Friday, 23 October 2015

Semiotic Spritz Part 2: Dior Sauvage: Welcome to Marlboro Country

Dior’s Sauvage was launched in 2015. The perfume was created by François Demachy and the advertising campaign shot by director and photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino. For a review of the fragrance itself, see here.

‘If no medium has been in closer communion with the mass mind than advertising, then’ mused the aptly named Elliott West ‘no popular tradition is more deeply entrenched in American culture than the western’. Indeed, since the early 1900s, images of wild broncos and tumbleweeds have been used to sell everything from prunes to station wagons. Of all the symbols we associate with the Western myth however, none achieved such enduring commercial appeal as the Marlboro Man.
The Stetson-wearing, cigarette puffing cowboy was conceived by the Leo Burnett agency in 1954 in response to a challenging brief from Philip Morris Tobacco. The company wished to re-introduce their Marlboro cigarette to the American market. The problem was, the cigarette had previously been marketed to females (‘Mild as May’) and the new filter it was sporting, whilst reassuring a newly nervous smoking public, was considered effeminate. Burnett’s answer was the Marlboro Man, or rather, the Tattooed Man, as the campaign was originally called. The advert sought to align the product with the very epitome of White American masculinity and showed a weathered outdoorsman holding a Marlboro cigarette in his prominently inked hand. As a potent signifier, the latter remained a feature of the brand’s campaign for many years, even when the Marlboro Man himself changed.
In a piece of pure intertextuality, Johnny Depp reprises the Tattooed/Marlboro Man role for Sauvage, and like his predecessor, is charged with convincing his audience there’s nothing girly about the product he’s selling. How successful he is in this remains to be seen, but if advertising serves as any kind of mirror, it’s instructive to ponder what dusting off this image for Dior’s campaign reveals about our collective anxieties today.
The ideology of ‘rugged individualism’ which the Marlboro Man embodied was famously propounded by Herbert Hoover. Against a backdrop of the Great Depression, the then President repeated this phrase over and again, aiming to shore up faith in the American Dream which had never before seemed so elusive to so many. Fast forward to 2015, and in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, we are once more being told to right ourselves through toil and graft – this time by a wild (sauvage) looking Depp, whose rolled up shirtsleeves show him ready to ‘get to work’.
The text carries with it more than a suspicion of violence: consider, for example, Depp’s black and blue clothing which, beyond entering into syntagmatic relation with the flacon, reminds us of bruising. This being the Wild West though, we oughtn’t to be surprised, for out in these frontier spaces, urban codes do not adhere. And therein lies its deep attraction: the West represents a touchstone of authenticity for our variously alienated, fractured, disembedded selves.
Insofar as Dior’s Sauvage advert accurately captures the Zeitgeist, it is well designed and executed. Perhaps even more importantly though, it manages to create for the fragrance an identity quite distinct from Chanel’s Bleu (2010) whose scent is really not dissimilar.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Semiotic Spritz Part 1: Unwrapping Viktor & Rolf's Bonbon.

Bonbon is a feminine fragrance launched by the fashion house Viktor & Rolf in 2014. The perfume was created by Cécile Matton and Serge Majoullier (Mane). The publicity features the model Edita Vilkeviciute and was shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

