Friday, 4 March 2011

Review: Smart, Craft & Sharp from Andrea Maack (2010)

There are some people out there who think that Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho is superior to Hitchcock's original. Even though they fully understand that the newer version is pretty much a shot-by-shot reconstruction, they insist it brings something better to the story. As someone who spent several years immersed in the world of film studies - and therefore knows that there are all sorts of clever ways of rationalising personal preferences - my response to that is: "Fair enough... but I'm sticking with Hitch."
A similar problem is raised by the three perfumes released by Icelandic artist, Andrea Maack. I'm willing to skirt around the issue that they were originally designed not to be worn, but to scent the air at an art installation, or, as Maack would have us believe, to become an integral, olfactory component of an art installation. After all, there have been other times in the past when perfumes have been relocated from their original contexts, occasionally with great success. What I'm less willing to do is ignore the fact that they're derivative.

After a brief candle-smoke opening, Smart enters woody, rubbery, spicy territory that immediately evokes Annick Ménardo's Bulgari Black, minus the depth and complexity. Craft is essentially the smell of Badedas soap: a refreshing chestnuts-and-pine combo which, unless I'm mistaken, is achieved predominantly by bornyl acetate. And Sharp basically conveys the same sweet/fuzzy, citrus/musky oddness to be found in ELDO's Divin'Enfant.

Of the three, the one that's least like its 'original' is probably Sharp, in the sense that it doesn't feature all the layers to be found in ELDO's creation. It comes across like little more than one-third of its progenitor, stripping away Divin'Enfant's sugary floral aspect to leave the weirdness reminiscent of the synthetically scented erasers collected by thousands of primary school kids in the early 80s. But Craft is perhaps the most enjoyable, because I'm pretty sure it marks the first time that the heavenly aroma of Badedas has been bottled as a wearable perfume. And if you were to buy it, just think how little you'd have to spend on a matching shower gel!

It goes without saying that there are countless perfumes I have never tried. You can't keep up with everything, right? This means that there will inevitably be occasions in the future when a fragrance that's a copy of an earlier release will seem original to me. Indeed, if it hadn't been for @archmemory, one of my Twitter followers, I wouldn't have seen the link between Sharp and ELDO. So I'll leave you with this little conundrum:

i) The Coen Brothers' latest film is a remake of True Grit.
ii) I haven't seen the original, which is, by most accounts, a masterpiece.
iii) I found the Coens' version quite wonderful.

Does this mean I'm being too hard on Gus and Andrea?

[Review based on samples of eau de parfum obtained in 2011; fragrances tested on skin.]



  1. Well, in paiting, if you do something quite derivative of another artist, you title the painting, "Homage a' >______". I've done a number of these based on works by Haitian artists that were destroyed in the earthquake, just for my personal collection. You let people know, "This is based on work by...." And if it's a copy, you have to make that very clear. So I think you're right to be critical, if she has been making homages without attribution.

  2. I hate to be a film nerd but ... the problems with the Gus version are primarily aesthetic. The choice of colour as opposed to black-and-white, the patterned shower curtain (it's distracting from what appears through the door rather than obscuring), and the unnecessary masturbation when peering through the peephole - these are just the "crimes" I remember. It's a failure because it's imaginatively weak. Whereas the Coen brothers' "True Grit" imagines the language of the original novel (which is sadly lacking from the John Wayne version) into a cinematic equivalent. Perhaps, in the endless re-figuring and re-mixing and dubbing that is 21C culture, all we have left is a sense of authenticity to replace the chimera of originality.

  3. I think I posted a (now lost) comment somewhere about the evocative scent of Badedas, which was the height of bathtime sophistication and luxury in the pre-Molton Brown days when I was growing up. Do you suppose Things Happen when you apply Craft....?

    Sharp, the one that smells like Divin'Enfant, doesn't sound like my kind of thing. "Cold tobacco and marshmallow accord" was never going to be the most felicitous of note combinations.

  4. Marla, Maack has been very open about the fact that she's not the nose behind the perfumes; she simply commissioned a French perfume house to create some fragrances for her. So I wonder if she's even aware of the similarities with ELDO et al.

  5. Richard, please don't hate being a film nerd. Some of my favourite people are film nerds.

    And yes, you're absolutely right, there are numerous problems in Van Sant's version. I seem to recall a pointless montage in the first murder scene.

    The Maack scents don't bring anything interesting or wortwhile to perfumery, in the same way that the Psycho remake was a fairly pointless exercise.

  6. Vanessa, I can think of one thing that might happen when you apply Craft. You might make a beeline for your nearest Sainsbury's and buy some Badedas!


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