Category Archives: Floriental

HIDDEN: : GEM (1987) , VAN CLEEF (1993) + MISS ARPELS (1994) by VAN CLEEF & ARPELS

 

 

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Some perfume houses (Chanel, Guerlain, Caron, Hermès) have a uniformity of style  -such that even when you might not take to certain scents in the range personally, at heart you still feel that there is a stability in the stable. A general ease of quality ; a signature,  a DNA.

Dior (oh read it and weep…Diorella, Diorling, Diorama, Diorissimo); Givenchy, Balmain, Yves Saint Laurent, all used to also have this quality before their cruel and vile degradations. I can hardly even bear to smell a single perfume at the Christian Dior counter now, knowing how attenuated and chemicalized the once sly, beautiful perfumes have become. The same goes for the dummies – factices! – masquerading as Opium or Rive Gauche.

Givenchy is now a joke  – I could never forgive them for the name Véry Irrésistible, particularly when enunciated with a Parisian, or I dare say, a Birmingham accent, and Givenchy Gentleman and Ysatis, two of my favourite perfumes, well, the less said about the new versions the better.

At least visually, however, even if the juices inside are fake news, there is still usually with most houses some kind of cohesion. Van Cleef & Arpels, on the other hand, has always struck me as a real hodgepodge smorgasbord of ephemeral, whoreish opportunism. The perfumes and bottles just come and go. They look horrible together on the counter. There is nothing that really binds them. And that goes for the smell of them, as well.

Yes, there are the seminal, enduring creations from the house: the beautiful First (1976), and Tsar (1989), which I despise from the depths of my heart but still grudgingly respect in that patrician, Blake Carrington kind of manner; and then, of course, the more recent Collection Extraordinaire, featuring highly wearable, smooth and classy (if quite pricey) creations such as Orchidée Vanille, Lys Carmin, and California Rȇverie that I would quite happily have in my own collection if someone were just to give them to me for free.

The main line, nevertheless, I find to be, on the whole, repugnant – Féerie (bleuurrrgh!), Oriens, Midnight In Paris and all their flankers just the standard, thin, trumped up chemical crap I can’t abide. There is just no relation to the other Van Cleef & Arpels perfumes, no family tree lineage or any particularly Parisian, Van Cleevian recognizability.

 

 

 

 

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That said, what of the forgotten perfumes, never blockbuster hits back in the day;  ones you might not even have been aware of at the time,  but were still there, the ones standing doggedly at their given places on the department store perfumery shelves (remember the days when that was virtually all the perfume that there was available?)

–  – This makes me quite nostalgic, actually, the way certain perfumes – Après L’Ondée, say, or Alliage, would be kept under the counter at their respective concessions by their sales representatives, but it didn’t matter because those perfume lovers that wanted those particular scents specifically knew they could make a beeline for them whenever they wanted. They were wanted, which is why they were in constant production. The perfumes were all solid quality; you could trust in them not to be changed to sickening, pale impostors overnight – they were your beloved, signature fragrance.

Both Gem (discontinued) and Van Cleef (also, but depending on your information sources, still possibly available), are perfumes  – real perfumes, from this valued, and cherished time, before the psycho, millennial split into toilet cleaners in fancy flacons (high street perfumery) and the vastly priced, decentish perfumes presented to us as the Exclusives, the Extraordinaries, the Private, and Privé Collections and all the rest; the two-tiered approach that every perfume house seems to have adopted now.

Although I knew neither at the time, these two deleted Van Cleefs are both clearly sturdy, well-made perfumes, rich with essence. Gem, which I have no recollection of, and which I experienced for the first time only very recently when I found it for around ten dollars at a Tokyo ‘recycle’ store a couple of weeks ago, had just been tossed into a wicker basket somewhere among the general jumble of the store alongside a whole load of perfumes into the general perfumed bargain bin, and I initially walked (actually limped, like John Merrick) away from the shop deciding to not waste my money………I don’t know, the jewellers  – Cartier, Chopard, Van Cleef, Boucheron – never really appealed to me as much as the couturiers…..the matching of a Balenciaga gown with Le Dix, or Worth with Je Reviens –  there is a romance there, a duet between scent and silk, fabric and fragrance, that seems more inherently harmonious that the diamond hard surfaces of precious stones that clash like teeth.

Somehow, though, I did a double turn. I was curious. Having smelled the nozzle briefly though (spice?! not what I was expecting) I then, despite myself, found that I was going back to get it.

As it turns out, Gem is now quite a sought after cult item, going for hundreds of dollars on ebay with delirious references to Guerlain Mitsouko and Rochas Femme, a ‘perfume of perfumes’, almost, and it in fact does have some of those classically rich, spiced chypre facets, although in truth to me it is more like a cross perhaps between vintage Opium parfum, and the fruitier, more orange laden KL, by Karl Lagerfeld, just with an extra, mesmerizing aspect of rich (and quite naughtily) animalic jasmine.

