Category Archives: Gourmand

PERSONA & PERFUME : ANGELINA JOLIE / MON GUERLAIN (2017) vs KRISTEN STEWART / CHANEL GABRIELLE (2017)

 

 

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But back to Gabrielle.

 

It seems that some people who read my corrosive review of Chanel’s latest ‘blockbuster’ the other day felt that I was overstating just how bad Gabrielle is as a perfume in and of itself: Persolaise chided me for exaggerating its alleged ‘vileness’ and suggested that the perfume is perhaps more simply disappointing than objectively awful.

 

 

Maybe he is right.

 

 

I should state here, before I go any further with this, though, that when it comes to perfume writing, I rarely do things properly. Though I will, on occasion, do things the ‘proper’ way, testing the scent out on skin, observing the scent in all its development and incremental stages throughout the day, smelling it on scent strips to get different perspectives, all of that, on the whole, I am much more reactive and decisive when it comes to perfume. I decide in seconds. I know immediately. In fact, last Thursday’s Gabrielle review, from smelling the perfume for the very first time, to pressing publish, took a maximum of eight or nine minutes, possibly even five. Lift: experience : write: print.

 

I trust my nose brain in these matters. I feel that I can ‘get’ a perfume, top to bottom, in less than a handful of initial inhalations. I don’t need a whole day with it ( do you?). I am a very spontaneous person. I feel a perfume in its totality. This is what a perfume does : yes, a good one has changes, gradations, revelations on the skin as time passes, the top, middle and base, but simultaneously, in one spray, you also experience all of these elements as a whole; at once, an entirety. Therein, in this fleeting complexity, lies the beauty.

 

With people, admittedly, I can sometimes be too judgmental in my initial, instinct-based reactions and am often proven wrong at a later date. And with perfumes, this sometimes happens too. You can revise your original opinion of a scent, discover new depths or facets, both appealing and otherwise, that draw you closer or push you away from the perfume for good. Since rediscovering my Parfums de Rosine, for example, and finding new aspects within the compositions that I had hithero ignored, I have been loving them to death : my bottles are almost empty. So I certainly am not stubborn enough not to be dissuaded from negative opinions of a perfume by new angles, viewpoints, and particularly by smelling it on another person’s skin, when you realize a perfume you didn’t like before really suits him or her (I actively enjoy being proved wrong in this particular instance). And perhaps this will happen to me with Gabrielle, you never know. Coming back from the Shima hot springs in the mountains of Gunma prefecture yesterday ( such a tranquil, pleasing and beautiful place), in our local train station, there was a fashionably attired Japanese woman in her late twenties, all in white, who was wearing Coco Mademoiselle, in just the right amount, and, I have to say, effectively: I didn’t actively enjoy the scent of it ( as I never do), but I could definitely, in that moment, appreciate that this was a well constructed, populist perfume with a modern, vaguely ‘sultry’ self confidence that she carried off with a particular, nonchalant kind of perfection.

 

 

That now well established perfume, and a continuing world bestseller, was released in 2001, we might remind ourselves: a perfume still, like so many others, in thrall of Mugler’s Angel (1992): the refractured patchouli candy floss devil that changed perfumery forever and provided the basic olfactory template for virtually all the sickly sweet, vanilla-choked vulgarities that have followed in its wake. It has a lot to answer for, that creation.

 

The thing is, though, Angel, quite brilliant in its way, really was a true original : audacious, outrageous, iconoclastic, a slowburning mainstream perfumery game changer that took big risks that could have ended in failure but that ultimately paid off big time. REALLY big time. It has never left the airwaves since. However, having two ‘purified’ patchouli popularity-wave perfumes on its roster already – Chance and Coco Mademoiselle, I naively assumed that a brand new fragrance from such an esteemed house of perfume – the first in sixteen years – might leave all of that behind; contain some surprises, some newness, at least a small hint of innovation, some CHARACTER, and I think it is this : the utter timidity involved here, the extreme banality, the fear of offending, the homogenization, that so offends me. To take a quartet of such luscious white floral essences but then to mute them so unequivocally under the blinding white toxicity of the make up counter so that they end up a mere colour strip of general, anaesthetized glow, is what so utterly appalled me when I smelled Gabrielle for the first time, last week; the sense of defeat, the exasperating contrast with what perfume can ACTUALLY be: something transfixing; mysterious, exciting, enigmatic.

