With Love in Black, Creed, somewhat rhetorically, proposes a new style of perfumery, asking adult women to try returning to stodgy Rococo florals rendered in a postmodern, semi-gourmand oriental style. No easy task, especially since Rococo-era perfumes are all but extinct, with almost no surviving formulas. "But Bryan," you groan, "That's not a new style of perfumery. It's been done to death!" To this I can only say, yes and no. If we delve into the canons of French form, we find dozens of examples, from Opium to Paris, Angel to Insolence, 28 La Pausa to Joop! Femme.
True, all are bellowing foghorns of super-sweet orientalism, aldehydic caricatures of real floral accords, and/or unapologetic synthetic pastiches of every aroma chemical fabricated since 1964. One would be hard pressed to find anything original at this stage of the game, save for the occasional freak of nature among unnatural things, which is an oxymoron wrapped in cliche. Yet Love in Black pushes through the ramparts with a style of fragrance I have yet to encounter, not due to its scent profile, which is quite broad and widely imitated, but for its ability to change, evolve, and mutate, with every turn equally wide, and every note equally loud.
My description may elicit shrugs, but consider this: when was the last time you sniffed an intricate fragrance that morphed into something new exactly four times in two hours, without ever decreasing in complexity or character? And when was the last time this fragrance resembled in equal parts a floral structure and a postmodern form?
Moving against their own grain, the noses at Creed decided to take a risk with Love in Black and devise a formula with classical French forms bloated like beached whales, all done entirely with synthetics. Forget the natural tinctures of old, the antiquated nobility of true floral bodies derived from extracts and oils. Swap it all for expensive lab experiments, gallons of Ambroxan, ionones, aldehydes, and everything else Givaudan keeps under the counter. Perhaps Chanel's 28 La Pausa would be a reference point for how traditional modern iris is presented in feminine perfumery, but if you exacerbate the neon hi-gloss zeitgeist of 2012's feminine fashion zone and cull only the most obnoxious, shallow, artless styles, 28 fades out, and something like LiB's top note fades in.
This is synthetic iris, plain and simple, with all its artifice amped up, deliberately exposing the crudeness of Ambroxan. It smells like someone weaponized Play-Doh and turned it into an aerosol spray. The note is dense, colorless, fuzzy, semi-sweet, semi-bitter, almost like turnips left out in the sun for days on end, and then suddenly rained on. The elegance of iris would be expected to jump ship, but instead somehow reverts to a classical poise, where the gauzy, haunted serenity of this note becomes self-effacing, tongue-in-cheek, and over-extended to the point of hilarious parody.
But the joke isn't on us; LiB's swagger is bombastic but always beautiful, with a directness usually found in the stodgier eighteenth and nineteenth century compositions by this firm. Just as I'm starting to think this perfume is top-heavy, the cloud implodes on itself, becoming more of a low-lying haze, enshrouding the shimmering elements of Stage Two.
Enter rose, violet, blackcurrant, sandalwood, and cedar. Imagine these notes are not used to create an abstract Chanel-like accord, but are instead rendered individually, each with its own fidelity, distinct, separate, yet bundled together, and all shouting at the top of their lungs. The truth in this approach is beheld in older modes of French high perfumery, in things like Lubin's Black Jade, or Creed's own Fantasia de Fleurs. Before synthetics, the naturals could only be blended so much before their differences in viscosity and intensity became apparent, and notes stood out resolutely as their own players in an olfactory card game, betting stakes that they alone were what made the proceedings worth watching. If it contained rose, jasmine, bergamot, you smelled rose, jasmine, bergamot.
This is also apparent in the current formula of Shalimar, which for all intents and purposes smells incredibly natural and boasts ridiculous note separation. To date, Shalimar is the only Guerlain I've sniffed that does this with naturals and synthetics. Creed decided to do it with the highest-quality synthetics it could find, and the result is like a Fragonard done in DecoArt acrylics.
Again, LiB strains credulity, not because things get boring, but rather for its absurdly bright insistence, with the rose and violet notes remaining unflinchingly sweet, the fruit lending them a crystalline edge that siphons feedback but not volume, the woods creating a solid base to this temporary stage, rounding things out warmly and with sophistication.
Stage Three begins around the ninety-minute mark, and this is the part of LiB that scares me the most. Rapidly, the flowers fuse together, the fruit becomes yet brighter, the woods sweeten, and a frighteningly sweet musk composition appears. That's right, a musk composition - two or three separate musks, all sweet, all vying for supremacy, suddenly overtaking what has been, up until now, a purely postmodern interpretation of the classical floral chypre. But no! This isn't a chypre! This is a floral oriental, replete with woods and musks that defy explanation.
This part could easily be misconstrued as a sugar-bomb (I myself reviewed it as such upon initially trying it), but further examination brings a different conclusion. The sweetness is purely synthetic musk, and it bludgeons the delicate overtures of Phase Two with saccharine smiles, dirty winks and nods. It smells good, but it's almost crass, and if it wasn't for the continued presence of Ambrox, I'd say it was the point at which this scent loses its mojo. Fortunately the balance between lovely and obscene is maintained.
This later phase is the shortest, and mercifully slips away as rapidly as it came, relieving me of its brutal
hiss kiss. The far drydown is the most staid part of LiB, and perversely also the least enjoyable. The woods return, with sandal and cedar now flanked with birch and something akin to the saw-dusty wood of English Leather.
Hints of jasmine, violet, rose, and iris linger in the periphery, with jasmine making a cameo before succumbing to the more overt syrupy tones of the other flowers. It's beautiful, it's unbelievably loud, it's ridiculously well made, but it's altogether the most demure part, a Belle du Jour who resists Madame Anais and really does keep her top on. But perhaps "Belle" is the wrong way of looking at things - Love in Black could very well be the best masculine Creed to come out in the last five years.