When Alexander McQueen made his untimely exit from this world, there was an unprecedented amount of recognition for his legacy. Here, said the fashion world, is the empty shell of genius with nothing left but a calciferous structure lined in opalescent mother of pearl to show where it was housed. It was a lining McQueen had managed to externalize during his short life in his extraordinary body of work.
That body includes the supremely strange perfume Kingdom. I had, and went through, a sample of the stuff a couple of years ago, and what stuck in my mind was that it was one of those perfumes that are identikits of missing ingredients. In this case, it was Indian sandalwood, on which an APB had been put out by the perfume community. Santalum album is now rare, although it is beginning to be grown commercially in Australia, so that at some point in this decade it will probably be back on the menu of fine perfumery.
In much the same way that Hermès hit fragrance Eau de Merveilles was supposed to conjure up the insanely expensive odor of ambergris, so I suspect, Kingdom was supposed to raise white sandalwood from aromatic oblivion. The only problem was that the fragrance that emerged from this experiment was hard to wear and missed the sandalwood mark by a wide margin.
The reason for this miss, in my estimation, goes back to the shell metaphor I earlier employed. Sandalwood smells largely of calcium. It has this big dry calcium note in its heart, some people call it milky or butter milky, but what it smells like to me is the Cliffs of Dover and they are almost purely calciferous. As a child with a mild case of pica, all I wanted to do was go up to the said cliffs, dig out small chunks, and eat them.
Which I did. They were gritty but surprisingly tasty.
Without that dry calcium core to it, Kingdom is a strange, pith-less scent, with no good center note, just an imprecise florality fired over a pronounced cumin note, meant presumably to imitate sandalwood’s compressed spiciness.
Unfortunately, cumin smells of perspiration, and that is the take away from Kingdom. Put your nose inside this shell and you smell an unfortunate odor of desiccation left behind by its last occupant.
McQueen probably enjoyed that animal smell, and anticipated no problem with it. The scent was structure over a void, just like the fabric he built out over bodies. Kingdom was a fitting perfume for McQueen. Like his clothes, the perfume is a fabulous carapace, waiting for tenants.