On Thursday night we went to a Vietnamese dance and acrobatics show at the Opera House Saigon. Climbing the red carpet behind behind a European couple, I caught their joint sillage. It was exactly like all the duty free perfumes I had lacklusterly sampled at the various airports to and from; the slab of grey blue woody ‘amber’ for him; pink:orange, unthinking ‘floral’ vanilla for her.
While not overtly unpleasant, what struck me the most about their fused scent trail was the absolute absence of nuance or complexity. There was no sense of the perfume beckoning you to find out more; nothing elusive, mysterious, sensuous or daring. Sexual, perhaps, in a hammer and tongs kind of way. But nothing that made you wonder, feel captivated, or aesthetically switched on. With their block-like opacity without light, everything you needed to know was there in an extraordinarily simplistic manner: :
I am man. And I am woman.
The new duo of fragrances by Maison FK, both called Gentle Fluidity ( geddit?) aims to get past this dichotomy of his and her by presenting two different perfumes based on exactly the same 49 ingredients, but blended in different proportions. By not spelling out for you which is ‘for men’ and which is ‘for women’, you yourself make the choice. Prominent notes include nutmeg, coriander, musk, juniper berries, ‘amber woods’ and vanilla (spotlighted more obviously in the more feminine scent) ; you are presumably supposed to gravitate towards whichever of the two (in actual fact quite contrasting perfumes) you feel more ‘comfortable’ with.
Although Francis Kurkdijian is a brilliant perfumer, with quite a few scents in the range I find impressive (though don’t actually wear), I have to say that for me, the concept and execution of these two new fragrances is a dud. Firstly, there is nothing remotely ‘gentle’ about either of them. The men’s one (because let’s be honest, these perfumes are just as strictly gendered as the ones that I smelled on the theatre staircase, they just aren’t physically labelled as such ) is abrasive and very forthright, with the juniper note at the front, and a familiar, Sauvage-ish base (absolutely the order of the day: I noticed that Hermès had gone this route with their ‘vetiver’ remix of Terre D’Hermes, as had Kenzo in variants of their classic Pour Homme- everyone is getting in on the ‘liquid testosterone’ act).
The women’s one is equally unadventurous: the usual, thick and oversweetened woody vanilla. I didn’t try either of the sample bottles I received on my own skin ( because I couldn’t bear to: if there is a real, gentle, or gender, fluidity when it comes to perfumes I already have it and I love the individualistic ambiguity that is the result).
Having said that, one thing I have realized recently is that in perfume criticism you can’t fully know what you are talking about until you have smelled the fragrance on different people and in real life situations. You make your pronouncements and then later have to (somewhat) change your tune. When we were checking in at Vietnam Airlines, as the woman at the counter walked past us to return to her post she left a delicious, modern vanilla with delicately fruited overtones behind her: as she checked our passports and issued our tickets, though slightly embarrassing, I was enjoying smelling her scented aura so much I felt compelled to ask her what she was wearing. ‘Gabrielle, by Chanel’ she replied, a perfume I savaged upon its release for I am sure quite valid reasons but which, in an everyday encounter, smelled highly pleasant indeed.
Another of those ‘vanilla’ ( because is there anything else now for the modern woman, in truth ?) perfumes that I had to ask about was worn by a gorgeous singer in a club we went to: again, it was a perfume I had dismissed as not worth the time of day – Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent – but on her it was a cafe au lait type affair that she smelled really lovely in. Neither of these perfumes smelled INTERESTING or alluring as such though, if you know what I mean – just cute; embraceable.
Which I cannot do to the two new fragrances by FK. Yes, as the man is a technical wizard, I don’t doubt ( well I do, actually) that both of the perfumes will reveal more as they meld with different skins – presumably, some people, uncowed by the lack of gender specification, will ‘dare’ to try the scent more akin to their real nature and some curious results may occur in the wearing, but for me, this release is ultimately a cynical, and unadventurous attempt to jump on the ‘gender’ wagon ; in giving us merely his n hers but just erasing the name, this isn’t gender fluidity. Gender fluidity to me means just being free to do whatever you want unshackled by predecided cultural cliche. Something that is most definitely not the case with these two, very unfluid and ‘revolutionary’ new fragrances.