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Monday, January 6, 2014

Prescriptives Calyx: fragrance review & history

Part of PerfumeShrine's regular Underrated Perfume Day feature, I'm inspired to talk of Calyx because it strikes me as the Prometheus of hardcore (if such a strong word can be used for the genre) fruity fragrances that have dominated the late 1990s, the 2000s and 2010s market so far (and in part a culprit for the emergence of fruitchouli). Coming out as far back as 1986, an uplifting tart tropical punch splashed all over a tan California blonde right out of the shower, it subsisted on the other edge of hope, pitted as it was against the likes of Coco by Chanel, Opium by YSL, Dior's original Poison or Giorgio Beverly Hills.


Still, the cosmetics brand that issued it, Prescriptives (since out of business, except for this fragrance which is still in production and now distributed via Clinique counters), part of the Lauder Group, had the necessary market cojones to sustain its sales for years. The pure, custom-tailored image of their cosmetics was a natural fit for the idea of a pure, celestially squeezed perfume which back then had none of the connotations of sugary hard candy stickiness and hair salon peach/apple waft we associate with fruity fragrances today. Its perfumer, Sophia Grojsman, is famous for her clean but potent accords, which make use of a very different idea of feminine allure than the standard "vintage" and European concept of animalic scents that enhance -rather than conceal- the odorata sexualis and hide cigarette smoke remnants off Old World garments. Calyx was the culmination of American Artemis versus European Aphrodite: the "lean, mean, clean machine" was coming on scene for good and Lauder (who oversaw Prescriptives) had already built a generous following thanks to their sparkling clean fragrances such as White Linen and Estee. Grojsman was put to record elaborating on the cachet of fruit as feminine nectar saying "some fruit accords, like the one in Calyx, have a very pure quality. It's a different kind of sexuality, more innocent than the animal notes…And men like innocence. To them it is sexy…Fruit also carries a connotation of sin. Where would Adam and Eve have been without that apple?"

This assertion is in a nutshell the axiom of feminine mental submission. In a way these fruity scents seem to me as if they're not so subtly introducing a regression on feminism. Woman becomes a pliable little girl again, fresh and unknowing in her virginal, not yet sexualized body, which awaits the all prescient male to do the plucking. It is important to note that contrary to similar concepts of youthful, nubile allure brandished in European brand fragrances of the time (such as Loulou by Cacharel) the girl in question is never presented to be aware of her own erotic capital as an authentic Lolita would be. Rather the innocence is poised as a halo around her, a scent message of total abandon of control. Where's the temptation of the knowledgeable apple, I question.

Calyx doesn't smell of apple either. It smells of a neon cascade of grapefruit (though like with Un Jardin sur le Nil with its illusion of green mango there is no essence of the illusory fruit in question in the formula), boosted by guava and papaya (which give an almost overripe scent bordering on garbage if you really notice it) and a cluster of more traditional, zestful fruit notes (namely the citrusy mandarin and bergamot for uplifting elegance and the lactonic peach and apricot for comfort & skin compatibility). The weird thing with Calyx is that the standard cool-steam-room of lily of the valley heart with its transparent florals from a distance is flanked by a little berry underpinning on the bottom and transparent woody notes that rely on bombastic synthetics. The feeling earned nevertheless is one of celestial, mental awareness rather than one of tropical languor on Bora Bora sand dunes all smeared in Coppertone lotion and for that unique reason it deserves a place in the lesser pantheon of perfumes worth giving a second chance to, feminism aside.

The full list of Notes for Prescriptives Calyx includes:
Top: mandarin, passionfruit, peach, mango, bergamot, grapefruit, papaya, guava, mint, cassia.
Heart: cyclamen, lily of the valley, jasmine, rose, neroli, marigold, melon.
Base: vetiver, oakmoss, sandalwood, musk, raspberry.


28 comments:

  1. morticia17:39

    I recently tried this stuff again and I have nothing good to say. Ewww...

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  2. Maria18:43

    Am I missing something? I can't see Grojsman's remark as anti-feminist, she just cites three facts, they require some limitations but are not totally wrong. We all know that it's not always possible to clarify nuances as you speak... She also knowingly plays with different images of sexuality and gives women choice. And a consumer can consciously choose and adapt various models of femininity and seduction. Being pliable, innocent and unknowing and waiting to be plucked is a powerful image when you choose to play it yourself. When we change perfume we change image, or show another side of personality, but do not change our essence altogether. The decision over her image is in woman's hands in this case. How is it unfeminist?
    Also, it may not be a game. I know two girls that are just as you describe - little, fresh and unknowing, buds of womanhood, already seductive in an innocent way, and totally unconscious of it. They are very young and will surely grow out of it, but the type is true and still existing, though rare. There's nothing wrong with it or with referring to it, isn't there?
    I'll check Calyx out, though I read that it's been reformulated.
    Again, thanks for this thought-provoking post!

