Walking through the fragrance aisles of Sephora makes me feel as if I am browsing through a Hello magazine with the names like Britney Spears, J.Lo, Paris Hilton, and Kimora Lee Simmons popping before my eyes. However, I am selecting the fragrances labeled with names famous for things that are only tangentially related to fashion and fragrance on purpose. Currently, there is a strong trend for celebrity fragrances, with new offerings coming up what seems like every week. From Celine Dion to Nicole Richie and Maria Sharapova, celebrity status and perfume come hand in hand. From a perfume industry perspective, any brand capable of selling fragrance is welcomed, given the changes in its business model and the high rate of competition. The number of releases is increasing each year, with the consumers exhibiting less and less loyalty to a single scent. While the number of new fragrances in the 1950s were around 10-20 per year, with the average market life of a product around 15-20 years, in the recent decade, there are close to 150-200 launches each year, with the market life averaging 3!
I cannot help but feel a bit of reticence, especially in light of the fact that I have no particularly strong desire for any specific celebrity perfume, simply because it bears a famous name. Should I happen to dislike the celebrity in question, then I might be less eager to try their perfume. However, are such pre-conceived notions justified? In order to answer this question, I stand in front of fragrance shelves in Sephora resolutely glancing past Annick Goutal and Bvlgari to try Alan Cumming The Fragrance and Britney Spears Fantasy. I briefly contemplate a blind testing, however for the sake of preserving a sane appearance, I decide that an open mind shall do. …
To say that I have never liked celebrity fragrances is not quite true, because I enjoyed the orange blossom and musk redolent softness of J.Lo Glow, which debuted in 2003. Jennifer Lopez Live is what I reach for first. It is warm and pretty, with a sheer fruity note that is between pineapple and rose. I wear my sample over the next couple of days and discover it to be a rather well-composed fragrance that does pretty without saccharine preciousness and vanilla without pastry associations.
Britney Spears Fantasy poses a little bit of trouble, as my serenity is assaulted by its fuschia bottle encrusted with rhinestones. Bottle design is not an afterthought in the fragrance development process, therefore I wonder what juice it might contain. Yet, one does not wear the bottle, and my goal is to sample with an open mind. The fragrance opens up on a fruit salad note touched by sheer florals and dries down to a creamy vanilla with an overlay of woods. It is a nicely done gourmand fragrance, and even if I find it too sweet for my tastes, the result is fairly sophisticated, especially once the strawberry syrup element retreats into the background. I also revisit Curious, which is far less complex by comparison, even though it is a very wearable floral fragrance, with a pretty magnolia note.
By the time I reach Paris Hilton, I feel quite pleased with myself. The entire process feels neutral and scientific, even though complete neutrality is impossible in the matters as subjective as fragrance. For the purposes of my task, I would borrow a phrase from the anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s The Interpretation of Cultures, “Just because a perfectly aseptic environment is impossible does not mean we might as well conduct surgery in a sewer.” Thus, I try Paris Hilton. I revisit it again later for a proper impression, which is of peaches and musk. It is sweet and girly, with a sugary fruit accord. Again, the level of sweetness is higher than what I can tolerate, but for someone who likes sweet fruity fragrances, it is a decent choice. For $39 (1.7oz), I find it to be a far more interesting option than the newest Vanille Peach from Comptoir Sud Pacifique.
I proceed further and reach for actor Alan Cumming’s fragrance, which reminds me of an overcast fall day, with the scents of damp earth and decaying leaves filling the air. There is something chilly about the composition despite the warmth of woods and tobacco. Despite its lack of staying power on my skin, I like a touch of smokiness that persists elegantly in the base notes. In fact, I do not mind reapplying, just to get the effect again and again.
I return home with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears on one arm and Alan Cumming and Jennifer Lopez on another. This fact is a little eerie, if I think about it too much, however I do not. Over the next few days I revisit my samples and make two discoveries. First, the fragrances are often well-composed, which is not surprising as many are done by famous noses. By way of example, Dominique Ropion who created Jennifer Lopez Live is also responsible for such fragrances as Givenchy Ysatis, Caron Aimez Moi, Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie, Vétiver Extraordinaire, and soon to be released Carnal Flower, among many others. Steven Demercado, who along with Loc Dong worked on a dewy gardenia that is Marc Jacobs Perfume, created Paris Hilton’s eponymous fragrance (in collaboration with James Krivda, who is the nose behind Britney Spears Fantasy).
Second, my original assumption that the fragrance style would be developed in order target a particular group with a following for the celebrity in question is only partially true. On the one hand, the fragrances bearing Britney Spears’ and Paris Hilton’s names are certainly sweet and girly, however, the gourmand fragrances with fruity notes tend to be popular in general as demonstrated by Lolita Lempicka (1997) and Christian Dior Miss Dior Cherie (2005). Yet, Jennifer Lopez Glow as well as Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely seem to avoid obvious clichés. On the other hand, the packaging is definitely a targeting device, and it is the only aspect of certain celebrity fragrances that I find off-putting, given my personal lack of interest in anything pink hued and bedecked in rhinestones. The Britney Spears Curious bottle looks better only in comparison to Fantasy, however it is purely a question of tastes.
Few more days go by… As I arrange things in the chaos that is my perfume cabinet, I discover a sample of long vanished Deneuve. Introduced in 1986, Deneuve was a fragrance launched by Catherine Deneuve. She selected the packaging and the advertising, as well as made extensive inputs in the creation of the fragrance itself. Deneuve is a green chypre like of Miss Dior and Cabochard, with sheer vibrant notes layered with earthy accords. It is elegant and slightly aloof, befitting the woman who inspired it. In an interview to Elle in 1994, Catherine Deneuve said, “I’ve liked working on this fragrance. But today I don’t feel it. Actors and perfume is an impossible match.”
Advertisement: Curious from psine.net. Deneuve is available as a reproduced version from Longlostperfume, however I have not tried. If you have, I would love to hear how close it is to the original.