I finally made my way to the Louis Vuitton boutique here in Melbourne. It’s not that I don’t have the opportunity to, for I walk past it on a weekly basis – I just don’t ever need to make my way inside. I rely on Longchamp for my bags, which to me are durable and tough, reinforced with canvas to hold my many uni books, and English firms for my shoes, for I prefer their sturdiness and non-brandedness.
It is considerably interesting thinking about über high fashion brands and how they approach perfumery. Hermès and Tom Ford, in my view, are excellent case studies. The first problem a behemoth like Hermès must tackle is the issue of garishness. Fashion-wise, my point is this: there is nothing on earth more garish than anyone donning a big H buckle on their orange coloured belt. LV and GG are also other popular options. Authentic or not, this display, this maneuver of forthright tastelessness is at odds with the image the brand sets out for itself. Hermès stands for lifestyle, and not brazen ostentatiousness.
How does this affect Hermès’ culture of perfumery? Thankfully, it doesn’t. Hermès has effectively and deliberately fractured their brand from their perfume division. Their perfumes are done for themselves with a style that has clearly become theirs. There is an Hermes smell. It is undemandingly crisp and cogent, able to be critiqued but never loathed.
Tom Ford is different in this regard. His fragrances are an addition to fashion without being an afterthought. The perfume moves at a pace that mimics the rapidity and intensity of fashion. It was only with the release of his Ombré Leather 16 that saw a literal merge of fashion and fragrance, yet Ombre was surprisingly an excellent leather – revisiting the Tuscan Leather theme was, in a way, a respectful nod that almost asked: “Has it really been that long?” Yes. Almost ten years. And since then we have seen leather merge closer to floral, which is done here by injecting violet leaf and some dank. Perfume is a cycle, we’ve arrived at variations of Fahrenheit done with softer and smoother echoes. As for the coherency between the fashion and the scent – I see it, I really do.
Why raise Tom Ford? To an extent, the aesthetic mimics the brand. Visually, the bottles sink into the flagship stores with enviable, luxurious ease. Olfactorialy, there is uniform style. Big perfumes, big lapels, big balls. Now, visit an Hermès boutique (wear something nice, some silk perhaps) – they want you to wear Hermès ties, ride an Hermès bike, and drink tea from an Hermès mug while sitting against an Hermès pillow. They create lifestyle perfumes, they are afashionable. Both approaches to scent works.
Hermés Melbourne (link)
Why do I raise this? I wonder how important the relationship between brand image and product is. Is there influence? If so, then to what extent? How does this play with our interpretation of the meaning we can derive from scent? Is it a necessary and unavoidable relationship?
I start with a demonstration to advance my position that I think Louis Vuitton hasn’t quite got it right. They’re pretty – I’ve said that before, but the approach is luxury for the sake of luxury, and not luxurious in itself. I was reminded how Jacques Cavallier is one of fifty perfumers on earth (huh?), how he can turn water into wine, and how his nose is as fine tuned as a beagle hunting for coke. Louis Vuitton uses only very best, only naturals, only naturals, only naturals. Chanel risks being cramped into that mindset, and I can see a definite parallel, but Chanel perfumery has absolute brand integrity, and I respect that.
What is unique and novel about these scents? Are they worthwhile and meaningful variations of a theme? If not, then these scents can be classified as a luxurious protuberance whose existance is redudant.
Let’s sniff Mille Feux. It is a raspberry leather, which although being done to death, it is uniquely feminine in disposition with a powdery tone of iris liberated with the creamy metallic sheen of saffron. Some osmanthus is found, certainly not enough to be considered effective, but gives an impression of depth that is deceptive and lacking substance. I do find that paradigmatic emergent quality which comes from florals – which is when indole is mixed with spice to give some stale sweatiness: an unwashed smoker with bated breath craving a drag. Jasmin et Cigarette does it well, and better – because the raspberry leather in Mille Feux plainly disappears.
Photo by Fragrantica
Subjective rating: 2/5
Objective rating: 2/5
Matière Noire I have expressed admiration for in a Monthly Musings post, and I still like it. It captures the dark swirl of the moody rose found in Tom Ford’s Noir de Noir without showcasing the dizzying hypnotic opiate intensity. Instead, blackcurrant (admittedly, my flavour of the year) is inserted to give syrupy tones that are dark yet illuminatingly optimistic. This is a fruity rose-patchouli-oud that is not at all trashy, potentially so yet restrained, and has a watery aquatic accord lifted with cyclamen that is a hint spermy. The incense, which is white and effectively thin, marries the patchouli so effortlessly, and there’s a hint of bitter medicine: narcissus. It is this layered approach to tension – dirty yet clean, and so much more – that I enjoy.
Photo by Louis Vuitton
Subjective rating: 4/5
Objective rating: 4/5
One more: Dans la Peau. Every leather brand has their supple leather style, and Hermès’ Cuir d’Ange is indefatigable, even in light of LV’s attempt. Heavier on the fruit, yet also pleasantly bitter in a stemmy way. The apricot is nectarous – imparting an intelligent honied quality. This is then stretched out with a wave of white florals and a bitter hum of narcissus. This is pleasant, in a way rendering it to be unable to be critiqued and equally unincredible.
Photo by Louis Vuitton
Bitter Supple Leather
Subjective rating: 3/5
Objective rating: 3/5