Neo Classics - Any Candidates?

Inspired by a recent discussion on Now Smell This, I would like to not only voice my opinions and musings, but also hear what you feel about  Frédéric Malle's notion that "Since Thierry Mugler’s Angel, created in 1992, the market has not generated one classic" and "They don’t concentrate on the fragrance at all. They concentrate on the story, they concentrate on getting a star, or an image or a launch or an event. It’s an idea they sell. It’s the easiest way to sell a fragrance which will please everybody, because everybody likes Céline Dion, for instance — or many people do. They create the sale by selling something cheap in a small bottle. None of these fragrances are designed to last."

Interesting observation. While Angel is an iconic scent, I don't think (and don't want to think) that classics have stopped there. It's hard to find spectacularly innovative mainstream perfumes. Somehow with Dune and Angel inventing the linear structure - it seems that innovation came to a halt and perfumes kinda stayed going in that direction. But there are some iconic scents that happened since then - Tocade (1994 - same linear story), Le Mâle (1995), Bvlgari Black (1998), and if judging by popularity alone - also Coco Mademoiselle (2001), Narciso Rodriguez for Her (2003) and Lovely (2005). The latter is probably the only celebrity fragrance that I would consider a candidate for an "iconic fragrance" - though it does not exactly offer something all that different from NR. though for those three, I think only time will tell: Remember how Cabotine (1990) was worn by EVERYONE and everybody back in the early 90's? (unless they were wearing AnaisAnais - which is is from 1978...) - I doubt that anyone would consider them classics by now. They sure are distinctive scents, but I don't think they come even remotely close in terms of popularity (customer approval) or their aesthetics/design significance (industry expert appreciation).

Kingdom and M7 were rather iconic too, and may have influenced greatly what happened later in the niche world - but since neither were a commercial success and already discontinued - we probably can't really consider them as classics. A classic would and should survive the test of time like Shalimar, No. 5, Mitsouko and the other masterpieces have.

To say that innovation ended with Angel is like saying that perfumery is a dead art. I think nothing could be further away from the truth! All you need to do is visit one of the smaller perfume shows of niche brands and the smaller artisan brands (such as those who participated in the Artisan Fragrance Salon that debuted this summer on the West Coast) to find a living proof that perfumery as an art form is alive and kicking: Vibrant innovation and out-of-the-box creativity is still possible. New technologies make possible more true-to-nature raw materials. Perfumers are exploring new dynamics or "structures" possible within the olfactory art form.

Last but not least: contrary to Mr. Malle's statement, story telling in perfume does not by any means contradict creativity or artistry! Rather, it is an integral part of the art of perfumery, and should remain this way. While the perfumes in his line might not have the traditional marketing schemes - but to say that they do not tell a story is an insult to the perfumers' art and the hard work they put in doing exactly this: telling a story by putting together volatile molecules that meld together sharing the same space and chase and replace one another in succession in a dance that begins in the bottle and ends on the skin. 

There are Signs that Green is Back

After a long, long, long period of brain-numbing fruity florals and suffocating gourmands, there are signs that indeed, green is getting back into fashion, fragrance wise.

And while this change in trends is most welcome amongst those of us who either despise fruity florals or simply are tired of cookie cutter fragrances that seem to be the imitation of an imitation of an imitation of something that seemed to be cutting edge or just fun 10 or 15 years ago; there is something a bit worrying about the way greens might be coming back.

The reason for my less than cheerful attitude to this much-anticipated change of course is two-fold:
1) the gradual extinction of certain natural essences that were utilized in classic green perfumes of yesteryear. Namely oakmoss. But naturals in general are becoming a rarity in mainstream perfumes (which makes perfect sense when thinking of the vast quantities of jus produced every year; we simly don’t have enough land on this planet to produce enough natural oils to be a substantial part of all the mass –marketed perfume launched every other day.
2) Judging by the recent green releases (mostly coming out of niche lines first, and it seems that gradually, mainstream perfumes will pick up on the hint and adapt the trend), they offer nothing new. Nothing that we haven’t smelled before (except that its coming from a different or a new brand). Two of the Chanel Les Exclusifs (28 La Pausa and Bel Respiro). The names as well as the compositions are winking quite suggestively at past successes and achievements (either olfactory or fashion), which may indicate lack of finding inspiration in the present time.

