dimanche 22 août 2010

Belle d'Opium and Chanel Bleu: Welcome to Blandland



Yves Saint Laurent's new Belle d’Opium tries so hard to be the polar opposite of its flamboyant ancestor that it winds up looking like those computer-generated composite portraits of several faces: a bland-featured blur. Vaguely orange-y like Elixir des Merveilles. Vaguely patchouli-ish like a 10th-generation photocopy of Angel. Vaguely lily like… nothing much. It disappeared altogether within a couple of hours, leaving a wan trace of something woody and musky.

Belle d’Opium is a case study of everything that’s wrong with the mainstream. Flashy launch, fancy face, the talent of an excellent perfumer wasted -- Alberto Morillas made Flower by Kenzo and the Mugler Cologne, proof enough that the man can turn out classics, though I’m not familiar with the work of Honorine Blanc, who co-signs with him. A product that has neither character, nor diffusive power, nor tenacity, capitalizing on the renown of a fashion legend – Yves Saint Laurent, the operative word here in France being “Saint” – and of a legendary perfume. To sum up: a fragrance for an age where brands trump products, and where any kind of sillage is a social crime. Opium was scandalous in its day. So is Belle d’Opium. But not for the same reasons, unfortunately. I guess we have the scandals we deserve.

Chanel’s new Bleu doesn’t fare much better. This is what you’d expect to smell on the guy who comes to fix your alarm system and tries to hit on you in a fairly polite way. You know the type? Decent-looking, friendly, but a non-starter, because, you know, his cologne… Just so generically sporty-male that even a shower couldn’t fix it. Because you know the type who chooses that – just like the guy who names blue as his favourite colour – is, let’s say, a little lacking in imagination. So: been there, done that.

I think I’ll fix him up with Belle. Because she’s worth it.


33 commentaires:

  1. I received a sample of both last week, sprayed them on and got absolutly nothing to say about them..that should resume it. The alarming thing is that these are by the houses of Chanel and YSL. Is there any hope on something stunning left? If they haven't got the budget's or the guts to dazzle or amaze us who still has?

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  2. Illdone, that's why I didn't do actual reviews of those. Nothing to say really... at least about the compositions.

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  3. Oh dear, what a shame. And there was me hoping that maybe, just maybe, Bleu would have one or two redeeming features.

    I haven't tried it myself yet - Chanel appears to be totally unavailable in Mumbai - but I'm hoping I might get attacked by a bottle-wielding SA when I arrive at Heathrow later this week. Needless to say, I won't expect to be wowed.

    And as for Belle d'Opium, don't even get me started on what's being done to YSL...

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  4. I stopped sampling department store fragrances about a year ago. Not for any particular reason, just, as you say, it was Blandland, and I found more memorable things to do, like hang out with 'gators in the Everglades and photograph unusual cloud formations. I treasure my hoarded bottles of YSL's Nu more and more each day. I think the term "Blandland" may be a keeper!
    -Marla

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  5. Persolaise, Bleu might have redeeming features (Kevin over at NST, who is already more of the target public, being a man, really like it a lot). But what's the use of trying to get past a barrage of metallic citrus/lavender to wait for them?

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  6. Marla, I don't do it much either but I've got a couple of people I like to talk with in department stores (one's the author of a perfume guide, the author is a young would-be perfumer) so I do drop by there on occasion and thought, what the hell, I might as well see what's being done, the big launches. If only to confirm my feeling: the divorce between creativity and the mainstream seems worse every year.

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  7. I mean "the *other* is a would-be perfumer"...

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  8. Completely agree- they are bland and forgettable. Seems like the whole budget has been spent on campaign and creating a buzz and not on the scent itself. I really do prefer to stick to niche creations, or classics (before they all will be gone, or completely reformulated).
    On the other hand, Guerlain just revamped Shalimar bottle, Van Cleef came with really interesting Midnight in Paris and Dior is currently relaunching Diorama in their Les Creations line, so maybe the hope is still here.

