I don't know what it is lately but during the last several months I've been determined to give every fragrance I'm cautioned to avoid a bit more than a fighting chance. Maybe it's a rebellion thing. At school you were told to stay away from bad influences--not just things but people. Didn't it just make you want to follow them like a stray dog?
When I was a kid, I was told that my babysitter's boyfriend was no good, so of course I was all about the guy. I studied the sound of his voice, his expressions, his gestures, watched how the world composed itself around him, went wherever he went, looked forward to his visits while my parents were away. Ultimately, my mom forbid me from even talking to him (though, in retrospect, this might have had more to do with my unhealthy "attachment" than his alleged influence), and oh you should have seen the crying fit I pitched.
I've only recently started to realize how many perfumes I haven't even ventured to sniff simply because someone whose opinion I value (or am at least entertained by) discouraged me from bothering. Chalk this up to being a relative newbie. I had a lot of catching up to do. Naturally, happening onto this little sub-cultural pocket of bliss, one checks out all the consensus "classics" and the cult faves first. That takes a while, and I'm still at it--but, on the hunt for all these sometimes difficult to track down greats, I pass fragrances like Poeme again and again right there at the mall make-up counter. It's only a matter of time before I pick up the bottle.
Actually, judging by the perfume boards, Poeme has its fans. On the other hand, I admit it isn't the most groundbreaking scent I've ever laid nostrils on. However, the truth of its appeal and quality lies somewhere in the middle; meaning it's hardly the monstrosity I've heard it called, and doesn't deserve the kind of derision it sometimes gets. What interests me, more than Poeme's particular merits or demerits, is the phenomenon to which it falls prey, a death by obscurity that many perfectly decent fragrances suffer.
Poeme was made by Jacques Cavallier in 1995, five years after Lancome's bestselling Tresor. That was steep competition, and really, a rich floriental following a radiant rose is always going to have something of an uphill battle, lumbering under the weight of an already stuffed category. Even the company itself can't be counted on to help the thing out. The other day, smelling Poeme for the first time, I was actually directed away from it by the Lancome SA, who suggested Tresor instead. It's better, she exlained, without saying how. I sprayed some of the Poeme on a card before she got to me and walked around with it, surprised at how subtle it was compared to the way I'd heard it described. I liked it better and better, incensed at her hasty dismissal.
Luca Turin lists Poeme alongside Amarige and Spellbound as one of those fragrances that can clear a bus terminal at peak hours, so I expected something magnificently offensive. I'm wearing it today and while it's true that Poeme wafts up from your skin throughout the day, exceeding the lifespan of many a modern perfume, I would say it's tenacious but not offensively strong, unless you're just easily offended and need something to vent your frustration toward. I should also point out that Spellbound is one of my favorites. Silly me. You might expect to me to wear roach spray if it came in a fancy perfume bottle.
I immediately recognized Cavallier's hand in Poeme once I learned he'd created it. I can see suggestions of Shiseido Vocalize in it, as well as Rive Gauche Homme and YSL Cinema, and it is very clearly related to Jean Paul Gaultier Classique for women. Like JPG it smells of cosmetics--eye shadow and pancake foundation--and creates the impression of a woman preparing her face at a vanity, moving hands and hair in a cloud of fragrant powder. What it subtracts is the chemical hiss of fingernail polish. I can't say I miss it, though for me it has its charms in JPG. Interestingly, Perfume: The Guide also dislikes JPG Classique and puts it in the same camp as the above mentioned olfactory "atrocities." I imagine the pressure perfumers are under with a company like Lancome and wonder at how they're able to come up with anything at all, let alone something as nice as Poeme.
Jacques Cavallier doesn't seem to produce many fragrances about which people keep on the fence. M7: discontinued but legendary. Issey Miyake le Feu D'Issey: also discontinued, also legendarily love or hate. YSL Nu is one of the most fantastic peppery floral incense fragrances ever, if you're not one of the people who find it unutterably vile. Then there's Kingdom, which either smells like genital sweat or curried rose and jasmine with a deliciously salty edge. Recently, I tried Armani's Onde Vertige, one of a trio just released by the company. I'd read that Cavallier was responsible for one of them but when I got to the store I couldn't remember which. Guess which one I picked--and to think Maurice Roucel was among the competition. It reminded me how much I love Cavallier without always or even usually knowing why. Poeme has that curious appeal too, and as the day wears on and Poeme sticks with me, why and how matters less and less.