Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What makes for the popular vote?

Now there's an interesting question for the new year! Isn't it?
The poll we conducted here at Perfume Shrine was intriguing on many levels, none the less important because it revealed certain finer points.

First of all, the poll confirmed that the people who activately participate in such projects are astounding less numerous than the actual readership. I don't know why the literally hundreds of people who visit every single day didn't want to cast a vote: perhaps they were not familiar with all the fragrances and didn't want to skew the poll by opting for something that might overshadow something else. Perhaps they don't believe in polls anyway. Perhaps they didn't deem any of the choices worthy, even. And to tell you the truth, the term "best" is quite binding and loaded for such a subjective matter as taste. Truthfully, in terms of innovation and vision, it was the smaller brands that made the grade for me. But since their offerings are not yet being discussed extensively (I am confident they will be soon!), it was inevitable that well-known brand names would be opted for as the gladiator contestants.

And they crossed their swords quite forcefully too! Apart from two choices of course, predictably the men's mainstream launches by Dior and Calvin Klein who tied with only one vote each.
This last part is indicative of two things to my mind: first, that our male readership is either rather limited (as is generally the case with perfume venues anyway) or much more demanding (a welcome thought). And secondly, that despite a few examples, much of the masculine fragrance launches by mainstream companies are simply unispiring, lacklustre and utimately dull.

The reason that I personally opted to include Dior Fahrenheit 32 over the more sympatico to my sensibilities Fleur du Mâle by Gaultier was due to the dire need to include at least one Dior offering: they had come out with two major launches this year, a move which resonates loudly throughout the buying audiences whatever we might say about the brand in recent years. Midnight Poison fell rather short of expectations and merely perpetuated the rose-patchouli accord we have come to sniff so regularly these past 2 years, leaving us with only the majestically gothic commercial and wonderful dark bottle to swoon over. Therefore the headstart of Fahrenheit 32 in the innovation stakes (abstract orange blossom in a men's fume) won the day.
Calvin Klein issued his first masculine fragrance Calvin Klein Man that didn't have a feminine counterpoint. The experiment wasn't bad, but it wasn't terribly bold either. Still, it is a major brand that accounts for lots of sales, therefore the inclusion. The fact that it wasn't voted for speaks for its relative diminished appeal in discerning circles.

The doyenne of the pretty, the Estée Lauder group, issued one of the most surprising launches of this year, Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia. A scent that repositions the brand into a more exclusive plane that had already begun with Tom Ford's efforts a couple of seasons ago. But here is the tour de force: they did it with a beautiful fragrance that smells true, stays on long and doesn't cost the small fortune other brands ask for. Bravo Aérin Lauder on a well done feat! I am sure that the 11% of our readers who chose it as best scent of 2007 has a use for a white floral fragrance that makes them feel simply gorgeous when they step out to face the world.

Prada did a comparable thing with their lovely Infusion d'Iris, going through a different marketing route, that of masstige: supposedly costly ingredients in a classy bottle with the crest of tradition but available through Sephora and larger stores. Hence the 16% piece of the pie Prada snatched in this poll we conducted. Infusion d'Iris is unapopogetically pretty, classy, notably well suited to both sexes and distinct even if relying on less costly materials than touted (please note that they do not list the origin of iris on the packaging, contrary to the commercially cunning demonstration of other ingredients right in front of your eyes ~which points to the use of aromachemicals). In the year of iris, from Guerlain Iris Ganache to Iris Pallida by L'artisan, Prada's iris is a great option.

Hermès simply reconfirmed what they are after: individual, aesthete concepts that do not concern themselves much with trends. Despite Kelly Calèche having this rather gauche name, I might add ~borrowing from a previous scent (OK, this is standard practice among houses lately) but also from an actual accessory of the brand that acts as a status symbol: the Kelly bag (how transparently manipulative is that?). Additionally, the advertorials that talked about a leather floral did the scent a disservice, as did the naughty, defiant ad: had they mentioned a slight suede note, they might not had disappointed the die-hard leather fans who expected a potent mix of Cuir de Russie calibre. Instead they found a cool, composed, pretty feminine floral with the slightest whiff of smooth velvetine that hypnotises with its devious sillage and great tenacity. I predict that the fragrance will be vindicated in perfume circles for its meek 6% vote in no more than 3 years' time: note this comment, you have heard it here first!

Bond No.9 made the most surprising entry of this year with their best yet release: Andy Warhol Silver Factory, the first of a series of instalments centered on the pope of Pop Art. Due partly to its release late in the year and its relative obscurity, it lagged in votes garnering only 5%. Yet this delectable incense is worth seeking out and although the big, really expensive bottles of Bond No.9 are often too costly for what they fragrantly bear, this one heralds a new leaf in the Bond book. If it is anything to go by, I am looking forward to their other Andy Warhol inspired scents soon.

Not so with Serge Lutens: this year has been a sort of let-down for his many, arduous fans who have come to expect the world from him. Whether this has to do with Chris Sheldrake getting a position at Chanel or with the rampant rumous of Serge Lutens himself getting slowly out of fragrance creation and focusing on makeup, it remains to be seen. Sarrassins was lovely, beautiful and with a slight animalic edge, but it didn't bring out the frisson we have come to expect from an exclusive Lutens! Louve is even less edgy, despite its smooth, fluffy qualities. But more on that on an upcoming review shortly...

