Monday, May 20, 2013
A bottle of this surfaced on Ebay again recently. It was funny to see it amidst a sea of genuine articles by the same seller. Despite everything, you see, I honestly think King Kong de Kenzo is a knock off produced to ride on the coat-tails of the infamous Jungle fragrance (and Kenzo's Jungle Jap fashions) and not a genuine article. If you notice, the brand is "Parfum de Kenzo" (singular), not "Parfums Kenzo" (as in every other authentic perfume by the designer Kenzo and on the official site). Besides Parfums Kenzo division was founded in 1987. The databases online seem confused as to King Kong's date of release: Basenotes gives it as 1980, Fragrantica as 1978. Michael Edwards, the definitive perfume encyclopedia, with access to discontinued perfumes, doesn't list it at all. That should give us pause.
Additionally, the typeface, general aesthetic, generic spray bottle and typical red box might suggest something that didn't come out straight off the factory. The argument that the Right Bank resto on top of the Kenzo offices is called Kong is neither here nor there; it only opened in 2005...
Furthermore, the original fragrance Jungle (L'Elephant) by Kenzo was introduced in 1996, composed by Jean Louis Sieuzac and Dominique Ropion (with the "flanker" Jungle Le Trigre introduced one year later). The scent of King Kong further cements the tie with the 1990s (and particularly with Jungle of course which it copies closely), when intensely fruity notes first came to the market in various contexts (Yvresse, Deci Dela, Yohji, Poeme, Eden), with its mix of wild green banana, whiskey notes, intense ginger spice and what looks like a classic sandalwood-vanilla-amber base.
True enough, the people mentioning that it actually smells good and "like perfumes used to be" in so many words (such as the Perfume Posse and The Non Blonde) aren't delusional, all the same; after all they're experienced sniffers. Posse goes as far as saying that according to the procurer of her sample the fragrance was made by someone who loved the King Kong movie with Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges (*editor gives slow wolfish whistle*) back in 1976. I'd be willing to believe that, only thinking that if a Japanese designer would be intimately enamored with a beast out of the post-nuke era, that would have been Godzilla, wouldn't it? Anyway...What's the truth? It's just that dupes of old times smell better than the genuine article circulating on counters today. It's sad, I know.
Furthermore, someone created this obviously, lovingly du fond du coeur and didn't anticipate it to become the object of so much dissecting. But for history's and posterity's sake, we might as well set the record straight.
Don't expect Le Labo's San Francisco exclusive to be a chilly summer fog essence or the Golden Gate in a bottle. Le Labo is hot on the heels of the launch of two new fragrances, Lys 41 and Ylang 49, part of the classic le Labo collection, with another city-exclusive to substitute for the loss of Aldehyde 44 for Dallas, due to discontinuation, (see a review of Aldehyde 44 here), after the closing down of the Barneys boutique distribution there.
According to the official blurb by the company: "Limette 37's reference to San Francisco is abstract and delves into its olfactive construction that mimics the hilly ride from Le Labo's Fillmore street store to the bay. You start off with a view, with bergamote's freshness and light, before plunging into the warm and welcoming effects of jasmine, petit grain and clove that roll into luscious softness with vetiver, tonka beans and musks... Limette 37 is an olfactive roller coaster, mingling an impression of cleanliness, freshness and well-being with that definite feeling that you are smelling special. In a good way of course."
We'll see, I suppose. Given that many of the city exclusives are true gems (Gaiac 10, Poivre 23, Baie Rose 26 or Vanille 40), perhaps the predictable ring of the given notes will amount to more than the sum of the parts.
*This is a repost from the post of 14th May, removed since, at the request of the company.
Friday, May 17, 2013
No term is more brandished in perfume ad copy than "fresh", with the possible exception of "sexy". Quite often the two are intertwined in such memorable pop culture images as the "just out of the shower sexiness" in the advertorials for JLo's Glow. But fresh can mean a lot of things, when talking about fragrances, and not everyone agrees on quite what makes something smell "fresh". What IS fresh anyway?
