Friday, June 25, 2010

Fashionable Attitudes: From Tuberose to Ylang Ylang

It's fascinating to read the comments about Abigail's Nuit de Tubereuse--mainly because I can't make any connection between what I smelled and what you all are talking about. A month ago, when I smelled it at Barney's, I found Tubereuse infinitely uninteresting. Like Abigail, I'm not much of a Bertrand D fan, though I do really love Amaranthine: I don't find it sugary or banal. But Tubereuse, which has been hyped for months and waxed poetically about, really seemed much ado about nothing to me, on top of which, the now-chronic persistence problem which characterizes all of L'Artisan on my skin. It's sad. Back when I first smelled a L'Artisan fragrance I thought the heavens had opened up. Now I'm horribly blase about the line. Maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe Bertrand just had his work cut out for him.

Meanwhile, I've smelled the new A Scent Florale and think it's a great addition to the original. Fainter, yes, and not as green, but the original has plenty of green to go around, and Florale retains a lot of it. I'm probably relieved that Florale doesn't feel like a corrective of some sort, an attempt to "fix" the most oft-cited problems with A Scent. Too sharp? Too masculine? Who cares? Florale is the kind of flanker I enjoy: it doesn't simply use its source material as a marketing springboard. It plays around with many of the same characteristic elements, tweaking and recombining them, almost as if the perfumers had been asking themselves, "How much can we push this, in baby steps, until it isn't quite what it was?" Only be staying very close to the original can the differences truly be enjoyed, the contrasts fully absorbed. The biggest difference are the highest top notes, a dewy burst of peony mixed with galbanum and, possibly, ylang ylang. Galbanum and Ylang Ylang have some interesting interplay, their rubbery, almost mentholated facets mingling nicely. The fragrance is closer to the skin than A Scent original but by no means a skin scent on me.

Speaking of Ylang Ylang, I'm only now getting around to Estee Lauder's Private Collection Amber Ylang Ylang. I'm glad to be smelling it now, while the conversation about Nuit de Tubereuse rages on. I remember how disappointed people were in Amber Ylang Ylang. I thought, wow, it must be pretty bad. I'm surprised to find that I like it very much, though I suppose like many who did I should qualify that by saying it isn't the most groundbreaking thing I've ever laid nostril on. I wonder what makes Tubereuse, which seems so uninteresting to me, the topic of so much excitement and praise, while Amber YY was regarded so resolutely as a failure. I can see things being worked out in it, like the challenge of bringing vintage balsamic florals into the future. Oriental Lounge seemed to be asking itself the same questions, and answered them differently and possibly more emphatically. My impression is that Amber YY aimed for a more languorous tribute to those older sisters Bal a Versailles and Youth Dew. Ultimately it presents a far more mellow meditation on those themes. Much was made of the price, but 80 bucks for an ounce of Amber YY doesn't really seem exorbitant to me. Again, I don't smell the vanilla overload everyone seems to have suffered under, but talk to me in the winter.

Know what I continue to love? Histoire D'Amour by Aubusson. Another Ylang Ylang driven fragrance which didn't have the good fortune to have been created by Bertrand D or manufactured by L'Artisan. Personally, I like it as much as anything I've smelled from either. Another good one for me lately, and I have yet to review it, is Yosh's EDP version of Omniscent. I've read very little about it, and it strikes me as one of the best releases of the past six months. I smelled the EDP version alongside the original when I picked up a bottle at Barney's. They smelled not very similar to me. I suspect people haven't been reviewing it because they assume otherwise. Like Amber Ylang Ylang and Oriental Lounge, Omniscent approaches the subject of an older style of fragrance with both respect and irreverence, resulting in a uniquely contemporary wear.


Olfacta said...

Hi Brian -- I think the difference is the marketing. L'Artisan marketed TdN much as we used to introduce records, by teasing, letting just a favored few hear (smell); then slowly "leaking" it to the cognoscenti, making them feel hip to have experienced it, then making it available to the public only in designated outlets, then -- finally and after quite some time -- to the general public. Not the latest thing but it works. I've been watching all this go on and have been impressed by how they got it so right -- even the controversy going on now is not necessarily a bad thing. Whereas Lauder does some glossy print ads and releases it to the stores and that's it. IMHO, anyway.

