Friday, December 21, 2012

Playing Catch-Up: Autumn/Winter 2012 (part 2) - from Balmain to Liz Earle


As promised last week, here's the second phase of my move to tick a few names off my 'Should Review' list.

Apart from oud, if there was one trend that continued to grip the mainstream in 2012, it was fruity shampoo accords (the sort which can trace their lineage to Sophia Grojsman's Calyx). I tend not to have much time for such creations - largely because they're the very definition of cheap and nasty - but I also believe that just about any idea can be made worthwhile through skilful execution. Cue: the 2012 version of Balmain's Ivoire. When you've got someone like Michel Almairac at the helm (in collaboration with Jacques Flori) chances are that the final result will at least be wearable, and sure enough, this stylish composition doesn't disappoint on that front. Its secret weapon is restraint (employed equally well by Almairac in his Bottega Veneta creation). So yes, it is fruity, clean, soapy, shampoo-y and musky in ways you've smelt before, but it manages to come across as affluent rather than effluent... sorry, I meant 'bog-standard'. If you're after a comparison with the 1979 original, I'm afraid I can't help you, but I'd love to hear from anyone who's done a side-by-side test.

Another designer brand which has decided to release an 'exclusive' range is Oscar De La Renta. Silly me, I was expecting its debut sextet to aim for the standards set by Chanel, Dior and Cartier; regrettably, it's aligned itself with the likes of D&G and Boss. In short, this is a pretty dismal set. But hey, at least it provides more proof that the less there is to say about a perfume, the greater the chance that it isn't any good. So let's just dispense with all six as quickly as possible, shall we? Ready? See if you can get to the end of the para without taking a breath... Mi Corazon is a terribly ordinary tuberose. Oriental Lace is a sweet amber wearing a sign around its neck saying, 'Surplus To Requirements'. Coralina gets off to an interesting, L'Heure Bleue-style start, but plummets into illegible silliness. Sargasso presents a promising marine accord at its opening, then loses both strength and character. Granada opts for a sweet, citrusy cologne feel which works fairly well... until the musky drydown cliches appear. And Santo Domingo conveys some authority with its '70s man' vibe (queasy lemon combined with Pledge) but it doesn't have the Kouros-sized balls to pull off this sort of thing and ends up being rather comical. The idea of linking the fragrances with a Hispanic thread is great, but sorry: the juices just ain't up to scratch.

Evody isn't a brand whose perfumes seized my imagination, despite the fevered prose on their wbesite ("headiness bordering on ectsasy...", "unlocks the secret codes of delicacy, luxury and passion..." etc etc). As is the case with so many niche houses, their strategy seems to have been to release competently-made, comfortable scents which aim to please as large a number of people as possible. Needless to say, when you set your sights on the lowest common denominator, you end up making yourself indispensable to nobody. And in an over-saturated market, fragrances can't afford to be anything less than absolute must haves. But anyway, Cuir Blanc may find a few fans with its dry, musky, Tuscan Leather-wannabe construction. Pomme D'Or opens with an interesting green apple facet which segues into soapy lemon zest before losing its way. Note De Luxe attempts to play the role of an aldehydic jasmine-bomb, but it quickly falls flat. And as for the others I sampled... well, they're pretty forgettable and hardly worth mentioning.

Speaking of forgettable fragrances, a little while ago, Space NK commissioned Azzi Glasser to create a charity scent whose profits would partly support Women For Women International. What emerged from this project is In Peace, a straightforward, undemanding iris with the requisite paleness and a few hints of carroty, fibrous rootiness. Sadly, it doesn't have the verve you'd hope for from something that's meant to be inspirational and life-affirming. So whilst I'm all for supporting a good cause, I can't say this tempted me to burn Madame Persolaise's bras. But then militancy isn't terribly fashionable these days. Perhaps Glasser's very intention was to present subtlety and silence. If so, she has succeeded. But for the concept to hold together, surely the quietness would need to be married to dogged persistence, and that's where In Peace doesn't deliver.

Liz Earle is a brand which seems to have generated fervent loyalty, despite being part of the decidedly non-hip Avon group. I have it on reliable authority that the concentrated juice of their latest fragrance - Botanical Essence No 15 - is considerably more expensive per kilo than that of your average high street mix, yet the retail price of the bottled edp easily falls into the affordable range. I'm not quite sure how this has been achieved - apparently it has something to do with "retail magic" - but what I can tell you is that 'cheap' is not a word you could hurl at this stuff. An unusual, part-fresh, part-viscous composition, it occupies the ground where sweet tea notes overlap with heavy resins and smoky (but not dirty) wood facets. It does become a touch too thin as it develops (and begins to resemble Spicebomb; see last week's post) but it won me over with its intriguing, reassuring softness.

To finish on a positive note, let's turn to James Heeley and one of three extraits he released towards the end of 2011. L'Amandière is the missing link between Après L'Ondée and L'Eau D'Hiver. Or perhaps it's one side of a triangle formed by all three scents. Either way, it functions beautifully as a musing on the twilit moment between the death of one season and the birth of another. Grassy notes peek through a layer of dew. The faintly sugary tang of linden blossom heralds a beam of vernal brightness. And of course, the almond note prevails, green, anisic, sharp, and as irresistible as a blush on a smiling face.

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That's your lot for 2012. I haven't quite covered every single release on my list, but I've deliberately held back a few for next year, including Bertrand Duchaufour's creations for the jeweller, Ann Gerard, a set of perfume oils from Brunco Acampora (recent additions to Les Senteurs) and a whole new range of funkily packaged Gorilla scents. Fingers crossed, I'll be able to review all or some of these in 2013.

Be sure to come back next Friday for my Best Of 2012 list!

[Reviews based on samples provided by Balmain, Oscar De La Renta, Evody, Space NK and Les Senteurs.]

Persolaise.

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