Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bored to Tears: New Releases, Old Hat

I'm pouting this week, I'm in a funk, I'm almost bored with perfume and I don't know what to do about it, a situation which would have seemed inconceivable to me only several months ago. Is perfume a passing phase--or am I just sick of being disappointed lately? So many of the things I've been looking forward to have turned out to be uninspired. Some of them feel like a slap in the face.

The Alien EDT is nice enough, but where's the promised difference, the guaranteed frisson? To me it smells exactly like Alien EDP--no heavier, no lighter, no woodsier, no more or less presided over by jasmine. I wanted special. I wanted something tweaked, not because I dislike Alien EDP (far from it) but because I wanted to see a perfumer pushing himself, responding to input about the first go round, teasing out something about the first Alien which showed its detractors how wrong they were, proving to them that Alien was wonderful all along, they just hadn't been looking the right way.

To some extent, the seasonal flankers have served this purpose, illuminating the original Alien (2005) with bursts of clarifying light. I particularly liked the first flanker, eau Luminescente, which brought a piquancy into the original's headier mix. But the mission of seasonal flankers seems to be to adapt the original fragrance's attributes into some fantasy vignette of Spring and Summer, a limiting mission, depending how you feel about Spring and Summer (I, for one, resent being asked to retire my jeans, as if I'm just not quite carefree enough otherwise, or inhibited because I won't frolic around in shorts). Key words, like "lighter" and "fresher", prevail over the exercise. For me, the Alien EDT release might have reinterpreted the original in many novel ways, but didn't, making it little better than a wasted opportunity.

I can barely talk about YSL's Parisienne without getting a little ticked off. More than anything, I'm irritated with myself, for having gotten my hopes up. Parisienne is a massive letdown on a number of levels, but the biggest disappointment of all is the fact that my little honeymoon with Sophia Grojsman might now be over. I was naive enough to believe that I would love Parisienne no matter how much of a retread it might be. I've loved every Grojsman perfume I can think of, though many resemble each other enough to keep others from owning several at once. Paris is an iconic favorite of mine. Its intensity, the lush stuff it makes of rose, violet and hawthorn, is a narcotic for me. Though I've loved it since 1983, when it first came out, the smell isn't particularly nostalgic to me. It's too timeless for that. But it makes me intensely happy, speaking to my imagination in a way which would normally require hallucinogens.

How big a part did Sophia Grojsman actually play in the creation of Parisienne? Her collaborator, Sophie Labbé, hasn't done much of anything I've admired or even been vaguely interested in, with the exception of Givenchy Organza. Granted, Organza is so good that its creator wouldn't really need to do much more in life. It has amazing persistence, impressive diffusion. It smells like nothing else, filtered through a series of recognizable motifs. It certainly doesn't smell like anything else Labbé has done. I'm not a fan of most of the Joop fragrances, some of which she's authored. Kylie Minogue Sexy Darling, Givenchy Very Irresistible, Cacharel Amour Pour Homme, Jil Sander Sport for Women and Nina Ricci Permier Jour don't exactly tip the scales in her favor.

My guess is that Sophia Grojsman is credited because Parisienne trades on Paris not only thematically but by using enough of its formula to owe her royalties. There is the faintest ghost of Paris in there, but so dulled down, so muted that to credit Grojsman is somehow discrediting her. The notes of this so-called woody floral are said to be damask rose, violet, peony, patchouli, vetiver, and most intriguingly, "a vinyl accord evoking metal gloss and varnish." Interestingly (and this is practically the only interesting thing about the fragrance for me) Parisienne smells best from the bottle. Smelled from the atomizer, you get the vinyl accord, and it's as wonderfully strange as the copy makes it sound. The problem is that once you apply it to the skin or a testing strip, it becomes the failed prototype for Kylie Minogue's next assault on the mainstream fragrance-buying public.

