Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, Romano...?

"The woman always come first," he confirms.  Some polite laughter bubbles up a little too slowly.  After all, it's a genuine 'lost in translation' moment.  Or is it?

Romano Ricci is presenting his Juliette Has a Gun brand in the lower ground events space of the gorgeous new Les Senteurs store in London.  In a chronological trot through each scent, accompanied by speedily distributed blotters, he describes notes, composition and creative processes with welcome clarity and brevity and, more importantly, he explains the inspiration behind each scent and behind the brand as a whole.

It's all sex, basically.

Each entry in the range, from the original pairing of Lady Vengeance and Miss Charming to the outstanding Citizen Queen and Calamity J, all are inspired by imaginary seductresses.  They all appear to Romano in different outfits, all have something different to say and they all handle his gun in different ways.  I'm paraphrasing, of course.

I'd sniffed and thoughtlessly appreciated some of the scents in the past but within the context of the brand creator's frank explanations (not to mention the lovely environs of the new Les Senteurs store) they all became so much more.  Understanding enhances appreciation, apparently.  Who knew?

Romano's trademark headwear may be a little ill-advised but he's every bit the the charming Southern European lothario incarnate.  He's bright, handsome and very amusing, both intentionally and unintentionally.  When he emphatically declared that he would never create scents for a man, his effortless machismo instantly reminded me of that infamous Berlusconi quote.  But it would be impossible to hold that against him for a moment.

Ricci's perfume pedigree is impeccable.  His great-grandmother's first fragrance is a distinct childhood memory and it would be a tragedy of Shakespearean scale if his own scents couldn't live up to that.  Thankfully they do.

          [By ANDREW]

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

My Big Fat Gypsy Perfume Industry

Last night, BBC4 aired the first instalment in its new three-part series on the perfume industry.  Peter was unable to watch so I quickly posted a short review on his Facebook page as soon as the show had finished.  It read: "Goodness, Chandler Burr gets lots of samples. Jean Paul Guerlain is a mad, racist old coot. The rest of the industry is run by dollies who genuinely thought Hilfiger Loud was a good idea and not a ridiculous, patronising 'dad dancing at a wedding' take on youth-oriented fragrance."

Let me elaborate...

Mr Burr does indeed receive a great many FedEx deliveries.  Every perfume fan must have turned green at the sight of his freebie stash.  He probably came out of this film as the most sensible, objective contributor, appearing only faintly ridiculous when he rolled up his trouser leg for more scent-testing skin space.  He didn't like some unnamed Bliss fragrance but he loved Thierry Mugler's Womanity.  Later, he kindly explained the dilemma of drugstore distribution for designer fragrance brands.

The venerable but thoroughly unpleasant Jean Paul Guerlain represented the industry's old guard. Of course.  He struggled from luxury car to luxury home to luxury offices, tottering on an ivory-handled walking stick, making misogynistic comments, openly showing his disdain for mass marketing and searching for his ratty little dogs.  Later, we witnessed his monumental fall from grace when he told a TV interviewer how he had "worked like a n*gger" on his scents (although the actual incident wasn't shown or quoted). Demonstrations outside the Guerlain store forced his resignation and replacement by Thierry Wasser.  I suppose it was pleasing to see that some French people do have a concept of egalité after all, despite their monstrous legislation against the freedom of religious expression.

But the bulk of the show seemed to be dedicated to the creation and launch of Hilfiger's Loud fragrances and it all played out like some ridiculous French & Saunders parody of the perfume industry.  In a misguided scramble to combine fragrance with music and bottle "liquid rock and roll" for Mr Hilfiger, Veronique Gabai Pinsky and her international team at Estée Lauder bludgeoned their simplistic strategy home with all the finesse of Pete Townsend finishing up a live set.  As a marketer, I watched incredulously as they struggled to verbalise and realise the concept with any depth or originality.

The flacon was created by Chad Lavigne, "the Picasso of bottle design" apparently.  His mood board appeared to include any old clichéd rock imagery and name-checked acts that haven't troubled the charts since the old king was on the throne.  His design is a heavy-handed reference to a vinyl LP with a volume-control cap.  That the majority of the target demographic may never have even seen a vinyl record, let alone have any emotional connection to them, and are far more likely to adjust the volume of their music with a swipe of a touchscreen rather than twisting the kind of nob found on a Marshall amplifier, didn't seem to matter or even occur to anybody. 

When the concept was presented to Tommy Hilfiger himself, in a brief and inarticulate presentation, raising some concerns about the legibility of the bottle and a quick spritz of the fragrances on blotters was all his go-ahead required.

