There is a certain vernal regality to some of the more obscure and classic Creeds, a blasé timelessness – and I love Fleurissimo. Vivid, green; a verdant, fresh bouquet of happiness, this perfume was apparently created especially for the wedding of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco. It must have been perfect: a lovely, natural-smelling scent of freshly cut flowers – jasmine, tuberose, rose, lily; ventilated, enfreshened– all suspended in a clear, leafy accord of the freshest soap. Fleurissimo is a sculptured, very classical creation that happens also to be loved by Madonna (presumably for those more virginal, lady-of-the-manor days she occasionally has, simply existing in her own time and space). The woman clearly has good taste in scent, because Fleurissimo is great: a romantic, joyous scent, light yet heady, for days when nothing will stop you from being free.
Tag Archives: Madonna
If you were to rewind time back precisely twenty five years, at this exact moment I would have probably been dancing ecstatically around my bedroom in a daze of awe and elation to my 12″ record of Like A Prayer. It was a song – no, more than a song – a monument, that had been out for a couple of months now but which had taken an absolute, reckless hold of my consciousness. I couldn’t actually believe how good this new release was, how she had managed to change herself so utterly effectively again just at the moment that her image had begun to get stale, that her profound, chameleon intuition had allowed her to lay low for a while, dye her hair black, get divorced from Sean Penn, and re-emerge, triumphantly, with a fantastic, epic record of such monster proportion. I had always really liked Madonna, but now I loved her.
We had already seen her acute sensibility to cool, and the brutal, unsentimental ability to shear away the past, in the swift conversion from the ribbons and lace shenanigans of Like A Virgin to the shorn, cold, ice-bitch gleam of True Blue (a look she had blatantly ripped off from Melanie Griffith’s porn star turn in Brian De Palma’s Body Double), but by 1987, four years into her success, the sound was already beginning to get a touch samey and ‘typical Madonna sounding’ with the Who’s That Girl soundtrack and You Can Dance remix album; she was resting on her laurels, she was stuck. I, personally, pop pundit extraordinaire, thought that was that, that she was finished, because at the time I felt that I was so attuned to the fortunes and misfortunes of all pop stars and rock bands, the shifting conscious in relation to their positions in the pantheon, that I could sense, like a seismological instrument, the exact moment that their fashionability dipped, the tragic moment when Duran Duran released ‘Notorious’ and lost their edge (although in reality that was with the release of ‘Wild Boys’), or when solo acts like Howard Jones or Nik Kershaw, popular at their exact moment of hit status i.e 1984, suddenly entered the farewell land of uncool gone forever. Essentially, it was, and is, extremely difficult for a pop act to keep their edge, their relevance in the fickle world of teenagers, record companies and trends, and virtually no one was able to sustain interest, let alone dazzle the public, beyond a couple of years. Cyndi Lauper managed it for about three years, Michael Jackson already seemed outdated by the time that he released Bad, Culture Club looked, and sounded ludicrous at the five year mark, and although the Human League had latched onto Janet Jackson’s producers Jam & Lewis to update their sound for their ‘Crash’ album, it was to be just luck; a fluke of fate.