There are things I like about Parisienne. It isn't horrible, just insipidly pleasant. Some floral, some wood, watered-down whiffs of unusual. It hides on the skin like it's scared to come out and play or has been pushed out on stage in only its underwear. It has zero projection, and even you can't smell it after a few minutes, without making a fool of yourself practically humping your wrist with your nose. It's nice. It's pretty. It bores the hell out of me. Some have expressed dismay at the tone of the Kate Moss advertisements. My guess is that the perfume, whatever it actually does in reality, is named to evoke the stylized debauchery of "La Vie Parisienne", the naughty pre-war French magazine and the equally controversial opera of the same name composed by Offenbach, which featured, among other entertainments, "trollops masquerading as society ladies" and the "frenetic, mad pursuit of fun and pleasure", all of which Moss seems to be channeling in the ads. The actual perfume, unfortunately, is a society lady masquerading as a society lady.

And don't even get me started on masculine releases. Givenchy Play is a joke, as everyone on the boards and blogs, from basenotes to Burr, is remarking. Givenchy Play Intense is the good cop in this scenario, but it too makes you work to love, let alone like it long time. A little Rochas Man, a little Lempicka au Masculin, some Bulgari Black. It comes out doing a snake-charmer's dance with anise, coffee and labdanum, each of which in its way is more over-exposed than even Justin Timberlake, the fragrance's spokesmodel. Like him, Play Intense wishes to be all things to all people. It sings, it dances, it has a sense of humor. It acts, doing a good impression of colognes I like better, then it slinks off the skin in search of God knows what. Maybe it goes looking for Parisienne. Good luck with that.

It probably doesn't take a rocket scientist, or even someone who plays one on TV, to know that YSL La Nuit de L'Homme is going to suck, and suck it does. It smells like everything all at once. It's doing everything it can to impress and please you, boring the shit out of you. The smell of it fills you with a profound despair. So this is what it's come to. I might as well end it all right here. If women think pink pepper is getting old, cross the aisle and walk a mile in my shoes. The terrain: cardamom, as far as the eye can see. To think I actually love cardamom. Every time I go back to L'Essence de Declaration I realize anew how wrong they're getting cardamom these days. Someone please throw that cardamom a life-raft of birch tar.

The question is, what are they getting right? Yesterday I took out my bottle of Organza Indecence. I couldn't believe how rich and gorgeous it was. More specifically, I couldn't believe I'd forgotten. But with so many snoozers on the market, more every day, it's a wonder I can remember liking perfume, ever, at all.

I'd love to hear what you've been disappointed in lately. It would help me feel less alone or, God forbid, misanthropic.

14 comments:

Marko said...

Brian -

awwww.....what a bummer to know you're at a lull/plateau with fragrance.

There is no doubt that one's anticipation can sometimes raise the bar so high that nothing comes close to what one is expecting (I've been experiencing this a lot at work recently.....) - but with perfume and scent it is even more paramount.

When I get pissed about what the department stores have to offer, I often delve into independent perfumers for a while, discovering the artistic visions of perfumers (no matter how "untrained") who don't have to answer to a "control group".

Maybe you just need an "olfactory attitude adjustment"???? ;-) If you haven't had a chance to try Ava Luxe, give her a shot. Sonoma Scent Studio is wonderful too. Neil Morris has some interesting things as does Dawn Spencer Hurwitz.

I hope this helps Bri - and remember, because of your posts I am now the happy owner of quite a few great perfumes that would have slipped under the radar.

Cheer up bud,

Marko

Gator Grad said...

Ouch. This sounds like a bad phase you're entering. I wish you well.

I too have been wowed into trying new fragrances by your posts, and have several HGs that I never would have discovered without you. So don't give up. You haven't been duped by the recent releases that weren't standing up to the potential of these perfumers... but keep the hope. Don't give up.

I'm fairly new to the hobby but have to agree that most of the recent releases have been big let downs. Something more daring will come along soon. Maybe it's the economy...

junaduft said...

Brian,

I enjoy your reviews. This blog and NST have kindled my interest in perfume. So thanks for that.

Big disappointments for me were Si Lolita--an insipid, pale, floral mess. And So Elixer (Yves Rocher), which sounded like it would have a dark heart, but turned out to be a candied and bland fruity floral. The new releases that I expected to be boring were just that: Lacoste Challenge, Hugo Boss Orange, Calvin Klein CK Free, and others I can't remember.

On the other hand, I discovered some wonderful finds, in addition to the oldies you know about it.