With its complexity, depth, opulence and spiciness, this is quite the scintillating perfume, actually, (the plum-filled Kenzo L’Elephant and even Yves Saint Laurent’s classic Kouros even came briefly to my mind for a moment when I was analyzing it later) –  a real eighties ‘bitch in furs’ scent – quite dated for its time of release (Duncan guessed 1964 when I gave it him to smell!) and yet perfectly, eminently, full of that classic powerhouse, lip-glossed Dynasty attitude (though I still can’t quite decide whether Alexis or Sable Colby would wear it better). My bottle doesn’t feel at its optimum state – it hasn’t ‘turned’ as such, it just feels a little bit self-marinated, but I know that I will be definitely wheeling this one out again at some point in the future, either to gift to the right person (someone with the real panache and gall to properly carry it off), or else as an adjunct to costume.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There is a used ‘brand’ (the Japanese word for ‘designer’ – there is even a shop devoted to old Louis Vuitton and Chanel handbags and jewellery in Kamakura called Brand Panic) emporium in Ofuna, about twenty minutes from where we live, that sells perfume – Chanel Chance and Coco Mademoiselle extraits at overpriced rates – but when they first started out they used to also have plastic shopping bags out the back that they would bring out for me; loot made of perfume that had seemingly just been thrown out in the trash but which they would allow a crazed foreign scum queen like myself to happily rootle through – full, or almost full, bottles of L’Interdit eau de toilette and the like – I once also got yet another Van Cleef & Arpels perfume, Miss Arpels (ever heard of it? I didn’t think so), in a weirdly shaped, off-centered octagonal bottle with an unintelligible olfactory message; something a bit green tea-ish, melon, magnolia,  and peonied – an unfinished oddity by Jean Claude Ellena – who also created First – that I didn’t really like in all honesty and gave to my Japanese teacher (who wore it quite well, in a tediously inoffensive, green floral kind of fashion.)

Van Cleef, though, another scent from that trash bag that had remained hidden from my radar for some unknown reason, was different.

This is an odd one: familiar, but at the same time quite original, created by a perfumer I have never heard of before, Pascal Girout, who seemingly only made this. I sometimes like that idea, though – of a perfumer labouring over one perfectionized fragrance every single day until it is perfect :  then never trying again…

Classed as an oriental by Fragrantica (tonka bean, musk, vanilla and cedar; with orange blossom, geranium and sandalwood in the centre), this is nevertheless, like Gem, considerably spicy and cloved, flawless in its construction (it is impossible to discern any seams or any edges between any of the notes), yet fresh and tingly also  – all marigold, raspberry, neroli and a touch of galbanum:  a curiosity, pebble-smooth, caressingly soft (in that original Kenzo Le Monde Est Beau kind of way), yet to me, quite obviously androgynous. Actually wearing Gem in public would feel quite self-consciously camp to me and hard to imagine, whereas this, more savory, less sugared, is almost Brut by Fabergé or Ambush by Dana: a freshly shaven face eating Kola Kube sweets on a dappling Autumnal day (last summer, when Olivia was showing me the fantastically opulent treasures of her perfume collection, all of which I wanted to steal, she proffered up a small bottle of Van Cleef to me and said have you ever tried this? It’s gorgeous……………very unsurprising, in truth, this synchronicity, given that we are both equally drawn to the delicious and warm in perfumery; more, in general, than the cool, the calm and the collected…)

After I had picked up that first bottle of Van Cleef and smelled it  –  I have since come into possession of the treasured parfum for a song as well – delightfully dense and close – as I recognized  immediately that it was something I would like, I sprayed it all over my freshly washed grey and white lined hoodie as we prepared to cycle back to our house. The scent melded perfectly with the cotton, in that neat, cuddling refuge kind of way (very much a scent to stay in with at the weekend and just escape from the world outside), but, impulsively, on that particular Saturday, for some strange reason, rather than cycle back the usual route, which until that moment we had never deviated from as it was flatter, and generally more scenic – a ride past the temples –  I suddenly had a whim to go the much longer back route with its much steeper inclines ; hell on the knees, but good for the heart; and then, inexplicably (she must have been calling), to go into the woods, even though it was completely impassable and impractical on a bike. Perhaps I just wanted to see the lake, where the koi carp swim and which is rumored to be haunted. It’s a lovely place, though, and a good place to rest.

Still, we weren’t expecting – because they were hidden, or at least hiding themselves under a wooden litter bin just by a sharp drop into the forest  (there are poisonous snakes in that part of the woods as well, mamushi that bite, with pictorial explanations of what to do if that happens)  –  four tiny kittens to come suddenly mewling in desperation from under their temporary cover, so wet and bedraggled and in quite a wretched state from their abandonment and night in the forest and running towards us; one of them, with an injured leg, but the fiercest and dazzling newly born blue eyes, making her way straight towards me, crawling up and refusing to let go:  this, then,  her first ever taste of perfumery, as she nuzzled under my hood…

The park keeper in his hut over the lakeside became aware of all the commotion as we were surrounded by tiny fur balls meowing, and came out and said that he would have to take, or ‘confiscate’ the rest of the kittens –  so I have no idea what later became of her siblings, but Mori (‘forest’ in Japanese, the first name that came), clung on to me so fiercely and was so ridiculously cute that I instinctively refused to let go, and we took her home, cycling with her in the shopping basket,  where she still is lording and queening it up, in our eccentric, perfumed nest, eight or nine or so years later.

