I had always maintained that Hermès's Kelly Calèche perfume from 2007 was a sleeper classic: it has the ethereal, aristocratic quality of Grace Kelly with an atonal modernity built in to it, a herbal rose abstraction, the perfect introductory fragrance for young women ~brought up in Bath & Body Works body sprays~ into "proper" perfume. It didn't intimidate, it didn't cajole with false pretenses of sweetness, it didn't turn too masculine or too soapy, all thanks to its refinement and slightly disjoint character of herbs plus flowers. Strangely enough, it's no shame to admit Kelly Calèche commercially languishes. With no celebrity face endorsing it, no big advertising, a reference to an iconic bag ("the Kelly") that only the really really wealthy (and well connected) can acquire and a smell that doesn't propose seduction, it was meant to be.
Still the artistic idea by perfumer Jean Claude Ellena was a good one and several upstarts tried to re-do it with a different concept presentation to appeal to the exact same demographic. Gucci Flora for one. Balenciaga, a hipper brand than both, in Nicolas Ghesquière's tenure, tries once more and now employs the rock chic ~and cheat~ of Twilight saga star Kristen Stewart to promote it, wrapped in packaging of pure 1970s psychedelia and with a name to finally mean what it says: Florabotanica.Apparently the official ad speak talks about evoking "the 18th century botanical gardens in which the most exotic and rarest plant species were displayed". Yeah, all rightie.
“Flowers can be cruel, carnivorous or poisonous,"Ghesquière said upon Florabotanica's launch. "What would a perfume that contained this mystery be like?” I'll tell you what, it smells like Kelly Calèche, a perfume that is neuther cruel, nor carnivorous, least of all poisonous. Not too obviously floral either. We're not dealing with juggernaut. But the element of danger and the forbidden has to be brought into ad speak, axiomatically it seems, because perfume apparently cannot (or will not) extricate itself from the game of seduction, no matter how much fragrance yearns to be perceived as art! Therefore IFF perfumers Olivier Polge and Jean-Christophe Herault were brought to the task to reprise the green rosy aspect, the top note that recalls bittersweet tomato leaves, the cooling effect of green shoots, the lightly sensuous, close to the skin lingering human-like trace, and the linear perfume structure that smells the same from top to bottom. Florabotanica is suitable for the girl at college as it is for the professional working at an office, from morning to casual evenings, and might even have young girls' mothers (or brothers) borrowing it on occasion, it's that pliable and wearable, with a moderate projection and trail despite the initial faux "loudness". Does it create ripples in the pond, though? Nah...
Those who give credence to perfume notes and what they mean won't believe just how different these two appear to be on paper. But hey, don't take my word for it, go smell them side by side! (And while you're at it, give a whirl to Eau de Pamplemousse Rose and Rose Ikebana, both Hermès, if you happen to be close to one of their boutiques, to see the same idea fleshed in small variations by the original artist).
Florabotanica notes: mint, carnation, hybrid rose, caladium leaves, amber and vetiver.
Kelly Calèche notes: jasmine, mimosa, narcissus, tuberose, iris, lily of the valley, benzoin and leather.
Florabotanica by Balenciaga is available at major department stores for $95 for 1.7 ounces/50ml of Eau de Parfum.
Kelly Calèche is still available on Hermès' counters and boutiques last I checked.