My dog may have appeared in one of their videos (yes, really) but even I know the Ting Tings were only cool for about a nanosecond a few years ago.  But Veronique squeezes the last gasp of vague credibility from their career by getting them to sell themselves in the Loud advertising campaign. I clenched my buttocks and looked away.

As preparations for the press launch got underway, one particularly hilarious scene saw Trudie Collister from the London Estée Lauder offices berated via speakerphone for failing to secure some patchouli plants, the key note in the fragrance.  When a sorry-looking near-seedling of patchouli did appear, it was odourless.  No matter - they vowed to make it look "pretty" and "extraordinary".  Trudie briefed her staff to ensure that everybody was 'on message' for the press event - apparently the message is that young people use their iPods quite a lot. 

Of course, documentary film makers usually approach their work with some kind of agenda and judicious editing can easily prompt a sneer or a snigger at their subjects.  Here, we saw the "give 'em enough rope" approach, the kind of thing that Louis Theroux does so well.  I'm afraid it left just about everybody involved looking rather silly.

Loud is already available on the discount sites.

          [By ANDREW]

Friday, 24 June 2011

Planet of the Oud: PART ONE

I'm loath to admit it but the whole oud explosion passed me by somewhat.  And I'm not sure why.  I like Yves Saint Laurent's M7 well enough and the noble rot of agarwood is a particularly pleasing thought but I suppose it was the sheer number of oud scents out there that stumped me, really.  I couldn't smell the wood for the trees, so to speak.

Then on a recent trip to my local 99p Store, I noticed a strange offering amongst the air fresheners.  In a bold green can emblazoned with arabic text, there was an oud scented Airwick aerosol spray.  Obviously a Middle Eastern import, I snapped up the remaining few. And I was very glad that I did.  "However," I thought.  "You can't base an appreciation of oud on a pleasant, woody aerosol room spray, Andrew.  It's time to embark on a journey through the crowded world of oud for real..."

I started with Tom Ford Private Blend Oud Wood.  Like a 21st Century Coco Chanel (remember, she dabbled in movies too), Ford is the arbiter of style and taste that some credit with initiating the oud explosion through his creative direction of M7 - so surely his Private Blend offering must be the real deal?  And yes - it's very, very pleasant.  In fact, it's nudged its way on my 'To Buy' list - as long as I can find it heavily discounted.  It's a kinder, more polite M7 - less heavy-handed and medicinal.  But still rich and hearty.  "OK," I thought.  "So far, so good."

"How about an interesting oud combination?" I mused.  "Placed against something more familiar, I could probably pick out the distinct character of oud."  So I doused myself in Leather Oud from Christian Dior's La Collection Privée.  Hmm.  Good stuff.  Dark, sweet, animalic...  But rather complex and a little too self-consciously 'perfumey'.  I think I need to spend a little more time with this beast to appreciate and understand it fully.

And then almost as soon as it had begun, my oud journey took a major detour.  In fact, I think I was kidnapped by a large, sweaty, swarthy man and held against my will in some salacious Midnight Express perfume fantasy, like the Fry's Turkish Delight girl in jeans and a casual shirt.  L'Artisan Parfumer's Al Oudh is a fragrance dream come true.  It's heavy wood with an enormous shot of cumin.  It's big, burly and almost disturbingly human.  It's a while since I've been this excited about a scent...

So, I think I'll languish here awhile and continue my oud expedition at a later date.  I know I must tackle the ouds of Le Labo, By Kilian and, of course, Montale.  And seemingly a million or so more.  I'm girding my loins...

          [By ANDREW]

Sunday, 19 June 2011

REVIEW: 'M/MINK' by Byredo

I call my miniature schnauzer 'The Mink'.  She's a lovely gunmetal grey colour.  Clipping rather than stripping has removed all the coarseness from her coat so she's soft, velvety and very cuddly.  Regular bathing means that she rarely exudes that 'doggy' smell.

Byredo's M/MINK is an animal of an entirely different nature.

As I first inhaled this bizarre exercise in scent-as-art, an old Depeche Mode lyric popped into my head.  From 1986's Stripped: "You're breathing in fumes I taste when we kiss." M/MINK is the thick, smoggy air above a futuristic cityscape, all burning oil drums,  crumbling zombies and scuttling rodents.

M/MINK is a mechanical animal.  Commissioned by Paris-based art and design duo M/M (Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag), the original brief was a block of calligrapher's ink.  And there's certainly a dense, inky darkness.  But there's also a shrill metallic scrape in the the opening.  Then the low call of a dirty animal in distress. It's PETA's worst nightmare as scent.

