jeudi 24 juin 2010

Comme des Garçons Wonderwood: In which sight trumps smell

So what’s the deal with Comme des Garçons?

Most of their projects are now co-branded: the edginess of Rei Kawakubo’s house (which could, after 40 years in existence, be labelled a legacy player of the avant-garde) rubbing off on, and getting a fresh injection of energy from, other edgy players. A lifestyle magazine, Monocle. A Finnish design house, Artek. A designer/socialite/heiress, Daphne Guinness. A mad hatter, Stephen Jones. A cult Japanese fashion house, Undercover. Und so weiter.

Perhaps co-branding is a way for CdG Parfums’ artistic director Christian Astuguevieille to harness new creative forces. After all, the man has been driving the most iconoclastic and fearless perfume house in history for over 15 years. He is the one who introduced the notion of ugliness in perfume, just as CdG designer Rei Kawakubo did in fashion: or rather, he pushed back the idea of beauty by displaying non-noble smells, whether synthetic (photocopier, skai, nail polish), mundane (sticky cake, peppermint, harissa) or ambient (church incense, Alep soap) within the context of fine fragrance. Astuguevieille, an artist himself, inaugurated the idea of odeurs trouvées, just as artists had been lifting found objects from everyday life and displaying them in a “noble” context, in order to disrupt both our perception of those objects and the context (a gallery, a museum, the very idea of fine art) ever since Marcel Duchamp upended a urinal, signed it “R. Mutt” and called it “Fountain”. Fine fragrance being the context, “weird” notes being the shocker.

Astuguevieille’s concepts have been both pioneering and restricted, for the most part, to his own oeuvre – CdG, throughout collaborative work with people like Mark Buxton, Yann Vasnier, Bertrand Duchaufour, Antoine Lie, etc., can truly be said to be his brainchild – at least as far as his most overtly avant-garde concepts go. État Libre d’Orange and CB I Hate Perfume are probably the only houses that took the beautiful-ugly, noble-mundane idea and ran away with it. On the other hand, a lot of the ideas developed for CdG, notably the treatment of woody, spicy and incense notes, have trickled down into the mainstream.

It is perhaps in the order of things that once a house has established a language, however revolutionary at the outset, that language ends up stuttering, and being drowned out by the din of newer, noisier stuff (Serge Lutens being another case in point).

Is that why I am suffering from CdG fatigue? Truth be told, I did find the Undercover pair, Holygrace and Holygrapie, truly disquieting, their sweetish notes echoing the creepiness of the giant plush Cyclops assembled by Undercover designer Jun Takahashi. The scents matched the visuals perfectly, exposing the latent evil in kitsch – in this case, the Japanese idea of “cute”, expertly massacred by Takahashi.

But when I got a sample of the newest CdG, Wonderwood, I thought ok, well, woods. Or, as the press release states, “A positive overdose of woods, woody notes and synthetic wood constructions (Wood gone mad).” The list of notes does read like an international forestry convention: oud, vetiver, cedar, gaiac, cypress, patchouli, sandalwood… The end result? Well, pretty much what it says on the bottle, with an extraordinarily sticky synthetic sandalwood (24 hours on skin and counting) gradually taking over from a metallic vetiver and quite a lot of Cashmeran.

But somehow it seems that in the launch of Wonderwood, the scent is not the real point. In fact I get the feeling it was more of a springboard for the creative excitement generated by the Quay Brothers’ Wonderwood video, which has been linked all over the web and can be downloaded from the dedicated site. “Someone who loved woods more than any words could say” is an eerily beautiful plunge into the textures, hues and whorls of wood, and certainly one of the best visual essays on a perfume ever filmed.

Perhaps its very eloquence (“more than any words could say”) short-circuits the need for a review. Perhaps that’s where the creative juices flowed. After all, a fragrance launch isn’t only about the fragrance itself: there’s the campaign and the packaging, both of which usually cost a lot more than the actual smelly stuff. Perhaps that’s what is being put on display here, just as it was in Jun Takahashi’s Undercover Holygrace video.

The visual always trumps the olfactory.

Illustration: Ou by Philippe Mayaux.

12 commentaires:

  1. I liked Artek very much, and love the Quay Brothers, what a fantastic collaboration. Though this does sound a little excessive in the, ahem, wood category, I'll probably get around to trying it. Thanks for the link to the great animation!

  2. The video gives me the willies a little bit, honestly. Still, I generally love how CdG fragrances handle wood notes (Sequoia, Palisander), so I'd like to give it a sniff. But as I said in a comment on Elena's blog, I can't imagine what someone who's not familiar enough with perfume to understand what's meant by "wood notes" would get from this video. Granted, it's very atmospheric, so I suppose if you like that sort of goth fairytale sensibility it would pique your interest. I dunno... I'm just generally feeling really OD'd on marketing and this constant reaching for some New! Interesting! Unique! way of getting my attention. Ironically, they harder they try, the more I tune them out.

  3. Marla, i found the film quite beautiful but i'm getting a little weary of the cdg woods... Guess between bois des îles and feminité du bois i'm pretty much set up...

  4. Carol, you just couldn't resist, could you? ;-)

  5. Amy, that's pretty much my point. I'm happy a brand can commission that type of visual essay but somehow it parasites the actual product.

  6. I love woods... but I also like to put have few flowers on it :)

  7. Bellatrix, not much will beat Féminité du Bois and Bois de Violette for me in that department...

  8. I think the real problem with CDG scents now is they've done them all- the incense series is astonishly good and hard to better too. I like the red series too and the rhubarb sherbert. I need to spend more time with the green. if they wanted to do wood I wish they'd have done it like incense- a cedar, a silver birch and so on- that would be mind blowingly good if they put the same effort into it as they did with the incense.

    As for Wonderwood- bit style over substance, it dilutes their brand which is a shame.

  9. Rose, CdG is an remarkable house, but yes, they may have overdone it on the woods. Still, my remarks were aimed more at the way the film is so fascinating it steals the thunder from the scent. I might have focused more on it without the film... Unfair, I know.

  10. I pretty much agree with your review 100%: Wonderwood is thoroughly competent but unexciting. Having said that, I have a feeling it'll be pretty successful.

  11. Persolaise, as they're such a good brand I certainly wouldn't begrudge them any success, but I think they should move on to another, interesting series...