Thursday, February 1, 2007

Belle en Rykiel: fragrance review

This is the time to test your span of attention, dear readers. Remember how I had talked about the upcoming new fragrance from Sonia Rykiel, madame de tricot, full of anticipation, back in the day? It was last October on my previous venue, on another host. You can read what I had written and the official info on the new perfume here.
Today I will occupy myself with accounting my actual sniffing experience for your delectation.

Sonia Rykiel is a true Parisian eccentric lady with elegant daughter Nathalie as precious accomplice in their adventures in knit, navy clothes Breton-style and the ubiquitous black. Her signature frizzy red mane is only a hint of her willingness to participate in outré concepts like their new boutique with all the naughty props...
In perfumery she hasn't made any faux pas, starting their fragrant stable with the great dry woody Sonia Rykiel Le parfum in 1993. It was as late as 1997 that they issued their next one, named simply Sonia Rykiel in the sweater torso bottle with the strass on the chest, boxed in an orange rectangle and smelling of sweet fruits mingled with vanilla and caramel, inspired by the success of Angel, making this one for gourmands in every sense of the word. The following year saw L'eau de Sonia Rykiel, a predictably aquatic "blue" scent to satisfy the end of the market that had moved on from L'eau d'Issey because of its mass popularity and wanted something a little more private and subtle; while 2000 was the year Rykiel catered for men as well with her dark Rykiel Homme. The collection now seemed complete.
However when something is good saleswise, perfume houses and marketing teams want to capitalize on that: enter Rykiel Rose (2000) in a version of the original sweater bottle, this time tinged in a very becoming pink hue, redolent of succulent tarter fruits and a sparkling interpretation of the king of flowers (for most folks, I'm not one of them!)
By the same token Rykiel Grey (2003) was a male tart and sexy musky version in another sweater bottle, while the true masterpiece came out that same year and was emphatically and irrevocably destined for women: Rykiel Woman, not for men!(in eau de parfum; the eau de toilette that launched two years later is sadly different and not on a par).

The newest Belle en Rykiel , created by nose Jean Pierre Bethouart (working for Firmenich), crossed my path for real this time like an accidental rencontre with someone you had heard lots about half-remembering what that someone was like. Time had passed and I did not remember any notes or description, just that it was a promising new release from the designer who captured my heart with Rykiel Woman,not for men! rich crayons of a dusky, musky hue. I was therefore a complete virgin in regards to sampling it when the genuine surprise of seeing the heavy architectural bottle subsided. Surprise, because although I had been informed that it had already launched since last autumn I had not yet located a tester. This is an irritating phenomenon that has to stop: how is it possible to sell something, a new product on top of that, without a tester available for the buyer to sample from? Some mysterious clairvoyant act of genius must transpire, I guess...

The official description promised an aromatic oriental, presumambly because of the inclusion of one of the most traditional aromatics in perfumery that has done a comeback -much like the also for long forgotten violet note- that is lavender. Now, lavender is usually a masculine element, both because of its traditional and somewhat expected inclusion in so many men's scents, from Grey Flannel to Goutal's Eau de Lavande. And to tell you the truth it is not my personal favourite note in a women's perfume, because if it is the real stuff it smells quite medicinal which I find offputting, and if it is not it's even worse; a travesty smothered in easy to swallow vanilla cream like kid's pills. If you have to have something, be a man and take it as it is, is my motto!
However, truth be told, in Belle en Rykiel it smells neither very prominent, nor masculine.
Its celebral coupling with incense, as promised by the promotion text, gave me an idea that maybe it would be an echo of Encens et Lavande by Serge Lutens, a Paris exclusive with the most gorgeous drydown (final phase) of smooth olibanum/frankincense that recalls the heavy damasc drapery of a baroque cathedral in the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
However in Belle en Rykiel, I am a little disappointed to report that the final impression is not as dramatic or richly evocative of similar decadence with the resplendour of such historical periods.

Upon spraying the light golden liquid on my wrists the tartness of mandarin and berry overtook any possible medicinal tendency lavender has, with a projection that at first seemed a bit strong for my taste. It took a while for it to unfold the powdery and sweet heliotropin which emerged triumphantly in the middle along with a garland of light incense that is nowhere near the eclesiastical dense cloud of Avignon or the sheer drama of Norma Kamali Incense.
Patchouli seems like such an ubiquitous element in half of today's perfumes that frankly, although I love its aroma, it's getting me a little bored. Here it offers its sweet ambience in compliance to the amber, never overstagging it. The bois d'acajou (mahogany) note listed is something to which I am unfamiliar with, excluding the eponymous limited edion by Etro and furniture of course, but admittedly the composition smells more like a woody oriental to me than an aromatic one.
On the whole, although Belle en Rykiel starts with somewhat of a blast it soon becomes soft and subtly sweet staying close to the skin the way another sensual Lutens scent, Chergui, does or even evoking the baked skin of L de Lolita Lempicka, the whole lasting quite a while.

Would I rush out and buy a bottle? Probably not, because I feel that it is not terribly original to warrant a purchase since I have similar things in my collection already; however it would not disappoint the woman who is tired of fruity florals or overtly foody scents and out to purchase a modern oriental that would never garner comments of it being out of synch with today's sensibilities, yet manage to smell feminine and inviting.

Belle en Rykiel comes in Eau de parfum concentration in 40, 75 and 100ml priced 40, 60 and 75 euros respectively. Available from major department stores in Europe. Soon to be released in the US and rest of the world.

Pic came uncredited to me via email, probably courtesy of Lavazza calendar campaign.

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