At Yves Rocher, Venise is a wonderful rose chypre. It reminds me of a cross between Femme and Tauer's Rose Chypre. The botanical line surprisingly has colognes that last all day. Cedar blue is a powdery cedar and Bamboo is a terrific layering green scent. These aren't complex and gorgeous, but they're cheap, fun, and long-lasting, which is more than I can say for most body splashes.

dea said...

ha! haha! i am not reveling in your misery, Brian, but i do love it when you're angry. do people say this to you a lot? i bet they say it in a flirtatious, yet slightly condescending way, huh? well, i'm being sincere.

You're right, men have way more to complain about when it comes to swimming in a sea of uninspired and terrible fragrances. However, as you can see here, when what is new is crap you have to go back to what is forgotten and make it new for others. Re-live the newness of pieces in your collection that no one knows about or talks about.

I spent a few hours with an old friend, who has totally been averse to scent his whole life, showing him fragrances he's never heard of, or thought to seek out-- and got a really great kiss out of it. Maybe something like that would put the wind back into your sails? :)

Aimée L'Ondée said...

Hi Brian, I relate to your post quite a bit lately, which is why I'm hrmphing over the many samples I've bought and feeling vaguely gipped because none of them are loves. (Well, the classic Diptyques Tam Dao and Philosykos might be keepers.) I don't feel moved to write about anything. You're entitled to a blerg stage! Many of them, if you want. I just blame the heat. Happy Labor Day!

ScentScelf said...

Oh, the ennui...it would be kind of disturbing, except you don't care, right?

At least, that's how it goes for me. When it happened, I was puzzled, sad, meh...then it scared the cr$# out of me, because I pondered how much money I had spent on perfume I was in danger of never caring about again!

I consoled myself with artistic learning and all, made myself at peace with it all...then got gobsmacked by the realization that I actually liked a scent that had eluded me. And I was back!

I've decided a sabbatical is a fine thing, and may even represent a necessary processing break. I'd say you should stop pursuing scents for a little while. Let one find you.

And such are my deep thoughts, lo these two weeks back in my own perfume fandom. ;)

brian said...

AW, I love you guys. You know, I realized writing this post that I get sick of trying to FIND something to say about perfume. I do best, like DEA says, when I just speak freely and have fun with it. I forget that what we're all doing here isn't always necessarily about reviews. Marko, I do love niche stuff and the indies. I think for the most smart they're intelligent about what they're doing and how to package and market it. It's hard sometimes though because I do live in a pretty far flung province when it comes down to it, making me particularly vulnerable to a walk through the mall as a means to a quick fix. While I love those indies and niche lines, and buy them, it still shocks me how little mainstream fragrance has learned from them. It pisses me off when I go into a store and realize how truly stupid they take us all to be. It doesn't help that people in the mall seem to generally be looking for the least imaginative of the lot, with zero curiosity about anything beyond its perimeters. I want to believe that many of them are deep down like you and Gator and Juna and a lot of us, hungry for things we don't know exist yet. The problem is, no one at the mall is kindling that curiosity.

I'm glad you get something out of Abigail and my posts. I know how important other bloggers have been to us. Aimee and ScentSelf among them. There's such a variety of opinion and so many different approaches to writing about perfume. So many different things going on in there. I wonder when the industry will wake up and realize it has to do with a little more than sex and even just scent itself.

Tania said...

Brian,

I have days like that - but this sounds like more than just a passing thing. I guess I'll get there too, eventually. I'm already guilty about spending so much of what could be my retirement fund on smelly water, so it's only a matter of time before I decide Im don't really like any of it, either! ;-) But I have some real beauties in my collection, so I'm sure that will pass.

Hmmm.... things I've been disappointed in lately?

Narcisse Noir - I know it's popular, but found it uninspiring.

The new D&G line. You know the one, Imperatrice etc? Naomi et al., in the nuddy? Derivative, cheap-smelling, dull. No thanks.

Marc Jacobs Lola - pretty bottle, but even if I were young enough to be the target demographic, I think I'd be tired of it in a day.

Acqua di Parma Magnolia Nobile. Maybe I was just not in floral mood, but though I had highish hopes for this, it wasn't for me. Bored now....

