Of all the mainstream houses, Kenzo is probably the one that’s been putting out the most consistent, and consistently interesting line. Jungle, Amour and Flower are contemporary classics; their flankers are often improvements on the original idea rather than callous exploitations of the notoriety of their best-sellers. FlowerbyKenzo Essentielle is a good case in point. As I’ve never reviewed the original, I’ll take that as a springboard to speak about its latest incarnation.
Of course, the original Flower only deserves its name in the most symbolic fashion.
“Nature re-stakes its claim on urban scenery”, claims the Kenzo website. But nature has nothing to do with it. The poppy chosen for the bottle and Kenzo’s spectacular promotional operations (planting urban swathes with crimson blossoms for a day) is notoriously scentless. And FlowerbyKenzo doesn’t smell like any known flower or even like some Platonic ideal of a flower. In fact, the name seems mostly meant to conjure the idea of this-smells-pretty: because flowers smell pretty, that’s something we can all agree on. And Flower is pretty, almost unbearably so.
Not for Flower, the slavering maw of Nature and her complex, disturbing smells. This is an abstract, man-made scent, and a conceptual tour-de-force. Flower is unique, yet it manages to smell like a pared-down, photo-shopped, composite image of practically every wistful, powdery, violet-laden perfume descended from Guerlain’s iconic L’Heure Bleue. It plays on the nostalgic, regressive notes (rose, vanilla, the cool anise-like heliotropin) of granny’s lipstick and childhood treats, but it doesn’t have a mawkish molecule in its delicate body. This is L’Heure Bleue without the blues and without a story: a huge, radiant, essentially static aura – relaxing mood music to its ancestor’s Debussy sonata. Its haze of musk (Flower contains an overdose of Firmenich’s Muscenone, which is particularly powdery) may be feminine, but in a cleverly de-sexualized way. Flower resets the calendar to an idealized age of innocence; its sensuousness doesn’t demand sticky commitment.
By contrast, Essentielle puts the flowers back in the bottle – and the most classical flowers of perfumery at that: rose and jasmine.
But far from making the composition heftier, the translucent rose – not un-reminiscent of the rose note featured in Chanel N°5 Eau Première and Narciso Rodriguez Essence – cuts through the original Flower’s violet-heliotropin-musk haze and suffuses it with a dewy light which shines well into the dry down. Better still, its sets it in motion. Where Flower was almost still, Flower Essentielle runs through a more traditional evolution, from the lemon-tinged freshness of the (discretely) aldehydic overture – the most delicious moment, in my opinion – to the rose-jasmine heart, barely darkened by a shade of incense, which shimmers through to the impalpable musk and vanilla base.
And while Flower remains as serenely inscrutable as a digital-age Mona Lisa, Essentielle ventures an enticing smile.
Image: Irving Penn, Single Oriental Poppy (1965)
Image: Irving Penn, Single Oriental Poppy (1965)
Great & very apt illustration! the poppy looks like a really weird vegetal creature here :)RépondreSupprimer
Also: After reading this (and Octavian´s) presentation of the new flanker, I know I must try to find this. (most fond of the FlowerleParfum version myself - in coldest January (puts the flowers back into the day, as you say the Essentielle puts the flowers back into the bottle))
Stella, I'm glad you noticed the photo. I was looking for a picture of a poppy and suddenly had the intuition that Irving Penn might have photographed some -- really just a wild guess. And he had! Aren't they fascinating?RépondreSupprimer
You really should try Essentielle.
I do admire Kenzo for consistently producing interesting mainstream fragrances, including the oft-maligned flanker. Flower and Winter Flowers are the two that I have worn, but I often spritz the others on trips to Sephora. I have never recoiled from any of them, at least that I can recall.
Essentialle now has my full attention. Translucent rose? A discrete aldehydic overture? I must try this as soon as possible.
Melissa, I find the accent on the rose to be a welcome addition, though the Flower "core" reasserts itself in the drydown.RépondreSupprimer
I was a bit surprised by this one. It is a good bit more tenacious and "dense" than the Original on me-but the drydown most closely resembled the Fleur Oriental-without the incense. I still get a touch of plastic note with Essentielle-but don't find it objectionable.RépondreSupprimer
wow I love the bit about L'heure Bleu. I like flower but I like the moody blues so I am more of an LB girl. Flower's really timeless though- and the packaging makes me very lusty.RépondreSupprimer
Louise, all the Flowers seem to have the half-life of plutonium on me -- I guess it's the musks. This one does last through a night and a shower!RépondreSupprimer
I have friend who wears Flower and smells positively edible in it. On me, the violet is unbearable, which makes me sad. Maybe I'll try the Essentielle...RépondreSupprimer
Rose, in a pinch I'd be a L'Heure Bleue girl too, but here in France it has such social connotations (it is the fragrance of choice of the bourgeoisie and, oddly, mostly chosen by blondes) that, a bit like for musical pieces such as Vivaldi's Four Seasons, you have to clear your mind of the clichés before enjoying it for its own beauty. Same goes for Shalimar.RépondreSupprimer
Amy, I think you may get the violet in it too: the Flower base does reassert itself at some point.RépondreSupprimer
noooo I am shocked about my beloved LB, although thanks for the advice- I will consider it when I'm in Paris! strange how these things get adopted by innapropriate people. The same thing happened to Burberry here but they have cleverly managed to get away from that I think.RépondreSupprimer
Well, Rose, I'd say that in Paris, it *was* appropriate: Guerlain has been the traditional choice of the French bourgeoisie for decades, passing from one generation to another. You'd be hard-pressed to meet an upper-ish middle family where people *don't* remember a mother, grand-mother or aunt wearing Guerlain (usually L'Heure Bleue and Shalimar, sometimes Mitsouko). Habit Rouge and Vetiver are literally clichés for middle-class men.RépondreSupprimer
Hm. I'll try this. As I think you know, I'm a big fan of a lot of the Kenzos, but Flower (which must be their most popular scent? at least in the US) has always been too powdery for me.RépondreSupprimer
PS I can't find my dang book, but I am pretty sure original Flower was the one Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez said smells like the original Caron Royal Bain de Champagne, with some hedione added... what do you think? (I never smelled the original.)
March, if I ever smelled the original Caron Bain de Champagne, it was over 20 years ago, and I don't remember it at all, but yes, that's the one Flower was compared to by Tania.RépondreSupprimer