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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Three For The Road From The Outlet Mall

By Donna

Not too long ago I found myself at an outlet shopping center, surrounded by enticing stores featuring deeply discounted goods. As any good perfumista would do, I ignored all but one of them; I headed into Fragrance Outlet. A Perfumania store used to be there, but I lost interest in that chain since they never seemed to have samples – you had to buy either a mini or a full bottle unsniffed, and if you did not already know what you were getting, it could be a little scary. This store was a little more user friendly, and it even carried some nicer fragrances; I spied some Annick Goutal bottles behind the counter and they even had the newer Demeter releases. Of course, most of the fragrances were mainstream, but there was one attraction that drew me in –samples for sale!

As most perfume fanatics know, talking a sales associate in a department store out of a sample can be tough, even if you are making a purchase. They are extremely reluctant to part with these apparently precious commodities. There before my eyes were several racks of manufacturers’ carded samples. Many of them were common things I could find anywhere, but there were some that seemed a bit off the beaten path. They were mainstream, yes, but not currently popular to my knowledge. I decided to try three new scents that I knew nothing about and see what I got. I would try them first, and only then would I do the research and find out more. So I grabbed three little mystery cards and headed home.

First up: Chic by Carolina Herrera. This opens with a very fizzy burst, and turns immediately into a kind of boozy floral. There is a distinct note of orange and some woody heft to it. It is quite dry, though also a little sweet, and quite pleasing. I have to be careful with orange scents; Clinique Happy smells like orange cleaning solution on me. For orange (the fruit, not the flower) to succeed on me, it needs some wood or amber or vanilla, something to anchor it so I do not end up smelling like Eau de Orange Crush. As this scent developed, the woody notes began to intensify and deepen, and the orange became a little bitter, more of a bigarade than a mandarin. This is a good thing for me. All in all, this is a sophisticated woody floral that is easy to wear. It continued to maintain the slightly boozy quality, like a very grown-up sort of orange cocktail. It’s not as good as the original Carolina Herrera perfume, a strong and indolic white floral, but it’s nice enough. Longevity is not too great after three or four hours it had faded badly. It is an Eau de Parfum, and it should have lasted longer.

Okay, now that I have experienced this one, it’s time to find out more and deconstruct it. Chic was a 2002 release, and I do not recall it at all, which means it probably sank like a stone at the time. It is widely available online at discount merchants, however. I found a partial list of the notes at several of these stores: Mandarin, orange flower, Bourbon vanilla, white musk, red freesia, Bulgarian rose and sandalwood. From a blurb at Perfumeland.com we get this, which must be the original marketing copy:

“Chic is a fragrance overflowing with inspiration. An original and evocative balance between delicate, distinctive freshness and enduring sensuality. Linked to the floral woody musk family, Chic was created for the woman who adores improvisation, and is not afraid of change because she lives in the moment.”

The bottle is rectangular and very spare and modern, a slab of plain glass with a bright red top. I like it quite a bit, it looks easy to hold but also a little tippy. It could be one of those annoying bottles that always falls over onto the counter when I paw madly through the tester selection. (Oh, like you never do that!)

The next sample is Miss Boucheron by Boucheron. I found the first Boucheron namesake fragrance far too sweet, but I loved Jaipur and I used to wear it a lot. Jaipur Saphir was all right, but not special enough for me to purchase it. After that I lost track of all the flankers and other Boucherons. I knew absolutely nothing about this one, or if I did, I forgot it.

Well, I opened up the card and it said: woody floral EDP, another one! However, when I applied it I got the signature Boucheron fruity-floral accord, with almost a candied feel to it. For a few minutes it was very nice, a little reminiscent of Jaipur, and then it started to get a metallic/plastic character. I steadfastly resisted scrubbing at this point, and it got over itself in a few more minutes. Still not getting much in the way of woody notes, but it remained pleasant if not outstanding in any way. It lasted a little better than the Chic did but not too much, and in the end it was just ordinary. I would not purchase this fragrance. It seems to have been “dumbed-down” to fit the current rage for fruity-florals with few or no distinguishing qualities.