Karin said...

Love your post, Brian! Have been wondering about A Scent Florale, and only found one other review for it on the blogs (Marie-Helene over on Scented Salamander). I smelled it on a strip a week or so ago, and didn't bother to bring the thing home with me. Should have sprayed it on skin. MH thought it smelled like an ash tray, jasmine, and lipstick (total paraphrase here).

I've also been looking for an ylang scent. I had Guerlain's Aqua Allegoria Ylang and Vanille years ago. Recently discovered Attrape-Coeur (new HG), and though it's not listed in the notes, I'd swear there's some ylang in there. But maybe it's the jasmin? Now I need to try Amber Ylang Ylang...though I have to say, Youth Dew about makes me want to vomit. Strong word, I know, but I've smelled it wafting from too many older women lately, and I kept wondering, what is that horrible smell? Turns out it's Youth Dew. Oh my. If you say it's a mellowed younger sister, I may try it. ;-)

Abigail said...


Figured I'd comment here to add to the conversation. Olfacta nailed it -- L'Artisan should double the salaries of their marketing staff -- because they are GOOD! (channeling DeNiro here "you, you, you're Good!"). L'Artisan's marketing is so good that this is what I admire most about the company (having formerly been in marketing myself). I've watched the releases of Havana Vanille and Nuit de Tubereuse unfolded and have been astounded at these masterful launches.

Take EL Jasmine White Moss or Amber YY -- can you even imagine the across the board popularity if these were housed in L'Artisan bottles, created by Bertrand and marketed by L'Artisan's savvy marketing team?

I have yet to come across a L'Artisan I think is spectacular. Aside from Mimosa Pour Moi -- which is my 2nd favorite mimosa soliflore.

Elisa said...

Agree about the marketing. I think you're probably also, like me, heavily affected by expectations -- if something is getting tons of great reviews and buzz, I'm often disappointed by it. If everyone thinks it sucks, I often think, Hey, not so bad.

Abigail said...


You are so right.

My Mom calls me a "contrarian" due to this :)


Mals86 said...

I was jumping on to make the same comment that Olfacta made - only not as coherently! - that the teaser marketing and slow opening of the gates was genius. That said, I'll comment that it's difficult for me to equate Amber-Ylang with Tubey Night, because it's a totally different style of fragrance. Anything tuberose I'm going to want to try, whereas balsamic floral, not-so-much. Like Karin, I find that Youth Dew (and many Lauder fragrances, for that matter), absolutely nauseate me.

I've not been all that impressed with L'Artisan, either - I think NdT is genius, but I don't want to wear it; the earthiness reads as mildew to me and I can't manage it on a regular basis. I'll probably give away my decant.

YOSH? I've never laid a nostril on anything of theirs: hard to locate here in the backwoods. Some more elaborate marketing and/or distribution would probably take care of that problem, but I suspect that YOSH is going for upscale. Which makes me very much want to cross them off my list, "luxury" contrarian that I am.

Angela Cox said...

I do love the new "A Scent" but then two people gave it to me for my birthday so I can spritz away on a hot day. The original is too green for me. Anything by "A Stale Odor" makes me very sick indeed. As for marketing I'd like Amouage to tease us all for about two years so I can save .

carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Since I was the one who originated the Nuit de Tubéreuse buzz I'd like to set the record straight.

The marketing department had nothing to do with it, except for one post on the L'Artisan blog.

It all happened the first time I visited Bertrand Duchaufour in his lab (I met him at a radio show where we were both invited).
He gave me a decant of the first batch because he wanted my opinion. He asked me not to blog about it since it was so far ahead of the launch. I asked if I could drop hints, and that was fine by him. When bloggers came over to Paris, I'd let them sample it, but I wanted to be the first one to review it and they agreed not to leak too much info. It all became a kind of game. Then I did my interview of him and published it a month ahead of the launch because having been the first reviewer to discover it, I wanted to be the first to cover it.

