Sunday, 29 November 2015

Bois d'Ascèse Review

Earlier this year, fast-food giant Burger King announced they were releasing a limited edition ‘Flame-Grilled Fragrance’. Said to evoke the scent of a cooked patty, it promised customers the experience of ‘feel[ing] like they’re in a restaurant any time’. The fragrance was only sold in Japan, and there only for one day (April 1st, natch.). How it smelt, I’ll probably never know, but should I ever be struck by the urge to appropriate the odour of barbequed meat, Naomi Goodsir’s Bois d’Ascèse presents as a very viable solution.
The composition is built around a massively smoky, phenolic cade/birchtar complex with some additional sweet woody accents coming from Iso E and perhaps guaiac. At such high concentration, this accord is unapologetic in its grilled meatiness. The top includes some terpy citrus notes that introduce an incense contrast. The latter however, only really becomes apparent in the deep dry-down when much of the smoke has cleared. What remains then is actually quite sensual and animalic, being a soft mix of incense, musks, resins and moss (replacer).

House: Naomi Goodsir
Perfumer: Julien Rasquinet
Release date: 2012
Notes (per Fragrantica): whisky, tobacco, cinnamon, amber, labdanum, oakmoss, cedar, incense.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Semiotic Spritz Part 4: Paco Rabanne's Olympéa: Wet Dreams (Are Made Of This)

It was film critic Laura Mulvey who coined the phrase ‘male gaze’ in her 1975 essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. Mulvey’s intention was to lay bare the gender-power asymmetry in film and expose the ways in which females are objectified by the camera’s outlook, which is most typically that of a heterosexual man. To gaze, it is argued, implies more than to look: it orders power and sexuality and renders women passive objects that exist for men’s consumption. Whilst perfume adverts are no different in this connection from other forms of visual media, Alexandre Courtès' recent film for Paco Rabanne’s Olympéa presents us with a remarkable fetishisation of the male gaze.
The advert’s narrative traces the course of a straight, adolescent male’s wet dream, its setting on ancient Mt.Olympos evoking mythic forms and providing ample opportunities for Freudian shots of columns and arches:
Making her way through Greek temple ruins, the anachronistically attired Olympéa actively participates in her own spectaclisation, clapping her hands to attract the attention of the godly male figures that line her path. With each new pair of eyes that devour her image, the intensity of gaze increases, achieving climax when finally she arrives at a cavernous pool penetrated by shafts of light. Pausing as she enters its waters, Olympéa turns to meet our voyeuristic stare and by this act, violates the rule of visual domination - much in the way of Manet's scandalous Olympia (1863). Suddenly it is we who are subjected to the gaze’s power and experience all the embarrassment of a Peeping Tom who has just been discovered. The emotional jolt that results is captured in the final shower scene showing two naked males who, caught unawares by a knowing Olympéa, clutch at their genitals. As the conclusion of the dream, this also represents the moment the dreamer awakens to his nocturnal emission.
In directing this advert, Courtès reportedly wanted ‘…to express a notion of power without the use of force’; to showcase a ‘strong and beautiful woman that walks with confidence and poise’ and who ‘didn’t have to choose between beauty and intelligence, because she has it all’. Brava! Olympéa, we’re invited to exclaim. Not for her the slavish task of emptying hydriai over men! Not for her the adoption of subordinated postures before gazing males! And yet, for all this (and Kanye West’s blaring insistence), just how empowered is Olympéa?

Her power is directly proportional to her ability to achieve objectification through a performance of beauty; to the degree that she can embody the object of sight for a man’s pleasure, she is capable of subverting his gaze. This dynamic affords Olympéa the potential to employ a jūdō like power against her oppressor, but Courtès is keen to assure us it in no way represents a serious challenge to the male order:
Through a gross exaggeration of relative size, the social situation of women in Courtès’ film is expressed through their diminutive stature. Driving a Matchbox car that is dwarfed even by a ghetto blaster, Olympéa is nothing but a figurine; a play thing for otherwise bored males. In the Head/Body economy of this world, a decapitated woman is still all body (cf. critiques of ‘headless’ women in advertising), and a decapitated man is still all head. This we are reminded of by the disembodied, male rock-face that watches over the pool in which Olympéa bathes - a terrifying, totalitarian symbol of gendered dominance.

And so it is that, by coopting elements from popular ‘women’s empowerment’ movements, Courtès is able to reinforce a repressive, Patriarchal ideology.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Métal Hurlant Review

I’ve so far been very positive in my assessment of Pierre Guillaume’s Collection Croisière and Métal Hurlant poses no exception. Inherent in the idea of a cruise is a crossing and the two words share an etymological link. Beyond the perfumes’ transportive powers however, lies a shared intersecting of unusual themes. In Métal Hurlant, this novel crossing involves leather and herbal notes.
The herbal complex is arranged around patchouli with agrestic, linalool/linalyl acetate type accents and hints of licorice. This is extended with some powerful (but not overpowering) woody-amber odorants that really enliven the Suede(ral) dominated base.   
The accompanying PR suggests the perfume is intended to evoke the wild energy of a Harley tearing up an open road with the listed notes including rubber tyre, chrome and gasoline accords. Whilst the composition does indeed call to mind the idea of a greasy biker jacket, a (no doubt deliberate) synthetic vibe prevents Métal Hurlant from ever achieving that second-skin wearability of, say, Chanel’s Cuir de Russie.

Nose: Pierre Guillaume
House: Pierre Guillaume La Collection Croisière
Release date: 2015
Notes (per Basenotes): fresh paint accord, rubber tyre accord, leather, chrome, gasoline accord, musks.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Semiotic Spritz Part 3: Dior's J'Adore: Of Horses and Carriages

Launched in 1999, J’adore’s crowning moment arrived in 2011 when it replaced No.5 as the top-selling female fragrance in France. Since then, its star may have dimmed a bit, being partially eclipsed by Lancôme’s La Vie est Belle (2012), but J’adore remains Dior’s highest selling perfume and was 2014’s second best selling perfume overall. As such, it is unsurprising that the LVMH owned brand should continue to invest heavily in its promotion.
The above advert’s most salient symbol is gold: there’s gold writing, a gold flacon and a gold model set against a gold background. It’s right there in the name, too: J’adore, ‘(d’)or’ being French for gold(en). A cursory reading of the text then, suggests it aims to communicate a message of conspicuous luxury. In our blinged-out, rhinestone-encrusted age however, Dior knows it needs to go beyond gaudy appeals to aspirationalism to retain its market share:
By illuminating the letter ‘o’, a matrimonial symbol viz. a gold ring is brought into direct contact with the concept of love as expressed by the perfume’s name (‘I love’, in English).
Viewed another way, the ‘o’ is suggestive of a halo which, combined with reference to marriage (historically a sacred institution) creates a religious subtext with a devotional imperative. These messages are reinforced through a strong continuity of image that has seen ‘screen goddess’ Charlize Theron hang on as the face of J’adore for over a decade.
In terms of its marketing strategy then, it would appear that rather than attempting to woo new consumers away from caremellic gourmands, Dior is instead looking to encourage loyalty amongst J’adore’s existing customer base by evoking traditional themes of fidelity.