Thursday, August 15, 2019

Points of Contrition: What Makes a Modern Fragrance Tick?

 Several fragrances flummox the shelves of department stores nowadays, more than at any other time in history; greed is a sin. But few of those survive or make their presence memorable enough to warrant having fans mention them after their afterglow has subsided. I began wondering: what makes a contemporary fragrance tick? What makes for its saving grace?

I made a list of some of the mainstream perfumes of the last few years which really stick and explain the reasons why, in my opinion, they deserve their well-earned redemption. 

Bottega Veneta Eau de Parfum is unquestionably among the finest releases of its time; if not the best, then definitely among the top 5 best mainstream fragrance releases of the last decade. The densely fruity compote of plums recalls fruity chypres of yore, in the frame of Femme and Mitsouko, while the leathery base lends refinement and self-confidence in a way that's sensuous and alluring.  
There are four key notes in Bottega Veneta's Eau de Parfum: jasmine sambac, Brazilian pink peppercorn, bergamot, and Indian patchouli; not particularly "dirty", but richly mature. The citrus and leather are recognizable from the start, while the perfume warms increasingly with candied plum notes fanning the floral heart of jasmine, on a resinous backdrop of caramelic notes and earthy oak moss. Bottega Veneta gains in patchouli strength, nuttier and sweeter, boosted by the humming leather, the longer it stays on. By no means a powerhouse, but the sillage and tenacity are undeniably very good, always creating that spark of dreamy wonder from strangers and friends alike that is the hallmark of a great scent: "which perfume are you wearing?"

Twilly by Hermes, as I have analysed in its "sparring" with Chanel's Gabrielle, hits all the right spots with street smarts coupled with an impressive pedigree; it basically had Gabrielle for lunch. But that's beside the point when it comes to its composite elements that help make it memorable. The ginger is treated like a gauze. It's never scathing or too hot to handle and its interlacing with the white floralcy of tuberose seems novel and familiar all at once. It's impossible not to like it. Twilly's success on the market will probably be used as a focus group litmus test for other perfumes to come... so its ginger note is one that begs attention. 
The fragrance looks like a kaleidoscope of green, floral, and even earthy and woody nuances, passing before your nostrils in quick succession, as if buoyed by the golden light of a glorious afternoon full of grace when everything seems to happily melt unto itself.
Twilly by Hermes doesn't remind me of any other fragrance I know, which is admirable in today's market, and it's witty enough, light enough to appeal to younger women without appearing condescending in the least.

Nomade by Chloé is a specimen of "everything old is new again". A total surprise, probably the best mainstream release of 2018 and for all the right reasons: It is different than anything else on the roster right now, it lasts exceptionally well, it projects in a civilized but definitely perceptible way, and it unites the past with the future thanks to its alliance of an old school concept executed in an achingly contemporary way.
What starts in Nomade Eau de Parfum as a fragrance to suggest traveling forth in place, is actually a scent to take you traveling back & forth in time. The retro inclusion of a significant portion of oakmoss-smelling materials, some of them cutting edge modern analogous stuff amassed by Quentin Bisch, makes for an "a-ha" moment.

Nomade not only smells, but also lasts, like perfumes of yore, with a powdery and earthy dry down, in that it has the backbone and solidity of older fragrances, yet it's transparent on top and airy, the way contemporary fragrances project. Most young women would nowadays find it rather masculine smelling, but I admit I find it intriguing and hopeful. The opening with its tingling note of hesperidia and peppery jolt is full of motion. But it's the alliance of the apricoty-peachy heart note, which is the marvel that causes the original Eau de Parfum concentration to make me sit up and notice in particular. 
There is the good news that Nomade has been updated in recent months with an Eau de Τoilette version of the already critically acclaimed eau de parfum.

 A floral fragrance is usually associated with romantic feelings and more prim personalities who personify all that is stereotypically feminine. Cartier, who fairly recently brought out Carat, is a very classy brand and their woman perfumer-in-house, Mathilde Laurent, is anything but stereotypical, so her latest feminine fragrance might seem like a prim and proper offering, but it is much more than simply that. This shiny little gem of a bottle hides a very fetching floral fragrance that would satisfy those after a cool-type floral with softness and ladylike projection.

Cartier Carat is a soft fragrance (the way Baiser Vole by Cartier also is), but manages to project in a very piercing, prismatic manner that unfolds the floral notes one by one, with lily and hyacinth predominant on my skin.

The scent of Estee Lauder Sensuous is also rather clever, even if not particularly ground-breaking, but again balances all the ingredients and chords in an effect that would make you feel, like one reviewer said, "the victim of your own fragrance snobbery." We tend to bypass mainstream releases in favor of niche, and yet there are some mainstream releases which make us wonder what we have been neglecting, or viewing with unwarranted contempt, and Sensuous is one of those scents.
Sensuous was moving the boundaries from already well known Estee Lauder floral notes towards an opulent oriental woodsy-amber concept, to praise the beauty and sensuality of women all ages, a decade back.
Lightly spicy and quite creamy, the original Sensuous gives me a warm, soft, just right impression of lightly scented skin, in a way paying homage to the creations of Lutens (though less spicy-sweet), but also winking in the direction of Tom Ford's personal favorite Santal Blush, which is also a very creamy and smooth skin scent if you let it dry down. The sandalwood is what is most prominent on my skin, totally a creative attempt at giving that old mainstay of perfumery a valiant effort, but quite effective and very indulgent; it's skin-like at the same time as it's clean and polished, perhaps with a distant whiff of smokiness in the background.


  1. i do so agree that "bottega veneta" edp is a worthy scent... really well-composed.

    i wanted to like "sensuous", but like everything post-1990 i've tried from estee lauder, it ends up giving me a headache. odd...

    i am interested to try the "nomade". anything with a significant oakmoss component attracts me.

    on an unrelated note, why do so many people who seem not really to like perfume post reviews on perfume websites? why would they not simply stick to soap, or dryer sheets? sigh.

    1. I think people who don't like perfume getting talked about are people who would wish perfumes would vanish. For their own reasons. As we know, it's a loaded subject. The interesting thing (interesting in a perverse kinda way) is that they now feel entitled to silence else! I attribute it to the general sense of entitlement plaguing modern society.

      Unfortunately no idea on what gives you a headache re: Lauder scents. Maybe too much IsoE super? Ambroxan? These two crop up in everything and they do tend to produce overwhelming in some individuals.

  2. Anonymous06:36

    Guilty for niche snobbery right here! Anyway, is there a public source displaying the commercial success of perfumes, maybe even per region/continent?

    1. Please consult the right hand column of the blog, citing Best-sellers per country and year. This should help ;)

  3. When I read your thoughts on perfume I remember why I love coming to to visit The Perfume Shrine so much. You always define what it is that make perfume beautiful. Thank you so much!

    1. You're so sweet, thank you. Glad to have such kind readers.

  4. Wonderful article and excellent insights.

    1. Thank you so much for all your support over the years :)


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