Gucci by Gucci garnered a 5% percentage for much the same reason as Bond's Silver Factory: coming out late in the year and not yet available in all markets, it hasn't registered enough into people's minds to get more votes. Or the new chypres have become a little too predictable for their own good, like I had mentioned on my musings for 2007 in fragrance. Personally I haven't smelled this yet, so all bets are off till I do. But somehow I am not too excited.

Chanel and Guerlain proved again that they are considered sacred cows of the perfume world and that their new scents always make a ripple in the stagnant pond of new launches of mainstream brands. Despite the fact that both choices (Spirituelle Double Vanille from Guerlain which won the race by a thread and 31 Rue Cambon by Chanel) were rather exclusive to begin with lots of our discerning readers had a keen interest to sample them whatever it took, exactly because they were Chanel and Guerlain.

No matter how disillusioned perfume lovers might have become in general, Guerlain still is a bastion of rich perfume history and their adherence to their illustrious tradition with their boutique scents is worth the trouble of locating the elusive juices. One might argue that their practice of re-issuing past discarded experiments under new wraps is akin to the Emperor's new clothes (Mahora I am looking at you!). But still, the myth is going strong encased in opulent bottles. Spiritueuse Double Vanille is one of the loveliest vanillas out there and this is coming from someone who isn't enamoured with vanilla in the first place. Rich, pod-like, it possesses the vibrancy of trails of smoke lifting off for a flight of orientalised arabesque.
Last but not least, vanilla is an easier concept to like for the majority of people than a chypré floral, accounting for 23% versus 22%.

Chanel is equally respected for their history and austere class, perpetuated through lore, imagery and elegant packaging that accounts for much of the brand's cachet. If anything, they are the most recognised brandname throughout the world in luxury apparel and cosmetics and everyone, simply everyone, has come into -direct or indirect- contact with No.5 at some point in their lives.
31 Rue Cambon was announced as the new revolution in the industry that would put the chypre genre back in the map, following the restrictions of oakmoss percentage, by opting for a new accord (pepper and iris, reportedly) that would bypass the problem in the most elegant way.
Chypre didn't need re-invention: it is as iconic a notion to fragrance as it is lamentably obsolete ~the perfume police have made sure that none of the mainstream chypre perfumes of yore will ever be exactly the same. But chypre might have needed re-orchestration, reagrdless, so as to appeal to a new audience which isn't tied up into the legend of yesterday and isn't as involved in the terminology and greater onomastics rather than in what a fragrance exudes.
31 Rue Cambon indeed manages to smell elegant, confident, classy, like old money. It doesn't try too hard and this is its charm. But also its possible downfall. In the years to come it might be bypassed by bolder creations, such as the more old-fashioned Cuir de Russie or Bois des Iles, exactly because they are arresting compositions. And therefore if it is to become a classic, it will have to shed at least some of its exclusivity in order to become more well-known to wider audiences who are the ones who validate a fragrance through continuous, ardent loyalty through the decades.

All in all, 2007 proved that there is yet hope for the fragrance industry. Let's see how smartly they interpret the feedback.

Pic by whatktdoes.com, bottle of Kelly Caleche from Hermès


  1. I am coming out of the closet--I voted for the Chanel, even though I diss the house on a regular basis. You're right that 31RC may not last. Certainly Chanel won't help it any by making it hard to get. I did find it very charming, though, perhaps because my inner chypre lover was so sure it would be awful! Kelly Caleche and PCTR are very pretty, but lack character IMO. I'm going to give the Lauder another try, however.

    The only other scent in the list I've tried is the Guerlain, which I feel unqualified to judge, since vanilla is problematic for me. It doesn't seem like anything to be ashamed of, though--unlike some Guerlain efforts we could name.

  2. Like Bittergrace, I voted for the Chanel, which I find has more character than Kelly Calèche which I very much liked as well (I agree with you it's a "sleeper" classic), and is more unusual than the Lauder (another strong "like"). I think the designation as a new chypre, a bit like the "leather floral" label for Kelly Calèche, is ultimately doing 31 rue Cambon a disservice: it's really able to stand on its own without any reference to the proud family of chypres. It may not overshadow Bois des Iles, Cuir de Russie and N°22, but it's distinctive enough to honour the Chanel name.
    As for the Guerlain Vanille: it's the best on the market, for depth and complexity, and vanilla is such a consensual, well-loved note that I'm not surprised it topped the hit-parade.

  3. Malena14:02

    e. :)
    i also voted for chanel LOL
    my three favourites were...
    SL louve: thouh not really complex, i really like the fluffyness about it. sometimes you just need something comforting! nevertheless i hope that SL will come up with something more exciting in 2008.
    guerlain SDV: wonderfully rich & deep vanilla, nothing more to say about this one!
    chanle 31, RC: at first sniff, i didn´t like it, but when i sampled it again at the chanel boutique rue cambon, i was really smitten. after being complimented on this one by the SAs from other parfum boutiques (for example at frédéric malle), i now own such a ridiculous huge bottle :D
    prada & estée lauder weren´t bad releases either, but while i like them, i don´t love them.