 

With tuberose and gardenia being on point ingredients again right now- see Stella McCartney’s Pop, or Gucci Bloom –  and taking into account as well the huge popularity of Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino, a big burst of orange blossom, it seemed to me that Chanel truly had the opportunity here to create a real paradigm shift away from the now nightmareish ‘patchouli’ factory gourmands I thought we were all sick of, into more exotic, fresher, more temptingly floral climes, while still remaining Chanel, naturally – this house always reigns in and masters its ingredients to make them fit perfectly into the formality of its palette –  but more youthful; uninhibited; sensual, even capricious.

 

 

And so, being an optimist at heart (honestly), and liking the idea of a soft, surreptitious white floral that I might even get away with as a work perfume on my brand new white shirts for a while, I somewhat excitedly, stupidly, approached the Chanel counter with a wide-eyed hope of pleasure, only, immediately, incontrovertibly, to be greeted by a thick, invisible miasma of boredom. The very ESSENCE of banality, clogging the air; Japanese sales assistants lackadaisically lacing their plastic panelled environs and ubiquitous scent strips with this familiar, nothingy smell that I and you have smelled a million times before: a smell that invades your exhausted, airport dreams, without a single tuberose or jasmine or ylang ylang flower in sight. In other words, the thing had been focus-grouped, pasteurized, and business- convened out of all potential originality ( who knows what Oliver Polge’s initial sketches were like?) into resignation; smoothed down into a lobotomized, mundane humdrum of consumer palatability: a mean; an average. Consumer tested beforehand, for months, for years even, to the edge of its very death.

 

 

With such a reality, I also believe the imagery and advertising will have been chosen for the presentation campaign for Gabrielle in a very similar fashion. Quite carefully. Because a nondescript perfume needs a celebrity. A celebrity, any celebrity, who is riding the moment, popular, and not necessarily one who would even conceivably like or wear the perfume ( there is no way that Kristen Stewart is wearing this, at least not of her own free will ); but someone ‘hot’, of the times, who can attract the attention of the desired demographic; a face, if you like, for facelessness.

 

 

 

Of course, perfume advertising, to a large extent, has always worked this way. The only real way to magnetize a largely smell-illiterate public to your product (especially if it doesn’t even smell very good ) is to bypass the lesser sense  – smell – with the far more modern and developed one – sight – and forge a presumed connection with the celebrity in question so the buyer at least subconsciously thinks to herself, well if she can wear it, so can I.

 

 

Julia Roberts, homely, relatable, ‘normal’, yet also beautiful and glamorous, was a very canny, if expensive, choice by Lancôme for La Vie Est Belle: she is a talented, natural actress and mother who ‘speaks to the people’ but maintains a career as a world renowned superstar. She has an absolutely killer smile. And even if she has faded from view a little in recent years, it is not too far fetched to imagine Julia Roberts wearing a sweet gourmand floriental like Lancôme’s uber popular bestseller, at home, playing with her kids, much as you can just about imagine Charlize Theron: blonde, goddess like, fresh as a rose flower, clad in the better and more expensive editions of J’Adore Dior.

 

 

But just as I do with actress Angelina Jolie in the advertising for Guerlain’s latest mainstream release Mon Guerlain (less said about that name the better), with Kristen Stewart at the helm of Gabrielle I also feel a very big smell/visual disconnect indeed (am I alone in this?). Stewart is still very much one of the fashion and film world’s ‘it’ girls, graduating from her morose vampire teenager/ Robert Patterson’s girlfriend in ‘Twilight’ days to her current pansexual, but largely girl-loving ( and label hating) incarnation as party gate crasher, indie actress and generally ultra trendy lesbian fashion icon. Quite liberated. A new template, in a way, for girlhood, womanhood. Someone who makes their own path and walks it. Refreshing. Absolutely none of which, none at all, though, is to be found in ‘her perfume’.