Nowadays, it is a challenge to smell a scent without prejudices: the perfume’s name, brand, packaging, colour, advertising campaign, not to mention the anticipation of a fragrance all over fragrance boards and blogs create expectations not only as to the quality of the scent but also how it actually smells. Thes factors all have an impact on what you actually smell in a new fragrance, as those expectations are difficult to block out.

With Kelly Calèche, the expectations went all the way from complete dismissal (pink jus, named after a bag), to a peaked interest once seeing the ad (now, that looks intriguing!) but I wasn’t holding my breath for it. When I passed by the Hermes boutique on Wednesday, I checked in and found it there. It was neither pink nor leathery. It was a green, dry iris with very little to remind one of leather if at all. It starts with an off-putting note that immediately reminded me of Rose Ikebana (which I’m not capable of wearing at all – the combination of berries, greens and rose is nauseating to me, and even more so ever since I overdosed on curried mango pickle in my avocado sandwich one day while wearing l’Ombre Dans l’Eau…). Thankfully, the sharp berry and green phase is short-lived, and is replaced by a fresh, citrus green accord, which quickly develops into a powdery rose and orris body notes. With a dry undercurrent (the leather?) it is not unlike No. 19. After all, pairing greens with leather is not a new idea (No. 19, Ivoire). Neither is the green perfume with orris and rose at the centre. For a moment I get a peppery dry whiff reminiscent of the tea-tinged Osmanthe Yunnan. Overall, Kelly Calèche wears like a sheer veil rather than a leather whip. It’s very well mannered, cool even, elegant in a selective and luxurious style, very much like the public image of Grace Kelly who inspired the bag which inspired the perfume’s name. Would I have been more impressed if the perfume would have been called “making soles in angel leather"? I won’t be able to say now, because it is named after a leather bag. A well made bag, but nothing that inspired emotion in me. I suppose I would have been more likely to appreciate its etheral greenness if it had a name and an image more fitting to what it actually smells like. Just like Bel Respiro and 28 La Pausa, the uninspiring name takes away from the value of the fragrance on its own.
Top notes: Grapefruit, Cassis, Pepper
Heart notes: Rose, Iris

Base notes: Leather
, Cedar, Labdanum

Note that although mimosa and tuberose are listed, I can barely smell them if at all. The base is dry, cedary almost, though not quite leathery. I smell the faintest hint of labdanum there too, without the base becoming sweet by any means.

To read other reviews of Kelly Calèche, visit:
Now Smell This
The Perfume Shrine

* Image of green Kelly bag borrowed from: http://www.chrisabraham.com/

Layering Fragrance - with Style

Long time ago in a middle-school far away in the 80’s, 12 and 13 year old teenage girls would create layers of colours in their clothing by wearing their clothes out of order (the short sleeves or tank tops on top of the long sleeves) or folding the undershirt’s sleeves over an overly open necklined sweater to make the colours of the under layers show on top. Layering has since evolved into a far more fun, loose and creative way to mark one’s individual style – turning even the most mundane pieces into something special simply by the way they are put together.

While this works fantastically well in fashion, and is an interesting way to put into use and create a new look out of many different favourites without looking indecisive, the perfume equivalent of layering is not quite as exciting for the most part. Not in my opinion, anyways. For several reasons: One, being the performance of layered fragrances. I feel that just like wearing a long sleeve shirt under a sweater, you see the sweater but you don’t see the shirt. Not quite, anyways (unless the sweater is very loosely knit or has holes). When I layer scents that work well together, I always smell the top one (the last one applied) better than the first one. The first one will remain very much in the background. Perhaps there is too little time for the scents to truly interact and for their molecules to bond and create something new.

