6/30/12

Bluebell (Penhaligon's) & Other Thoughts


The week in repose: what a great time. I learned a lot about Japanese culture, and met a truly nice woman, which is rare in Connecticut these days. During my time I had a few thoughts about perfume, my blog, and a sampling of Bluebell by Penhaligon's. Let me get these thoughts out scatter-shot and then settle into the review.

First, I have a few things to say/add to my Social Politics post on Creed. There were a couple of sarcastic remarks in the comments about my doing "great research" and "investigative journalism is in your future," etc. I assume some of this has to do with my contention that most reviewers of Creed are sampling crap and have no idea what they're talking about. Yeah, that seems like a sloppy assertion, but when you read what people write about Creed as much as I do - and buy new bottles of Creed from their boutique - you realize that the opinions being generated are ridiculous. When you read something about Royal Scottish Lavender, like: "A deceptively beautiful opening...rich, lush, expensive and expansive smelling lavender. Then it went away. Bye beautiful lavender...hello weird, burnt toast & dog food note," you're literally reading about a spoiled bottle, and I'm sorry, there's simply no arguing with that. Nothing fresh out of Creed smells like dog food, or burnt toast.

My mall-vendor purchase of Green Valley yielded the same beautiful opening, and weird burnt-toast and dog food note in the drydown. When Creeds go bad, they smell nice for a few minutes, and then morph into mud. It's no big surprise to read that people are having these experiences with Creed. Basenoters and Fragranticans will opine, and then reveal that they buy all their bottles from Fragrancenet, Amazon, or Ebay. The number of guys and girls who have actually come forward in conversations with me and confirmed their purchases from Creed or Neiman Marcus are few and very far between. Follow that up with disingenuous comparisons that mimic Luca Turin in The Guide, and you reach a saturation point for perfume bloggers' attempts to stay "chic."


When it comes to the rest of the blog post, in no section did I definitely state anything about Creed. I'm simply giving them the benefit of the doubt, and when it comes to my position on the vintage packaging of Olivier Creed fragrances from yesteryear, I'm positing my take based on my education, and what I see - which is what I have to go on. Could these bottles be from 1990? Possibly. But when it comes to Creed, there's a lot I don't know, and that's more than most of the skeptics are willing to admit. I guess Luca Turin saying Pierre Bourdon created Green Irish Tweed is enough for many people, but Mr. Turin failed to back it up with facts on basenotes several years ago, and after that conversation I decided his word wasn't the last one after all. One more thing: many people are suspicious of Creed because Laurice Rahme was the brand's sole stakeholder in its American distribution. She's also the woman behind Bond No.9. Why does this warrant suspicion of Creed? Because she's a good marketer? Because she's a successful businesswoman in a male-dominated industry? I guess I'll never know.

The second thing I'd like to talk about is "strong fragrances," perfumes that are perceived to be too much for gentle noses. My Japanese friend had a very light sensibility with perfume, and loved Eau Sauvage on me. She wears Escada Moon Sparkle and considers Mugler Cologne to be too much. Well, the first five minutes of Mugler Cologne. After that, she thought it smelled good.

There are plenty of Americans who prefer to go light and easy with perfume as well. I can understand that, but in all cases I'm not sure what the reasoning is. Aside from getting a headache, what's the harm in smelling something with overt sillage? We have no problem subjecting our eyes to bright colors, or our ears to the hundreds of decibels of New York City traffic. But inhaling a little too much perfume is a scary prospect . . . with Japan, I concede it is cultural. Japanese people favor restraint in all things. They also like classy brand names. Bvlgari fragrances are popular there, scents with breezy personalities. But here in the States, it doesn't compute. Then again, there are plenty of people walking around in hazy clouds of scent. Maybe they're the ones ruining it for the rest of us. I just don't know.

This leads me to Penhaligon's famous floral fragrance (say that three times fast), Bluebell. On Tuesday we went to Yale's British Gallery, viewed their permanent collection, and stopped off in the gift shop afterwards. They had a smaller-than-usual selection of Penhaligon's testers on a shelf. Usually there's twenty-five or thirty testers, but this time only eight or nine. It was a bit odd, but I can only conclude that they either sold out on the rest, or weren't selling them at all.


I don't know what possessed me to do it, but I gave Bluebell a few spritzes. The opening was harsh, astringent, full of sharp chemicals and alcohol, but it rapidly arranged itself into a semblance of galbanum and hyacinth, with a sort of fetid, powdery sweetness that resembles the floral note in Pinaud's Lilac Vegetal aftershave. I dislike Lilac Vegetal, but the mixture of unfriendly greens in the top of Bluebell was different. I liked it.

