Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Madonna Truth or Dare: fragrance review

To extrapolate that Madonna's Truth or Dare celebrity fragrance is a Fracas-inspired vehicle is a given unless you had been living under a rock for the past 20 years. Not only had the reference been clearly made when the classic Fracas by Robert Piguet was re-issued under new directorship sometimes in the mid-1990s (along with the equally classic and controversial Bandit perfume) ~and Madonna was letting the world know she wore Fracas because it reminded her of her mother~ the famous quinquagenarian has been known to love tuberose and gardenia anyway. True to form, though not daringly enough, her fragrance Truth or Dare, late on the bandwagon of celebrity fumes, is indeed a sharp, loud tuberose with added side notes of waxy gardenia, coconut for a tropical feel to the white flowers and amber-musks in the base. It's the right thing to wear if you're decked in a conservative tailleur and fishnet veil with black eyeliner and red lipstick and horny after a handsome toreador just like Madonna herself was in "Take a Bow". (The image says it all, really; lady and tramp in equal measure).
via hollywoodreporter.com

Because Truth or Dare is a true celebrity perfume (the face behind it infinitely more important than the juice), but at the same time coming from a celebrity who is well known for her genuine interest in fragrances and her vast collection, I decided to evaluate the fragrance in a "game" of plus and cons. After all, Madonna has played the Madonna-Whore duality herself for decades.

The minus points
By now tuberose and gardenia have been tackled beyond the iconic Fracas in a pleiad of guises by niche perfume companies, sometimes to incredible results: The natural green and tropical vibrancy of Carnal Flower by Frédéric Malle is hard to beat. The silkiness of the initially mentholated Tubéreuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens is unsurpassable. The refinement of Beyond Love by Kilian, very close to Fracas, but a bit more natural feeling, is a wonder of artistry and nature: Calica Becker used the fresh flowers as a reference to narrow the gap between the oil and the real blossom and the injection of coconut gives a sensuous mantle of real human skin. For real gardenia we have Estée Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia which smells as real as the living thing, green buds, browning petals and all.

Madonna's effort therefore seems too little, too late. If Truth or Dare had been issued 15 or even 10 years ago (why wasn't it? that is the question) we would have been more responsive to its white flowers message. By now, it's almost a cliché. (And inspires its own caricature, please open with caution) Even Kim Kardashian has issued her very own version in her first fragrance; with an added dose of sugarcane, of course...And if rock-babe Courtney Love issues a celebrity perfume in the future, I'm sure she will get endless propositions on the same model of tuberose-gardenia given her self-proclaimed love of Fracas as well. (Whether she will capitulate though, that's another matter)

The plus points
Presenting a waxy tuberose-gardenia combo ~and a loud, unashamed one at that~ to the audience of teeny-bopper consumers who are used to sugar-laced sanitised white florals or fruity swirls with a ton of ethylmaltol & patchouli in there is commendable. Obviously not only teenagers have a right to a celebrity perfume and fans of Madge have reason to celebrate, I guess. It's not going to garner you "youthful" comments though, be prepared (Not a bad thing in itself) and if you live in a subdued environment that only tolerates "clean" non-perfumey perfumes and winces at anything else, you will have to wear this at home alone with the windows taped.

As to the perfume composition, the duality of the name Truth or Dare is cleverly built into the formula overseen by Coty. There is on the one hand the tropical, sweet, nail polish acrid, very indolic (with jasmine and jasmolactones), loud white floral tentacle with a hint of lily; lethal and femme fatale. On the other hand there is the more subdued belly of resinous ingredients, benzoin, emitting a hint of vanilla, amber and the blank canvas of synthetic musks, giving an almost monastic feel due to their subdued effect and low projection. This schizoid personality of Madonna's Truth or Dare seems totally intentional and for that reason I can't but admire the smarts (and dare I say, the guts).

Bottom Line: Madonna wouldn't be shamed to death to be caught wearing her celebrity perfume, which is more than I can say for many other celebrity scents out there. If you are a lover of Fracas, tuberose-gardenia compositions and loud, a tad vulgar-but-out-for-a-good-time perfumes, it's worth a try.

Note: The ad campaign has been deemed too racy for prime-time. Was this really unexpected? Nope...  


  1. It's curious how you mention that this should have come out 10-15 years ago, given that the commercial is a complete rip-off of the Erotica / Justify my Love phase.

    It's all a bit underwhelming, considering it's coming from the once "Goddess of Reinvention".

  2. I headed straight for Macys when I found out about Madannas perfume. I like her and was very curious. Yes, it does smell like Fracas but the drydown is not the same and doesnt anyone think her top is not as buttery somehow? I have a bottle of Fracas and had to do my comparison after the fact. I smell the coconut and the ambery musky drydown which is more modern to me than Fracas. At any rate, the mainstream younger perfume buyers will find this potent and very different from what has been on offer for so long I bet? This isn't very challenging or different and I would have expected something a little more that direction from Madonna, but hey, the bottle is kind of interesting. Sort of has a religious connotation in it's style to me. I almost bought it for the bottle, something I do not do! Since I own Fracas its hard to justify this but its not a carbon copy to my nose. Maybe I will go get a bottle!

