time. Show me a mocha-slurping large lady in a “beadazzled” unicorn-print ill-fitting sweatshirt with tall bleached har, and I basically just lose my shit!! Sadly we sold the cafe last October so the opportunity doesn’t present itself anymore. Which is a good thing, I suspect! 😂
I thank you.
Never heard a better description of my own experience, Neil, than yours:
“I live for beauty and for pleasure, I am Dionysian, and perfume, as the ancients knew, is a bridge to the divine: a way to escape the mundane, grey realities of the daily grind, to bypass the stultifications of the physical, caged strictures of the world and to be transported in a second to an alternative sphere of reality in which your soul sings and you transcend the barriers of matter. . .”
Of course, I am with you completely on your opinion of Decadence and the slow, sad rot of mainstream fragrance, although I haven’t smelled the release myself. I want to, just to witness this example of the decline and fall. One thing I am thinking, just a thought: could out-and-out nasty be an improvement over soulless innocuousness?
Yes, but in truth this probably isn’t utterly ‘out and out nasty’: I think at times I describe it as ‘passable’ and ‘fine’ or something. Truly out and out nasty was the Coach fragrance, which is (was?) the biggest mess I have ever smelled. The sales assistants seemed embarrassed by its existence at the Fujisawa department store I first smelled it in. Anyway, you don’t need to smell this because you already have. Just another one of those vile sickly artificial vanilla toilet cleaner perfumes that people ACTUALLY buy and wear.
Having said all this, I have never smelled this scent on a person’s skin. Who knows. In all honesty I can imagine being at a party, and some witty sexy woman wearing it in the final stages and her skin emitting something that is at least……perfume. You hardly even get that these days and I am starved for it. That fantastic experience of talking to someone you are meeting for the first time but simultaneously having another mental conversation with their scent as it rises up invisibly from their person, mingling with their body chemistry. I LOVE that. It makes things so much more multilayered. Rather than just smelling the plaintive natural musk of their hair smell and breath.
P.S. I thought I’d read the comments on Fragrantica, and sure enough, here’s one that illustrates my point:
“Okay, so, I could go on about the notes in this one but I don’t really recognize any of them so I’ll just paint you a picture. It smells like Belle’s library in Beauty and the Beast. It smells like Hogworts. It’s both fresh and green and dark and smokey. If you took old antique books, fresh cut grass, forest green velvet and the fog in Ireland and put them all in a magical blender this is what you’d get. I’m wearing a sample of it right now and I smell like enchantment. I smell majestic and wise! I smell like a witch!”
Wow. Sounds like something I might like. (Of course, I wouldn’t; I would smell what you smelled, because I’ve got a nose that has had five decades’ exposure to original formulation Vol de Nuit extrait, et al.) It’s all a matter of perspective; this comes rom a perfectly nice, utterly average girl who lists Miss Dior Cherie, Rihanna Reb’l Fleur, Black Opium and La Vie est Belle along with Decadence as her top five fave fragrances of all time. Wouldn’t Decadence, given her description, and given where she is on her perfume path, actually be a step in the right direction?
This is interesting, actually. And I agree that I am certainly not the target audience! It’s possibly a bit like with anything for the ‘younger generation’ : there are some things that I possibly just can’t ‘get’ now. But more likely the truth is that they just don’t know any better. I have long wanted to write about this, actually, because although my tastes in music, for example, are rooted in the 80’s, at the same time I genuinely like a lot of new music just as much. The same goes for films, literature, everything. I don’t feel that any of these categories of art were better before – particularly cinema. But with perfume, I can’t help feeling that there has been an OBJECTIVE rapid decline. This is one area where on the whole, things definitely were better before (ingredients, subtlety, magic, time spent) but as the olfactory is so hard to describe or pin down, the companies have been able to much more easily dupe people. They must be making such huge profits, because something like Decadence really does smell extremely cheap to me, whereas anything back in the day – even Joy, for god’s sake, would have been affordable but PACKED with natural flowers. When I think of Opium…..the original parfum, so CLEARLY replete with real spices, balsams, flowers, tons of citrus……..it really did smell like a tiger. ‘Black Opium’ (give me a break)…….pah
Could not agree with you more about every single thing you’ve written. Perfume is the one thing that seems to have deteriorated in general, and profoundly so, to the point where I can’t remember – off the top of my head, and my memory has admittedly also deteriorated with time – a single recent mainstream/basic-level department store release I’ve really enjoyed. Nothing excites me (and saddens me) more than the idea of going back in time to the seventies, when any department store in a major city would carry all the great un-neutered Guerlains, Patous, Carons et al, loaded with all the deliciously decadent (!) things that are now strictly verboten. If I knew then what I know now, I would have gone into debt stockpiling those heavenly, irreplaceable bottles. I never thought then that we’d find ourselves where we are today. I do love many new things, but they cost a relative fortune. And right at this very moment, I realize just how terribly elderly, narrow-minded and crotchety I would sound to that Black-Opium-loving girl.
And of course me too. A vicious old hag.
I might add that as a young woman back then, just starting a career, I could easily afford half-ounce bottles of extrait of any of those classics, and owned half a dozen at any given time. Which begs the question, and I ask without being rhetorical: who exactly is laughing all the way to the bank? Neil, do you know?
I suppose it would be a split between the perfume conglomerates – Firmenich et al, and the fashion houses.
And although it would probably be a very similar rant, I don’t know if you read my ‘Like A Monster’ piece? That was comparing perfumes with ACTUAL toilet cleaners. Might be worth a chuckle or two.
Several chuckles, in fact! Yes, yes, YES. I wouldn’t even use any current celebrity scent as a spray in the bathroom. Blech.
Speaking of which, I was surprised to read that train station bathrooms in Japan stink. Somehow (my romanticized vision of Japan and the Japanese) I’d expected them to smell delicately of hinoki and incense. I think of the Japanese as fastidious in their habits of personal hygiene. The things I learn from you. 😉
Well I did write that thing on the amazing hi-tech toilets, which might give that impression. The ones in the department stores and the like. But in train stations……good god. It can be quite foul.
Compared with others here, I’m hardly more than a dilettante when it comes to perfumes. My first perfume, at 17 or so, was the original Kouros long before it became “KOUROS” with all the attendant mythology and gesticulating.
But old and crotchety I got down pat.
As your post, comments and replies have evolved you’ve made a number of important points. Some of these points get lip service here and there on occasion; but only just barely. Others are unique to you and your fine, artistic, passionate sensibilities.
I honor them both and appreciate your knowledge and time in articulating, better than I can, the dynamics of that personal space living just behind each of our individual perfume experiences.
IFRA and all it’s philandering corporate lackeys should be strung up by the balls. They are largely — and purposely — responsible for much of the current mess, in my view. …Followed closely by the creative types who produce the marketing drivel aimed at keeping the cash-cows feeding at the perfumed trough.
But then, people also get only what they demand in the market. Convince consumers to boycot perfume sales for the next six months and see how fast the ship can come about and set a new course for genuine work.
We have the perfumers to do it. They simply haven’t been properly motivated yet.
Brilliantly put. I suppose the IFRA regulations give an excuse which leads to greed and cost cutting which becomes the norm… and so a cheap vicious circle is born of ever decreasing goodness. I hadn’t quite thought of it like that. Also love the idea of Kouros before it became KOUROS: I am sick of it now in a way but still have two bottles that I dab on occasionally (usually while wearing something else jasminey and coconut.) It still has total BALLS.
And thank you very much for what you say about my ‘passionate sensibilities’. I often think I am just ridiculous and opinionated but I am glad that another person might see it in another way. Arigato.