Then came something else I liked - an earthy cinnamon/clove accord, which smelled very brown, like a pungent forest floor. It wafted across Bluebell's silvery-green notes like a cloud of dust. This effect stuck around for the better part of an hour, and at this stage I was starting to wonder what the hell all the negativity was about. I smelled a conceptual fragrance, understood the concept, and couldn't for the life of me get why people hated it so much . . .

. . . Until the far drydown, which arrived fairly quickly. Somehow the concept folded on itself, and the floral notes, which were light and semi-sweet for a while, suddenly became scratchy, stinky, and unremittingly chemical. This change seemed to sucker-punch the cinnamon/clove thing. The cinnamon became achingly bitter, and the clove smelled like a Glade air freshener. Before long, all I could smell was a sourmash floral note and artificial clove. What the hell happened?

I'll give Luca Turin this much - as far as I can tell, he has Penhaligon's pegged. I've only tried four of their fragrances. To use baseball lingo, they're the Golden Sombrero-wearers of the perfume world. But I'll keep on keeping on.
















10 comments:

  1. Really glad to see your review of Bluebell, as I've been puzzling over this one for a while. I never understood the hateration directed towards it in blogs and forums, but after several tests, I'm still trying to decide if I like it. There's that fetid "swamp water" effect on first spraying. Just when you've given up on it, suddenly you wonder what smells so good and it's you! The hyacinth and the spices have made their appearance. I honestly don't remember the drydown, but it didn't seem that the fragrance was long-lived, or that the good part persisted. Glad to see your corraboration, you've saved me some money.

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    1. There's an awful lot of vitriol directed at this scent, and I don't believe it deserves the vehemence with which so many hate it. There's nothing about Bluebell that spells "unwearable" in legible garamond scent letters, but then again, as my female acquaintance aptly put it, "it smells like a toilet." In a way, I'd almost say it resembles a feminine version of Kouros by YSL, as that hyacinth note gets awfully sharp and a bit sweet, like the bergamot in Kouros. But in the end it does fall apart, and rather badly. If you want another less-clumsy floral from the same house, give Violetta a try.

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  2. Vindication is mine. At least when it comes to the drydown. :)

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    1. It's a good concept with a promising start, but isn't made with quality materials and ends up smelling very cheap. This is why quality of materials is essential to conceptual niche fragrances. If you're working with sub-par designer grade stuff, you should stick to making aftershave, not "Princess Di's perfume."

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  3. Bryan -

    If you had listed an email address on your site I would have sent you a private message, but since I didn't see anything I thought I would send you a note here. The trouble with the mask of email and the written note sometimes leads to mis-interpretation. In no way were my comments meant to be taken as sarcastic. I loved your article and was serious, that some people have a gift for fleshing things out. I like your posts and your passion and your no BS approach. My apologies if you thought I was being rude. Steve

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    1. No worries. Btw, love your blog quite a bit! I'm always reading it. Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading.

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  4. Great insights as usual here. As a Creed fan I have both purchased from third party via Amazon and bit the bullet by purchasing over the counter at Nordstrom. IMO the cost is too high to roll the dice with my Creed selections and accordingly I have stopped ordering from online gray-marketeers in favor of the peace of mind that comes with knowing I have the genuine article. A few dollars more for sure, but -insert maxim/adage of your choice here-. Worth it.

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    1. The cost is far too high to roll the dice here, yet more and more people are willing to do it, especially in America where people want what they want, when they want it - NOW - regardless of whether or not they can actually afford it. If you buy from Walgreens, Fragrancenet, Amazon, you stand a very good chance of getting the genuine article, but a very poor chance of that fragrance being new, unused, and in pristine condition. At $135 for a 4 oz. bottle of Green Irish Tweed, if I get something that smells like piss in the drydown, I'm ripped off far worse than if I just paid the $285 to get it from Creed. And my negative review of GIT on basenotes & fragrantica will be as transparent as Stretch-Tite.

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  5. Hmmm, interesting to read the comments on buying fragrances online. I have bought from online fragrance discounters and Amazon. Everything I've received seems OK, but in future I'll be more suspicious.

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    1. Buying designer fragrances and low-end niche is no problem. When you stray into pricing that surpasses $125 retail, it's unwise to try saving a few bucks on Fragrancenet or Amazon. For every positive review written, you'll likely find two or three unhappy customers. Then again, one can be very lucky - I once purchased Original Vetiver from a clueless vendor at the mall for less than half price, and it turned out to be fine. However, a year later I returned to the same store to buy a bottle of Green Irish Tweed, and it was wearable but definitely a little too old. Its base had soured. Not worth the gamble.

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