  3. Anonymous21:29

    tried it this weekend, and liked it for a while - it has a photorealistic gardenia that really pops midway through - but then it all went kinda twangy-sour on me, and i wished it would go away. i usually do well with those base notes, so i'm not sure what's off. on the right skin, maybe this is really good. just not on mine.

    on the other hand, a surprise for me was lush's gorilla perfume lust which is a fabulous jasmine. love it!


  4. I don't think teeny boppers is her target market, though. She stopped being relevant to teens maybe 15 years ago. Her audience would be middle-aged women and gay men ... so this release should sell

  5. Madonna was good until shortly before the release of the movie Evita, now she isn't good. I'm lukewarm on tuberose, probably because I haven't had a lot experience with it. This should have been released probably 20 years ago.

  6. Not fond of anything that has a coconut smell for it gives me that sicky suntan lotion feel! Yik.
    I will try it when it reaches Oz .
    I do not see the clip as "racey" but a bit "sad" --- seen it all before Mad's.

  7. P,

    exactly, the ad is rather old. Then again with a name like that, I guess it was a natural to go that route.

  8. Stelma,

    I agree with you: it's not as buttery. It's also rather different on the drydown, as you succinctly point out.
    I guess it's not a bad choice if you like that sort of thing and it's not priced too high. You could wait a bit of time to see it hitting the discounters though!

  9. J,

    funny, I think it has to do with some filler or extender to the tuberose as I got that nail polish note that is so peculiar and can turn sour. The gardenia is taken from the EL one and seems 'true" enough, as you say. The whole however somehow lacks compared to Fracas, don't you find?

    Plus it would be a problem for those who hate tuberose. It's not just a pretty white floral. But Madonna has never been one to shy from offering something polarizing.

  10. Leonel,

    you're absolutely right! Great point.
    I was thinking more of how it stands alongside other celebrity fumes aimed at teens and (very) early 20-somethings.

  11. Eld,

    I haven't really followed that closely to be able to pronounce such a definitive view on her "best" and "fallow" periods. I did like her "Secret" song very much, which is from when, 2006? Nothing memorable comes to mind later than that, but that might be just me.
    But my choice for best video clip (and best look for her!) is "Bad Girl"....(I believe from the same period)

    It certainly made sense to release a Madonna perfume when her name was making headlines at an hysterical pace and when not every Z celebrity had a deal with Coty and Parlux. Not that she's not relevant now, but...you know.

    If you shy away from tuberose, rest well away!!

  12. M,

    perfectly put! Then again I guess being in Australia and Europe respectively we have a rather more lenient TV board, so...I found it a recap of things and it just seems "old" when you're known for always changing your style and re-inventing yourself (which was the game she had cornered). That's the danger with growing old when you're a chameleon; how many times can a tiger change its stripes? ;-)

    It's worth a sniff, though I believe the airier, more "aerated" Jardins de Bagatelle tuberose is more your speed.

  13. Gosh, I felt it wasn't right that I mentioned Bad Girl in the same breath with Secret and just checked and Bad Girl is from Erotica album in the 90s. Goes to show how much I paid attention afterwards. Stelma you have a point there!

  14. Anonymous15:21

    Hi, I haven't smelled ToD yet, but look forward to testing it.
    I am a buttery-tuberose lover.

    Something in your review made me think: all the great tuberose dames you mention have a very limited distribution, and, in a couple of cases, extremely high price tags.
    I would love to find a great white floral in wide, mainstream distribution.

    For what concerns the Lauder, I own a bottle and regret my purchase. the fragrance has no base, and after a couple of wearings you realize that the florals are a bit thin, shrill, and annoying... It is simple, but not so pretty as it seems when you look up close, IMO. Besides, in my country PCTG is distributed only in a handful of EL counters... So, as I said, I'll forward to ToD, though that bottle is hideous and the celebrity perfume concept is not pour me plaire...

    - Zazie

  15. Anonymous19:52

    elena, i think you're right - the whole thing pales in the face of fracas, but then most scents would! there IS a slight fracas-like whiff in this right off the top, though, and that i liked. but the tuberose allusion faded quickly, then came the realistic gardenia, and then that oddly sour dry down.

    but i'll probably try it again, because things smell different on different days. don't really need another tuberose-gardenia blend though, so it probably won't come home with me.


    1. It's rather good for what it is, certainly a very good fragrance for the mainstream and therefore worthy in the celebo-scent-world of fruit salads. Then again when there's Fracas, why bother? But there's a place for both, I'd wager.

  16. I don't understand what happened to this perfume, at the beginning I was absolutely in love with it, I adored it, in fact it began my perfume obsession, and now it is horrible. Could a perfume's formula change so drastically on its second batch??

    1. Really? I mean, really??? Seems very odd. Have you allowed it to "set" a bit? Sometimes this happens with very freshly made bottles. Or could it be that it's an older bottle past its "expiration" date? Sometimes some perfumes don't age well (though can't say I would expect this from something this recent). Keep us posted on how it goes.


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