The perfume still reminds me of that day, too, and it always will.  I like knowing that it is just there in my collection; enjoy its robust, nerve-soothing predictability. Van Cleef, a scent I probably would never have discovered if it hadn’t been for that strange, lucky Saturday, is thus forever immortalized for me now:  in a fun, and life-changing, sweetly perfumed memory tinged with fur.

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Filed under Floriental, Spice

PINK AND FLUFFY: : INSOLENCE eau de toilette by GUERLAIN (2006) – review II

 

 

 

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In my old review of Guerlain’s Insolence, I describe my first, initial memories of experiencing this pink ultraviolet vanilla with bemusement.

 

I can still see myself outside Yokohama’s Takashimaya on a cold winter’s night and actually laughing, so over the top, harsh, swirling and unwearable I found it to be.

 

And yet the other day, a beautiful, sun filled afternoon I spent by myself in glorious solitude scouring the junk shops in downtown Tokyo (heaven on earth when you are in the right mood and have been stuck down in the sticks teaching pre-examination classes for a solid month), I came across a full bottle of this luscious Guerlain little treat for just 1,400 yen (about twelve dollars, under ten pounds), smelled it again, and just knew on the spot that had to have it.

 

I now kind of think that I maybe do actually love it. Spraying it onto the back of my hand as the wind blew around me at Asagaya station –  the train delayed for thirty minutes by yet another suicide –  this sweet, irisian violet with lashings of hair spray and fruit formed a bunny pink halo of comfort  around me like the softest, most succoring blanket.

 

Dryer sheets; felt, fabric-softened baby grows, orange blossomed-vanilla;  love.

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Filed under Floriental, Gourmand, Violet

ROMEO by ROMEO GIGLI (1989)

 

 

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Like tiger lilies under fluorescent tube lighting.

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Filed under Floriental, Flowers

“ SUCCESSFUL FAILURES ” (aka THE GOOD DIE YOUNG) vol 1:: : : THEOREMA by FENDI (1998 )

 

 

 

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We live in a crass, capitalistic, interconnected world of hype in which we are at the mercy of conglomerates and advertising, an ingenious science that taps into the base needs of human beings  – and their vulnerable, self-doubting psyches –  and then creates products that they think they want and ‘need’. Thus, what is popular, a best seller, a ‘phenomenon’, relies less on the the intrinsic value of the thing itself then how it is marketed. You need buzz: to ride the wave of the zeitgeist with slick tantalisation and the snippet, a face (or better, a body) to sell your product, to have the media, and tech-savvy cold-eyed people in your department with their eye always on the game, plugged into the matrix, and what is ‘trending’, to make your consensus-built, pre-public tested creation a hit, to slip clues to the nature of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ at least a year before the movie’s release to whip up extra interest, to get Julia Roberts’ Oscar-winning smile on board to market Lancome’s best selling perfume, La Vie Est Belle.

 

 

 

 

It goes without saying that the general public are not stupid (or not entirely, although the rise of Donald Trump perhaps puts paid to that idea). Generally speaking, though, people cannot be seduced by pure garbage, a product with no merit whatsoever. There must be some substance, quality, thrill or cultural hook that makes purchase seem worthwhile, even if it is just an initial sheen or surface that lures you in and leaves you feeling as satisfied as you do when you have just guiltily consumed a Big Mac. From films to music to perfumes to books there is a common denominator that pull the great hordes in, something with ‘mass-appeal’ (have you ever tried to read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code? Yes I know the plot was intriguing and all, but I personally couldn’t get past the first paragraph the writing was so appalling: for me literally unreadable). A super-hit, then, while appealing on the surface perhaps and vaguely digestible, can often be, from other angles, and seen in hindsight, a total pile of junk.

 

 

 

 

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Writing this I will probably come across as a total snob. And while it is true that I was definitely born a bit supercilious –  possibly because my bullshit-o-meter was working ferociously from quite a young age – in fact my tastes are not as pretentious or hipster-tastic as many self-conciously ‘arty’ or ‘alternative’ types out there who willfully only gravitate to the obscure or ‘difficult’ in order to be cool.  Cinematically I can go from pure art – Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Jodorowsky, Kubrick, all the truly visual auteurs – through to the lurid, high octane schlock of Brian De Palma or Scorcese to the latest Hollywood releases quite happily: a film I particularly enjoyed last year, for example, was Mad Max: Fury Road, one of the most viscerally physical films and atmospherically coherent films I have recently seen. Musically I am equally eclectic: in a certain mood I will listen to ‘difficult’ classical music like Messiaen, Stravinsky, or the most severe and abstract electronic ambient sounds, for me the equivalent of iced rain-drops clearing out my brain moss, while at others I am MOR, jazz, Mr Electro-Pop.