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  3. M,

    it's not something I'd choose for myself, but it's a pioneer incontestably and non syrupy in a sea of sweet fruities (tropical ones especially).
    Small miracles I suppose.

    It's sharp and bracing nevertheless and not for everyone (not for us two at any rate)

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  4. Maria,

    you're welcome. I am glad that the review produced such a passionate comment out of you.

    Well, I don't think that Grojsman's comment per se is anti-feminist. Rather, what I was saying is that this genre is anti-feminist in that it champions an ideal of nubile as desirable, unable to control one's sexuality. Not out of youth, but out of pliability to another's desires (a man's). It's totally different from a grown woman's conscious desire (if there is one) to relinquish some power in a relationship. It's sorta…unbeknownst to the girl.

    I don't see those girls you mention as the paradigm I had in mind. They appear as budding, yet their power isn't harnessed via a medium such as a fragrance that would utilize and -in the end- sexualize- their innocence.
    I was rather referring to grown women who are sheep in lamb's clothing via this frag genre; there, the mental regression to the "my little pony" tactics is a enforced by the industry cunningly enough (with the concept that Grojsman clarifies and which must have been part of the brief) and this societal norms "trope" perpetuated via specific codes, one of which is "the fruity fresh perfume" (there are a hundred other permutations of "fresh", but fruity has stuck because it carried over from the flavors and shampoo industry and was cheap enough to produce in mass).

    Obviously a woman is free to play with her body, her scent and her image all she wants. As long as she is perfectly conscious of what she's doing every step of the way. It's the subtlety of the manipulation in this by the industry (as perfume has been championed since forever as a seduction tool) that bugs me….

    Hope this is clearer now.

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  5. Maria,

    you're welcome. I am glad that the review produced such a passionate comment out of you.

    Well, I don't think that Grojsman's comment per se is anti-feminist. Rather, what I was saying is that this genre is anti-feminist in that it champions an ideal of nubile as desirable, unable to control one's sexuality. Not out of youth, but out of pliability to another's desires (a man's). It's totally different from a grown woman's conscious desire (if there is one) to relinquish some power in a relationship. It's sorta…unbeknownst to the girl.

    I don't see those girls you mention as the paradigm I had in mind. They appear as budding, yet their power isn't harnessed via a medium such as a fragrance that would utilize and -in the end- sexualize- their innocence.
    I was rather referring to grown women who are sheep in lamb's clothing via this frag genre; there, the mental regression to the "my little pony" tactics is a enforced by the industry cunningly enough (with the concept that Grojsman clarifies and which must have been part of the brief) and this societal norms "trope" perpetuated via specific codes, one of which is "the fruity fresh perfume" (there are a hundred other permutations of "fresh", but fruity has stuck because it carried over from the flavors and shampoo industry and was cheap enough to produce in mass).

    Obviously a woman is free to play with her body, her scent and her image all she wants. As long as she is perfectly conscious of what she's doing every step of the way. It's the subtlety of the manipulation in this by the industry (as perfume has been championed since forever as a seduction tool) that bugs me….

    Hope this is clearer now.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Miss Heliotrope00:47

    Um, my two cents worth: the suggestion that an "authentic" Lolita would be/is aware of her "erotic capital." Sorry, but no can do - the original Lolita (presuming we're on the same page & referring to Nabokov's character in the novel so named) is a victim of a nasty sexual predator. She is a child, and is abused.

    Obviously, I am not suggesting that you have done anything other than repeat a quite common interpretation of the character/novel, but one that is not based on any clear reading of the text, or by Nabokov's own comments on the subject (& am aware that the author's opinion is no longer deemed that valuable). It's just something that is both annoying & worrying.

    The various interpretations of sexuality & feminism that are available to us all are confusing & debatable enough, without presenting the sexual abuse of a child as something she is a willing participant in.

    Anyway, while I do enjoy the citrusy-ness of cologne-style scents, more generally fruity ones always make me feel that I've been rubbing myself up against the fridge when it needed a clean out.