Madonna was an entirely different entity. With Like A Prayer she crashed back into the public sphere fresher and more vital than ever. Seriously, whatever you may think of her, the woman is a genius in this regard, her antennae always listening in, her instincts, in those early days especially, infallible. When Like A Prayer was released, with its genuinely uplifting, gospel chorus, and dance floor power, it was as if she were an entirely different person ( and so were we). It felt as fresh as a daisy and just as shiny and new. Sensing the oncoming beginning of the nineties, she had updated the sound, ditched the disco nuances, brought in a live rock band to record the music, and imbued it all with emotion; memory, familial reminiscence, melancholia. And rather than the separate, four minute pop slices of the previous albums, there was a continuum to the songs, a cohesion of spirit, with upbeat, rousing anthems such as Express Yourself and Keep It Together being juxtaposed by far sadder, emotive songs such as the exquisite Oh Father, Spanish Eyes and Promise To try, tracks that brought her back to her childhood, the sixties, and the death of her mother. And, fascinatingly for the olfactive sensitive, Madonna did something that I have never experienced before this album or with any musician since: she had each album scented with patchouli oil. I don’t know how this was achieved, precisely, with the record company and logistically (you can imagine the manufacturers being up in arms at this request), but it is a well known fact among Madonna-philes that the initial editions of the album inner sleeve were all doused in musky, well-aged patchouli essences to add, overtly or subliminally, to the church-incense vibe of the title track. And it worked, brilliantly: when you lifted the paper inner sleeve out of the jacket, you were assailed with just the right amount of spectral patchouli – not the cheap music festival ‘oils’ but the essential: it lingered, and it of course scented even the record itself, the label in the middle, meaning that as you put on that album for the millionth time, as it spun round and round it gave off an evocative atmosphere of patchouli, making you associate that smell with Madonna, the paisley patterned aura of the music, the Strawberry-Fields-Forever sixties’ longing of the sweet child’s lullaby Dear Jessie, the delicately scented past. My original copy is still in my parents’ garage in England, but I am pretty sure that even a quarter decade later, if I were to take it out from the pile of records it would still be smelling, clearly, of patchouli, a gimmick if you like, but one that three-dimensionalized the experience of Like A Prayer ingeniously, making the music, the scent, and the icon fuse into one.
With music I tend to suddenly crave a certain artist or album without knowing why exactly, and then I realize that it is because this was the season or the month that the record originally came out, when it flooded my brain and took over. I find that I start singing certain songs completely out of the blue, then impulsively have a fierce desire to hear them again, or, rather than the usual iTunes mix, as people used to do, listen to a complete album from start to finish. A similar thing happens to me also in regard to perfume. Before even thinking about Like A Prayer, a couple of weeks ago, while still in my jasmine & coconut phase, patchouli sinuously started to wind its way into the back of the brain, telling me it needed to be worn, that something deeper and more complex than tropicana was on its way.
The required scent, that was rising up slowly in my subconscious like a necessity, was not the simple, unadorned Haight & Ashbury love of the Madonna record, however, but Parisian patchouli chypre, a genre of scent I adore absolutely, that clings to you the entire day like a second, imaginary skin, orchestrated, finished, the embellishment of patchouli oil with rose and other flowers, balsams, spice and animalics to produce that black magic undertone that is always so sinewed, stylish, and je ne sais quoi. I speak, of course, of Eau Du Soir, Cabochard, Parure, Magie Noire and the like, but last week the specific perfume that was suddenly being called out for and that I knew absolutely I would have to wear come the weekend was Montale’s delightful Aromatic Lime. I bought this a few years ago from a perfume shop in Tokyo, and have not worn it all that much, but when I found it at the back of my cabinet and sniffed it from the lid I knew that I was right. This was the one. In some ways rather similar to Eau Du Soir in its essential profile and sillage, this is nevertheless possibly more masculine, less floral, and more long lasting, with a lime note in the top that keeps the whole thing smelling delightfully fresh throughout. The initial impression is quite odd, almost like a rich, lime chocolate ganache, with saffron, patchouli, vetiver and myrrh competing with the greener notes of bitter orange, galbanum and lime essence, but it soon dries down to a heart and aura that is, indeed, very ‘aromatic’. Like the perfumes that I mentioned earlier, it has that quality of complexity and shadowiness that you feel is trailing intriguingly wherever you go.
This weekend was a busy one socially, and I knew beforehand that the patchouli vibe was definitely how I wanted to be continuing. On Saturday night there was a friend’s birthday party in Sangenjaya, eighties themed, although we had been too busy, this time, to do proper costumes. What was funny was that aside one girl, who had come as an 80’s singer from The Philippines, every single other woman was there as Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, with the day-glo colours, ripped tights and leather gloves, the teased up hair, showing the singer’s absolute domination of that decade in the popular psyche. It was Madonna central. D won a lip-syncing contest (which I thought was hilarious, singing along to Tainted Love), while I spent much of the time chatting to a woman called Anastasia, who was also got up as the Madonna but to far more pleasing effect. Perfume-wise, I was perhaps a little overdressed, having decided to finally debut the glorious Piguet Bandit shower crème that the extravagant Rafael sent to me at the beginning of this year, and that I knew I wasn’t going to touch until the moment was right, until the patchouli phase began its inevitable hold.
