There are two, closely related opening statements I could've used for this review. The first is that debut scents from fashion houses have recently attained high standards of quality (check out Maison Martin Margiela's Untitled and Bottega Veneta's signature perfume). The second is that Daniela Andrier seems to have developed a specialism in making fragrances for the sorts of luxury brands which hope to be serious players on the fragrance market whilst maintaining their credibility (again, see Untitled, as well as several creations for Prada, notably Candy). Whichever one I'd chosen, the message would have remained pretty much the same: a perfume composed by Daniela Andrier for a fashion house's entree into scent is a cause for excitement. And sure enough, Marni doesn't disappoint.
It's a winner from the moment it gives you a wink and cajoles you into entering its unexpectedly exotic garden. In a manner somewhat reminiscent of Ellena's Un Jardin Sur Le Toit, fresh apples, pears and berries feature prominently in the opening, but here they're laced with a thin coating of icing sugar. Cinnamon links up to the sweetness, combining with pale cedar to offset the fruit and dispel any fears that the whole is going to resort to mainstream cliches. Then comes the heart: a confident, understated rose, suffused with the all-embracing tranquillity of incense. And finally, a pristine, musky base keeps the scent close to the skin and thwarts any accusations of crassness or loudness.
Apparently, this final version of the scent is a compromise of sorts between Creative Director Consuelo Castiglioni's desire to issue a powerful statement and the marketing execs' worries about broad appeal. As is well known, perfumes created by committee often end up becoming murky soups. But creative tension can be beneficial too, if it's channelled in the right direction. Here, Andrier has tried to please all parties not by reducing her concepts to their lowest common denominator, but by aiming for an intricate balance of opposing forces. Yes, the idea of a fruit note feels like it's come straight out of Generic Scent Inc, but its restraint and naturalness set it apart from something you'd find in, say, the last Versace feminine. Rose tends to be a safe bet, but incense isn't, especially not when it's pushed firmly into the centre. And although cutesy girliness is so prevalent as to make us all fear for the future of feminism (just say the name 'Cath Kidston' and watch me break out in a rash) here, Andrier proves that it can be pulled off with sass and brains. As if all this weren't enough, she even manages to revisit and extend structures from her own past (compare this with the floral woods of her Angelique Noire for Guerlain) and she pays homage to a perennial niche darling (there's more than a hint of L'Artisan's Mûre Et Musc here).
Like Castiglioni's designs, Marni is cheeky, elegant and well aware of the playful potential of irony. It's also on the quiet side - which will no doubt attract criticism from some quarters - but with its mix of intelligence and flirtatiousness, it deserves to be the first mainstream hit of the year. My only real complaint - and I concede this is something which won't register on the high street - is that its press release doesn't mention Daniela Andrier a single time. A shameful omission, if ever there was one. Note to PR people: give her the credit she's due, so that she can carry on making sweet little numbers like this one.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Marni in 2013.]