Monday, September 6, 2010

Not With A bang But a WHIMPER

Marc Jacobs is such a disappointment.

I remember seeing a picture of him in--was it Vanity Fair? Way back when. Marc Jacobs with his long hair and his big nose, in the buff, in bed, with only a wisp of sheet covering the jewels. He seemed so American, kind of anarchic and trashy, puckish; he seemed like a lot of fun. He seemed like a lot more fun than stale, stately, resolutely "hetero" Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and the rest of his peers. They were Nantucket and the society pages, walking through some croquet or polo game somewhere in their stiff little "relaxed" fit suits. He was...not.

The problem with Marc Jacobs is that, while he's always seemed like a lot of fun, his body of work has always seemed like much ado about nothing. While it was somewhat radical at the time to put grunge on the runway, and slapping a hefty price tag on the stuff might have been viewed as some sort of fashion-forward dadaism, it was also, ultimately, nothing new to the overwhelming majority of his audience, many of whom (raises hand) had been wearing thrift store and dog-eared for decades. Jacobs got out of bed quickly. Always photo-ready, he got dressed in a hurry and arrived fully prepared for all this hype, harnessing all that puckishness for maximum publicity. I got bored just as quickly.

The fragrances weren't much more exciting. Straight up gardenia is swell, but hardly seemed in keeping with his agenda. It started to feel like he had no real agenda. The real agenda was personality--which might have been fine, had more of it found its way into the work. The first male fragrance, Marc Jacobs Men, was a little more promising. No one save Diptyque seemed to be doing much with fig at the time, and who besides weirdos had heard of Diptyque? Sadly, it only got worse from there. Very early on, I came to the conclusion that Jacobs was someone I would most definitely kick out of bed.

The line went belly up but the fragrances, with several regular additions (most visibly, the "Splashes") continued. Jacobs started over, regrouping artistically if not personally. The new line was supposedly truer to his own muse. It was alleged to be super cool but struck me then, as now, as something approaching Deconstructed Dowdy. Who besides Sofia Coppola and Chloe Sevigny can pull that off? The ads, shot in stark Polaroid by Terry Richardson, didn't help me make out the clothing's possibly redeeming nuances. Splash Pear, Cotton, Fig, Cucumber, and Biscotti didn't seem very subtle either.

A few years ago, Jacobs went into recovery. He became very confessional. Given his propensity for self-publicity, this hardly endeared me more to him. He gave interviews, often in the nude, it seemed. One spread, in W I think, showed off his newly buff bod amidst his chi-chi digs as if he were simply another commodity in the place, interchangeable with the trendy artwork hanging on the walls. He came out in a big way, which seemed more than a little odd to me, thinking back to that playful picture in bed. The differences were notable, though. Granted, he was younger before, but he seemed to like his body the way it was, and didn't care what you thought so much, enough to leave it all playfully ambiguous.

I can't say the latest fragrances have been disappointments. That might imply I'd approached them with high hopes. Lola is, to me, just plain silly. Like Daisy, it seems hellbent on assuring everyone around you that you did in fact wash your hair this morning. The bottle seemed like dowdy on steroids. Still, Bang, the latest "masculine," promised something, however unsure I was just what. Yes, the ad photo suggested more of same: nearly naked Marc Jacobs, the privates covered not by a sheet but the fragrance. True, looking tediously buff, tattooed to within an inch of his life. True, looking more aloof than playful. Still, I guess I hoped for a masculine in quotes, something audacious, something which delivers on that puckish promise from the early mock boudoir pose.

Instead you get faint woods and spices in something which looks like one of those vintage themed Avon bottles. That makes it sound a little more exciting than it is, but I'm already too bored to grasp for better descriptives. Bang doesn't merit descriptives. Oddly, Jacobs recently said that he decided to pose for his own fragrance because it felt more personal. Me, I would have settled happily for a more personal fragrance--but this seems in keeping with the marketing approach of his product, not just the clothes and the fragrances but his physical, if not spiritual, self. Marc's body shouts at you. The fragrance, positioned over his crotch, whispers. This kind of overcompensation reminds me a lot more of straight male culture than gay. Like most straight guys, the fragrance doesn't stick around long to make sure you're as satisfied as it promised you'd be during its come on. Let's not ask for the moon when we have the star, I guess.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tamara*J said...

Uhhhh WTF to the comment below??


Yah I'm guilty of loving Marc Jacobs perfume once upon a time, to smell it now, it's just so "ho-hum" to my nose now.

But Brian you made me laugh.

Especially your last line.
Hope your Labor Day was good.

RM said...

Ok, so, um, I'm guessing you're not a fan of Marc Jacobs? But what I'm really curious to know, setting aside the wispiness and longevity issues of this particular scent, is what it actually smells like? What particular angle scent-wise does this fragrance represent? I know you weren't particularly interested in going into the details, but hopefully you'll indulge me with this one!

Brian said...

It smells like wood and pepper, RM. For about four minutes. It barely registers. Notes, according to fragrantica, are: black, white, and pink pepper; woody notes; benzoin, elemi resin, white moss, vetiver, patchouli. "Woody Spicy"?