At no point did anyone from L'Artisan intervene: Bertrand Duchaufour is set up as an independent perfumer and referred to no one when he decided to speak to me.
I started the whole thing because I do think it is a remarkable, original piece of work, by one of the best perfumers of his generation, and because it was fun to tease, and because of course, it's great to be part of the happy few, why the hell wouldn't it be?

It's not all marketing manipulation: in this case, there was none. And for all it's worth, I never even got a bottle of the scent.

As for the A Scent flanker, it was launched hurriedly because the first one was a commercial flop.

Brian said...

Thanks for commenting, everybody. It does sound like we have Denyse to thank for handling Nuit's publicity. L'Artisan might have done well to put her on the payroll. Note to Miyake: don't go knocking at said door.

I'm amazed that anyone can market these days. It's a tough thing to attempt--even a passionate audience is difficult to direct. The conversations about these perfumes are fascinating to read. I think people respond strongly to some of them, not so strongly to others, but the brush fire of favor and disfavor spreads throughout the internet in complicated, unruly patterns. I like that. It sometimes baffles me. I don't get the appeal of some lines. Others make perfect sense to me. L'Artisan's appeal has never been a mystery; the feel of the bottles in your hand, the smell, the packaging. The mood. The lack of longevity continues to be a problem for me, obviously. But the appeal is a no brainer.

It doesn't surprise me either that A Scent was a flop. How many perfumes succeed these days, really--especially in the shopping mall arena? I expect A Scent Florale won't be the next Angel. I don't really care. I appreciate it. I wonder. Had some kind of campaign, some teaser strategy, been applied as exhaustively or intelligently, would A Scent be more of a success? I doubt it. Then again, it's a fluke that Bertrand's Nuit de Tubereuse has generated as much conversation as it has, regardless where the conversation started or where it will end. In this climate of dissonance and distraction, the rule is fluke. Quality, quantity, and other factors aside, the idea of anything at all making it past the threshold of the contemporary attention span for long is comedy. I enjoy what I enjoy and remain entertained and intrigued by what captures other people's interest and emotion, though. I enjoy interesting patterns

carmencanada /Grain de Musc said...

Brian, I'm not dissing A Scent: it was good, a modern interpretation of Cristalle, but green fragrances are apparently quite divisive and it didn't catch on. And the Miyaké people *did* come knocking at my door, as it happens: they put some web buzz agency in charge of inviting the handful of French bloggers to meet the team at the lab. But they asked us over one day for the next and I couldn't make it. Still, it's the difference between a half-baked attempt at seducing the blogosphere and something that happened completely spontaneously and playfully. Also, it'll always be harder to generate that level of involvement for a mainstream launch devised by a team rather than a niche perfumed composed by a single author.

I wouldn't go so far as to say the NdT buzz was a fluke, though, notwithstanding any personal involvement of mine: tuberose is a note that systematically arouses strong feelings, L'Artisan is a "heritage" niche house most fragrance lovers know and follow, and Bertrand Duchaufour is one of the bankable names in the field, whose output has been generating a lot of interest lately.

But I'd rather not be on L'Artisan's payroll, thank you. It's because I'm independent that I can have the type of conversations I have with Bertrand Duchaufour and other perfumers, and I'm not about to forsake that: it's way too interesting.

I couldn't agree more with you that it's hard to make it past the threshold of the public's attention span nowadays. So it's interesting that there are still fragrances that do attract more than a minute's attention, despite the glut of launches and the general cacophony that surrounds us.

ScentScelf said...

I think it was just two, maybe three, months ago that I was wishing out loud to someone that there would be more action in the comments sections of blogs...and not simply fun repartee, but actually digging in and exploring.

This has been a good week for that.

I, unfortunately, have nothing to offer. This round. Except for a bit of patter...

Peony + galbanum? Seriously? Slap me if I don't get myself to a tester in the next few weeks. I mean, I was just giving tribute to peonies, and I throw the door open wide (in greeting, I mean) whenever galbanum is involved.

Plus, you mentioned Oriental Lounge, which is a very happy treatment/"modernization" of perfumes "oriental."

Katie Puckrik said...

