Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Twin Peaks: Balecianga Florabotanica & Hermes Kelly Caleche (comparison & review)

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.

via pinterest

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.


  1. You are so right, I spritzed it on paper a month ago, trying to figure out what I was smelling. Obviously this is has devil plant qualities to it but I kept on thinking I have smelled something like this, not my cup of tea to wear but I thought it would smell good on others.

  2. Jen,

    well, thanks for corroborating my impressions! :-)
    I can't say I ended up wearing much of KC either (I end up using the unisex and Hermessences JCE scents more), but I can see how it can be very appealing (and smelling good on) to many people. That plant like thing can only be a good thing after so much fake sweets in the air in the previous decade.

    Zero points for originality though, do you agree? And what a totally weird set of notes when compared side by side!

  3. annemariec03:35

    I have stopped wearing Kelly Caleche because I got fed up with a slightly sour note that I detect in it. Not interesting-sour, just grumpy-sour. This is probably just me; on the whole, I thought, KC is a well constructed bit of work and I can understand people liking it. Would you say that technically, at least, KC is still superior to Florabotanca (which I have not had a chance to smell)? Or is it that you are peeved because of Florabotanica's lack of originality?

  4. I found it a "ordinary" scent - not bad but I would want to spend my $$ somewhere else.

    I am not a bottle lover but ... that is one ugly bottle Helg! LOL

  5. AMC,

    I get what you're saying. There is a sort of sourness, could be the rose or the tomato leaf note. It does turn on some people, from my experience.
    I would say that KC is rather more refined than FB (although FB is a solidly constructed frag too), while still not being JCE's most significant work. It'd just make more sense if they copied his very best. Am I making sense here?

    I found FB deja vu as soon as I sprayed (something that those with no connection to JCE opus might not notice, so it's not illogical that many find it original) and at the same time not wildly fascinating on its own, though good enough. Then again, I wouldn't expect it to be wildly fascinating. Balenciaga is doing a fine job of providing accessible, yet refined and aesthetically different fragrances (L'Essence was very good), and I hope they continue on this track.

  6. M,

    I do find the bottle supremely kitsch myself. So kitsch that it probably warrants owning one as a collectable!
    Though nowhere the heights of "mighty fine" this specimen presents:
    Contemporary specimen of our culture exhibit A (Scroll at your own peril!!)

    The scent is indeed predictable (especially to those of us who have some experience with the Hermes scents) , though wearable for many and rather better than all the syrupy stuff out there. I don't see myself buying any either, nevertheless. Not least because I already have some Kelly Caleche on hand.

  7. So interesting! I admit I took one look at the Florabotanica bottle and more or less automatically knew it wasn't 'for me' ... whereas the clever twisting mechanism was part of what drew me to Kelly Caleche in the first place. (Oh advertizing and image! they really do have impact!)
    I remain in complete agreement with you on Kelly Caleche. I enjoy wearing it as a work fragrance, and have surprised myself with the frequency with which I reach for my bottle. Especially as I work in an area (mental health) where I don't want my fragrance to speak of seduction, it frequently feels like a good choice.

  8. P,

    the bottle and ad have a very "busy" feel that is intentionally the opposite of "quiet classy" that KC strived for (and succeeded in). I believe they were 100% correct to present it thus, because they wanted to capture a young demographic with a sense of "fun" and 'to heck with good taste" attitude (hence Kristen Stewart as front girl as well).
    I'd think that Kelly Caleche is a perfect scent for the workplace and especially in those circumstances.

    Though I realize it's probably a foreign idea to mind your perfume choices when working at a hospital; had a health provider drenched in Hypnotic Poison a while ago (not that it was unpleasant, far from it, it just "popped" like a surreal choice to wear when working in a hospital).


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