Friday, July 15, 2011
Reviews: Shalimar Parfum Initial from Guerlain and Miss Dior Chérie Blooming Bouquet from Christian Dior (2011)
Okay, here we go. Time to bite the bullet and articulate my thoughts on what is unquestionably one of the most important perfume releases of the year, regardless of the merits of the juice itself.
There have, of course, been previous Shalimar flankers, some of them quite highly regarded. But Parfum Initial is asking to be seen in a different light. The packaging calls it an "initiation into Guerlain's most legendary fragrance," inviting us to perceive the release as an attempt to reinterpret past achievements for the tastes and demands of a new generation. It also marks a crucial stage in Thierry Wasser's development as the firm's in-house nose. This is by no means the first scent he's created for the brand, but - following Jean-Paul Guerlain's hasty removal from the LVMH payroll last year - the fates decided that this would be the perfume which would mark Wasser's emergence from the shadow of his paternalistic mentor.
In other words, it's a flanker that has much more to prove than almost all others. Does it rise to the challenge? No, of course it doesn't, but then I'm not sure anything could. Even No. 5 Eau Premiere, beautiful though it may be, begs the question, 'Why mess with No. 5?' and when you take it upon yourself to reinvent what's generally considered to be one of the greatest perfumes ever made - possibly the greatest oriental - the chances of pulling off a victory are infinitesimally small.
Then again, Wasser's effort deserves to be considered on its own merits, even if up to a point. With this in mind, I should start by stating that its juice is not pink, contrary to the horrified claims made on several blogs when news of its release was revealed. Secondly, it is housed in one of the most attractive mainstream bottles I've seen for a long time, an elegant, elongated version of the Jade Jagger design unveiled last year for Shalimar proper. So far, so good.
But what of the scent? Well, one thing's for sure: it features a much higher dose of iris notes than you'll find in Jacques Guerlain's original. So high, in fact, that you can't help making the association which most often accompanies an iris overload: carrots. Suddenly you picture Shah Jahan turning his famed gardens into a giant allotment, complete with bunnies nibbling on root vegetables. Not what you'd call an auspicious start.
Beneath the iris are recognisable elements of the original fragrance. The amber note comes through, perhaps a touch sweeter. The civet is pretty much intact. The bergamot - the quantity of which makes Jacques Guerlain's creation so distinctive - is toned down. Yes, all these factors are present, and they do complement each other to an extent, but they never lock into place with the same rightness that makes you gasp with pleasure each time you smell Shalimar.
Like its predecessor, Parfum Initial operates on several planes: its sillage radiates the smoky, ambery notes of resins; when you get closer, the animalic tones emerge; closer still and you get the powdery vanilla aspects. But again, the effect of this is to make you think Wasser has indulged in an intellectual exercise in perfume experimentation, which is rather different from creating a fragrance that speaks for itself with a bold, original voice.
It's never unpleasant, it's better than most high-street releases and it may well turn out to be fairly successful, but ultimately, Parfum Initial does not justify the need for its own existence. My only hope is that its release signals the moment when Wasser gets the burden of the past off his shoulders and faces the future with a more courageous vision of his professional aspirations.
A final word on pink fragrances. Dior have just released Miss Dior Chérie Blooming Bouquet, which looks like it's been coloured by the same dye used in the production of candy floss. This is without doubt the most upsetting 'prestige label' creation I've smelt so far this year. I'm not a fan of Miss Dior Chérie's juvenile strawberry-patchouli combo anyway, but this latest iteration marks a new low. It's shrill, nasty and smells cheaper than fabric softener. There is a moment - a painfully brief moment - when it displays a floral note that's just about bearable, but other than that, it's a barrage of sneering white musks. Somewhere out there is a focus group which gave the seal of approval to this concoction. Throw its members into a giant vat of the stuff, I say, and see how much they like swimming in their bloomin' bouquet.
[Review of Shalimar Parfum Initial based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Guerlain in 2011; review of Miss Dior Chérie Blooming Bouquet based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Christian Dior in 2011; fragrances tested on skin.]