So, now I go and see what I can find out about this one. Oh wow – it has its own web site! And an annoying one at that, with music and queasy Flash animation! Just what I wanted. I won’t link to it but if you want to see it go to miss boucheron dot com. It’s VERY pink too. Anyway, here are the notes, top to bottom: Bergamot, Grenade (grenadine/pomegranate), pink pepper, violet, Bulgarian rose, cyclamen, Virginian cedarwood, white suede and musk. In other words – standard fruity-floral. Of course the ad copy says it is inspired by their jewelry and it is meant for a “bold, impertinent” woman. Sure, if she is twelve years old and stealing lipstick from Maman’s dresser. A little more research and I find that this one is a 2007 release. I can’t imagine that the development team behind this one did not know just how many fragrances are out there just like it. Too bad. The bottle is adorable, if very pink, and it would appeal to a lot of very young women just for that. The shape is inviting and obviously meant to evoke a cabochon jewel like the other Boucheron bottles.

The last of the trio is an eponymous release by Maria Sharapova. I had read just one review about it a long time ago, and I forgot what it was like, and I had never smelled it so it fit my criteria. All I know about her is that she is very pretty and is a good tennis player, so I have no preconceived idea about her that might result in a biased opinion of the scent. (Anyone who actually plays tennis lives in a different world than I do, anyway.) I spritzed it on: a light floral and NO fruit! This alone puts me on its side right away. Quite nice to start, it reminds me a little of Jontue, the drugstore perfume that Jane Seymour used to flog years ago, and maybe just a touch of White Shoulders. It is very fresh and light, so now I have to wait to see if the dreaded cheapness creeps in. Well, something does, and rather quickly; something candied that could be fruit, and an oddly sour, astringent note I can’t quite put my finger on. It could be a wood accord of some kind, but it feels “off” somehow. Not to worry too much, however, as the fragrance itself fades quickly and in a couple of hours I can barely detect anything on my skin, just a faint sweetness so devoid of character that if I did not know what it as I would not know how to begin to identify it. This was also an Eau de Parfum, and I expected better longevity. I wonder what concentration this actually is. An EDP of a higher quality fragrance can last many more hours.

Onward to the Internet I go, to learn more about the fragrance. Here we find a description of this 2005 release on FragranceX.com:

“Maria Sharapova Perfume by Parlux, Maria Sharapova opens up with sweet mandarin and a fresh bergamot, then blends into pomegranate, cassis berries and lemongrass. With hints of gardenia, jasmine and magnolia, also has musk, white amber and vanilla.”

Well, the lemongrass explains the pungent note I smelled, and yes of course there IS fruit once the initial floralcy fades. If the pomegranate and cassis were the real thing I would like it a lot, but they are almost certainly laboratory re-creations. Real cassis is a rich and powerful note, and pomegranate is delicious and tart if done properly. This is a disappointing scent for what it could have been. It is simply not memorable. (It’s by Parlux, which also make the Paris Hilton scents, which kind of says it all.)

The bottle is nice, very girly, sprigged with a little cluster of leaves and flowers and sporting a crystal cap, and again pink is the theme.

All three of these fragrances are quite inoffensive, but that’s not enough for a fragrance to do; you might as well not wear perfume at all if you want to disappear. Of these, the only one I would consider actually wearing is Chic, as it has a woody charm that persists beyond the top notes and does not morph into a faceless chemical aroma. The other two are forgettable and do not really appeal to me beyond their promising openings, which of course fail to deliver the goods. That they were all of EDP strength yet had little lasting power speaks to me of the lack of care and thought that went into them and was instead lavished on their ad campaigns. Like others of their kind, that is all they have before they sink into the vast sea of mediocrity that is mainstream fragrances aimed squarely at young American women. Do the perfume powers that be really think that women will settle for this type of marketing when there is so much more to be had if they ever step into the world of really fine perfumery? Do they think that young women are vapid, formless creatures with no opinions of their own? You would think so if the scents on the market are any indication. This was only a tiny sample of course, but I have tried so many of these faceless ones I can’t help feeling that it’s an uphill battle to get people to stop buying this stuff and at least visit the Guerlain counter if they shop for their perfume at a department store. They might find out that the stuff their grandmothers wore is a lot sexier and more powerful than the juice being foisted on the younger women.