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  9. Ela, all classics *are* reformulated, sadly... the deed is done. I'm sorry I can't draw much hope from the fact that Guerlain is changing the Shalimar bottle (probably for a version that's cheaper to make) or that Dior is re-editing a scent that goes back 4 decades (it was already available in Dior boutiques, though). I mean, that doesn't speak much for creativity.

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  10. I know, IFRA regulations, cheaper ingredients and marketing calculations instead of any signs of creativity. I do not want to wake-up in pinky Blandland in few years relying only on niche, or my cherished vintage extraits of Miss Dior and Mitsouko. Whole culture is pauperizing, but it should not affect perfumes- they supposed to create some impression, not just be forgotten, or disappearing after few minutes.

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  11. Ela, I agree, but that's the way we're going and it makes me mad...

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  12. Me too. I'm glad I was born in the 50's and I feel quite sorry for people born in the 90's and beyond; what will be their aesthetic memories?

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  13. I keep wondering and I mean this seriously what could a good nose do with a firm budget and no marketbound-restrictions? Are all IFRA regulations real laws by now? Are there ways around it? Could 20 people investing, lets say, 25000 euro and hiring the right know-how make a perfume that is different - moving-...Or am I asking a really stupid question?

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  14. "I guess we have the scandals we deserve."

    That is a wonderful line and sad and true. What a dull, dire bunch we have become.

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  15. Goodness, so much sadness on here today...

    Going in a different direction--I'm thinking back to our discussions about the possible effects of perfumer-as-star, the new highlighting of the artisan, and how I welcomed it as long as it meant more power for the perfume and not just another opportunity for the bean counters to exploit them. Alas, that is what seems to be happening with Belle d'Opium and it's perfumer-front-and-center campaign...

    So: I wonder how Blanc and Morillas feel about this? Surely they were compensated for appearing in the campaign, so maybe it was worth it? Do you think we'll ever get to the point where perfumers can fight for some control, as the Hollywood stars did in the studio system?

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  16. This was such an interesting read, thanks. And I've spent far too long staring at that pic, trying to decide which *particular* actress it reminds me of. Both Natalie Portman and Keira Knightly, although ... whoops, Keira's a brit! If she were the typical American actress I think she should be blond!

    All of which was more interesting than these two new scents.

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  17. Olfacta... Pink Sugar? Bath and Body Works?

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  18. Illdone, great perfumers *are* working outside market briefs and with better budgets, but for niche houses or lines like the Chanel Exclusives. IFRA is another matter and no, their standards are not law though certain countries *have* adopted them. IFRA poses another set of problems, but it's not what's keeping mainstream brands from producing original perfumes.
    The problem to me is we're seeing less and less great perfumes like the ones I listed in my top 10 of the contemporary classics come out in the mainstream.

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  19. Alyssa, I'm starting to be quite concerned about this perfumer-as-star thing.

    In some cases it's deceitful, because clearly the perfume isn't the work of an author.

    In other cases, I'm seeing real authors doing more and more promotional jaunts when they should really be spending time in the lab (or daydreaming by the Seine, or travelling to Madagascar) doing what they do best instead of being paraded in front of beauty editors, bloggers and assorted aficionados. Pedagogy is a good thing though, and I can understand that they would want to make their art better understood.

    Now, when I see what people like Morillas and Polge are turning out, even though both have great perfumes which are also great sellers under their belt, I'm wondering whether even the stars have any clout.

    The alternative is to go indie, working for clients and taking on only the projects that seem interesting, to follow your parallel with the movie world, but how it will impact the mainstream, if at all, remains to be seen. And you've got to accept that you might make less money.

    As for your question concerning the promotional work being done by Morillas and Blanc, of course I don't know the answer but I doubt they're compensated.
    Perfumers are paid a salary, and get a percentage on the volume of concentrate sold, which is why you'll often see two or three people teams, often a senior and a junior, so that the "bonuses" are split more evenly.
    Perfumers are now like authors, actors, directors or musicians: they have to promote the stuff they put their name to, hoping it will sell more, and thus generate more benefits -- and reach more people, which is always gratifying.
    But by engaging in this system, they're not necessarily creating the conditions for more artistic freedom. Perhaps no everyone aspires to it...

