Alaia Urban Smog

James Abbott Macneil " Nocturne"

James Abbott Macneil
” Nocturne”

There are a lot of scents out there these days which strike me as only one part of a perfume.  Alaia which I have been smelling  round  me on scent strips (from Saks) is certainly one of them. I’m kind of amused that many bloggers think that it’s a wonderful modern perfume.  Alaia’s the coda to a modern perfume.  There’s no heart, and no beginning, you could call this linear but there isn’t enough of a high note to pull you in. It’s a base.

Alaia smells totally synthetic and there is something dark and tarry that I remember from the days when I was toying with Kate Walsh’s Boyfriend (remember that? No?) and  from Estee Lauder’s Sensuous Noir, although that had more of a presence than Alaia.

What you have here is a no no perfume. No high notes, the meagre florals appear to be freesia and violet, which I did not detect, no obvious wood notes, nothing too loud or showy. There is the smell of a little bit of flesh and leather, and Parisian air pollution clinging to hair, no doubt what you smell when you lace a model on her fourth show into

Alaia designs

Alaia designs

an Alaia dress, which is mostly black leather with no more seam allowance than would come between shrink wrap and a beef steak. There are supposed to be mineral notes, but these read mostly as dirty air on me rather than minerals

What it brings to mind is particulate filled urban atmospheres and in that sense I suppose it is modern, but really if I want to smell pavement and exhaust I can always inhale in NYC.  I don’t  need to bottle it. So to tell the truth I don’t love Alaia.  Fortunately Alaia evaporated from my skin in fifteen minutes! Generally something this synthetic hangs on forever. So maybe the atmospheric element is genuine.

I do like the bottle. I’d be inclined to buy  one, tip out the contents, and house Jolie Madame or Neil Morris City Rain in there. Something with a little bit of a statement.  Here I guess is where I differ from other people who loved this perfume by Marie Salamagne (who did Mimosa & Cardamom so successfully for Jo Malone).  Honestly I think this reads sludge-y.  Sludge or soup in perfume terms isn’t good.  A perfume to

Alaia's Bottle

Alaia’s Bottle

quote Madame de Nicolai, “…must be easily recognizable. If you can’t memorize it, it’s because you have made  a ‘soup’.” Would I be able to recognize Alaia again in a modern line up of musky synthetics? Doubt it.

Which is why, although I seldom write reviews of perfumes, I’ve written one here, because Alaia is typical of a trend in murky, musky, can’t see your hand in front of your face fumes, making no clear statement. As trends go, it’s not a promising one.

What Alaia does that is interesting is to add to a very small, one might say almost unrecognized family of perfumes, the atmospherics, for lack of a better term.  These are abstract scents that attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a particular time and place.

The most famous of course is Apres L’Ondee, although you could add in L’Heure Bleue, Nuit de Noel, and more recently there are perfumes like Davidoff’s Good Life, the Garden series of Hermes or Patricia de Nicolai’s springtime perfume Le Temps d’une Fete.  Unlike chypres which are about contrasting materials, or soliflores which are about specific floral scents, or  orientals which are conspicuously consuming, ostentatious scents with pricey ingredients like oud and ambergris, atmospherics are about memory and the weather.  That’s why atmospheric perfumes often are good at introducing synthetic products, because there is seldom anything directly in nature which mimics the barometric atmosphere a perfumer is looking for.  Aldehydes re-create cold air, or Calone replicates the smell of the seaside. Abstraction, the general rather than the specific, is what these perfumes use to make their impact.

In Terre d’ Hermes’ case you do get hot stone watered on a warm day.  This was one of the scents Azzedine Alaia wanted for his perfume and it seems to me he was steered in the direction of the Narcisos for greater market share.  A shame.  Had he been left to work with his perfumer in  a less obstructed manner this could have been a beautiful perfume.  Right now it is smog.

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8 thoughts on “Alaia Urban Smog

  1. Well that is very interesting. Amidst general appreciation of this perfume, yours is the first voice I’ve heard suggesting that the emperor has no clothes.

    I’ve tried Alaia a few times but even with a freshly spritzed strip in my hand I could not grasp anything. It seemed to have no character at all, nothing to say. Not that it smelled bad, just forgettable. I could not wrap my brain around it, and now realise that there was nothing there to wrap.

    You know how it is when you spritz various modern releases in store, toss them into you bag, and find them a day later? You stare at them trying to remember what they were, but can’t remember, and anyway they have been schmoozed together and all basically smell the same. That.

    Love the Nicolai quote about soup.

    1. What to say? Yes there just wasn’t much to Alaia and what there was should have been at the end and not the beginning of a scent. it’s a bit like the poem “Antigonish” “Yesterday upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there…”
      There seem to be a lot of little pale gray muskies out there these days. Can’t say that I’m a fan.

      I found the de Nicolai quote in her book Nicolai, and think it’s an excellent standard to hold perfumes to in general. If you can’t recall them, there probably was nothing worth recalling…

  2. Maybe “The Smell of Weather Turning” by Lush/Gorilla Perfumes might pique your interest in this “atmospherics” category? Something quite haunting about it, I found.


    1. Lush is good. Lust is a really nice jasmine, frankly I miss the days when we had a Lush nearby us.

      The Smell of Weather Turning I don’t remember but will give it a sniff the next time I do get near a Lush. Yes, it does sound like an atmospheric perfume and the name is certainly evocative!

  3. I am so glad to read that you were not madly struck on Alaia, except as a fine exponent of the atmospheric genre. In my New Year post I came clean that I could not smell all the things others smelt in this – it was so wan and insubstantial to me and nowadays I want more personality from a perfume. Having mainly read glowing reviews of it up to this point – Alaia made it onto a number of bloggers’ Best of 2015 lists – I felt that I was simply incapable of picking out the nuances that impressed the others, and put it down to experience. I love the air pollution accord, hehe. And I like that you too could not be bothered to add the dots over the ‘i’. 😉

    1. I’m so lazy that diacritical marks (grand term, I got it from the Hub who knows about languages) go out the window. So I never spell Alaia, or for that matter Nicolai, right.
      About Alaia I smelled it based on all those good comments from bloggers but like you drew a blank. What was there? Nothing much, which of course does not mean it will not go on to be a great success. Remember L’Eau d’Issey?
      Guessing this was a perfume from an essentially non-perfume person.
      I really must do a little post on inexpensive perfumes/ products that are good. People who read perfume blogs must be thinking that nothing lovely can be had under $100 or the equivalent in pounds and euros when the reality is that high end and low end have never been closer!

  4. I love the Nicolaï quote, I remember Vivianne Westwood saying somethng very similar on dresses. Now I can’t find it anywhere, but it’s was something along the line of how the perfect dress doesn’t need anything added, while the on the imperfect dress you need to add a bow to distract from the fact that the dress is imperfect.
    There’s so much soup out there, and dresses with bows for that matter, that I just tend to ignore it. If I do ever write about a close-to-soupy perfume, it might be for other reasons, also one shouldn’t forget that one mans soup is another mans treasure.

    1. Now we are mentioning designer quotes this reminds me of Christian Dior being quoted on the subject of darts to which he objected because they bunched fabric and complicated the line of a dress. This from the creator of The New Look too!

      Hm yes there is a lot of soup out there. Some may be fun to wear and I’m trying to recall if I ever loved a soup, the answer may be Sensuous Noir which was a black bean porridge of a fragrance that my family suffered through until I emptied the bottle. So there you go!
      It’s a good standard though, all the same.

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