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  7. annemariec02:30

    What a fabulously interesting discussion. About three months ago I finally bought a decant of Calyx. (Prescriptives was never distributed where I live and I doubt Clinique will bother to introduce it to counters in Australia now because without a marketing campaign, no-one will know what it is.)

    For me it was INSTANT love and I can completely understand why so many people love Calyx so much. Perfume only really works if it is more than the sum of its notes and for me this is particularly true of Calyx. Celestial mental awareness is a great way of describing the effect Calyx has for me. It is both energising and relaxing at the same time. I feel on top of the world, that anything is possible. That is very empowering.

    I managed to get hold of vintage Calyx in great condition and as you'd expect, it seems a tad mossier and less sweet than the current version. (Only a tad though.) The mossy, garbagey notes in Calyx to me constitute the perfume's ultimate rejection of girlish innocence. Those notes always seem, and despite the remarks you quote from the perfumer, to be too intelligent and too knowing to allow the wearer to re-live her years as a pliable young girl. Calyx is certainly a world away from the fruity messes that crowd the fragrance counters of today - thankfully. You could mount an argument that Calyx belongs to an older genre established by Diorella and Cristalle. Or perhaps that it is a bridge between those fragrances and what came much later, the clean fruity floral of today.

    You can't blame the original for the dumbing down by the imitators!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Interesting post as usual! Funny how things smelled years later by those who missed them the first time around give different impression.

    Swamped by pink celebsyrups, Calyx to me smells positively grown up, surely sweet, but assertive and solid, closer in spirit to the assertive Estee Lauder for working women. Yet back then, who knows, it might have been the fruity floral for nubile empty headedness. I had a similar reaction to Anais Anais. Back then an underage thing with slightly sexual connotation, now clean and masculine.

    I guess this simply says that it's hard to attach meaning to perfumes in a vacuum, so to speak, we're always influenced by what's around (marketing, fashion, social trends etc).

    Incidentally, Calyx has now arrived to all Clinique counters, and sits alongside Aromatics Elixir and the lesser Happy.So we shall see.
    Annemariec: given the distribution speed, there's still the chance that Clinique will try it in Australia as well.

    cacio

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  9. annemariec07:56

    Cacio - I hope it does turn up at a counter near me. I have seriously considered a 100ml bottle of this stuff. I know, I know, I need to calm down.

    You make a very good point about how Calyx might have seemed on release compared to now. I guess that my idea that it is 'intelligent and knowing' is only perceived with hindsight.

    I'm happy for Calyx to stand as 'the assertive Estee Lauder for working women' - Lauder itself having stopped producing such perfumes.

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  10. Now I do not know if Calyx is at our Clinique counters Helg. I must take a look.

    I do remember getting it as a gift with purchase so many years ago with Prescriptives .
    I liked it then but I wonder now?
    I did love Prescriptives - so many lovely lip and eye shadow colours!!! Yum.

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  11. Pardon me for disputing one of your assertions, but this particular feminist male doesn't find innocence especially sexy.

    That said, I understand the point you're making, and I think it's important to raise, not least in relation to scents like Calyx.

    As for the perfume itself, I now find it difficult to assess it without the baggage of decades' worth of similar perfumes getting in the way, but yes, it's beautifully made and it does what it does very well.

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  12. I bought it once because one of my best friends wore it, but I hated on me. One of my other best friends wore Or Noir, and I got some in Paris and hated THAT on me and had to give it to HER!
    Wow, stick to your own choices or else, I guess!

    jean

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  13. calyxlover17:32

    The reformulated Calyx is a skelatal toned down version of the original from the 1980s. I went through 20 FBs when it first came out...it was my spring/summer scent and numerous individuals both male and female always inquired about what fragrance I was wearing. I purchased the reform a few years ago and although it was nice, is not the same. I haven't smelled vintage since I stopped wearing it in the early 90s but my assumption is that, unless a vintage bottle was in pristine condition the top notes could not be the same ( and to me the top notes make this fragrance).

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  14. I didn't know of the innocence and purity factor, but when you mentioned the 'Halo" all I can think of is of the Holy Cards the nuns and grandmothers would 'present' to me, and I detest and continue to flee from PTSD-style. I remember how their head tilted and their eyes rolled, and one had a plate with eyeballs on it. I ran from these 'virginal' images just like I run from Lawrence Welk and the Lennon sisters and anyone spraying perfume on me at a department store entrance. As far as I was concerned they were all proseltyzers.