Two, and this is the most disturbing one – is that more and more perfumes are released as a collection, exactly with the idea of layering in mind. Part of it could be a way of getting more attention in the very saturated market. But the result is - guess what? - an even more saturated market, with less and less perfumes that stand on their own rights.

To me, a perfume should be a complete entity. An olfactory story with a beginning, middle and end, and unique characters (notes) interacting within. This is scarcely found in collections that were designed for layering. One reason being that in order for the perfumes to interact well with one another without clashing, they should be simple enough to not provoke an olfactory dissonance when blended.
I would like to suggest a different approach to layering. One that is still fun and creative, but a little bit more sophisticated and takes into account that we deserve to wear complex and rich fragrances that can stand on their own. But we are also entitled to some fun and playing with them sometime too!

Instead of layering fragrances on top of each other, in hopes that they will create a new scent – create layers that peak through one another, sometimes overlapping and other times standing on their own so you can enjoy the scent the way it is. This can be done by wearing different fragrances on different parts of the body. I discovered this can be truly fun when I encountered several body products that I really liked their scent, yet seemed mellow enough to accommodate another fragrance on the wrists. Don’t forget to take into account your shampoo or conditioner or any other hair product. Many of them are so highly scented, that they should be considered when you design your olfactory aura for the day…

Azuree body oil goes fantastically well with a light spritz of Chinatown. The two scents have very little in common, but the result of the mix is sultry and exotic.

I find that Lovely body spray or Liquid Satin applied as a body spray is fabulous with Chanel's No. 19 Eau de Toilette applied to wrists and other pulse points. This is particularly fabulous on a hot day.

I’m also very fond of a few of Aveda’s haircare and styling products. Here are a few that have quite a significant scent on their own and a perfume that pushes them to the background to create a mood for a perfumed centerpiece:
Air Control Hair Spray:
This dark and rich spray could be worn as a fragrance if only it wasn’t so sticky (well, that’s how a hairspray works, right?). The dominant note there being labdanum, it is very sweet yet earthy. I like to wear it with Youth Dew parfum dabbed carefully on the wrists and behind the ears. This is best in cooler weather.

Aveda’s Sculp Benefits conditioner has an intense vetiver aroma, and can be a nice way to balance the sweetness of a chocolate based perfume such as Comptoir Sud Pacifique’s Amour de Cacao.

And their Elixir leave-in conditioner smells mostly of ylang ylang and geranium. I like to use it to keep me hair smooth in an up-do when a little black dress, pearls and a dab of No. 5 extrait is required...
Alba Botanical’s Coconut Milk Body Cream serves as an excellent companion to tropical white florals, such as Songes by Annick Goutal.

And Jo Malone’s Vintage Gardenia goes on the skin particularly well with a little caffeine boost from Nyakio's Kenyan Coffee Sugar Scrub. It actually layers quite well with Black Vetyver Cafe too (The only way it makes me close to satisfied with layering these fragrances on top of one another is apply a spritz of Black Vetyver Cafe sandwiched between two layers on the Vintage Gardenia - one on the botton and one on the top). I really wish there was a Black Vetyver Cafe bath oil to use instead...

Crabtree & Evelyn's Lemongrass & Brown Sugar sugar scrub is an interesting combination between a body butter and a sugar scrub. It has a rich lemony scent supported by impressive amounts of frankincense and peru balsam oil. The latter appears also quite significantly in Opium Fleur de Shanghai, which explains why the two are so great together. An interesting combination of freshness and luxurious resins...
I also like to wear the same sugar scrub in a gloomy winter day to uplift my spirits, and add a dab of No. 19 parfum, worn with a mossy woolen sweater...

What I enjoy about these layering combinations is that I've found a way to pair together a scented body product whose fragrance I enjoy, along with a favourite fragrance - yet the two complement each other rather clash together. When wearing them this way, I can always bring my wrist to my nose to smell the perfume alone, while overall, I just smell the two interacting and wrapping around me, creating a new fragrance aura.

* Images illustrating this articles are courtesay of Susie Bubble, AKA The Layering Queen of Style Bubble - the most innovative and fun fashion blog you can find on the net.