 

 

 

That said, despite my openness to the commercially successful ( I too, went to see Avatar in 3D spectacles and quite enjoyed it), to me there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that quantity of units sold is absolutely no guarantee of quality, particularly when we are talking about art. If we look at the top 20 most financially successful movies of all time, for example, we will find such dubious inclusions as Avengers: Age Of Ultron; Transformers: Age Of Extinction, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and Fast and Furious 7. Clearly these are categorically not the greatest films of all time, even if even these I am not entirely immune to the charms of :my students once insisted we watch Transformers and Fast And Furious, and though my brain was quite numb after a certain number of minutes, I could still see the appeal, at least from their eyes : all hard bods, sass, and pumped-up energy alchemized by a hundred-million-dollar special FX, well timed jokes and ironic asides, explosions, adrenalined car chases, and robots. The films were undeniably exciting on one simple level, which is just what the public wants –  and they were then put in the hands of ‘creatives’ who knew how to sell them. They then became, as fully expected, mega-hits. And who am I to judge?

 

 

 

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While a perfume might not shift as many units as an album by  Adele, whose semi-sincerity, vocal prowess, and natural beauty I can definitely see the appeal of, even though I might not listen to her myself (“Hello”, on the radio, though is finally getting through to me);  it is, ultimately, still a part of the same game. A blockbuster perfume is still a cultural product that becomes part of the world around us even if it is invisible, and it makes a lot of money for its parent company (which probably gains most of its income through toilet products in so called ‘functional perfumery’ – but is there really any difference half the time?), and, like Disney and its franchises, becomes its cash cow.

 

 

 

To reach so many people, though, you have to compromise (surely the enemy of true art), or else you create, once in a while,  a masterpiece that is not compromised at all but just so good of and in itself that something in the heart of the public can’t resist it (Shalimar, Black Swan, The Corrections):  perfumes, films, or books that come from founts of genuine inspiration. These are very much the exceptions, though. More often than not, the products that become popular with the populace as a whole have been smoothed out, traded-off and accommodated to the point that they become thick, easily comprehended  banalities with the skins of a rhinoceros; sturdy as steel; impregnanted and infallible. Successful. A movie like Iron Man 3 cannot fail: the people at Paramount Pictures will have seen to that, in advance. Likewise, La Vie Est Belle, a perfume I detest, will have been tried and tested beforehand, and tweaked and redirected on the poor unsuspecting public – whose reactions to what they are smelling will in large part be based on the general scent in the air (ie. crude fruitchouli gourmands, the perfumes that all women seem to wear now):  ground zero to which this ‘new’ fragrance release will smell quite similar. And thus the faceless tick the boxes, and the ‘new perfume’ gets released, and the never-ending, vicious cycle of humdrum mediocrity gets perpetuated. Ad Nauseam.

 

 

 

 

 

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In truth, Angel (Thierry Mugler) is largely to blame. It changed everything when it was released in 1992, an absolute and utter game changer. And we are still going through its repercussions, as its iconclasms reverberate through the decades in perfumery, just as Chanel No 5 was the progenitor of the majority of copycat perfumes that were released in its brilliant, groundbreaking aftermath (much as I adore my selective vintage collection, it is interesting just how many more obscure old perfumes you come across at flea markets and the like are just so boring: yet another rose jasmine woody musk aldehyde, yawn: : plus ca change), and they invariably pale next to the real thing anyway. Angel, a perfume I myself enjoy to wear in small doses, though I thoroughly understand its detractors (my sister might actually try to kill you if you wear too much of its cloying patchouli white chocolate in her presence), is great for its pared down intensity and shocking originality (at the time, at least: now it just smells a little bit tired). Like a sculpture by Brancusi, though, all was compact and rounded; essential, leaving no extraneous essence. Angel was the sum of its parts: the refracted, commercialized patchouli; the sharp fruit; the fuzzy, skin-kissing white chocolate, its hinting of the smell of sexual spentness in its final stages on the skin, its inhuman tenacity.

 

 

 

Since then, in ‘women’s perfumery (‘men’s’ hardly bears even mentioning and is in general to be considered quite beneath contempt, as there is usually only one concept  – MACHO – though in recent years daring new additions to what can be considered masculine such as Dior Homme have attempted to create new tropes );  almost everything we smell now seems to have been built on the foundations of Angel’s tooth-wrecking and infantilizing reign – the descent into comfort and gourmand, into the mood-boosting sweetness of sugar and the slightly ‘daring’ combination of ‘patchouli’ (lab-leached variants of the real thing with some of its earthiness and woodiness but none of the soul). And thus we have such worldwide mega-hits as Flowerbomb – well constructed and faultless in its way if a little unpoetic to say the least – La Petite Robe Noire, another cheap smelling gourmand in the best sellers, and, possibly the most currently popular perfume in the world, Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle, a cleverly constructed sharp, more floral metallic Angel, and a fragrance that I personally find abhorrent. A perfume that sucks the air out from it around it. A perfume that is the smell of the headache-inducing pollution of the department store and duty free, of chemicals, and popularity.

