The perfumes of the nineties do not have the ‘loud’ reputation of many eighties blockbusters, though this was still a period when the big houses – Dior, Lancôme and so on, still invested a great deal of time and money on development before launching an ‘event’ perfume, and the results were usually equally characterful (which is why all four of the perfumes below are still worn today: will today’s mainstream releases (La Vie Est Belle, anyone?) have similar longevity?
CABOTINE/ GRES (1990)
I have never liked this perfume personally, while admitting that it is a perfect execution of its obvious ideal – to turn a pale-skinned girl into a flesh and blood (ginger) lily.
It is beautifully done; a host of fresh white florals with green overtures; in essence a ‘soliflore’ ginger lily achieved with other notes, but there is, to me, a false modesty here: this innocence just doesn’t compute (that might be just my distaste for the sandalwood/neroli/green accord, though, which I personally find gratingly ‘coquette’.)
This sly perfume achieved a lot of success, especially in Japan where almost every woman wants to be as girlish as she humanly can, and on whom this perfume did smell rather erotic when I arrived here in 1996.
A touch dated now, but if it works, it works.
TENDRE POISON (1994)
I have always felt that Tendre Poison, though attractively poised, is a somewhat presumptuous perfume, making steamy claims on your attention that you may not be willing to give.
Unruffled, this sharp-eyed vamp just comes on loud and sticks her claws in anyway – venomous, stalk-green galbanum over orange blossom and sandalwood; the embittered older sister perhaps of Cabotine ( more demure), Red Door (lower IQ), and Fleur de Rocaille (pseudo-chic).
It is very slinky, and sexy, to be sure, and recommended, but absolutely not tender, as its name erroneously suggests.
ALLURE/ CHANEL (1993)
A big hit for Chanel worldwide and still going strong – a ‘multifaceted’, warm, floral-sheened scent with vanillic undertones that doesn’t obey the usual structure of perfume in that what you see is what you get: no top notes, dry down, no secrets (surely the key to true allure?), no real development. Department store perfume workers apparently often recommend this as a solution to those who have no clue about perfume, or those who are just dilly-dallying, as many consumers seem to acquiesce quickly to its simple lack of pretence and apparent modernity:
WOULD YOU LIKE SOME ALLURE FOR YOUR WIFE, SIR?
I loathe this fragrance, while fully seeing its easy appeal. It is a true ‘all-rounder’: ‘sultry’ yet mild mannered: womanly, smooth-edged; clean, suitable for ‘office wear’ and ‘special occasions’ one and the same. It is well blended, and can smell acceptable on the odd lucky person, but for me is simply extraordinarily vulgar and crass. Whoever thought such a thing could be written about Chanel?
I woke up one summer morning at my parents’ house, and on opening the bedroom door was shocked to see that the feeling in the house had mercurially transformed; thick with banality: some throat-coating, oyster-pink air sludge.
And it wasn’t until my mum cheerily called out ‘I’m just trying Allure today’ that I realized what had happened.
A woman who smells so beautiful in her chosen favourites (First, Joy, Jardins de Bagatelle) had been rendered into a marketing-led dotard.
DOLCE & GABBANA/ DOLCE & GABBANA (1992)
When they came out, I overdosed on both the Dolces, and ‘Pour Homme’ is the only scent that I’ve ever had strongly derogatory comments on ( I was so into the novel tarragon top note I didn’t realize how harsh I was smelling to the world). I could never wear it again.
The signature scent for women, in that red velvet box ( in its original incarnation – I haven’t smelled the tamed down reformulation which was launched recently), is similarly problematic. That top note, that rich, gorgeous mandarin and basil petitgrain melting powderfully into those piquant divine florals – it’s all extremely addictive, and I was quite frankly obsessed with it for while. But with the potent, skin-clinging vanilla-musk-santal finale, as things start to get very messy with Basil, it is as though an Italian opera singer were having a nervous breakdown live on stage; foundation and mascara merging in a sweaty, oily mass of face powder under the breakers. It can all get a bit much; a big smudge of olfactory OTT.
So, one for special occasions only, and in moderation. Dolce & Gabbana is certainly a gorgeous perfume, but it is overwhelming. I personally prefer it on older women.