 

 

 

I personally actually quite like Kristen Stewart, as I do all of the actresses mentioned here.  In fact, I had noticed her in a few films that she made before her caterpult to teenage superstardom, enough to pause the film during the credits at the end and make a note of her name. She somehow stood out to me, both with her idiosyncratic beauty and peculiar acting style, so I am confident that she pretty much is the real deal, not just some vacuous cipher.  She knows what she is doing. She was great in Clouds Of Sils Maria, a French film she made with Juliette Binoche and directed by Oliver Assayas that D and I saw at the cinema and really loved; she was charming in Woody Allen’s recent Cafe Society. But from her image –  spikey, sharp, and with her quite boyish,  ‘directional’ sartorial choices, you just KNOW that this young twenty seven year old hipster would never, ever, give herself a big dose of dullard, sorry a spritz or two of ‘Gabrielle’, before leaving her apartment on the arm of some rake thin model: no no no – it would be something far more edgy and androgynous, cool –  if she even wears scent at all.

 

 

 

On the same note, the mad, good, but dangerous to know Angelina Jolie, one of the fiercest women around in showbusiness, director of war films, divorcer of Brad, fearless campaigner of mastectomies and hysterectomies as preventive cancer measures for genetically vulnerable women such as herself, badass bitch in such films as Wanted, Salt and Girl, Interrupted, is EXTREMELY misrepresented, in my view, by the pink, fluffy teenage bunny rabbit that is Mon Guerlain.  I have only spent marginally more time with this sweet little tchotchke than I have with Gabrielle (who in comparison, acts strangely middle aged and scarily conformist so long before her time : at least Mon Guerlain does actually smell like a sweet young girl about to be kissed on her first date); but although it wasn’t for me personally –  and I am definitely not the target audience! – I thought that, though too pralined and caramellized for me to bear for too long, the segue from a fresh, natural lavender note to a perfected, vanillic new generation Guerlinade, is, in many ways, the idealized, sweet, sugared almond scent for a young girl of thirteen or fourteen, still with braces on her teeth perhaps, leaning in, blushing, at a French country fair, closer to her equally blushing beau. In this context, Mon Guerlain could, I imagine, smell very pretty, beautiful, even. Imagining it on Angelina Jolie, feral, Olympian, Earth Mother, psycho, however, is more difficult. More like a joke.

 

 

 

There was a time when an outstanding new fragrance release by one of the big fragrance houses – Poison, say – could rely on its scent alone to bring in the money; aided, of course, by an artistically provocative advertising campaign (often featuring unknown models ) to augment the mental associations and imagery of the perfume. Alternatively, a relevant actress or other celebrity could be hauled in for this, one whose persona chimed with the smell of the potion : Jerry Hall, darling of the Studio 54 set, reclining among tiger skins and souks for that ultimate 70’s perfume, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium. Paloma Picasso for Mon Parfum, appearing as herself. Scarlett Johannsson for Dolce Gabbana The One, all red-lipped and curvaceous. Perfect. I quite liked Nicole Kidman for Chanel No 5 also, a successful combining of the classy, the classical, and the present (and Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis’ daughter for the new L’Eau – ideal).  Or Kate Moss for Calvin Klein’s CK One, who perfectly personified the contemporary waif-like nineties grunge chic of the times in the clever black and white advertising campaign from which, if you lived in the city, there was no escape.

 

 

The thing is, that perfume was actually really new and original at the time. And the photography used on those billboards and in glossy magazines complemented it to the point that the smell and the imagery coalesced successfully in your mind – you BOUGHT the hype. Well, a lot of other people did, anyway. But when the smell in the bottle itself is subpar, or just bland, generic, boring,  as an ever greater numbers of perfumes are these days undoubtedly are, tempered by such a fear of overstepping the mark (ie. being creative or too different), I feel that much, much greater powers of visual persuasion are now required to rope in that great majority of perfume consumers who, sadly, know not what they do, lost within all the department store madness ; the artificial lighting, the dross and fragranced sameness. The viscous, sugared dirge in the ‘air’.  The All-seeing ‘Perfume’ Pushers, knowingly, cynically, blindly leading the Blind. Making you look: not smell. Because without the structure of a celebrity endorsement or expensive modelling contract, a mainstream perfume, it would seem now, cannot survive on its inherent olfactory qualities alone. No. Right now, far more than merely ‘putting a face’ to a perfume, for a perfume like Gabrielle, or even Mon Guerlain, the art of manipulative celebrity fronting is, for the major perfume houses, in actual fact, more like subterfuge; a cover up ……………………a mask.