One could argue that like other, more objective and qualitative perfumery terms, such as agrestic, aromatic, resinous or powdery, fresh denotes specific qualities, immediately recognizable, effortlessly translated into multiple cultures. Take dry citrus or mint, with its mental association of toothpaste and chewing gum. A fragrance like Eau d'Hadrien with its lemony tang or the minty coolness of Herba Fresca by Guerlain are undeniable "fresh" as opposed to "ripe", an adjective we'd reserve for things like Femme or Feminite du Bois with their prune and plum notes that evoke harvest, autumnal maturity, a delicious decline. But from then on freshness as related to smell descriptors takes on odd, unforeseen nuances.
Fresh is sometimes confused with "light", as in lacking heft, since freshness is so often related to the uplifting feeling of a spring renewal, when green and tangy scents fill the air with the promise of resurgence. Fresh can also sometimes mean "contemporary" and "modern", the opposite of old-fashioned, therefore gaining a cultural and time-sensitive connotation which is more complex than anticipated at first; this is where it gets really interesting. Cast your mind back to Chanel No.5. Coco Chanel -and perfumer Ernest Beaux for her- created it as a "fresh" scent, something totally modern, to break with the tradition of the Belle Epoque and its contemplative, demure and prim fragrances.
The link with modernity also hides another thought: apart from "fresh new", it can also mean "fresh" as opposed to "stale" or "musty". Since many of the classic chypres and grand florals are worn by older women because of the fond association they have with them from the time of their prime, the perception of staleness in regards to perfume gains a perverse but powerful mental image, that of the decay of old age associated with the decay of flowers, of leaves, of animal matter. No, eschew these depressing connotations in favor of an eternal spring, of budding rather than maturing, of awakening rather than somnambulant, bring on the "freshness", is what the industry is telling us to. And we heed to it, because we're defenseless before its guiles, as they're never consciously registered.
Chanel No.5 is also fresh in another sense: it smells of cleanliness, as Chanel wanted it to, appalled as she was of the ladies of high society who "smelled" of impropriety; well, at least it smells of cleanliness on the marquee, as the sexy with its musky and civet-rich backstage is another matter...And here to come to that other tangent on which freshness in fragrances works: the "clean", just out the shower, attribute.
After Chanel No.5 many aldehydic florals gained a fresh connotation, aided by the wide use of the main components in soap formulae, a connotation however that was sure to lose ground with younger generations as perfume fashion changed and aldehydics became the scent of a past generation. As one of my readers, Noetic Owl, put it in regards to Calandre by Paco Rabanne: "I kept sniffing my wrist all day-loving it, but also acknowledging that were my teenage daughters to sniff it on me they would probably say I smell like an 'old lady'. Funny how certain scents become dated -yet in my mother's mind (and mine as well) Calandre was a fresh and green scent."
Even incense can be related to freshness if you think about it. Frankincense in particular, a resin used for its meditative and cleansing properties since antiquity, has a dry, citric, refreshing smoky quality about it, which transports the spirit and creates the feeling of renewal, spiritual this time around.
Such is the cultural integration of the idea that if you ask people in their 40s today they still equate these scents with freshness; it's simply how they were brought up! You see, our olfactory imprint may be created during our childhood when our perception and emotional state is still virgin territory (and this is why the smells we came to love or despise at that period will remain with us), but it is our formative teenager and early 20s which cement our conscious associations with perfumes. This impressionable period accounts for a memorable data bank onto which we form ties and associations that will forever have a strong pull on us. Even if later on, with the vagaries of life and the wisdom of maturity we come to designate them to what is essentially true, peer pressure, the desire to fit in (or conversely for the rebels to stand out), the need to map out our olfactory identity. The 1990s perfumes were fresh all right; they turned a new page in perfumery's book, as the broke new ground and presented something -at the time- innovative and revolutionary
Similarly the strong pull of the fougere genre in regards to masculine fragrances, thanks to its inedible association with soap and grooming (think of Green Irish Tweed, Cool Water, Azarro Man, Paco Rabanne pour Homme or Drakkar Noir), has come to stand as fresh, further enhanced by its advertising. One look at the Cool Water glossy with the guy washed over by the splash of the ocean and you're sold.
