Ever notice that some perfume firms simply are better at certain kinds of fragrance? I’m thinking of the fact that if you want a wonderful oriental, Guerlain still is pretty hard to beat (Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue), or that gourmand scents are the strong point of Parfumerie Generale (Aomassai, Cadjmere), or that even though Dior makes periodic sorties into enemy held territories, like the oriental, they are usually only partially successful, e.g. Dioressence, or that… but I expect by now you’ve got the picture.
Fact is, all of this is counter-intuitive when you consider the business model on which most fragrance companies are built. The perfume industry has been out-sourcing for decades, and the homogeneity of what each house produces has more to do with in-house art direction than with anything else.
Still, this peculiar observation holds true for big companies and small ones alike, whether or not they employ an in house perfumer. Chanel excels at chypres and aldehydic florals. Straight florals they’ve had less success with, e.g. Gardenia, and Une Fleur de Chanel.
Similarly, Estee Lauder is wonderful at florals and chypres, but seldom does well with orientals, to whit, the controversial Spellbound and Cinnabar which never quite emerges from the shade cast by that perfume megalith Opium. Go figure.
There are even firms which sort themselves along what should be outdated gender lines. Creed, for instance, does masculines rather well, and does feminines rather less so. Parfums de Nicolai is another such firm. The female de Nicolais are conflicted creatures, usually either too sweet or too harsh, e.g. Balkis or Sacrebleu (as opposed to Weekend a Deauville or Rose Pivoine), but they each include some deliberate contradiction or gaucherie which makes them awkward rather than fascinating. The masculines by contrast, are clever and urbane. None of them are bad. Even unoriginal perfumes such as Carre d’As are suave and polished and easy to wear.
Some firms are even more precise at demarcating their territories of expertise. CB I Hate Perfume does the evocative perfume wonderfully well: Cumming the Fragrance or Memory of Kindness, but avoids the huge orchestrated abstract floral. Mind you, Christopher Brosius can turn his hand to such tasks – smell Cradle of Light if you want to experience him out-Patouing Jean Patou.
It pays, I think, to acknowledge these details; it saves you time and disappointment. It saves you searching hopelessly for an oriental at the Jo Malone counter, as I once did, sounding shriller and shriller as the process went on. Not their fault. Totally mine. I was being unreasonable. The Malone’s are light scents meant to be layered, and if you don’t like it, well, you’re at the wrong counter. You create your own complexity.
But I’ll never learn. I keep thinking one firm or another will one day break character and surprise the living daylights out of me.