And this, I have to say, is the ultimate. I have never worn Bandit before ( I prefer Cabochard, with its more powdery, hyacinthine edge ), not, on the whole, going for that kind of harsh and uncompromising bitter leather, Germaine Cellier’s fighting call for women’s olfactory emancipation and its acridly voluptuous smack, but on this occasion I felt, intuitively, that it went perfectly with the Montale. Where most shower gels lather up and bubble and foam and leave you only vaguely scented with the signature perfume in question, this unctuous, satin-esque creation deeply perfumes your skin with a spiced, leather patchouli, all-over-scent, to the extent that you could almost leave it at that. I didn’t, of course, and went for a Kenzo Pour Homme stick deodorant for an extra, patchouli/marine effect, with the Aromatic Lime worn on my clothes and skin. I worried, initially, that it was too much (moi?), but D assured me that the whole thing smelled actually really fresh, the citrus on top coasting on the air and jamming the patchouli waves, keeping it all strangely subtle. It was, fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, nomihodai, or ‘all-you-can-drink’ (god those parties are dangerous), and before you knew it, leaving just in time to get our last train, we were walking down the street, arm-in-arm, singing, yes you’ve guessed it, Like A Prayer, at the instigation of Yukari, belting it out at the top of our lungs, to the bemusement of onlookers (and the police), and it still felt great, still had the impact. That song is timeless.
Sunday. Well, usually I don’t like to have two nights of seeing people and socializing in a row – I think one is ideal, followed by a more mellow day just spent at home, but there was a dinner party on the cards that had been planned for a while, three people who had never been around to the house before, and I was actually really in the mood for it for some reason: perhaps I am just getting more sociable now the weather is heating up and summer is almost in full swing. This time I opted for the same scents, essentially, but toned down: the Bandit shower gel used in smaller amounts (it is pungent!) and just a couple of sprays of the Montale on my T shirt, which I wore under something else. I loved how this combination smelled, the way it would occasionally rise up but not overpower, somewhere between quite masculine and androgynous, but definitely enigmatic ( or so I like to believe). Curiously enough, there were more Madonna connections: Spring Day, one of the guests – her real name, and an excellent stand up comic, incidentally, was tantalizing me with tales of how she had not that long ago had lunch with one of the dancers from the Blonde Ambition tour in Los Angeles, how she had loved Madonna for years ( I love such vicarious pleasures) and it wasn’t very long before we were on the piano singing along to Oh Father and Spanish Eyes and getting all emotional. I botched Like A Prayer itself with an ironic theatrical theatre organ sound that I thought would liven things up a bit after those ballads (in fact it just sounded stupid), but it was hilarious fun nevertheless. And then something else happened: Makana, a recent friend from Hawaii who had come along with slinky Jonathan, said he wrote songs and lyrics, and wondered if I could try and put down some chords and music for them. I have never done this before, and have an inadequate knowledge of chord structure, but before you knew it there we were writing a pop song; though I felt bad for the other guests, as once we were getting down to it the music took over and we didn’t talk to them (!) there was something delightful about the spontaneity of all this: it is something I have long wanted to try, at the back of my mind, I think: I have had the knowledge that writing a song would not be impossible, but having the lyrics and the basic melodic ideas laid out (he is a Leo, like Madam M, who also works this way, co-incidentally) meant that there was a template, that I could try different permutations until we got it right. Like Madonna, Makana is also somewhat exacting, and the song, if it ever surfaces, is not quite ready yet – I/we will have to work on it, and I look forward to it, actually, but the whole thing, at that moment felt exciting, and new, everything rising up spontaneously; freely; and without restraint.
I must begin by admitting that I am obsessed with Madonna, and I don’t use the word lightly.