Brian, I'm a fan of both EL Amber Ylang Ylang and L'AP NdT. In fact, I just got my bottle of NdT at Barneys the other day. I do agree that the persistence isn't the best, but I thought it'd make a good sheer tuberose-esque fresh-woody for the heat of the Los Angeles summer.

Awww, you guys beating up on Estee Lauder for sickly fragrances - what about the Amber Sultan-like Youth Dew Amber Nude? The tough leather chypre of Azuree? The springtime halo of Tuberose Gardenia? They don't strike a chord on the strings of your hearts?

Elisa said...

Another great EL: White Linen.

Mals86 said...

There's just something in the base of nearly every Lauder I've tried that simply nauseates me. I don't know what it is - but it's in Sonoma Scent Studio's Vintage Rose too. I always wind up scrubbing. Ack. Really, I've tried, and tried hard: EL is one of the few lines available for testing out here in the boonies where I live, and two of my aunts wear Lauder fragrances with great success. The only EL I have been able to wear was Pure White Linen Light Breeze - which lasts all of forty-five minutes and seemingly has no basenotes, or at least nothing that sticks on me.

My dislike of balsamic fragrances is separate from my inability to wear Lauder fragrances without gagging. Want to kill me? Spritz me all over with Opium and shut me in a closet. I'll happily smell aldehydes or galbanum all day long, but balsams are very difficult for me.

Brian said...

Katie! Very weird. I was thinking about you the past few days. You know, hmmm, just don't know what it is about Nuit. Not loving or even liking it much. Amaranthine: I must have a bottle. Nuit I spritzed at the counter and promptly forgot. I was much more impressed and even in love with Yosh Omniscent EDP.

Mals, you would NOT be, as it's got balsam for balls.

Scentself, it's strange. Like you, I'm recharged some by truly personal interaction on the blogs, by people having an opinion, a good debate. Doesn't ruffle me much. If someone hates A Scent Florale, as Perfume Shrine does, and views it as the end times, I'm intrigued and amused. I really don't take that as an indictment of my judgment. I suppose I should.

As for an organic publicity campaign, I'm not sure such a thing can exist anymore, or that I'm really even interested in creating one. We are all shrewd and we all have agendas, and we all share the power and access of the institutions we're evaluating at this point. We also misrepresent, prevaricate, and mislead, just as they do. So be it. I can handle that. I'm a big boy and can make my own mind up, however biased it tends to be, rationally or irrationally. It's a wonderful part of perfumery and loving perfume for me: it is not unbiased. It isn't a bit impersonal.

I love various perfumes and perfumers and will rave shamelessly about them. I might even want to open eyes to them, or change minds, or sometimes introduce a newcomer. Can I say with confidence that after meeting them I would maintain my impartiality? Well, I mean, what impartiality? I've already committed to or communed with them in some strangely boundary-less way. It's true they might disappoint me in the future. I might go fickle. That's part of the bargain as well. But after befriending them or professing my love for or to them, I can't make much of a distinction between my form of promotion and the perfume industry's. We're bedfellows to some degree, at that point.

It's the same with perfumes and perfumers I don't adore or tend to dislike very much. I'm expected to judge these perfumes purely on merit? Impartially? You can make arguments for and against this all day.

I'm used to this conversation, as a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. I'm used to assertions of non-fiction's unassailable honesty and impartiality--as if saying you're going to tell the truth means rising above your hopelessly distorted view of it. But you can't, I don't think, say on the one hand that perfume is ephemeral and wondrously unclassifiable on so many levels while asserting on the other that you can reign in your emotions and senses to speak about it as though all perfumes can be reduced to a series of concrete qualities, numbers, charts, and polls, assessed rationally, without guile or passionate subterfuge. Perfume itself is a delicious lie and wearing it is an embrace of deception.

Vanessa said...

I tried the new floral version of A Scent on skin recently and my first thought (not having seen the notes at that point) was that it smelled like a cross between Pure White Linen and Private Collection. I think I prefer it slightly to A Scent, which was a bit resolutely green for me.

I also like AYY (winter only!) and have yet to try NdT, though my curiosity is mounting. Love BD's Orange Blossom, so maybe I should quit while I am ahead?

Katie Puckrik said...

Oh yeah, just thought of another EL winner: Bronze Goddess!