  4. donanicola15:21

    De lurking to fess up to another Chanel 31 vote! I thought I loved it when I bought it (on second sniff) but in fact love came a few months later when it was a source of joy in a miserable London summer. For me it works in any weather, any situation and so fulfills my idea of a classic but I am interested in the idea that it may just be too exclusive for its own good. The Guerlain turned me onto vanilla, no mean feat and I liked very much the Prada Iris. I was one of those hoping for a full on leather from Hermes and so feel the need to revisit with expectations altered. Love this blog, thank you Helg.

  5. Dear M,

    thanks for the explanation and for revealing your choice.
    Indeed our inner chypre lover is wary of new experimental attempts, but this one was quite elegant and very Chanel-like.
    I was sure that SDV was not your thing: I had no doubts. But like you say, nothing for them to be ashamed of: on the contrary!

    We will see what happens in a few years' time.

  6. Dear D,

    I was sure about your vote, as we had discussed this scent before.
    Yes, they are doing it a disservice by positioning it as they do and the "new chypre to end all chypres" vibe is unfair to its pedigree as well.

    Vanilla will always have its fans and like you say it's such a consensual note...in fact this last bit merits its own post soon.

  7. Dear C,

    I was almost sure of your vote as well.
    Louve... you will have to wait and see what I have to say about it shortly, but yes, it's a comforting scent and prettily made.

    Very interestig that you got complimented chez Malle on RC!

  8. Donanicola,

    thanks for your comment, for delurking and for your compliment.
    Glad to provide joy.

    The fact that RC is an all-weather-scent is in its favour most definitely. I like that trait too.

    Looking forward to your impressions on resniffing the KC! Please let us know.

  9. I'm guilty of SDV.
    I admit it !
    I appreciate many others, though.

    Please keep us posted on what happens...

    31RC is a beauty- but she'd love me more in extrait.

  10. I, dear, indeed. Well, it's a good one, so no need to feel guilty.

    The complaint about the new Chanels not having an extrait concentration is well-spread among us: hopefully they will indulge us at some point.

  11. Maria B.22:40

    I was another Guerlain voter even though when SDV came out, I doubted the market could carry another vanilla seriously. It exceeded my expectations.

    I had the opposite experience with the Chanel. I tried 31 after all the wows on the blogs had died down. It didn't wow me. Maybe my chypre standards run too much to the classic? I think Chaya is right: it will probably work better in extrait.

  12. The extrait request, along with a report of all the blogs said about the exclusives, has been personally forwarded to Jacques Polge, who requested the report. We'll see how it goes...

  13. Anonymous01:03

    I, too, voted for the 31 rue de C although had Coromandel been there, that is what would have received my vote. Hoping that the classic Chanels will become more available again in perfume strength since, along with No 5, they are my all time favorites. I guess I am a Chanel woman! But the Guerlain Vanille is lovely. Didn't like any of the new Lutens this year.

  14. Catherine03:44

    Just making a teensy comment in defense of all those who may visit your site but did not vote. I voted even though I haven't smelled any of them (please don't throw tomatoes at me). Samples of a few are currently on their way. I voted for the scent I would most like to turn me on (SDV--I avoid vanilla at all costs, yet this seems to convert even avid vanilla-haters like myself). My point: it takes a lot of effort to keep abreast of even the most-raved-about scents. Maybe I shouldn't have voted. But given that this poll WASN"T about the Iowa Presidential Caucuses, I just couldn't resist. I hope SDV is a new great love. Love your reviews.

  15. Dane04:05

    As a male reader...I just wanted to comment that I opted for Prada's Infusion D'Iris as my choice....mostly because its just plain *better* than the men's options! Chanel was a close runner-up for me.

  16. Dear Kim,

    thank you for your comment and clarification. I too liked Coromonadel quite a bit and I have been told by people at Chanel that it is their bestseller in the new line (which doesn't surprise me). But I think 31 Rue Cambon is more innovative and it was a difficult bet in the stakes.

    However about the old extraits...hmmm...hopefully, crossing fingers...

  17. Catherine,

    no tomatoes here, don't worry.
    I did try to get a "correct" result, but of course this is no Presidential Election! True! So doens't matter.

    Indeed the Guerlain SDV is turning non-vanilla people to vanilla, it's uncanny!

    Thanks for your compliment and hope I don't disappoint :-)

  18. Dane, welcome and thank you.
    I do appreciate that you opted for what smelled best to you and not what is gender specific. I agree that the Prada could be worn by both sexes admirably: it's classy, somehow.

  19. Anonymous10:05

    "31 Rue Cambon was announced as the new revolution in the industry that would put the chypre genre back in the map, following the restrictions of oakmoss percentage, by opting for a new accord (pepper and iris, reportedly) that would bypass the problem in the most elegant way." I find this point most interesting. A pepper and iris accord, now that is something I must try. Thank you for another informative and riveting read, your blog is now one of my favorites.


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