I went malling this week! Here’s the first installment of mini-reviews for the Top 20 Bestselling Women’s Fragrances in the US for 2011. (Thanks again for the push, Ari.) All images are from Fragrantica.
Chanel No. 5 – I have a long history of familiarity with No. 5, and reviewed the parfum here. I have been wont to grab a spritz or two from the tester when I breeze through the mall (it’s not often, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). I tried the EdP last summer and was surprised that I did not like it much; there’s an odd plasticky sort of accord in the drydown that seems out of place and just plain wrong. In Perfumes: The Guide, Luca Turin says that the EdP composition contains Polysantol, described as “the oily and prodigiously durable sandalwood drydown of Samsara.” (I didn’t mind Samsara so much, but I do admit that it smelled cheap to me, which I declare to be unforgivable in a Guerlain.) My store doesn’t have a parfum tester, so I make do with the EdT, which is still lovely and instantly identifiable as No. 5. I begin to wonder whether so many people continue to buy it because it is a) Chanel, the epitome of “classy” to so many Americans, b) despite reformulation, still smells mostly like itself, thus c) recognizable. No. 5 still has its furious whirlwind of soapy-whooshy aldehydes, and its golden-glow floral heart of rose, jasmine and ylang. It’s still worth wearing.
Coco Mademoiselle – this, as regular readers might remember, is the other fragrance, besides Dune, that my younger sister has forever banned me from wearing because she’s claimed it as hers. What she hadn’t realized is that her Coco Mlle is safe from me: I don’t like it. I smell it on a lot of women our age (30s and 40s) in this area, and I don’t like it on them, and I sure don’t like it on me. It’s a patchouli bomb on me, with a sharp screechiness to the topnotes and a muddy indistinctness to the floral notes. I wore it every day for about two weeks in 2011, connecting with a character I was writing whose signature scent it was. (Would it surprise you to find that I took an intense dislike to the character and stalled out on writing her story?) CM smells quite different on my sister: its florals are soft, and the woody structure comes to the front. On her, it smells something like the beautiful drydown of vintage Arpege, a tailored woody-vetiver-patchouli rendered less austere by a lovely rose-and-ylang heart. I can only hope that CM smells like that on people other than myself. I suspect, however, that CM is getting bought by women who want a Chanel fragrance, but who consider themselves too young for their mothers’ No. 5 and Coco, and too old for the Chance flankers.
Dior J’Adore – I described my reaction to J’Adore when I reviewed J’Adore L’Absolu. I’ll recap: I wanted to like J’Adore. I liked the “get real” message in that glitzy Charlize Theron ad, and I made a point to go to the mall to smell it. (This is such a big deal for me, I can’t emphasize it enough that I simply do not drive 20 miles and half an hour to the mall unless there is something there I need and can’t get somewhere else, preferably closer to home, or better yet, online. Lately, I need to go smell perfume.) I was hoping for a beautiful floral, something I can’t resist. However, I was disappointed in J’Adore: it smells vaguely floral, but mostly it is screechy and chemical, lab-created, a tinny-voiced, porn-perfect airbrushed idea of a real woman. I don’t think it started out that way, but Dior seems bent on screwing up every single good fragrance they’ve ever produced.
(Dune’s probably next, y’all. Go buy some before they screw it up, too.)
Dolce et Gabbana Light Blue – This is the other popular fragrance I smell on other people in the area, and it seems to cover a lot of demographics, from retirees to college students. I had a coworker that wore it, and some days she smelled wonderful in it. Other days, it was recognizably Light Blue, but a horrid chemical accident. My theory is that overapplication made a difference, or possibly getting it on clothes prolonged the rubbing-alcohol topnotes to the point of discomfort. I have spent a lot of time making fun of Light Blue, because when I smelled it on purpose, it was on a smelling strip, and it was truly awful. I was surprised when I actually put it on my skin for the first time: it was nice. There’s a lemon-green apple astringency that does stick around for a long time, and it bears a significant resemblance to shampoo, but there’s a nice quiet woody-musk in there that became more and more prominent on my skin. It actually settled in and got comfortable after awhile. It smells relentlessly clean, in a lemon-cedar-laundry sort of way, actually. I still wouldn’t buy this, but I understand the appeal now. Actually, Light Blue began reminding me of Marc Jacobs Daisy after awhile, and I still like Daisy a lot, for an undemanding wallpaper scent.
Estee Lauder Beautiful – You know I have difficulties with Lauder scents. I’ll repeat why: it’s not the idea that Lauder is downmarket and not worth my consideration. I grew up wearing drugstore stuff, and Lauder was definitely upscale for my family. It’s not that I think they’re stupid or cheesy or haphazardly thrown together. My aunts all wear Estee Lauder fragrances (Aunt Doris wears Beyond Paradise, Aunt Becky wears Pleasures, Aunt Cindy wears Knowing), and they smell great. All the time. It’s not even that Estee Lauder makes my Most Hated Fragrance of All Time: Youth Dew. (Gah. Hurl City. No, I won’t go on complaining about it.) It’s that every single time I try one of these scents, I love them for an hour or two, and then I want to cut my arms off. It’s not so much something I smell down in the base, as it is something that just makes me queasy. First I feel irritable for no reason, and then I get nauseated. I Just Can’t Do It.
I didn’t like Beautiful when it came out in the 80s. I was in high school and college at the time, and I’d smelled Beautiful in scent strips in magazines, and I was taken by the idea of smelling beautiful, so I’d occasionally drop by the mall with my housemates and hit the fragrance counter. I’d pick up the Beautiful tester and put a weensy spritz on my arm, and my nose would crinkle up with displeasure, because it didn’t smell anything like my idea of how a beautiful fragrance should smell. It was so dense and heavy and complicated – and remember, at that time I was still wearing Karl Lagerfeld Chloe, which was a big ol’ white floral bomb with aldehydes and some ripe fruit notes, resting on a kitchen-sinky drydown of woods and musk and moss and civet and vetiver and younameit, it’sinthere, so I was used to dense-heavy-complicated florals.
But I’d promised myself that I’d give the Lauder fragrances on the bestselling list some real consideration this time, beyond just saying to myself, “Oh, those never work on me.” So this go-round, I sprayed two hefty spritzes of Beautiful on my scarf. And the way it smells on my scarf is likely the way it is supposed to smell! It starts off with a hit of old-fashioned perfumey aldehydes, under which is a bit of citrus and an also-old-fashioned smoky vetiver-tobacco-geranium-rose thing. I still don’t like that part much, but it smells very 80s, all dense and complicated and grand, Dynasty-evening-gown sequins and shoulder pads. Gradually, Beautiful slides into a panorama of rich florals: I can pick out marigold and jasmine and that slightly screechy geranium-rose Tea Rose thing, as well as some ylang, but the carnation seems dominant after several hours, and I like it very much. There may be some heliotrope in there too. Eventually, there’s a soft woody base underneath the florals, with perhaps some amber or vanilla; the floral sweetness stays for a long, long time.
On my scarf, it never pulled up what I think of as The Evil Lauder base, and although I kept sniffing and resniffing my scarf over a period of several hours, I didn’t get nauseated or irritable at all. Beautiful is actually very lovely, if very much of its time, and if it smells like this on people I’m not surprised it’s still selling well. It’s very much a “signature scent” sort of thing, I would think.