 

 

 

 

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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

FIVE SWEET INDULGENCES: ANIMA DULCIS by ARQUISTE (20I2) + L’HISTOIRE CHARNELLE by CREATIONS HUBERT MAES (2007)+ CARA by FARMACIA SS ANNUNZIATA + GOTHIC II by LOREE RODKIN (20I3) + NOIR TROPICAL by MARIA CANDIDA GENTILE (20I3)

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A strange thing has happened to me. I have gone off vanilla. And although I think I can trace the moment this happened (and some of you were there with me), it still kind of shocks me, having spent the most beautiful holiday of my life two summer ago on a vanilla plantation in Java, swooning with vanilla suffocation in the upstairs drying room as the beans gave off their woozy, heady smell, gazing at awe at the vines; and more than half a lifetime of being swathed in vanilla-based, sweet and orientalic perfumes. (me sneaking out at dawn with a shaky iPhone, to take a short video of the exquisite environs of our little cabin (Duncan is curled up asleep inside) : Durian fruit, coffee trees, and papaya – which you can’t see –  but most of all snaking vanilla vines climbing up trees; workers in fields, and me in a state of in-the-moment bliss)

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I think that the Vanilla Talk I gave at Perfume Lovers London last spring just probably took me (and the collected audience) somehow over the edge (“I’m in a vanilla coma” said one attendee”), like a heroin user blowing his synapses with his final hit, or an alcoholic teetering over his own mental brink with his final bottle of Dewars. There was so much vanilla, what with my preparations and selections leading up to the event, to sampling and appraising various different parfums vanillés ad nauseam, to reading up on tons of vanillic historical and agricultural facts, that by the time the night was over and the air was replete, claustrophobed, and stinking with sweet, sticky perfumes that were being sprayed left right and centre during the talk itself (along with the savouring and appreciation of different vanilla bean varietals: Tongan, Tahitian, Indonesian, Indian…) and all the spraying of samples into little vials for people to take their vanilla fix home, that the sheer sensory overload, not to mention the volume of nervous terror that had preceded my first ever public speaking (I think it is probably more this, actually: that connection, in my subconscious: although I really got into my stride and eventually enjoyed it, meeting people and letting my passions show, my natural extrovert coming to the fore, before everyone arrived I was possibly more nervous than I ever have been in my entire life and was practically ready to hurl myself from the window. If Helen hadn’t been there to sort me out I think I might have). Perhaps this sheer adrenaline overdrive, anxiety, all compressed within the potent, deep brown sweetness of vanilla, was the catalyst that took my feelings for this beautiful substance from love and ease to quease.

I haven’t been able to wear it since.

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A perfume such as Maria Candida Gentile’s Noir Tropical, then, which I discovered at a trendy Shibuya shop along with four or five of the Arquiste range yesterday as we walked in a sun-filled daze after a hedonistic night in Shinjuku, just isn’t quite right for my current sickly-averse mindset, even if a deeper part of my brain stem is still instinctly drawn towards anything with the word ‘tropical’ in it (I was imagining some kind of dark, pineapple-permeated fug). In fact, this is a very well made, natural-bean scent with a pronounced sweet and tipsy rum and sugar cane note running underneath a sublimated almond interior, wafting for hours on the skin, with some vague similarities to Vanille Absolument/Havana Vanille by L’Artisan Parfumeur only more organic; rich; densely packed. There is definitely a sweating, hidden- histories-of-the-southern-seas aspect to this scent I can imagine enjoying this on someone else, but for the reasons I have already explained above, I just can’t go there at the moment.

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Some perfumes, particularly of the classical, ‘Golden Age’ school, are complex, gradated and layered, almost like symphonies or chamber works with different movements and emotions concealed within themselves only to be released, delicately, at a later hour. The modern niche aesthetic is often more of an ‘instant hit’ – what you see is what you get- even when the ingredients are of the highest quality. A Rothko block of dense colour rather than an dappling Impressionist painting: a potion or elixir, an accomplice. And although I sometimes miss the great pointillist balance of classical perfumery (the pure genius involved in controlling such a panoply in a way to make it sing), I also just enjoy a really good smell, if you know what you mean; a dot of deeply concentrated scent that you can just put on your skin, live with , and enjoy as it accompanies you throughout your day.

