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
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
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.