I don't have anything against Marc Jacobs, but Marc Jacobs is selling himself more than fragrances, and unless the fragrance merits conversation, what else is there to discuss? In the case of Bang, the fragrance seems to be beside the point. So it seems fitting to me to review the image. That's what's being marketed. If the fragrance were at all interesting, or registered long enough to truly like or dislike, I'd have more to talk about. It frustrates me because I think Jacobs is in a position to do something truly good.

Tamara, I owned Marc Jacobs Men for quite a while. I gave it away eventually but when I smell it I still have a soft spot for it. Compared to Bang it seems downright radical.

Brian said...

Actually, I think "faint woods and spices in something which looks like one of those vintage themed Avon bottles" is making this fragrance seem a lot more substantial and complex than it actually is. Spices would be "pepper". End of story.

Brian said...

anonymous, I will be careful. I think it's wise not to sign your name. The illuminati has its tentacles all over the perfume blogs. I know bloggers who have disappeared without a trace in the middle of the night. The dadaists abducted them and turned them into art pieces.

Laurinha said...

Brian, thank you for an immensely apt and entertaining review (and comment!) ^_^

RM said...

Brian, I don't mean to be dismissive about the whole Marc Jacobs thing, it's just that I sometimes like to poke fun at people when they seem really serious. I lead a relatively boring life so one must find pleasure in the little things! Lol.
And I do actually agree with many of the points you raised in your post BUT in saying that, for some reason, I can totally picture you in 20 years time trawling the 'bay in desperate search for 'vintage' Lola muttering to yourself that current perfumery doesn't hold a candle to the classics of yesteryear!
Also, I have no idea what dadaism is but that whole exchange has given me a few chuckles for the day!

Brian said...

Oh RM, I sincerely hope I have better things to trawl the Bay for. The way things are going, who knows. I lead a pretty boring life myself. We might be equally boring. Blog writing is weird. It happens in a little vacuum. Posts reflect where I'm at. But they often seem a lot more serious than they are. I actually spend most of my time in Groucho Marx glasses, slipping around on banana peels.

Anonymous said...

Well, dang, Bang. I was hoping it would be good.

Given that you seem to like bigger fragrances than I generally do, Brian, I might still try it out when I see a tester.

Ahem. IF I see a tester. I don't know if Macy's will carry this.

Anonymous said...

But what do you REALLY think? Too bad he can't be deflated in person. Cheryl

Brian said...

Oh, I suspect Marc can take it. Marc's got pretty thick skin, I bet. All with a grain of salt, folks.

Brian said...

Muse, you should always try for yourself. One's man's poison... It frustrated me. I need something with a little more presence. And it's hard to make sense of what Marc's team was after. There's no real clear presence to the stuff. I'd love to see Jacobs come out with something as complicated as his personal life seems to be.

Harry said...

Hi Brian, I injoyed reading your review, but I respectfully disagree with you on Bang -- I think it's the best new thing I've smelled all year. To me, the pepper really works. If I hadn't smelled it before reading your review, I would thought it was a bland commercial scent, but I don't see it that way at all.

I agree that it isn't as powerful as the name implies, but that's a good thing. And I think it must last a bit longer on me than it does on you, from what you wrote.

But I'm surprised given the rarity of pepper-driven scents out there that you souldn't consider this fragrance personal. I would say it IS a very personal fragrance precisely because it's unlike most celebrity or designer fragrances.

I wasn't moved by the packaging or Jacobs' history. To me what mattered was how it smelled: strong waft of black pepper that dries down to a warm vetiver and wood, spiced by lingering pepper.

Brian said...

Hi Harry,

I don't know. You can put diamond dust in a fragrance, but it's not going to thrill me much without some depth there and perhaps a little something else going on. Ingredients themselves don't feel personal to me. Quality does, maybe. Or uniqueness of vision. I'd have to give it some thought. Bang is incredibly whispery to me. It literally vanished in moments, before I could even make out what else besides pepper it might have been trying to say. I'm all for a mass market scent. Love em to death--when they give me my money's worth. I will agree with you that certain aspects of the fragrance could be perceived as unusual. And I'm sure that in order to thrive where Bang has set its sights a fragrance must walk a fine line between interesting and inane. But this stuff seems stale and safe to me, and skimpy. So we just disagree.

HarryS said...

What’s the best value, quality-wise, you’ve encountered in a mass market fragrance? What do you look for? I find that too many department store fragrances smell alike (maybe this is part of what you were getting at in your “Spinning Plates” post from August), and there are too many new clones every week. Sporty blue men’s scents make me queasy.

There’s so much sameness out there that I’ll get all excited when I smell something old, just because it’s different—even if it is something everyone got bored of 25-30 years ago. I got a bottle of Jovan’s Sex Appeal for Men ($16!) based on the great review Tania Sanchez wrote in Perfumes: The Guide. Sure, it’s sleazy, but it’s so unlike Acqua di Gio that it delights my nose.

Kristal said...

Yves Saint Laurent did everything Marc is copy-pasting today, only better. Each age has the designers it deserves :) Of course, I love Marc and I like him ( clothes on or naked). I don't think his big nose is unatractive :)