Ever since the glorious moment at the age of thirteen when I was struck by the celestially ascending laser-arpeggios of Lucky Star and its taut, quasar funk, she has exerted fascination over me. With her power; cold eroticism; that voice, and those beautiful, feline blue eyes that hold me like a medusa, it is a love/hate relationship that after more than a quarter of a century shows no sign of relenting. I am fixated.
I have dreamed about her continually since this time, probably more than any other person in my life – a fact I find almost inexplicable. Although I believe that Madonna has produced some of the most delectable, exhilarating pop music of all time, she is not my favourite musician, and I am not even sure I like her. However, a strange little book came out in the nineties – ‘I dream of Madonna’, that shed some light on the mystery and showed me that I am apparently not alone in having my subconscious so deeply penetrated by this beautiful, inexhaustible performer.
Despite my adoration, which I sometimes consider to be more like an addiction or virus (I remember in 1992 during the Erotica period feeling so possessed that I was literally anxious that she might be the devil, relinquishing the album to a friend so I could actually study for my finals), I don’t think I am actually what you might call a ‘fan’. Those uncritical hordes seem to be willingly ignorant of her faults, whereas I see them, in all their complexity and contradictions, with a sometimes painfully crystalline clarity.
For the fact is, despite her protestations, Madonna really is the ‘Material Girl’. It is a phrase that has become lazy shorthand for journalists but which ultimately encapsulates her. While I don’t for a moment doubt the woman’s sincerity in her spiritualistic soul-searching – Madonna is no fool – at the end of the day, those eyes are always on the money. It is a greed for mass-market success that has cheapened her music, and, unfortunately, her scent.
We need only look at her 2007 deal with Live Nation for evidence. Madonna is vastly wealthy, and at this stage in her career, could pick and choose her projects with a focus on quality and artistry. Take her time, make another classic. Instead, in a Faustian pact, Madonna signed a reported 120 million dollar deal with the tour and merchandising company that requires her to release albums every couple of years and then promote them by extensive touring (something that she herself admits to hating, apart from the first and last weeks of the shows, but which she does, as she mischievously says, because ‘a girl has to pay the rent’). Rather than leading to genuine inspiration – the five year hiatus between Bedtime Stories and Ray Of Light led to a startling transformation that surprised even me – Madonna now seems to be churning out music, enlisting of-the-minute producers with her unfailingly vampiric antennae, in a vain attempt to make her music sound relevant and of the moment. The commercial failure of her last two singles, the unconvincing bubblegum schtick of ‘Give me all your luvin’, and the gay-by-numbers ‘Girl gone wild’, suggests that the public (like me), aren’t buying it. We know she can do better.
But on to the perfume. Madonna’s late entrance onto the stage of celebrity fragrance – behind Rihanna, Mariah, J-Lo, Britney, Beyonce, and dozens of others is surprising, although the publicity for Truth Or Dare (the name comes from the documentary film from 1991 which I have seen more times than I care to relate), claims it has been 16 years in the making. Madonna, we are told, characteristically oversaw every detail and had final stamp of approval.
It is this, Madonna having director’s cut, that is so exciting for me as a perfume lover AND Madonnophile: we know that she has been smelling this perfume for years, on her skin, transplanted now onto my own, as though her DNA were somehow imprinted on every molecule. And here is the genius of the celebrity fragrance explosion from a marketing perspective: persona first, aroma second. We buy blind.
The creation process was also apparently a tough slog, and not easy to get right, feeding into the workhorse legend that Madonna has built up of dogged determination and sweat. Her perfumer, Stephen Nelson, from fragrance giant Givaudan, was apparently terrified by her into tossing the latest vials of his formulas over her high security fences to get her verdicts (” TOO SWEET!!”, “LESS MUSK!!”) and it took over 200 attempts to get what she wanted.