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  15. MH,

    interesting discussion, this.

    I suppose that Lolita has become a cultural "sign" that denotes as much Nabovok's character as the depictions of the films/ballets/plays that interpreted it and the since contextualized reference to nubile, budding femininity. Just to be accurate I checked the pop term too before and it refers to precocious children.

    I have nothing good to say about pedophiles (and obviously a grown man attracted to a 12-&-change-year-old nymphet to such a passionate degree can be termed that).

    However even in the novel, as the character of the child goes through the plot, she gains a modicum of realisation of her power over Humbert and Quilty and I sense that she yields that power knowingly to a degree. (Not that a child is ever responsible, but they're not fools either).
    Therefore to my mind a nymphet is certainly a term used through the eyes of the subject that views her(him?) while a Lolita is something with added baggage with a more interactive relationship between viewer and "object" (becoming through -forced- experience more perceptive).

    It's certainly quite true that both sexuality and femininity (and masculinity too!) are tangled and very confusing to define, as there are as many interpretation as there are individuals. To that end, though the subject repels me infinitely, I can't deny that us, the general audience, cannot perhaps understand all the shades of a sex maniac's/pedophiliac's desire/hardwiring. Law and common sense of course should prevail. Yet the subject is interesting from a psychological point of view.

    Ha on the fridge needing cleaning recalling fruity scents. :-D True!! BTW, I clean mine with lavender water, vinegar and Ajax window cleaner (it works perfectly and smells rather nice).

    ReplyDelete
  16. AMC,

    thanks for liking the discussion. As I have often said, I get lots of insights through my readers. They're the cream! :-)

    I believe that Clinique is not especially desperate for promoting their fragrances on the counter: look what happens with Chemistry or Wrappings. They practically sell themselves with no advertising. I think Calyx just by being there could move because there are so few bottles on the Clinique counter (good thing!) and fruity scents are now something familiar. So OZ might be in the works!

    I just love the breakdown of your fascination for Calyx!! This is exactly what I should have said myself. Yes, it's a bridge between the mossier fruity tangy scents like Diorella and Cristalle and the modern fruity floral. It holds a delicate balance between tartness and sweetness: sharp but not too sharp (like Cristalle, which is mind clearing like a tablet of aspirin) nor too sweet (like the Escada summer scents which could recall cocktails). I believe Grojsman at the time was saying something that corresponded to the brief: something for those who don't want to drown in Poison and Giorgio but which would answer to the (why?) "prerequisite" of perfume as attractant. (market laws…)

    Grojsman is certainly intelligent and knows how to weave smart things in her perfumes. Uniformly however they're "clean" perfumes (the hint of garbage I take as homage to Diorella rather than a fully fledged idea here), which I find mighty interesting!!

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  17. M,

    I agree with you that Calyx now smells "grown up" in comparison to many very juvenile fruity scents. It's not a shampoo scent, it's not a hard candy or cupcake scent, it's something that is a bit apart, however certainly the progenitor of a pleiad of many other fruities.

    Love your comparison with Anais Anais and Calyx in hindsight and in context of their chronological launch. A few years after Calyx came out I distinctly recall reading Mia Farrow loved it and wore it as a signature; this "did" it for me, I thought "this isn't for me" as I'm in many ways the antithesis of MF. Yet during the late 1990s I recall rather liking it in comparison with all the melon-drowned aquatics that had become the norm. I never upgraded to a full bottle though.

    Anais Anais was a teen scent, but in reality it's somewhat beyond that image. I think the "risque" factor of the erotic content (of name, which brought to mind Anais Nin and the Persian goddess) was greatly used in the Sarah Moon "flou" advertising which was using young girls almost nibbling each other to the soundtrack of Bach's Brandenburg concerti, if I'm not mistaken (I still miss the Cacharel makeup tutorials; I had a video cassette of those tutorials, a gift with purchase -imagine!- which was a loop of Bach concerti actually, glorious stuff!!!)
    There you saw what Calyx only hinted at.
    (But there you are, American brand vs. French brand.)

    Thanks for the news on availability. Haven't seen it locally yet, but it should be a nice surprise when I do.

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  18. AMC,

    I think you should leap to the chance when you find it, since you obviously truly love it!