Loree Rodkin’s Gothic II and Farmacia Annunziata’s Cara are of this breed – rich, pleasing smells that will work if you like unadorned gourmand simplicity. Though the word gothic usually signifies something shadowed, sinister, vehement, Gothic II is anything but: it is homely, comforting, trustworthy, and easy. A deep patchouli heart (with both Indian and Tunisian essences,) is fused with rich Madagascar vanilla in the familiar, blocked, manner, although the addition of nag champa, incense and cloves produces a more overall effect of honey, an effect that continues for a long time on the skin until the patchouli and vanilla again come to the fore. What is good about this scent is that there are no rough or unpleasant edges detracting from the core theme, which, though a touch unimaginative and simplistic for me, is nerve-numbing, consoling, and potentially addictive.

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Cara is much lighter: a mere trifle, really, but if you like your almond and vanilla mixed together in one blend, this works nicely as a very light and airy-sweet mood enhancer, with a talcum caramel heart and fresher, almost sport-fragrance top notes that give the perfume an ethereal edge. It is hard to imagine a more unthreatening perfume (which isn’t necessarily a recommendation), but there is also a reassuring familiarity about it, a play-doh, vanillic halo that I can imagine swirling around someone in a clean eddy of light, veiled, childlike innocence (which is).

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L’Histoire Charnelle (‘a carnal history’) is another sweetened patchouli perfume, albeit with an unusual twist: a fruited, spiced, coconut aureole up top that to me on first smell smelled as though it had been buried in turmeric. There is an extremely dusty quality about this perfume (something I always associate with that spice), possibly the combination of nutmeg and cinnamon (and pear, of all things), alongside the tangerine and bergamot that, all combined, I find slightly offputting, even as I am tempted to smell deeper. Eventually, as the fizzy bristle of the top accord subsides, the coconut/vanilla/tonka theme then becomes more apparent and solidified, with the very lingering, resonant patchouli beneath consistenly making itself known and apparent. This is quite a sexy, unusual scent I would say, and it could make a good signature scent for a woman or man who wants to remains outside the loop, though I am not ultimately sure whether the perfumer, Hubert Maes himself, has all the disparate notes within the blend sufficiently sewn together.

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The same cannot be said of Anima Dulcis, a perfume that caused quite a stir when it came out three years ago when the new perfume house of Arquiste was launched by founder Carlos Huber. I immediately liked the range when I smelled them then in London at the Harrods Haute Parfumerie, particularly Fleur De Louis and Flor Y Canto as I just love well made, entrancing florals, but Anima Dulcis (‘soul of sweetness’) is also a very well-executed scent that quite appeals to me- a rich, deep, but appealing spice-chocolate perfume with a curious and unusual concept attached: a seventeenth century convent in Mexico (The Royal Convent Of Jesus Maria), the nuns absorbed in the preparation of of chilli-infused chocolate drink in the hallowed halls, strirring and chatting amongs themselves as they wait for the head sister, the only nun who can finish it (the recipe is secret). Like all the perfumes I am discussing today, this is another vanilla-centred scent with a strong patchouli facet, but here, there is much more heft, the main theme being a very brooding and hypnotic natural cocoa absolute, infused with cinnamon and chililes a la Mexicana ( I also always drink strong, thick,hot chocolate with vanilla bean and red chillies – I love it on a hot winter’s night). This idea is translated here very well into perfumery – everything is harmony. Though not as distinctive or odd as I was perhaps expecting it to be given the chilli idea – this is an eminently wearable perfume – Anima Dulcis strikes me almost as being a kind of next generation Opium: tightened, no way as leopard-printed and satin-scarved as that seventies classic, but still, sultry, dense and magnetic, and with floral orientalized reverberations of that orange-licked spice (It also quite reminded me of Histoire De Parfums George Sand).

I found myself going back to my wrist again and again as we headed home towards the station, the spot where I had applied the perfume a source of continuing dark, exotic scent: the level of sweetness just right, the vanilla – that beauteous, brain-altering substance – not dominating, here, lolling somewhere softly condensed down deep side within the blend, undulating, but still kept quite comfortably in check.

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Filed under Almond, Chocolate, Gourmand, Patchouli, Vanilla