Originality is risky. You may have observed this yourself in the matter of wardrobe selection. You may be creative and a free spirit, and completely unrestrained by those tiresome things called conventions, but that’s not the point, the point is, what about everyone else?
When it comes to scent convention tends to control what we wear and where we wear it. A pervasive oriental to the office? A titanic white floral to a dinner party? Perfume no matter how romantic in essence, has to fit in with its olfactory surroundings and those tend to be the set pieces of existence everything from the dry cleaner’s to the doctor’s office.The perfumes that buck trends are therefore difficult to pull off. People aren’t sure if you’re perfumed or if you stink, and this is the kind of divide most of us are pretty hesitant to cross. I know I am. All the same if nobody ever does any experimenting no progress is ever made and no new fashions in fragrance evolve. What’s acceptable changes but changes slowly.
Just how hard is it to introduce something totally new? Pretty hard I think. Which is why so much of what you encounter at perfume counters is familiar to the point of cliche. Because so few things are completely original I have only three perfumes to discuss here, but to my mind they genuinely didn’t smell like anything else, two were failures, one a success.
The first was Cococabana a de Nicolai perfume from 2006. I tried it then and was surprised by how original the formula was. Bitter orange and coconut to open and ylang ylang and tuberose in the mid section. Finally the end of Cococabana was palm leaves ( I would never have known this) vanilla tonka and cedarwood (which you could actually smell). The result was a weird kind of buttery, well, coconut buttery, perfume which felt as though it should be spread with a butter knife rather than spritzed. This scent was “lipaic” to use an elegant term once applied to a blood sample of mine taken after I had eaten an entire box of Brazilian chocolates. The stuff was completely different. Honore des Pres’ Love Coco is far more conventional by contrast.
Naturally poor old Coco died the death. No one was quite ready for this odd essay on suntan oil, but the formula may have been ahead of its time, both Heeley and Honore des Pres have done fairly well out of their coconut scents as far as I can tell. Perhaps de Nicolai should disinter Cococabana.
The second oddity was Manoumalia composed by the late Sandrine Videault and an ode to the tropical flowers she knew from her antipodal home. Manoumalia was the oddest white floral I’ve ever sniffed, never mind that jasmine and ylang ylang and tiare were supposed to be in there, the slightly camphoraceous pervasive notes, rubbery and dense and slightly fecal as well, were as uncompromisingly strange as all get out. I couldn’t fault this because it was a piece of perfume composition that I was certain was based on memory, rather like Diorissimo, only the reference was one I was entirely unfamiliar with, which can hardly count as criticism. How can you complain that something is unlikely if it exists?
Finally there is the success story: Guerlain’s Pamplelune. You might call this scent Guerlain’s oxymoron because “original Guerlain” usually is one. This however belonged to a brief period right around the turn of the century when the firm was producing experimental work, and Pamplelune may have been one of the most original productions.
This is enough of a success for most people to know that Pamplelune is grapefruit, grapefruit and petit grain and neroli, but the kicker is a weird combination of cassis and patchouli which gives Pamplelune this peculiarly heavy backbeat. Guerlain tried a similar tune again with citrus and a lot of patchouli in Philtre d’Amour. Philtre is a bitch slap of a fragrance if ever there was one, but good as it is, and I own a bottle, Philtre is just not quite the striking creature Pamplelune is. Sweet and bitter, dark but with an edge of wood and dark greenery from the cassis, Pamplelune is that unbeatable thing in perfumery, a paradox.
So have you ever come across a fragrance that struck you as completely original, and if so, would you actually wear it?