    Hmm, Lauder did bring out some good and suitable for working women fragrances, only they don't exactly advertise them that way. Jasmine White Moss is perfect (and a great scent, imitating chypre skeleton without resorting to the traditional trick), Pure White Linen is also great (I need to review this one!) and Youth Dew Amber Nude was also very good, more of an after-work-cocktails sort of scent than boardroom-material nevertheless. I agree however that they are lost in Flankerdom at the moment (they even said so themselves at the launch of Modern Muse, so…)

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  19. M,

    Prescriptives had a very dedicated following with their makeup. I didn't have it locally and was always envious of the personalised foundation option. (grrr…). Then they discontinued everything and it was such a collective let down….

    I think you should refresh your memory at the counter soon! ;-)

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  20. D,

    you're allowed to disagree naturally only it wasn't me who said innocence is sexy but rather Grojsman herself.

    To return with a further thought on her quote, I think it was part of the marketing, since there was no specific "sexy" image attached to Calyx one way or another (innocent or not) like it was with Anais or Loulou for instance. Something needed to be said to attract those who didn't want something totally celebral/detached, I suppose, especially when the fragrance was doing the editorial rounds in magazines. So dear Sophia said it. ;-)

    Yup, it's an interesting angle to think how and if there is any nuance of submitting "feminine power" through the perpetuation of fruity florals. We know this happens with diet fads making the rounds (as per the wise words of Naomi Wolf) so why not via perfume as well? Not a master plan of male domination, but subtle hints that women should be occupied with frivolous things such as how many inches their hips to waist ratio measures or whether their fruity scent is innocent yet knowingly so. ;-)

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  21. Jean,

    oh noes!!!! Sad story, valuable lesson.

    See, we're so conditioned to doubt our instincts and better judgement!! (A man wouldn't do that most probably)

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  22. Calyxlover,

    good point about the top notes, they do make this one.

    Dispiriting to hear the new is lacking :(
    Thanks for commenting though!!

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  23. Nadine,

    ah, the "benefits" of a Catholic education; too many of those experiences can be a boomerang. This is why I'm thankful for my Orthodox bringing (i.e. totally laissez faire).
    You know, unrelated, but related somehow, this is the discussion between "church of guilt" vs. "church of joy" which I look forward in seeing in Trier's Numpho-hype-maniac. Spirituality and religion (or lack thereof) I find play a significant role in our associations and interpretations of the world and its many wondrous things, even though we seldom think about it consciously in that way.

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  24. I have never smelled Calyx and I don't know whether it's available anywhere in Athens at the moment. I'll ask a Clinique next time I visit a store but I doubt they'll have it.
    I remember it had a high percentage of Lilial in its composition which is an aromachemical close to Lilly of the Valley with a bitter grapefruit nuance (if you ask me).

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  25. I forgot to mention that Lilial (which is an aldehyde) is now restricted to levels that wouldn't allow Calyx to be the same perfume.
    I believe the aromachemicals company Ms Grosjman was working at the time had a new compound available, which smelled very fresh so they asked her to create a perfume around that.
    I can't remember the name of that compound but Calyx was based on the "dialogue" of that and of Lilial (correct me if I am wrong).

    ReplyDelete
  26. ION,

    ooops, I composed a long comment with apologies for the delay and links to my IFRA articles, but it didn't post for some reason. How annoying!

    Anyway, the gist of what I was saying is that as you say LOTV notes are a structuring medium in fragrances and with hydroxycitronellol, Lilial and Lyral as well heavily rationed under 2009 directives, it couldn't be possible that things can remain quite the same. I need to find a very fresh batch and compare anew, though I don't know whether the experiment would be greatly rewarded by any Eureka moment.

    One thing that I wanted to mention is that I don't know for sure whether Grojsman was directed by IFF to compose something around a new aromachemical (apart from Lilial I mean), though it well could be. If you do come up with the source for that I would appreciate your quoting it to me. Thank you!

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  27. I was a college student when Calyx debuted, at a time when so many girls were bathing in Giorgio or Poison. Remember feeling pleasantly punched in the nose on first smelling Calyx. It becane a go to, alongside my beloved Coco. Smelling Calyx again after so many years is transporting. It really is true that scents can evoke memory in ways nothing else does.

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    Replies
    1. Laurie,

      that's such a poignant story because indeed perfumes we loved in our formative years (and for perfumes this goes well into our 20s I think) have a profound effect on us for years and decades to come.
      Thanks so much for sharing! And for reading of course.

      Delete

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