Friday, 23 September 2011

Reviews: J'Adore eau de toilette from Christian Dior, Angel eau de toilette from Thierry Mugler and Candy from Prada (2011)

[Review of J'Adore based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Christian Dior in 2011; review of Angel based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by in 2011; review of Candy based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by in 2011; all fragrances tested on skin.]

Over the last few months, I seem to have typed the words 'unnecessary' on an alarming number of times. I feel the adjective creeping towards the tips of my fingers again whilst I consider what to write about the new eau de toilette of J'Adore. I realise I ought to avoid asking the question 'Do we really need this release?' because I suppose its very existence means that, in some corner of the world, the answer is Yes, otherwise the gods of LVMH wouldn't have bothered creating it. Perhaps somewhere in Brazil or China, there's an army of shoppers overjoyed by the fact that Calice Becker's original floral accord - or what's left of it - has now been squirted by a sweet tangerine, courtesy of Francois Demachy. If so, then all I can say is that I'm very happy for them, because I hate the thought of all those new, elongated bottles going to waste.

As for me, well, I won't be recommending this latest iteration to any friends. It starts with the aforementioned citrus note - which isn't very prominent on paper, so if you like the sound of it, be sure to test the scent on skin - before revealing a hint of the familiar J'Adore signature, all but concealed beneath an overdose of washing detergent musks. So yes, you get a suggestion of an immaculate rose garden, but only when the wind's blowing the right way and you're not assaulted by the odour coming from the direction of the washing line: someone's hung the bedsheets out to dry, after rinsing them in much more than just a capful of Lenor. The overall effect is juvenile, which is a sad word to use to describe what was a memorable fragrance when Carmen Kass first stepped into a pool of liquid gold. Never mind: we still have J'Adore L'Or - which successfully takes the basic idea to the realm of mid-20th century aldehydic classics - and my favourite of the range, the heavy-hitting, seductive Absolu. The good folks of Rio and Beijing can have the edt.

There's a crude legibility in many fragrances released in the last 18 months or so. Don't get me wrong, a certain measure of legibility is an attribute. Take the work of Bertrand Duchaufour, for instance. One of its most attractive features is the manner in which it allows the individual notes of each creation to stand out as separate constituents of a whole, whilst ensuring that the seam between the disparate elements is invisible. In Traversée Du Bosphore you can detect the apples, the sugar, the rose water and the iris, yet you can't quite tell where one ends and another starts. Several mainstream scents seem to have abandoned this quest for balance in favour of a balder, more overtly attention-seeking tactic. This particular style of perfumery - if 'style' is the right word - puts me in mind of musical scores for the sorts of films where audiences have to be told every two minutes exactly what they should be thinking and feeling. Tinkly piano = You will now succumb to overwhelmingly romantic emotions. Heavy drums and screeching violins = You will be very, very scared.

As it happens, the J'Adore edt is a perfect example of what I'm referring to. At its core lies the kernel of Becker's idea, but the citrus opening is so heavy-handed, I wonder if it hasn't deliberately been designed to be obvious, so that shoppers can bask in the illusion that they've been very clever by spotting the gigantic mandarin under their noses. Am I being too cynical... or is a multi-national perfume house's decision to make its perfumes easier to 'read' an indication that it wants to give its customers a false sense of discernment and empowerment?

The question brings me to the new eau de toilette of another 90s classic: Mugler's Angel. I concede that it works fairly well - and comes in a striking flacon - but again, I can't stop myself from calling it unnecessary. Not unlike the J'Adore, it takes the edp's oft-imitated patchouli / ethyl maltol combo and hangs it beneath a semaphore opening that will have customers across the world patting themselves on the back and proclaiming, 'Oh, I get it! It's just like the original Angel... but with tons of grapefruit and mint at the start!' Perhaps the intention here has been to win over those potential customers who have always been put off by the edp's refusal to compromise. But then one of the main points of Angel is the very fact that it polarises opinion. An Angel that tries to please everybody is arguably a betrayal of its own celestial soul. The edt is much more than merely wearable - and I should stress that it's superior to most mainstream fare - but when placed alongside the original, it's pretty thin and it leaves far less to the imagination, especially when it reaches its soapy, almost anisic drydown. Stick to the edp... and if you've never tried it, then for heaven's sake, grab the wings of any passing cherub and fly to your nearest department store.

And finally, we come to a scent that has most definitely been inspired by Mugler's ode to the warm, fuzzy feelings of childhood: Daniela Andrier's Candy for Prada. "Silly, but with brains" is what I wrote in my notebook when first trying the perfume, and I'm sticking with that assessment. This is precisely the sort of 'almost, but not quite' fragrance I enjoy best. It's almost Angel, but it has a distinct identity of its own. It's almost too sweet, but it knows when to darken the ethyl maltol with burnt woods and musks. It's almost too synthetic, but it never becomes unconvincing. It's almost too linear, but it keeps surprising you with sly winks during the course of the day. In short, it's a treat to wear. Indeed, it's as much fun as lying in bed on the Sunday morning after the Saturday night before, enjoying endless Werther's Originals. All of which makes it the best type of unnecessary: you know you don't need it, but you can't help reaching for more.


In a departure from the usual way in which I end posts, I'd like to show you a couple of perfume adverts, in case you haven't seen them already. The first is for the new J'Adore and I'm presenting it here mostly because so many people have taken against it, whereas I happen to think it fulfils its function very well indeed. In fact, I think it displays a sardonic wit that is sorely lacking in the scent itself. And the second one is for Candy and showcases the 'Silly, but with (a larger-than-expected quantity of) brains' concept with aplomb. Let me know what you make of them.