What was always clear from the start was that any scent by Madonna would be a tuberose/gardenia composition. All fans know that she loves these flowers, and will regularly arrive at interviews drenched in Gardenia Passion (Annick Goutal), or Fracas (Robert Piguet), the classic tuberose which this perfume is supposedly modelled on. Backstage, Madonna’s dressing rooms (always painted white to show her off to best effect, according to her brother, Christopher), are filled to profusion with these flowers and their exotic exhalations, which in such close confinement can be almost suffocating (wearing the scent liberally on Saturday night I feared I might also asphyxiate a Japanese couple who were standing in the elevator with me). The scent, therefore, had to be BIG. And it is.
Like the moment when I finally saw her, in 2005, at Tokyo Dome for the Confessions tour, after 25 years of never quite managing to get to a concert, and almost passing out with the excitement (screaming so loudly I thought my head might burst) when this perfume arrived to me in the post I could barely touch the envelope. IT was within. I had to run around the house a bit to compose myself, get ready….
And despite my wariness and skepticism, I am still, at heart, a Sagittarian optimist, and was willing myself, as I pulled off the papal orb of the cap and sprayed the scent on my skin, to love it. In my head, having read extensively about it beforehand, I had imagined exactly how Truth Or Dare would smell.
The creamy white flowers; the ‘benzoin tears’ (so ‘Like A Prayer’!!), the ‘caramellized amber’; I had imagined it would be a gorgeous, enveloping thing that would make me swoon with pleasure and ecstatically start gnawing off my arm. Instead, what greeted my nose, as the alcohol evaporated, was a WHAAAATTT?!! – a reeking miasma of shrieking, sugared florals; a familiar, tangy tuberose, and pungent whiffs of rhubarb on the boil at 78 RPM: Madame M at the decks, rocking the graphic equalizers up to +10 on the jasmine, neroli, n’ lily; the effect, on my skin at least, unhingeing. No modulation or gradation, just a big smudge of overbearing, floralicious sweet.
Under this oily, synthetic tuberose there is also a strange watery, plasticky note – a crackle of 12″ vinyl still unwrapped in cellophane – like chlorinated flowers in a San Diego pool. A chlorborose onslaught that continues for an hour or so, when a more pleasing white gardenia scent finally – FINALLY! – emerges against a backdrop of fruits. And at this point, the scent is quite nice: a decent white floral gourmand. But the Ciccone maniac is not yet satisfied; he keeps inhaling, yearning for an epiphany, for a mirage of the Madonna to appear (she MUST be there, surely, somewhere in the mix), but the formula, ultimately, is too cheap for that to happen. While not a resounding failure, like Kylie’s grotesque ‘Darling’, Truth or Dare feels incomplete.
The reason is this. During its creation, Madonna was constantly drawn, as you might expect, to high quality, expensive natural ingredients, but these essences, tuberose absolute and the like, cannot be used for the mass market. Thus, as she has often been doing recently, she compromised her integrity by going for a lower common denominator (the latest album has many such moments as well: the cretinously saccharine ‘Superstar’ makes me want to burn my entire record collection). But imagine if, rather than chasing another ‘deal’, she had, instead, insisted on the best, cost no object (like the fragrance houses of Amouage, Clive Christian and the like). We might then have had a perfumed grail of veneration, a bottle to covet and adore like some holy reliquary. Instead, we are left with a plastic bottle of fake gardenia nougat.
To be fair, at karaoke (where many, many of her highness’s hits were performed this Saturday), as the hours progressed, the scent became more pleasing to me, more fun (though that might have been because I was singing ‘Dress You Up’). But it was only hours later, after taking a bath and the top and middle notes were washed away to reveal the base, that I cracked it, realized what it was that was so familiar. Once the ersatz bouquet had faded, this is what I discovered: the entire backbone of the scent is in fact the relentless, never-ending smell of the Bodyshop’s legendary Dewberry, a scent that was once so strong it could fill a stadium. It was then that I really began to smile, and had a wonderfully nostalgic remembrance of the eighties: of Into The Groove, of dancing at teenage parties; the smell of Blond Ambition.
Madonna’s Truth Or Dare: notes of gardenia, tuberose, neroli; jasmine, benzoin tears, white lily petals; vanilla absolute, caramellized amber, and ‘sensual musk aura’.