 

 

 

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Yes, the ‘smell of popularity’, I like that expression, as that is exactly what we are talking about here. Either the endless fruitchouli variants, or else the desexualized floral (Happy, Romance, J’Adore etc) or the pallid, laundry musk safety of a Kenzo Flower or a Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue. All very competent, cunningly commercial fragrances that probably deserve to be the hits that they are because they hit some kind of olfactory mark that smells familiar and easy, that fits in with the mainstream of what is considered perfumery – the Sam Smiths and Kelly Clarksons of the perfumery department – yet which still will make the discerning perfumist, who knows real perfumery, shake his or her in vexed apathy and disgruntled irritation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trying to break the mould in practically any sphere of creativity is difficult, and a risk. This is why the big movie studios are apparently less and less willing to try something new, and stick instead to their blockbuster franchise sequels and, on the side, just to win some accolades, their yearly release of  ‘quality’ Hollywood Oscar-bait (actually my least favourite kind of film, for their strict, conservative adherence to preconceived notions of what constitutes ‘good taste’ and ‘quality’: in acting, in set design, in screenplay- you couldn’t get me to watch Eddy Redmayne, in The Danish Girl, for example, if you paid me). Other than these two types of films – action blockbusters based on superheroes saving the world (why, oh why, why why why do people – ‘adults’  – like superhero movies so much? I will never, ever, understand it), and ‘issue’ based, show-your-acting-chops dramas like The Imitation Game (yes, Cumberbatch was brilliant, in a way (though I personally didn’t believe a word of it), and the story was uplifting, and then crushing, and I cried a bit, where I was supposed to, so it was good, stolid entertainment even if it was, ultimately, for me, just an obvious ploy to try and get Academy Awards):  other than these, the studios are simply too afraid to try and do something original, to go out on a limb.

 

 

 

In truth, despite the rave reviews these kinds of films receive on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes (critical consensus is always something to beware of for me) I often find that the slated films, or those with very low scores, the ones that are vilified and scorned and hated by the Quality Police, the ones that failed at the box office, are actually more enjoyable. They take more risks. They don’t care. They say what they want to say. They are fun. A bit weird. More liberated, and free of conventions or expectations. And by far most importantly, they try something new.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So we come to the commercial failures. The films, or books or music or perfume that no one buys – the ‘flops’. And in the cruel and ruthless world of dollar-based evaluation, something that doesn’t immediately bring home the bacon is usually considered a failure, on every level ( I don’t think this is quite the case in somewhere like France, however, where art is more respected and where a film can win the Palme D’Or at Cannes and still not make any money). In perfume terms, though, I think it is even more difficult to branch out, as the public in general is less equipped to analyze the olfactive than they are with other creative media – we live in a largely visual arena and so know how to process the memes of the constant visual media – whereas commercial perfume tends to be a more enveloping bank of conformity that becomes the air in the bar, pub or club that we are accustomed to and are thus more unwilling to break away from for the simple fear of smelling wrong. 

 

 

 

As a result, when perfumers do dare to try to follow their instinctive muse and a head designer comes on board and says yes, sometimes interesting scents are released into the world that nevertheless come crashing down and are quickly discontinued. I am not really talking about niche, where word-of-mouth and willingness to be different is much stronger, and thus the perfumes are judged more on their olfactory worth than on their image (although the sheer number of perfumes released now, with each new niche house always beginning with a whole phalanx of scents, an entire olfactory spectrum of fragrances all in one go, means necessarily that a fair few of the creations will fall by the wayside as an inevitable result of natural selection), but more about the bigger investments by the more well known fashion houses that require much more of an initial investment in terms of product design and promotion, perfumes that are then withdrawn in a silence of embarrassment and never heard of again while the ‘creative department’ goes back to their ‘directives’, their ‘mood boards’, and square one.

 

 

 

These are the perfumes, then,  that Olivia, my co-contributor, and I will be looking in this new series: “ Successful Failures”, perfumes that came and went, but that managed to gain some die-hard fans in the short time that they lived. Discontinued perfumes that disappeared but that can still be found if you look ( at discount online perfumeries, T.J Maxx and the like): a far better fate than reformulation, at any rate, which is a disgrace, and an indignity that any quality perfume should never be subjected to. Rather a perfume be in hiding, surely – unknown and waiting to be re-recognized in its original form, as it was intended – than be a shadow of its former self, an imitator, a brain-scooped, cheaper, more synthetic, doppelganger.