Ethyl maltol is a popular aroma chemical used in modern perfumery and is strongly redolent of caramel. Thierry Mugler’s Angel (1992) was the first fine fragrance to include an overdose of this molecule in its formula and since then, perfumers have been employing ever higher percentages to satisfy the sweet-toothed cravings of Western markets.
Like Prada’s Candy (2011) which similarly relies heavily on ethyl maltol for its gourmand vibe, Bonbon initially keys consumers into its confectionery-like scent profile through a direct and easy to decode name. Unlike Candy however, Bonbon - at least for French speakers - is polysemic and permits of an especially rich set of associations to be exploited:
In its adverbial usage, bonbon means ‘expensive’. One might exclaim ça côute bonbon! (‘it costs a bomb!’) on seeing the price of a Viktor & Rolf dress and we note the perfume’s flacon is styled after a couture bow that simultaneously recalls the shape of an individually wrapped sweet.
Bonbon in French however, is also a slang term for ‘clitoris’ as knowingly referenced by the placement of an eye-catchingly oversized bottle in front of the model’s pubic region. Yet even for those on whom this linguistic play is lost, the proximal connection of the product with a source of erogenous pleasure is sufficient to establish a meaningful relationship.
The erotic charge this image generates around the fragrance is furthered by the model’s nakedness. Covering the nipple of her exposed left breast is a painted ribbon and bow which design repeats across her torso and arms. Through their use of this visual metaphor, van Lamsweerde and Matadin overcome the tricky problem of how to represent the invisible state of being perfumed.
If we consider the model’s overall disposition, we’re struck by an apparent incongruity: her sitting cross-legged on the floor is typically child-like whilst her well-developed body and mature face are those of a twentysomething. The infantilisation of females in advertising is, of course, nothing new: in his seminal work Gender Advertisements (1979), Irving Goffman noted that women and children were depicted on the floor much more frequently than men -  a process he viewed as  ‘ritualized subordination’. Goffman also had cause to discuss the common ‘fingers-to-the-mouth’ pose, which gesture too is reminiscent of a child’s behaviour and suggests anxiety, uncertainty and an overall lack of agency. Consonant with the advert’s high connotative index though, this hand placement encourages further chaining: firstly, the model’s finger points indexically at her mouth – the organ associated with taste, thereby linking to the perfume’s gourmand theme; secondly, and more generally, the act of self touch objectifies the body, suggesting it is a precious object or even, in the present case, a gift, wrapped up in bows and ribbons.
As a key oppositional feature, the contrast between the immature and the mature is elaborated through the advert’s colour scheme. Here, the grey background and pink foregrounded elements enter into paradigmatic relation, juxtaposing innocence (or at least abstinence) with express sexuality.
Finally, it is interesting to muse on the use of linguistic signs that, prima facie, are limited to communicating only the bare facts about the product. The name ‘Bonbon’ is privileged by its headline position and large size. The white on grey sans-serif typeface is contemporary and grown-up in feel, legible and transmits this key datum with a directness that is served by the model’s gaze. The interplay between text and figure can also be observed in the way that the word ‘Bonbon’, when taken together with the seated model, suggests in outline a bonbon/bow shape. Scanning downwards, we find at the bottom of the advert a description of the perfume as ‘the new feminine fragrance’. Its small font size however, indicates this information to be of only minor significance. Ultimately, all these signs culminate in a single super-sign, ‘Viktor & Rolf’, the brand's name which, as Jean Baudrillard reminded us, is the only real message.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

City Love Review

Dueto débuted in 2011 with a trio of perfumes, the most interesting of which – Golden Boy, I reviewed a couple of years ago. Even at its release however, the rose / ‘oud’ theme expressed by City Love was seeming quite passé.
Signed by Olivier Pescheux, the fragrance pairs a familiarly synthetic feeling dark woody accord with patchouli that helps adds some vegetal texture. The complementary rose is overall pink, yet possesses a hint of breadyness and a diffusive, Mefrosol like geranium quality. The  citrusy notes meanwhile, are given a lemongrass twist for assured, heady freshness.

Nose: Olivier Pescheux
House: Dueto Parfums
Release date: 2011
Notes (per Fragrantica): violet, lemongrass, cinnamon, geranium, rose, patchouli, agarwood, cypriol oil.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Salome Review

Salome by perfumer Liz Moores is a dense floral chypre whose heavy use of naturals and strong animalic bent place it in the same broad category as Bogue’s Maai, which I recently reviewed. Many of my reservations in respect to the latter apply here too, but ultimately this is simply a matter of taste. 
Jasmine, orange blossom and rose constitute Salome’s deep floral heart that comes off not so much indolic as almost petrol like. The head accord contrasts fresh orange with a good dose of cumin and an already detectable styrax which together introduce the leathery, phenolic, woody, animalic theme that comes to dominate. Particularly apparent here is hyraceum which in recent years has found favour among several indy perfumers. While hyraceum has the advantage over castoreum insofar as it can be harvested without harm to the animal that produces it, its tincture nonetheless seems to lack a certain warmth that comes through with (real) castoreum at dilution. Perhaps for this reason, Moores elaborated the chypre base with additional animalics for a fuller feel. 
While my personal preference is for perfumes that are structured with a greater sense of space and clarity, Salome’s style is sure to find receptive noses.  

Nose: Liz Moores
House: Papillon Artisan Perfumes
Release date: 2015
Notes (per Fragrantica): bitter orange, bergamot, turkish rose, orange blossom, tobacco, carnation, jasmine, hyrax, styrax, vanilla, hay, patchouli, oakmoss, cumin, birch, castoreum.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Anjin Review

Anjin’s head accord is constructed around a light/dark contrast with zingy citrus notes being shaded by clove and allspice. The hesperidic top links to a lightly herbal heart that has a warm, gingery aura and the whole thing lifts off the skin with a C12 (MNA) aldehyde type gaseousness. As Anjin’s woodsy base begins to assert itself, the fragrance comes to somewhat resemble No.5, if you can imagine the latter minus its floral notes: incense-like aldehydes atop a musky, ambery, sandalwood fond. The sandalwood here is lightly creamy with a hint of nuttiness, but it has a more modern, Javanol-y feel.
A thoughtfully made perfume.

Nose: Chris Bartlett
House: Pell Wall Perfumes
Release date: 2011
Notes (per Basenotes): Bergamot, cedrat, green mandarin, lime, neroli, coriander, pink pepper, ginger, violet, ambergris, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka, white musk.