Yet today freshness took a new spin, a yarn previously unthreaded. Nowadays "fresh" is often uttered in the same breath as fruity & sweet, often reminiscent of an odd combination between shampoo and candy. This is how ad copy has presented their case: Miss Dior (the revamped, contemporary version) is touted as the debutante scent that smells like a young girl discovering love and the pleasures of the flesh. Daisy Eau so Fresh (Marc Jacobs) even says so in the title!
It is funny indeed to contemplate how sweet by its very nature predisposes for an artificiality that requires some elaboration. After all we need to break some eggs, dust some sugar and whisk them together to come up with a dessert, needn't we? But the arbitrary, yet deliberate on the part of the industry, connection between contemporaneity and freshness means that fashion and vogues will dictate our perception of the latter in the passage of time.
Which are YOUR "fresh fragrances"? What do you consider "fresh"?
other pics buttercom.com, metrolic.com
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The Fragrance of happiness!
A bride likes to choose a delicate fragrance. Vive la Mariée is a very feminine and subtle perfume, in harmony with the feelings she feels in her heart. The floral composition of Vive la Mariée has been devised like a bride's bouquet. Benoit Lapouza is the nose who has made this gentle floral scent, based on an idea by Marie-Hélène Rogeon, the creator of Les Parfums de Rosine.
A gentle floral fragrance.
A harmony of flowers and green, made from bergamot, neroli, and lychee, comes to mind. This fades gently to allow the white flowers to appear. At the heart of the fragrance are jasmin sambac, peony, magnolia flowers and freesia accompanying the rose and orange blossom. Then, toned down but still there, are the happy scents of celebration. Wedding cake, sugar almonds and little choux pastries can be found in the sweetness of the praline, the fruity sensuality of peach and the whipped-cream of vanilla-tonka beans. The fragrance keeps its magical bridal train for us for the finish. A procession of Patchouli, Cedar, Musk and Sandalwood creates a drifting note, unreal, which will be difficult to resist.
Vive la Mariée’s tender trail will make it unforgettable for brides, grooms and their guests.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Grace Munroe. Eva d'Orsey. One English and pampered into false security. The other French-countryside-born and exiled in New York, serving to make ends meet. One straight-laced by nurture, yet inquisitive, the other building herself from the bottom up and uninhibited by nature, picking up life lessons wherever she can, from decadent emigrés to call girls. One disillusioned by marriage, the other becoming the mistress of a cosmetics tycoon to help materialize her own plans. But when one inherits the other, though the two have never met, and indeed the heiress has absolutely no idea who this mysterious Eva is, the two lives intermingle and the English rose is in for some coming of age metamorphosis, the French way, with a brisk and brief perfumery introduction lesson in the middle of it. This the central plot of Kathleen Tessaro's new novel The Perfume Collector and if this reminds you vaguely of the journey of finding one's self with the help of French (or Frenchified) style icons after a failed marriage in her earlier novel Elegance it is because it is basically the same theme.
There is simply no way around it. The Anglo-Saxon is mesmerized by the lure of the Continental, with the latter's abandon to sensuality, its convenient compartmentalization of personal life & business and of its Cartesian logic (and non Protestant ethic) while wading through life. Even we have often elaborated on what makes this particular tick tick. And if there is one lesson to be derived is to suck the juice out of the bone of life because life is short, a sentiment with which I can't bring myself to disagree.
"The name, madam..." Eva could hardly say it out loud without blushing. "My Sin". Madame Zed said the words slowly, her black eyes unblinking. "What about it?"Eva hesitated. "It's just...well..what does it mean? What sin?"