And it's brilliant.

The expectations of bloggers and reviewers are so often dashed by high-concept scents. It's the major criticism levelled at Etat Libre d'Orange.  Great idea - decidedly ordinary fragrance.  Byredo's own Fantastic Man, created in association with the Dutch style magazine is a case in point.  Well, M/MINK is a rat right up your drainpipe.  You couldn't ask for more creativity and originality.  Whether or not it's a wearable fragrance is another matter entirely.

I need a reassuring cuddle from my dog.

          [By ANDREW]

Saturday, 18 June 2011


Deep breaths, deep breaths, deep breaths...

There are many things in this world to get angry about.  Poverty, hunger, injustice etc, etc, etc.  But I just tested a fragrance that made my blood boil in a way that a photograph of a maltreated donkey in Spain has never quite managed.

A major, major release.  A huge campaign - print and TV.  A pretty good, seductive campaign.  Every stupid man from Newcastle to New Jersey will be buying this scent.

They would do far better to buy a can of Lynx.  Any of the trashy varieties.  They're all far superior to this cruel, ridiculous joke.  This scent embodies everything that's wrong with the fragrance industry today.  It's nasty, cynical and ultimately pointless.  It's an insulting afterthought to the marketing.

OK - I know, I know...  I'm off to get a life.

           [By ANDREW]

Thursday, 16 June 2011

REVIEW: 'Un Jardin Sur le Toit' by Hermès

Oh dear...  My reverence for Mr Jean Claude Ellena has been seriously shaken by his latest creation for Hermès - Un Jardin Sur le Toit.

I'll happily admit to being a JCE fanboy.  It's not that I believe he can do no wrong.  I just find myself loving or at the very least appreciating all of his work.  His artistry.  His light, joyful touch.  His whispered evocation of mood or geography.

Either he's taken his eye off the ball or the commercial imperatives of Hermès have focus-grouped him into submission on this one.  Ellena's scents are often deceptively simple - just when you think you've understood the road they're on, they swerve into a different territory and you realise there was a whole lot more to the journey all along.  I'm afraid Un Jardin Sur le Toit is just simple.

It opens with an almost offending smack of fake apples - the kind of apple that flavours cheap confectionery.  The kind of scent that you know should be apple, but isn't at all.  As that slowly exits, the rose takes over.  Not a pretty, dew-soaked or photorealistic rose but a nanna's handwash tea rose.

And that's about it.  No sign of the promised earthiness.  No Ellena subtlety that I could find.  And I tried.  It dries down to an almost-pleasant, vegetal musk but remains too contaminated by that horrid rose to enjoy.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear...

          [By ANDREW]

Sunday, 12 June 2011

REVIEW: 'Nuit de Tubereuse' by L'Artisan Parfumeur

My fragrance-loving friend Darren recently discovered the delights of Robert Piguet's Fracas and told me excitedly that he was going to buy a bottle without delay.  The exchange went something like this:
Me:  "It's gorgeous, isn't it?  But you realise it's considered one of those feminines that a man just can't wear?"
Darren:  "I'm wearing Chanel No. 5 today."
Me:  "Fair enough."

I thought about my own tuberose struggle.  I have a beautiful little black and gold compact of Fracas solid perfume and whenever I slip it from its veleveteen pouch to look at, I'm powerless to prevent myself from anointing my wrists and neck with its amazing, juicy, fleshy, loud floral joyfulness.  It's that old debate again...  I certainly subscribe to the school of "if you love it, wear it" when it comes to the battle between masculinity and femininity in scent, but there's something so immediately, so self-consciously feminine in tuberose scents and in Fracas in particular that it simply roars "WOMAN" - like a top-heavy Russ Meyer vixen in twin-set and pearls.

So I was particularly excited when I read that Bertrand Duchaufour's Nuit de Tubereuse for L'Artisan Parfumeur might actually be that most elusive of scents - a tuberose-led creation that really has some masculine leanings.  And it almost is...

I sniffed it, I loved it and I had to have it.  The tuberose is right there, not hidden behind its other facets of subtle tropical fruitiness and dusky, smokiness, but it doesn't drip and ooze its feminine nectar in the vein of Fracas, Carnal Flower et al.

It is indeed tuberose behind the veil of night.  There's some dry, dusty earth, some woods, the light spice of cardamom.  It's tuberose in a smart, well cut grey suit.  I wear it often.

          [By ANDREW]

(Photograph features the wonderful Californian drag star Tammie Brown.)