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  20. March, that picture *is* interesting, isn't it? So generic it's disturbing. I couldn't make out who this face look like. Portman (and Knightley, for that matter) have much more distinctive features.

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  21. Oh...so disappointing to hear this! Though I have to say, I'm not surprised. A trend for awhile now. Guess I've been hoping for the next Angel. Something to blow away all that's safe and generic and "blah" in the perfume world. I suppose I expect one of the greats - Chanel, Guerlain, YSL to step up and take a risk. But they're following the blah train as well! So sad!!! I suppose they're too afraid of a commercial flop, so play it safe. But a blah fragrance can flop just as dramatically as a risky fragrance can, right?

    I'm curious - is there a mainstream release in the last year that's stood out among the dreck? Something beautiful, edgy, risky?

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  22. Karin, I'd say I've lost all faith in the greats, though Eau Première was very beautiful, so maybe there's still hope at Chanel's. And sadly I can't say anything edgy springs to mind from the past year in the mainstream -- of course, I haven't tried everything and may have missed a gem.

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  23. I feel more than disenchanted with mainstream perfumery... A better term would be estranged. I love fragrance, but the world of mainstream designer perfumery has so little to offer me I really can't get the energy up to care. Perhaps it's due in part to only becoming involved in this hobby over the last few years, but I'm less disappointed than I am apathetic. I go to department store fragrance counters and each time find less and less I haven't either already smelled or new releases I'm bored by. Eventually I just stop going, and mainstream perfumery and my fragrance hobby exist in two almost entirely separate worlds, like distant relatives who have nothing in common.

    "I'm glad I was born in the 50's and I feel quite sorry for people born in the 90's and beyond; what will be their aesthetic memories?"

    As a member of the younger generation ( and who has no fragrance-memories predating the late '90s ), my answer is, well - nothing much. What I smelled in fragrances popular in my childhood has had almost no influence on my current tastes in fragrance. Men wore aquatic, sporty things, women wore candied, fruity things, and that's pretty much where things are today.

    That being said, the smells of nature - herbs and flowers; landscapes and seasons; foods, spices, and drinks of all sorts - these have had a huge influence on my fragrance aesthetic, and I have had a rich experiene of them growing up.

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  24. Sugandaraja, the last paragraph of your comment says it all: it *is* possible to cultivate a rich olfactory palette, perhaps now more than ever because there are so many more types of cuisine available, and travelling is so much more democratic. What's needed is sensual curiosity -- hopefully that's still around, though sometimes, with my younger American students at the London College of Fashion, I wonder...

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  25. I thought of Jessica Alba with the photo. Just the names of these two frags lead me to jump to the same conclusions you did. I look forward to actually trying them to see!

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  26. Carla, true, Jessica Alba does have that "composite", almost computer-generated quality about her...

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  27. This whole thing reminds me of an old review in Luca Turin's 1994 perfume guide where he talks about Cartier Pasha - something to the effect of, «After spending nearly the entire budget designing the bottle, they suddenly realized that it would be difficult to sell empty bottles and would have to find something to fill it.» That seems to be the general state of affairs of commercial releases these days - lots of hype, no substance.

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  28. Right you are, Miss T. And clearly, even nearly 20 years back, perfume was an afterthought in many cases...

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  29. I sampled Belle this week and almost burst into tears on the spot. It's just not good enough. Not good enough for YSL and nowhere near good enough to bear the Opium name.

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  30. Wordbird, when was the last time an YSL rocked your world? The fashion is still good, but... the rest is just a brand.

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  31. Okay, I've tried Bleu now... and I am so, so sorry to report that I don't think it has any redeeming features whatsoever.

    What a heart-breaking let down.

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  32. Persolaise, yes, it's even hard to put down in detail, isn't it?

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