Madame was silent for a moment, looking past Eva, or rather through her, as if she were transparent. Finally she spoke. "Do you know what sin means?"
"To do something wrong?"Madame shook her head. "That's one meaning. But there's another, from the Greek, hamartia, which translates, 'to miss the mark'. That's the meaning I prefer. ""To miss the mark" Eva repeated, committing it to memory.
"Yes", Madame continued. "We try and fail, like archers who aim for the target but fall short of the mark."Eva watched as she removed the lace shawl. "When you are older and have swum out into the stream of life, you'll see - there are no 'good people', little girl. We're all trying and failing, trying too hard and failing too often. Remember that. We shouldn't judge too harshly, in the end, the sins of others."
Tessaro does a beautiful job of putting the sequence in non-chronological order, starting in media res, and then retracing the tale to its beginnings as the search for the enigmatic Eva is conducted by both Grace and the reader through the flashbacks. To do this comfortably Tessaro breaks down the novel in two distinct narrative viewpoints, Exit to Eden style, and two different time-periods, one following Eva, the other following Grace. One feels that the blue-eyed blonde British K.Tessaro is having a particular pleasure into delving into the brunette territory of Eva, her primal name a nod to her budding but all potent femininity, sometimes to the point of exaggeration.
Bending closer, she gave his shoulder a shake. "Sir!"His eyes opened, blinking to focus. 'I'm sorry, it's only Madame wants you", she explained in a whisper. "She says..."Suddenly he grabed her wrist. "Hush!" And still in a fog of sleep, he pulled her close. Eva pitched forward, into his arms. Valmont inhaled.
At first her natural seemed straightforward, simply; the slightly acrid, almost creamy aroma of a child's damp skin. But underneath that, a rich, musky element seeped through, unfolding slowly; widening and expanding to a profound, primitive, animalistic essence. The sheer range and complexity of her odour was astonishing. The effct, intensely arousing. It was the most compelling, deeply sensual thing Valmont had ever encountered.
Eva pushed him away, horrified. "What are you doing?""You smell..." he murmured. "Yes, thank you!" She scrambled to her feet. "I hardly need you to tell me that!" she hissed. "Madame wants to see you...""No, you don't understand". He reached for her again; short sharp intakes now, savouring the notes, rolling them round on his olfactory palette. "It's unique. Completely unique.""Get off!" Eva swatted him.
Suddenly something shifted in the bed; a body. The person next to him stretched out and rolled over onto their stomach.
It was another man.
Elegance is any indication, since I'm unfamiliar with the rest) but needed to stumble upon the online perfume aficionado community to get the juices going and to borrow the lingual framework on which to build her descriptions. Some phrases ring rather modern when describing conversations with people involved in the industry in as far back as the 1920s and the 1950s. But if the reader is a casual one and not a follower of every board and blog concerning fragrance and smell, this gets bypassed easily. What is perhaps more apparent to the average eye is the awe-struck descriptions of Paris, as recounted by the impressionable heroine Grace Munroe, to the point where London is chastised for having "bundled" its monuments tightly together (an observation which as a formerly frequent visitor to the city left me surprised) and the Parisian weather glossed over while the heiress lunches al fresco at every opportunity. There's a missed opportunity there to go on an tangent and report a lay woman's impressions on some of the intelligentsia of the Parisian 1950s, but we're dealing with chick lit and Tessaro handles her weapons knowingly and with ease.
All in all, The Perfume Collector doesn't disappoint. It's an easily paced read whose prose doesn't suffer the way it would in a less skilled author's hands and which should keep you good company on the chaise-longue while sunbathing or on the train ride commuting to work, eradicating the grayness and the city torpor via fantasy.
The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro is available for purchase on Amazon on this link.
Photo Perfume store. Photographs by Hans Wild. From the historical archives of LIFE Magazine 1947.
Disclosure: I was sent a copy for reviewing purposes.