Image credits: Chic from expresschemist.uk/Miss Boucheron from femme-en-ville.com/Maria Sharapova from vtennis.co.uk

11 Comments:

Blogger tmp00 said...

I love outlet shopping; I've never been as lucky as you to get this type of bonanza, however I have shops along Broadway in downtown LA that also sell samples. I may steal your idea and do a random test.

Thanks for a great post!

12:16 AM EST  
Blogger marchlion said...

That's really fun; I would love to have been sniffing there with you.

When you go into those places you realize how many zillions of fragrances there are. There's a store buried in a mall near me that is odd stuff in weird bottles, 75% of which I've never seen. I keep looking for the hidden gem in there, like you, and thus far have not found it.

7:51 AM EST  
Anonymous leopoldo said...

You're a brave woman!

7:52 AM EST  
Blogger elle said...

I need to get my derriere to one of the outlet malls near here and see if they have any hidden gems.
I'm afraid I think it's more than an uphill battle. Just can't help but feel less than optimistic about the future of mainstream perfumery.

9:51 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laughed at "It could be one of those annoying bottles that always falls over onto the counter when I paw madly through the tester selection. (Oh, like you never do that!)"

Another fun article, thanks. I like those perfume outlets too, there is something pleasantly frivolous about them (although I normally disdain outlet shopping).

-Existentialist

12:28 PM EST  
Anonymous andy said...

Ok, time to be honest: I love outlets and lucky me: There are no outlets close to my place....but I remember my northeast trip in the US, spending a fortune on all these fantastic brands for such a low price.

3:51 PM EST  
Blogger greeneyes said...

I'm always scared of perfume outlets (except online ones, and I should probably be *more* afraid of those!) and those perfume stores tucked away in an obscure corner of the mall...but if they had samples, I might be willing. This was a fun post!

And yes--I too have knocked over a number of perfume bottles trying to get at a tester. ;)

7:19 PM EST  
Blogger d. chedwick bryant said...

The Woodbury Commons Outlet Mall lies between NYC and the Catskills. The Designer Perfume Outlet there sells sample sizes and the lowest priced minis I have ever seen. There is supposed to be some huge warehouse in Brooklyn just loaded with perfumes... or is it just folklore?

11:39 PM EST  
Anonymous Flora said...

Tom, I love shopping of any kind, and outlet shopping is Nirvana!

March, it is indeed amazing just how many fragrances are out there. I will never get through them all, but at least it's fairly easy for someone with enough experience in these things to figure out which ones are a waste of time.

Leopoldo, thank you! Hey, once I did the same thing with drugstore "smellalike" dupes - still not sure if that was brave or just stupid. ;-)

Elle, you never know. I may have to head back there soon and see what else they have. Those Goutals may still be there...

Thank you, Anonymous Existentialist. There is absolutely nothing wrong with frivolous in my book. You gotta have some fun!

Andy, I am so glad you discovered outlet shopping on your trip! Over here, shopping is like a sport. My personal motto is "Never pay retail!"

Greeneyes, you never know what hidden treasures lurk in those places. Sometimes you get lucky and find something great that you already know so the lack of a tester is no problem. Of course, you have to wade through all the poor quality scents to find the gems.

D. chedwick - that almost makes me wish I lived on the East Coast again! I am in the West, and not too far from THE largest outlet mall in the western states, though that is not where I found this store. The Woodburn Company Stores is the biggest, south of Portland, Oregon in the I-5 corridor. Pure shopping bliss, that place. :-D

1:59 AM EST  
Anonymous Women's fragrances said...

Nice post, looks like a real adventure that outlet mall ...
Me? I get dizzy after smelling more than 2 or 3 perfumes, so I just buy the same one for the last 20 years :-)

7:33 AM EDT  
Anonymous pheromones attract women said...

I also love shopping outlet just realizing how many fragrances there are. Anyway,will certainly visit your site more often now.

cletsey

1:33 AM EDT  

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