  1. I can't help but dwell on a line in the musical score of the Dior commercial - "If it's already been done, undo it!"
    That seems to be exactly what they are doing...
    I enjoyed reading that post a lot, thank you.

  2. Olfactoria, that's precisely one of the reasons why I think the ad is so clever. There's a lot more going on in it than in the perfume.

    And thanks for the kind words about the post.

  3. About the Prada: I'd also written an original version of my own review in something along the lines of "intelligent but hiding it under silliness". When this type of insight happens to more than one reviewer, I tend to think that the intention of the perfume is legible (Mon Parfum Chéri is eliciting the same reactions), and therefore fulfills a clear intention on the part of the perfumer.

    Which bring me to your remarks on a style such as Duchaufour's: again, clear intention, but great balance and complexity in the narrative.

    But it's what you said about the tweaked classics that struck me. I was just having that discussion with someone, and I think Octavian raised the point in a post: people are HAPPY when they recognize a familiar smell. We've all experienced that personally, and with unitiated friends when we named a note and watched their face light up.
    So of course it's a canny commercial move, and you do well to point it out.

  4. I would go along with your review of Prada Candy and am glad you like it too - there's a definite darker edge to it underneath the fluff and frivolity. I too keep reaching for more! : - )

  5. I really liked your impression about Angel EDT "An Angel that tries to please everybody is arguably a betrayal of its own celestial soul."

    Having not tried it yet, I can see where you're coming from all the same.

    In response to the perfume ads, yawn! I don't know what the creators, or perfume houses are thinking when they run with these ideas. It's the same thing every time, either half naked models, models in a tizzy, models prancing around and all contain unrealistic lifestyles. Just a pet peeve of mine, but where's the creativity gone?

  6. Carmencada, thanks for your comment. Yes, you're right, people DO seem to gain pleasure from 'note spotting' (and I don't exclude us from that group). It makes me wonder when perfume became a puzzle to be solved. I suppose that trying to discern its mechanics has always been some small part of its appeal (at least for certain people) but this business of trying to pin down the ingredients seems like a fairly new trend. It almost smacks of one-upmanship, in a way.

    And as for the Annick Goutal... it's on my review list...

  7. Vanessa, it certainly sounds as though it's going to be quite a hit for Prada.

  8. Liam, I'm sorry you didn't like the J'Adore, but you certainly seem to be in the majority. I must admit I think the ad works. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. I actually take it as a barbed comment on current obsessions with the cult of celebrity... but then I did always like finding hidden depths where there weren't necessarily any.

  9. Glad you lumped all these together because I find there is a common thread between them - sweet and silly as you say, dare I add boring?
    The bottom line is: would you buy a bottle of this and want to wear it every day?
    Are you going to live long enough that you plan to sacrifice wearing the really good stuff, in order to wear any of these?
    Answer to both these questions for me is a resounding no!

  10. You mention the "note-spotting" trend, which one has to give some thought to when one writes about perfume.
    I think there are two answers. One concerns the online perfume community and the way we had to forge a language to write about the subject. There is a kind of one-upmanship, a bravura in the "spot that molecule" exercise - I think Luca Turin and Chandler Burr influenced the genre quite a lot.

    As for less specialized consumers, I would say that in the same way we become more and more concerned with the provenance of our food, with traceability and transparency, there is a stronger drive to connect with "traceable" notes which at least smell of something that exists in the real world, if not in nature directly. As though you'd be less "tricked" than you would with a more abstract composition.

  11. And then there's the music for "Candy". Age 40 is a mere dot on the horizon of my rear view mirror now. Perhaps that's why the song "Running Wild" could bring to mind Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot"

    - Kit

  12. Carmencanada, you raised some interesting points. Whether you can spot a note or not, for me perfume, like great art, comes down to the question of whether it touches you and makes an emotianal impact.
    When you Google the ingredients list on some perfumes it's quite a shocking thing. Some pay no homage to nature and don't rise above being one step above the cleaning products that lurk below the kitchen sink. Other perfume houses do at least recognise that natural ingredients add that je ne sais quois that has atracted humans to perfume for centuries. I liked the review but I think that none of the perfumes above will make any lasting impression on the world of perfumery.

  13. Anon, I definitely wouldn't say the Prada's boring. But your comment made me think of something someone once said to me: a perfume isn't worth wearing unless you're willing to forsake your soul for it. Now there's a challenge for LVMH.

  14. Carmencanada, I think you're right, especially when it comes to the traceability issue. Maybe that's part of the reason all-natural perfumes are enjoying success at the moment.

  15. Kit, thanks very much for the link. I'll check it out soon.

  16. I would add that even notes/accords that conjure something familiar and recognizable, without necessary referencing nature (caramel, for instance) or resorting to natural ingredients, produce that "hey I got it" pleasure.
    That said, you're right, the concern for traceability is certainly part of the appeal of 100% natural and organic perfumes.

  17. Carmencada, yes, you're absolutely right: the recognisable smells don't have to be natural at all.

    I eagerly await the release of Eau De New Car.

  18. The way you write really resonates with me. It's that sensory fusion of scent and sound and colour that makes fragrance really exciting for me - the screeching violins, the attention seeking - I totally get it! This is the way I love to see fragrance described. It brings it to life and makes me feel the way you should feel when you encounter new scents.

    (I'm still undecided about Angel EDP and I've owned it for years. I want to like it more than I do but it makes me feel like a different person when I wear it which also makes me love it dearly. Perfume is amazing).

    1. Soup, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you've enjoyed the blog... and as for Angel EDP, don't worry, you're not the only one who still doesn't know quite what to make of it.


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