 

 

 

 

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And so, ‘without further ado’, to the Successful Failures, the Good That Died Young. The Beautiful Rejects. And the first in this series today we will be starting with (sporadically, when we feel like it), is Theorema (incidentally, one of my favourite films – Teorema or Theorem, by Pasolini, an exquisite Italian masterpiece), released by Fendi in 1998, and now, like the film, for those in the know, something of a cult favourite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take it away Olivia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fendi Theorema (1998)

 

 

 

 

Theorem. There is something in that keystone of pure mathematics that hints at astral beauty and the awe of the unknown: the study of space and structure, of change and motion, the meshing of abstraction and logic. The tracing of patterns in an unfathomable chaos.

In a sense, there is a reflection of this in Fendi’s defunct perfume from 1998, Theorema. A wonderful balancing act of legible complexity, it is a harmony of disquiet and languid lean whose soft, diaphanous features drape over a garnet bone structure.  Both supine and regal, the abstraction of the composition seems perfectly logical when worn on skin: comfortable and eclectic. Like those algebraic abstractions, there is a sense of something ethereal and outside of ourselves and yet, at the same time enveloping us.

A spiced, woody oriental with a gourmandish character (but whose sweetness is light years from the ethyl maltol caked sugar vats of many current launches), this perfume shares a bloodline with those fiery powerhouses of the 80s – Opium, Cinnibar and Fendi’s own Asja – by way of the mellow cedar fruits of Lutens. However while the fingerprint of those Lutensian spiced compotes can definitely be felt throughout Theorema, here it’s as if that leitmotif has been sketched on rice paper: hefty notes of spice and woods, of vanilla pods, fleshy florals and fruits are made diaphanous and wear like gossamer. Opening with a dusky orange bolstered by nutmeg, cardamom, pepper and rosewood and making it’s way through a floral heart – jasmine, rose, leathery osmanthus, ylang all freckled by cinnamon – to a sumptuously teaky base of benzoin, guaiac, sandalwood, amber and patchouli, this perfume is a stunning drape between disquiet and extreme comfort. Theorema is sunshine and earth: puffs of silk and fire.

The orange note, delectable and almost russet coloured, coupled with the chocolatey benzoin and patchouli makes for a much lauded mirage of confectionary. Specifically, for a time, it radiates a giddying apparition of Terry’s Chocolate Orange scooped out greedily from the woolly toe of a Christmas stocking. I must emphasise though that this is a very grown up version of a bonbon: there is no refined sugar here, nothing cloying in the least and it is instead toasty and cosseting, delicious and entirely of an adult palate.

The white florals in the heart, so often fleshy and lush, here take on an almost carnation like zing – the baseline of the spices buffs them with gauzy shades of chestnut and hazel, rich and piquant with their innate abundance peaking through as if glinting with caramel tones in lamplight. The rose, washed over by the milkiness of sandalwood seems baked by a late autumnal sun. Instead of buxom and bold petals, this is more a milky, spiced pomander of dried burgundy rose petals and cloves.

But while this perfume retains a lush and womanly aura, the woods and spices lend it a very slightly dirty (but not animalic) edge. There is a wonderful tension poised between delicate notes and heavy ones, a leathery laced and tangy hem that hints at secrets and misadventure. It is a perfume midway between the woolen snug of a cuddle and the sticky, sweet trace of nectarous booze on lips, a mingling of incense with gingerbread. It is all welcoming and warm smiles in that broad Italian way; confident and complex, restrained enough for elegance but hinting through fogged windows at delicious kinks. The sum total is sensuous and knowing, comfortable and self-assured but with a quite intoxicating hint of something more disarming: just underneath the coze and spiced panettone is a frisson, the whisper of cat-flick liner and a nightcap Gauloise.

Truly this is a beautiful, intelligent fragrance but despite all the virtues I’ve written about above, it flopped horribly.  Its surprising lack of tenacity perhaps was a factor – a downside of the admirable transparency of the composition is that is does wear lightly (although the parfum – a true unicorn! – is richer and more unctuous as you’d expect.) But released as it was in 1998, it shared shelf space with the likes of Baby Doll, J’Adore and Rush and perhaps this auburn elixir was just too out of step with broader commercial tastes at the time. Truth be told this, while not a difficult perfume is perhaps not universally appealing especially to noses less accustomed than they likely would be now to the smoky, disarming qualities of ingredients such as oud.

If it were released now, under a swishy niche label and with a stratospheric price, I have no doubt it would be a sensation. There are however alternatives, perfumes with a kinship to Theorema that could quench a yen. Perfumer Christine Nagel did in fact resurrect the concept of her earlier composition in her 2004 release for Armani Prive, Ambre Soie – a similarly atmospheric perfume reminiscent of smoked ginger and the darkest cocoa powder. Givenchy Organza Indecence, released only a year after Theorema (and similarly discontinued but still easier to find) rifts on the same idea but extends the vanillic aspects and fleshes out the fruit with rich plummy swathes.

