Because I’m a complete geek as well as a perfume geek, I was so excited to see Vesper Lynd’s personal effects near the end of Casino Royale and recognize a fragrance bottle. The handful of personal items, a tumble of things from her purse, expressed so concisely and in a few, elegant strokes just who she was. I am a harsh critic of movies and found myself really delighted by this clever visual haiku, this allegory of personality. (What might it say about me if my purse contents were shown? Oh dear, oh dear.)
Of course I looked up the fragrance, Santa Maria Novella’s Melograno. It opens with a blast of citrusy, sharp aldehydes and progresses to sexy hints of incense, leather, and (yes, I do barely get) pomegranate along with the aldehydes and musk at the impressively mossy drydown. It is sweet and, after the rather piercing opening, rather tender, despite its assertive sillage. The overall impression is somehow penitent of its worldliness, as of skin impeccably scrubbed with expensive soap and then powdered into forgetting it is damp and breathing flesh.
Like the fictional Miss Lynd herself, it is not exactly what I expected. It suits her to a T: clean and proper as can be, but musky beneath the surface; simultaneously tender and sharp; severe, but with hints of ripe sensuality. Melograno does not suit me: it is both too sharp and too sweet for me, and I am no penitent. However, there are some days when I crave its strangely tart and squeaky clean dry down.
I also looked up James Bond’s rumored choice of colognes: Floris No. 89. No. 89 reminds me (quite delightfully) of Ivory soap upon the open – again, soapy clean, with traces of citrus, lavender, bergamot, rose, and nutmeg. It evolves slowly and seamlessly, exposing its other notes seamlessly … dangerous ylang and neroli, and finally the downright animal sensuality of its oakmoss, sandalwood, and musk dry down. Like Melograno, No. 89 is quintessentially English perfumery, and surprisingly tender.
Whether or not the attribution of No. 89 as James Bond’s signature scent is apocryphal, it does evoke Mr. Craig’s moody depiction of character quite brilliantly. It starts out tidy, clean, and impeccably classic – even retro. Steadily, it slips its chain and becomes larger than life… surprisingly vulnerable and brutally seductive at once and by turns, this one fairly howls at the moon before it’s done. I find No. 89 completely desirable but not always manageable, as I discovered one day when I wore it to work and the rather rutty oakmoss and musk made themselves known.
Like the characters they adorn, both scents are surprisingly similar on the drydown. Both feature drydowns of powdery oakmoss, sandalwood, and musk, with his & hers accessories – acid elegance (powder, aldehydes, and incense) for her, classic male grooming (lavender, cedar, and vetiver) for him. If you want your secret agent scent tart and stern, give Melograno a try. If you prefer it deep and a little edgy, your poison is No. 89 instead. I find it endlessly fascinating that, as Casino Royale so piquantly explores when the two agents meet and verbally joust on a train, two distinctive characters can turn out to be so similar and yet so vividly themselves.
Please be kind and keep the comments as spoiler-free as possible for those who have not seen Casino Royale yet. (And if you haven't, oh, please do. Aside from being stone cold gorgeous, Daniel Craig has a genius knack for the character.)
Image by Greg Williams.