I don't envy perfume brands the task of coming up with a 'story' for a new release. It's a thankless job, fraught with paradoxes. If the perfume is sub-standard, its accompanying narrative is seen as a underhanded way of concealing its shortcomings. But if it's any good, then it stands on its own two feet and abandons the need for extra support. Byredo's new 1996 is a case in point. I can just see sales assistants having hours of fun with all its fancy trimmings: it's named after a photo called Kirsten 1996 taken by fashion darlings Inez & Vinoodh; oh, look, you can see the photo on the packaging; the scent was originally a not-for-sale, limited edition, but it generated such a buzz (quelle surprise!) that it simply had to be made publicly available. All of this may well be true, but it's also terribly yadda yadda yadda, because the only thing you really need to know about 1996 is that it's a great piece of work.
Iris and vanilla give it its primary character, the latter imparting a full-bodied sweetness to the former's fibrous, powdery dryness, with the result that wearing the scent feels like plunging into a gigantic pile of paperbacks stored next to a sugar refinery. Remember the recent Paper Passion, Geza Schoen's attempt to capture the smell of a library? It was lame enough when it came it out, but 1996 now makes it even more embarrassing. It possesses the very same texture, the same sense of tangible excitement that comes from picking up a sought-after volume in a second-hand bookshop. And it doesn't stop there. With a smoke-free incense note and the forest-friendly optimism of violets and juniper, it also features a sharp, futuristic edginess, of the sort you might expect from the likes of Mugler.
Hefty without being oppressive, rich and syrupy without ever seeming crude, it proves that it is still possible to present frequently used accords - not least the amber in the base - in a refreshing light. And if it absolutely must have a story, my version of it would go like this. Once upon a time a classic, vanillic Guerlain got zapped into the future. It fell in love with Maria the robot from Metropolis. They had lots and lots of gorgeously smelling babies. And they lived happily ever after. The end.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Byredo in 2013.]