Etat Libre d’Orange Like This is a more distant descendant – drier, edgier but with the same russetty palate and evocation of warmth and home comforts. The brand new fragrance from Parfums MDCI, Les Indes Galantes, however is much closer to the bone. Rich, complex and Christmassy its interplay of winey fruits and spiced woods are throatier than Theorema, but there is enough smoky speckled vanilla pod and burnished tickly fruits to wrap you up with the same interwoven tendrils of goodwill and allure to satisfy the craving – it’s gorgeous and very much worth checking out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A SPLASH OF VULGARITY : : BELLE EPOQUE by GUERLAIN (1999 )

 

 

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You can’t beat Guerlain. The sheer number of perfumes, both current and lost, the gorgeousness. Sometimes I spend a morning dipping into the Monsieur Guerlain website just to delve into the archives and ogle what I don’t have, to suck up trivia about the house and imagine what it must be like to have free access to those vaults full of old recipes and beautiful bottles of rich and ravishing perfumes that I would love get my hands on.

 

 

The house certainly is prolific. And while that is no guarantee of quality (think: Tutti Kiwi, Grosselina, ‘L’Homme Ideal’, to name but a few recent disappointments), it is always interesting to either reacquaint yourself with some of the the more interesting relatively recent olfactory successes – Metallica is divine, as is Attrape Coeur –  although both have been moronically discontinued in favour of such mucoid banalites as the Idylle range – or else access now forgotten scents by Guerlain that you had, somehow, never even heard of.

 

 

 

 

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Belle Epoque is one such scent, a sample of which I noticed the other day and which I never even realized I had; sent, I think, by Brielle (who used to work for the company – I have never shoplifted in my life but I can’t guarantee that I would have been entirely well behaved in the stock room on a Friday afternoon had I been in the same position; some soaps, or bain moussant at the very least, surely, would have slipped their way into my pockets).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For me, any strongly scented jasmine/tuberose sandalwood combination has a certain,  unavoidable vulgarity. Creed’s Jasmin Eugenie Imperatrice is the perfect example of this effect; plush, thick, dense, and sexual – a touch rogueish and strong-willed, not shy at all, even rude  – which is why I like it in some ways even as it overwhelms and clobbers you over the head.  I admire its don’t-give-a-shitness. Its aspect of I am in the room, so deal with it. Samsara also, obviously has this quality, in buckets (a love/hate relationship, always, with me) – so……bosoming, thick-thighed, in ya face. 

 

 

 

Belle Epoque, while certainly more subtle than either of the above (though also less characterful), belongs to the same family of perfumes. Founded on a solid base of vanilla, musk, sandalwood, vetiver and tonka, the oil-painted florals up top (an orange and apricot-tinged jasmine, ylang and low octave tuberose) sink into the full body of the perfume, which, if you squint long enough, could indeed be reminiscent of saucy  c. 19 dames chuckling in the boudoir; a whiff of ribald, satined corpulence ; bra-popping jokes.

 

 

 

Libidinous and suave though it is, Belle Epoque nevertheless doesn’t quite hit the mark, not having quite enough inner poetry somehow (even of the erotic kind) to make it especially memorable, though in low doses I can imagine the scent having a definite, if undefinable, presence. It is a scent that lends heft and confidence, if not mystery. Jean Paul Guerlain must have quite liked it though, as the perfume clearly was the template for the big, mainstream (and financial catastrophe) that the house released the following year: MAHORA, a name that had a touch too much of ‘whore’ in it to hit the big time, perhaps (particularly in more conservative America).  Just add some tiare, some sunscreen, and some and coconut to Belle Epoque, though, and you have Guerlain’s big-hipped foray into tropicalia (now called Mayotte in a slimmed-down re-edition in the Parisiennes collection, and losing something in the process).

 

 

 

 

I myself quite  like Mahora. I can remember when it was released in Japan, my friend Denise and I completely dousing ourselves in the new parfum at a Tokyo department store. We stunk out the train. I sprayed cards and cards of perfume blotters with the scent in all its forms as well during this period, and my Madonna ‘Music’ album still smells strongly of it all these years later as that was where I secreted them. I like such perfumes. They bolster and amuse, when there is so much anorexic negation about in current climes: the stick-thin, desexualized creatures walking around in bone-dry woods and synthetic, futuristic flowers, or otherwise completely ‘unscented’ (or so they like to believe) ; the big trend in Japan right now being for non-alcoholic alcoholic drinks that contain no sugar, no alcohol, no this, no that (and no taste). Zero this, zero that:  Zero, zero, zero.  Slim down to pre-pubescence. Deny  yourself pleasure. Lose weight or die. Or else, it all goes completely the other way on a Saturday night in England or America  : overkill on-a plate; all about that ‘bass’, the ass: booty, rack, whatever, all coated in nasty vanillic tack, oversweetened and come-here-baby and with no room to breathe; those currently popular scents that you smell everywhere, be they duty free or high street, that really are vulgar. They bore and annoy. They suggest thick-headedness and stupidity. Perfume as porn. As a free ride. And in comparison,  a scent like Belle Epoque –  well made and sturdy; rich and curvaceous – even while winking coquettishly in the direction of licentiousness – is pure class.