Interesting Read: Aftel and Laudamiel featured in Flare

Click here to download two PDF pages from Flare's interview with Natural Perfumer Mandy Aftel and IFF Perfumer Chritopher Laudamiel.
The article presents two different directions in Modern Perfumery. A must read for you!

P.s. It comes in two pages that need to be downloaded one after the other.

Industry Trends: The Future of Perfumery

Those of you who followed closely the recent developments of Cropwatch’s petition and actions to restrain IFRA’s threats on the use of natural materials in perfumery recently may have already read IFRA’s public statement of their support of synthetics and promoting them as the main (if not the only) means to add scent to our lives.

If you managed to delve thus far into these recent developments, you are probably now left wondering what is the future of perfumery and where is the industry going. As it stands now, I made a few observations and speculations and I can only hope that regardless of how the mainstream perfumery is going to smell like, you, who love perfumes, will be able to at least make your own choice about how to smell and what to put on your skin.

IFRA’s official position on synthetics and against natural is going to create a clear schism in the industry. Natural vs. Synthetic will no longer be a theoretical debate in books, on blogs and perfume forums. It will be real separation between the industry of perfumes made only of synthetics, and perfumes made only of natural. There will be no in-between as we observed last century, with classics such as Jicky, No. 5 and others. There will be a complete dichotomy in the industry. These classics will most likely be gradually reformulated to include only synthetic substitutes, and more likely – will be replaced by new perfumes that call for no naturally sourced building blocks in their formulation.

Despite the power of the big fragrance & flaovour corporations, and organizations such as IFRA which stands behind the aromachemicals industry and support its efforts to ban naturals and vanish them from the face of the earth, I would like to be optimistic and say that this will not happen. While those mega-corporations are all plastic-happy in an excitement that resembles the love for lino floors and plastic jewelry in the 50’s – a vast portion of the consumer world (and the most educated, I must add) is moving towards the use of natural and organic materials in their life, and is trying to stay away from artificial, man-made materials, genetically engineered and pesticide-sprayed foods.

And so, intelligent consumers will soon collaborate with niche perfumery houses that care to keep using natural aromatics, and together they will support growers and distillers of natural essences around the world so these traditional crops will be maintained and cared for, and those precious essences that have been friends to mankind since the birth of civilization will be nurtured and preserved.

While the large companies are producing more and more perfumes that are less and less satisfying as a whole – the consumers are left to take matter to their own hands. We’ve seen the growing demand for bespoke and custom perfumes, and this is only going to grow. After all, in a fragrance market that adds more than 500 fragrances each year (I heard that this year it will be even 700 or 800!), it may be a lot more convenient, time efficient and cost effective to commission a personal perfumer rather than spend the year trying three fragrances a day until you find the right one…

Furthermore, perfume consumers will lean more and more towards creating their own personalized scents and scenting their own body products. This concept has been quite popular for many years, but now it will make even more sense than ever. People have been mixing and matching perfumes for a long time, and many companies have been trying to cash on that and launch elaborate lines of incomplete perfumes for that purpose (sold, of course, for more than an average, “complete” perfume would), and encourage over spending on behalf of the customer. I think more and more people will now be curious to learn how to blend their own perfumes instead of relying on the pre-mixed, often under-satisfying concoctions of such lines.

Will the prices for naturals go higher? Will the decrease because of the lack of demand from the large fragrance houses? We are yet to see. I am not an economy expert, but this situation could lead to interesting developments in the industry and the marketplace that I find very difficult to predict. But I think either way, the result will be extreme and will make a mark that will be hardly forgotten in the history of perfume.

You are invited to partake in this discussion and tell us what you think will happen to perfume in the future. Is there any hope? Are we going to have a choice as consumers? Are perfumers becoming mere puppets of large money-driven corporations? Are we going to be able to afford quality perfumes with natural essences in the future? Are ntural essences going to become completely extinct? Tell us what you think, we will listen and publish your comments.
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