On the other hand, I had a couple of discoveries I like, so not all is lost!

The Party in Manhattan - Love. This. A power chypre which makes me smile.

Secretions Magnifique - seriously! It's nice. Though I'm leery of wearing it in public. I don't get the vomit note, but I know plenty of people do. I could unwittingly leave a trail of bodies...

Chypre by Essentially Me. I discovered this when the perfumer brought samples of his stuff to the London Basenotes day out last month. It is a cumin-y, floral, hay-ey.... um. I'll just let him describe it:
"A fresh and complex blend of citrus, floral and green notes which obscure the woody floral heart which in turn covers the base of tobacco and oak moss. Top citrus notes of linden blossom, neroli, bergamot, lime and cassis gently obscure hints of lavender and rose. Fresh green notes are provided by violet leaf, mint, cumin and seaweed. Cedarwood and cypress help marry the lighter citrus and floral notes with oak moss and tobacco. Like the best men, dead butch but also soft and feminine."

Anyway, it was love at first sniff, so I'm trying to talk myslef into budgeting for a bottle! So I guess I'm not in a state of ennui just yet. It does bother me, though, that my interest is so often in the next scent I will buy, rather than the ones I have already...

Aimée L'Ondée said...

Hey Brian,
I enjoy your and Abigail's posts so much, and I don't comment enough to let you know that, so I want to make it up to you about the La Fuite des Heures. Tried using your email in the contact info here but it bounced. Email me if you'd like at quipus72 at yahoo dot com.

Gator Grad said...

Another few ideas to help you get over this recent phase:
1) Wear nothing but HIDEOUS perfumes for a week. Really. Everything will smell decent after a week of wear Paris Hilton (!!)
2) Go on a diet. No, seriously. I recently went low carb, and suddenly felt like I developed a much more nuanced sense of smell. Everything smelled better, somehow.

Unfortunately, this will just temporarily help you enjoy the frags that are already out there-- not improve the quality of recent releases...

ScentScelf said...

Grabbing on to a piece of the thread...

Tania, you speak the very fear I have: that it will become all about what is next, rather than what new I can learn, or what I have missed, about that which is already in front of me.

Both have value, of course, but anything well done is worth spending time with, no? Of course, for me, there is the added element that I still consider myself an eager, semi-intelligent...rube.

Now that I've expressed my commitment to developing a relationship with what I already have...oooh, that Essentially Me Chypre sounds *very* interesting.

I remain very.scared. of Secretions Magnifique, and am not reluctant to play the rube card to avoid sniffing until I am good and ready. ;)

Tania said...

Hi Scentself,

I think I will get around the issue by trying to do both! I will make a bargain with myself that for every new scent I get (even in sample form), I'll dig through my stash for something I have neglected, and give it some sugar. I'll see how that goes...

Chypre hooked me with sexy salty cumin, which then softened to let the rest peek out. I'm still working on my sample, living with it a little before I commit. But so far, me likey a lot.

SM is a great divider, you either get the nasty note or you don't. I don't. When I tried it on in the shop, one of the people I was with reacted with such disgust, she even surprised herself. So it's not a take it or leave it note, it's a WMD!

Heather said...

I got to a place where just the though of perfume caused me nausea. It was definitely time for a break, but I should probably have taken one before it got to that point. For the sake of all of us who enjoy reading you, I hope you are more resilient than I am. On the other hand, life is full of disappointments and sometimes it's just a matter of focusing on the little bright spots. Hope you don't have to go too far to find them.

The Left Coast Nose said...

Oooo-- It's nice to know I'm not the only one who sometimes feels burnt out! And perfume has given me SO much pleasure, and I worry I won't ever love it again. I guess it's like any other pleasure-- movies, food, sex, whatever. Sometimes you need to get away from it for a while to appreciate it when you come back to it again.

And it doesn't help that so many scents out there are just tired rehashes of other juice.

I've got my magic potion, though, that seems to snap me back into the world of smells whenever I feel sniffed out: Satellite "Padparadscha". Pepper, cedar sap, sandalwood. Bam! Breath of fire.

Please keep smelling and please keep writing-- you are wonderful to read!
Rita @ leftcoastnose