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BLOWING RASPBERRIES: HOT COUTURE (eau de parfum) by GIVENCHY (2000)

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‘Who’s smoking a pipe? I could swear someone’s smoking a pipe’ said my Japanese colleagues as I sat, silent and embarrassed (but amused) at their reaction to my wearing Hot Couture to the teacher’s room one cold winter morning.

 

Trying to decide what I thought about this perfume (given to me by a friend who had found it just that bit too much), aromatic, flavoured (raspberry) tobacco was actually the first thing that had come to mind, so it was hilarious to have my initial instincts confirmed. Hot Couture, which came in a fantastically passé and non-ergonomic sculptured bottle – so eighties, so c h i c  – is a peppery, aromatic and vanillic framboise: an unusual main note for a big house perfume, and perhaps the reason why, like all the best perfumes, it has disappeared (the eau de toilette is a fresher, floriental raspberry scent). From a distance, though, the eau de parfum really did smell exactly like pipe smoke; curls of thick, woody, vaporous raspberry.

 

Hot Couture is a pretty good scent I would say, worth picking up if you find it cheaply somewhere: nice on either sex, cosy and distinct, but with its atmosphere of smoke-infused nightclub cloakrooms – and swathes of thick, rising, dry ice on the dancefloor – I have to say it doesn’t leave much room to breathe.

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POISON by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1985)

 

 

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There was a time when a new perfume launch by one of the big houses was of great import, the quest for timelessness and fragrant immortality often leading to a greater artistry and perfectionism.  Perfumers pored over, and tweaked their formulae for years until they found that magic formula that sent the nostril hairs and brain filaments zinging with pleasure….

Between 1947 and 1963, Dior released just five perfumes – Miss Dior, Diorama, Eau Fraîche, Diorissimo, and Diorling –  all of which are considered classics. Since then, in a vastly oversaturated market, more than that are often released by one house in one year, mostly forgettable flanker scents that come and go like passing ships in the night, never really getting under your radar. The same cannot be said of the perfume we are looking at today, because despise, love, or merely tolerate it, Poison is most certainly memorable; intensely so – seared as it was onto the collective memory when released to the world at large in 1985; a perfume that even the perfume haters were unwillingly forced to inhale on a daily basis as lustrous sorceresses clicked their heels on the pavements of world cities enveloped provocatively in mushroom clouds of venomous berries and plummy-cinnamon, purpled tuberosa musks…..

At this time, a project such as Poison was as secretive, as closely guarded, as a new film by Kubrick –  and unveiled with as much publicity and fanfare, with launch galas and champagne parties of the crème de la crème partying under the giant factice flacons and juicily indulging in the sheer excess of it all, the centre of the eighties, the shameless vortex of capitalist fun made even bigger, more implacable, in a smell.

The name that was saucily given to that aroma was the first thing that guaranteed this clever product would capture our attention (apparently it was seen as literally scandalous that the maker of such refined scents as Diorissimo and Diorella could come with such a monstrosity), but the juice itself was an entirely new departure in scent as well, so different to anything preceding it. How often can we say that now? In recent times, few perfumes can claim similar levels of pioneering, especially not in the commercial arena, where new fragrances are consumer tested, sanded down and sanitized to the sellable point where they smell pleasant (though that is debatable) and lack any obvious personality. With Poison, this real shock of the new, both in terms of marketing/advertising and the gloriously vibrant liquid within, really worked; the perfume was an enormous international hit, but was vilified in equal measure, being one of the three ugly sisters who were famously barred from restaurants and boutiques (the others being Obsession and Giorgio) due to their extraordinary potency: many simply cannot bear Poison.

 

 

I myself love it. Partly because it so beautifully captures my world of mid-eighties teenage self-discovery (all the bangle-wearing Madonna wannabes and naughty girls at every party I went to smelled of it, as did their mothers), but mainly because I just enjoy its daring, delicious, purple toxicity – that rich, sweet potion of pimiento spiced berries, coriander,  honey, opoponax, and carnal tuberose that glows from a woman’s skin with such brilliant alacrity. It is not a ‘pretty’ perfume, is not subtle, but to me Poison is a great classic; fruity, fun and ludicrously seductive.

 

 

 

 

 

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Note: The current version of Poison has been diluted and reformulated, as is often the case with formulae that are expensive or ‘difficult’, and the current perfume hangs her head, thinned and embarrassed, as though she has been through bouts of electric shock treatment therapy. She has been punished….

Yet I do still smell it on the streets sometimes: this must have been a big hit in Japan too, back in the day, as you sometimes catch drifts of the vintage jus surrounding Japanese older women glammed up for the theatre or some ladies’ function, especially in winter, when it warms the cockles and the lungs (just as Madonna herself still rocks that gutsy tuberose Fracas by Piguet, she herself no longer a young thing). Here, middle aged and older women are often very desexualized and put down by their male counterparts the older they get, an aspect of living in Japan that infuriates me to the core, and to me, their wearing Poison along with their furs and finery somehow seems like a quiet middle finger; a proclamation of self-worth and untapped, wasted sexuality. It smells wonderful.

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