Taking Alaïa note by note is complicated, but since Azzedine Alaïa became famous for his unusually structured knitted dresses, perhaps, this is only to be expected. While most fashion designers don’t convey much of their aesthetic in fragrance lines they launch (see Miu Miu), Alaïa is an exception. Fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa wanted to incorporate recollections from his Tunisian childhood but avoid any trite “oriental” references; the idea instead is to convey couture with a personal touch. For me it works.
Alaïa is a transparent modern floral, with a velvety woody-musky drydown. Alaïa doesn’t shock, but it is different from the legions of fruity bonanzas and cotton candy laced new releases: its combination of abstract flowers and mineral, wet chalk nuances is surprising; its manner of rendering animalic notes is novel, and its gauzy but enveloping sillage is alluring. It’s a promising debut.
Alaïa draws on the usual suspects of contemporary perfumery, from pink pepper to peony, but the end result is anything but predictable. The perfume starts with an abstract bright floral medley, although on my skin dewy jasmine and other white blossoms with a hint of sweet lemon peel dominate. An unsweetened crisp fruity note lingers too, but soon petals settle into the mineral accord that forms the core of the composition, and the contrast between wet chalk and creamy flowers is appealing.
I smelled Alaïa before I had read any press releases, so I was surprised to find that the mineral, chalky effect was deliberate. The designer asked for an impression of water evaporating from sunbaked stones, something that his mother used to do to cool the courtyard on hot Tunisian afternoons. It’s not a fanciful marketing story, then. The mineral effect is subtle, but it’s there, and it keeps white flowers from becoming sweet and syrupy. Moreover, it’s an elegant bridge to the woods and musk in the drydown.
Created by perfumer Marie Salamagne (my recent favorite Jo Malone Mimosa & Cardamom was also hers), Alaïa then takes a turn into the animalic drydown. If your idea of animalic is Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan, Robert Piguet Bandit or even Guerlain Shalimar, Alaïa won’t seem like much of an animal; a fluffy kitten at most, but definitely not a panther. But under the transparent, gauzy layers of Alaïa, there is a refined accord that reminds me of soft leather, with just a subtle hint of animalic tanginess. Like flowers, the woods also have an abstract quality, alternating between creamy and dry.
Besides its technical aspects, all very clever, I like Alaïa for its second skin character. It clings to you, much like an Alaïa dress, and it lingers in a sheer but enveloping sillage–the lasting power is excellent. It feels sophisticated, suave but also unexpectedly cozy. To repeat my refrain about Miu Miu, pleasing doesn’t have to be boring, and Alaïa is a good illustration.
I recommend trying it if you like fragrances like Narciso by Narciso Rodriguez, Chanel Beige (although it’s much more floral than Alaïa), Bottega Veneta Eau de Parfum, or Hermès Cuir d’Ange (stronger on leather, but sheer and weightless).
Alaïa Paris by Azzedine Alaïa includes notes of pink pepper, freesia, peony, animalic notes and musk. It is available in 30ml, 50ml and 100ml bottles, Eau de Parfum.