Snippet of a conversation with a Nose.
Me: “So, have you smelled the new Balenciaga?”
The Nose: “Yeah. Everyone’s talking about it.”
No wonder the industry is abuzz. Balenciaga Paris couldn’t score higher on hipster charts if it tried. After the planetary success of Dior Homme, a fragrance more than one perfumer admits he/she would’ve liked to compose, Olivier Polge’s next move was sure to be closely watched. Nicolas Ghesquières, who took on Cristobal Balenciaga's mantle in 1998, has been the darling of fashion editors ever since, combining a keen eye for the house’s architectural aesthetics with futuristic flair. As for the face of the fragrance, Charlotte Gainsbourg, she’s managed to transcend her impeccably hip parentage by proving herself a sensitive, almost scarily brave actress (witness her raw performance in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist), while establishing herself as the epitome of Parisian Boho chic: an artfully disheveled, slightly melancholy belle-laide whose every long-limbed pose is effortlessly elegant…
With its delicate violet theme, Balenciaga Paris manages to reflect both the house’s olfactory heritage (namely Francis Fabron’s 1947 Le Dix, the first Balenciaga perfume, also a violet) and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s wan beauty.
Violet, a symbol of humility and faithfulness – for Baudelaire, the color was “love restrained, mysterious, and veiled” – is played here for its woody, metallic facets rather than the retro lipstick-and-powder associations it picks up when paired with rose (as it does in Sophia Grojsman’s Paris).
But Balenciaga Paris’ deliberately introverted stance is somewhat deceptive. If it seems to hum just below the threshold of olfactory perception, its volume is blown up by an airy green lily-of-the-valley bubble, tinged with the dewiness of violet leaves. The powdery musk base hovers over skin for hours, tiny puffs of it rising at every movement. The chypre effect claimed by Olivier Polge – the notes include the canonic bergamot, oak moss, patchouli and labdanum of the genre – develops at an almost subliminal level, tiny patches of wet earth clinging to the woody base. The pepper-clove-carnation facets are similarly subdued. This is less a chypre illusion like Chanel’s 31 rue Cambon than the barest whisper of a chypre – not unlike Charlotte Gainsbourg’s breathy little-girl singing voice (truly nerve-grating in her debut track, the 1984 Lemon Incest, recorded with her father when she was 12). And not unlike Charlotte’s persona, with its ghostly, intensely sentimental (at least for the French) reminders of her cult-figure parents, Balenciaga Paris is haunted by its more robust forerunners in the chypre family.
That’s where Balenciaga Paris fails to satisfy. Because it’s quite charming and avoids the fruity-floral option one could’ve expected from a Coty fragrance, because it’s composed by Polge, art-directed by Ghesquières and fronted by Gainsbourg, and because it’s interesting and un-clichéd for a mainstream launch, it’ll get a lot more slack than if it were put out, say, by Dolce & Gabbana. But it’s still fairly thin and somewhat synthetic-smelling, and while that may be a deliberate stylistic option, that thinness ultimately wears out its welcome.
Again, not unlike the singing voice of its muse, however much one respects her acting talents and admires her style.
Conclusion of the conversation with the Nose.
Me: “So, whaddya think?”
The Nose: “Meh.”
Photo: Charlotte Gainsbourg in Balenciaga 2008, photographed by her sister Kate Barry for Very Elle magazine.
Yes. Just, yes.RépondreSupprimer
Yes, I agree too. But I suspect it will do well.RépondreSupprimer
"Everyone" is talking about something so bland, timid and generic...how depressing! LOL Is it (still) possible for anyone to put out on the market more sophisticated and worthy perfumes? The perfume industry needs to wake up, the more elusive and thin fragrances are, the less they sell. Something smells fishy in Denmark!!!RépondreSupprimer
I love Charlotte, I haven't seen Lars von Trier’s Antichrist yet (only playing saturdays at midnight here in New York, how convenient!). She was in New York last month promoting her new CD (Birkin also performed in the City two weeks ago, I had a great time) :
It is moving like hotcakes @ N-M. Makes perfect sense.RépondreSupprimer
I must be a fragrance hipster then! I am enjoying this scent very much.RépondreSupprimer
I agree that it is a bit on the thin side, but I still find it very nice on certain days. It's perfect for the office when I have meetings and I need something unobtrusive. It doesn't hurt that I love metallic violets.RépondreSupprimer
Carter: and why not, right?RépondreSupprimer
Jarvis, lots of the recent mainstream stuff, the stuff that actually feels like there's some intelligence and artistry involved, has got a bit of that thinness: NR Essence, A Scent... I suspect there's a reason.RépondreSupprimer
Moon Palace, BP is thin but it's not elusive: in fact, it sticks around quite a bit and it's got a fairly big volume.RépondreSupprimer
Love Charlotte too, but more as an actress. It's her papa's voice that sends shivers down to my heels...
Musette, thanks for the report! Balenciaga'll do it any time, ever since the Lariat bag...RépondreSupprimer
Kristy, nothing wrong with being a fragrance hipster! It *is* an enjoyable scent.RépondreSupprimer
Melissa, somehow I don't think of you as the shrinking violet type, but I know what you mean: Balenciaga Paris must work very well as an under-the-radar fragrance.RépondreSupprimer
"That’s where Balenciaga Paris fails to satisfy. ... it’ll get a lot more slack than if it were put out, say, by Dolce & Gabbana."RépondreSupprimer
Ouch! But w/ the bite comes with an astute and legitimate observation as to why it may succeed more than one would suspect or hope. Tongue in cheek, it's all in the presentation!
I'm just curious to know what a French hipster looks like, assuming the look isn't globally uniform. I'm guessing she has more finesse than her U.S. counterpart:
latfh dot com
Marcus, the French female hipster looks and dresses pretty much like Charlotte G. A little unkempt, with the scarf around the neck just so.RépondreSupprimer
I agree with Moon Palace, it seems everyone is always talking about something that is so bland and very generic in nature. But that could be a good thing, because when the fragrance that does step up is released it will be a sure fire hit.RépondreSupprimer
Follow Me at my Blog
99perfume, I don't know, maybe people *like* bland...RépondreSupprimer
As an aside, I would really prefer readers not to link to commercial sites here.
It's one of my all-time favorite houses, fashion-wise, but until the frags aren't so relentlessly violet-centric, I won't be wearing one.RépondreSupprimer
Amy, no, somehow I can't see you with that one. Can't see myself either. Let's just smother ourselves in big fat white flowers, shall we?RépondreSupprimer
Thin, synthetic, and "meh".... I think I'll pass then. I have a 15 year old bottle of Le Dix that I'll hold on to!RépondreSupprimer
But a good review and fun read as always. Thanks!
Rappleyea, I don't dislike it, I find it quite pretty actually. But that mainstream style thinness is beginning to wear a little thin for me.RépondreSupprimer
Have you tried Balenc. Michelle? if so, your thoughts? I just found a vintage bottle of this - not sure what to make of it..
Musette, I have a bottle of Michelle. It's a big white 80s floral with kind of an old-fashioned type gardenia, somewhat similar to Divine.RépondreSupprimer