Monday, May 20, 2013

Opinion: On the Current State of Perfume Affairs




This past 13th season of Donald Trump's TV show, "The Celebrity Apprentice," serves as an unlikely metaphor for what I view as the current state of perfume affairs in the perfume marketplace. As the show depicted competitive women as detail-obsessed, inferior lightweights compared to the "big guns" who dealt with real money and vied for the top rank, so the fragrance market condescends to smarter, more demanding feminine sensibilities. There's little out there in terms of creative feats, and luxury alone can't move discerning perfume customers to sample new launches, let alone buy them.

Perfume bloggers (influential voices in the fragrance community) are still important sources of perfume information, and I respect their taste even if theirs is different from mine, but one of the reasons I haven't actively reviewed fragrances lately is because I haven't found a whole lot of new scents that pique my interest. Even if everyone in blogosphere or the networking sites is waxing poetic about whatever the new jus du jour might be, I feel like I'm searching for more of a concept that grabs me than whatever's floating in the air that's new. Perfume used to be conceptually grand, yet simple, broken down to the least common denominator or the essence of the whole, intelligently named to describe and capture the essence behind the scents that smelled sexy, glamorous and booming (not blooming--boom, as in economy, as in anything but austere) like Joy, Poison, Panthére de Cartier, Fred Hayman 273, Red and Giorgio.

Even if the concepts weren't in my taste, they were clear in their vision in an abstract realm. If they weren't bombshell perfumes, there were flirty and fun scents: La Chasse aux Papillons (butterfly chase), Maybe Baby, Calyx, or classically romantic: Quelques Fleurs, Anais Anais. Perfumes used to tell stories: Shalimar, Mitsouko, Samsara. They were futuristic: Metal, Ultraviolet, Calandre. Today, there's flanker after flanker with names that sound like Japanglish (word salad; random words strung together that make no sense: Couture La La), mysterious and boring soliflores (osmanthus, Jo Malone?) that don't conjure half the passion of gardenias and jasmine flowers or even retro roses, and countless versions of Comme de Garçons incense in one slick packaging after another (and I've smelled enough of these to know).

There are scents that no doubt appeal to younger feminine audiences which is good, for they shouldn't all be about seduction, but vaguely irritate me without an emotional rise, like See (like a subliminal command ("obey"), or a suggestion for a child to demand, "look Mommy, see!") or Dot (hyper detail-oriented with a Minnie Mouse ladybug theme) that I couldn't be bothered with. Even the scents themselves are barely distinguishable from one another, as if subtle variations of the same thing will keep girls buzzing. Stop treating women like horses with blinders on. Give me large enough concepts for a man, and then we'll talk.

Meanwhile, what's directed by the market towards what appears to be my demographic which is not only feminine but usually fused together with a gourmand-averse generation before mine, is equally banal. I feel like the mainstream and the niche world are trying too hard, when all I really want is a good soufflé or flan and not ethnocentric frankincense custard. Sure, dress it up, go beyond fruits and mint sprigs, go for the rare and seemingly cultured, but why smell necessarily weird?

Art scents are novel, and novelties are entertaining, but I'm as practical as I am imaginative, a woman who lives in the real world, not just inside my brain. I want to go sample a perfume because it sounds like an elixir of love and lust or a universe captured in scent, and swoon because something actually smells good in a literal sense, not because my mind tells me something smells as hip and unique or luxurious as it sounds. I want both a feeling of being transported to a more expansive, elevated headspace (5th Avenue will do) as well as the simple pleasure of a craving being satiated (Sugar Cherry Macaroons). A perfume needs to improve the quality of my life, and that means it ought to satisfy both mind and body, the mind and body as one complete being--the soul.

Truth is, I'm not even that hard to please, for I don't ask for much. I'm a woman who still enjoys it when my man says I smell beautiful, without a preachy, insinuating tone like a woman should smell pretty, but that I simply do. I like when my kid says I smell like shampoo. Why would a serious perfumista want to smell like a cheap shampoo? Because I still prefer to be clean than nasty. I still like flowers: bouquets of classic roses, a spring-summer profusion of fruits and flowers, simple flower arrangements with shapes that I recognize (daisy, iris, lily of the valley), and potted tall, fleshy hothouse flowers with power to awe and mesmerize. To bring it all together, I like happy themes (Happy, Sunflowers) as well as more noir themes (Addict, La Fille de Berlin), but Freak can stay the heck outta my perfume cabinet.

Am I missing out on smelling the greatest juice ever by relying not on the current market or expert sources but my honest, visceral reactions? I'll wait for the day when someone walks by wearing said jus, sporting a dreamy sillage that urges me to ask for its name. Should there be such a special moment of desire for connection in a perfume lover's world, offer something intelligent or nothing at all.