5/3/14

Derby (Guerlain, 1985)



It is funny that I should wear Derby on the same day that I see a disappointing house. The real estate advert portrayed an expansive 1,700 sq ft ranch with a 600 sq ft finished basement and a nice yard. The reality was a run-down home with frayed flooring, an ugly kitchen, pointlessly small bedrooms, and a disturbingly makeshift "finish" to the basement. On the outside though, it seemed quite nice, the quintessential middle class Connecticut home.

Vintage Derby is rather like the house in question. Unlike other reviewers, I think the vintage bottle is a very pretty package, with Art Deco glasswork and a charmingly over-sized crescent moon cap. I don't have the bottle personally, just a sample, but if I were blind-buying a Guerlain, Derby would have a good shot with me. Luca Turin attributes Derby's commercial difficulties to the ugly bottle, but I see no reason why the original bottle design would have held back sales. It is interesting, and suggests the perfume is equally interesting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Derby is a boring cross between a cheap nutmeg-based masculine like British Sterling, and an equally cheap rose/jasmine powder-puff drugstore feminine (take your pick of any of Coty's or Dana's). What elevates it above this pedestrian terrain is its high quality ingredients. The moss, nutmeg, jasmine, and light, slightly smoky wood notes are all delicately and finely rendered with excellent raw materials. But I'd rather hear a good song played badly than a bad song played well, and Derby is unremittingly bad, the sort of nutmeg-driven foghorn that makes faster fading alternatives like Dana's putrid British Sterling more desirable, unless you're a staunch lover of nutmeg. I'm not.

Reader, always be suspicious of a perfume that people tout as being "an unnoticed gem," an "underrated masterpiece." Derby has been in and out of production for almost thirty years, and remains a tough sell for Guerlain. This is not by accident. Its commercial sales figures aren't reflective of the ignorant masses. Many people, likely millions of them over the course of three decades, have sampled Derby and found it to be an off-putting nutmeg composition with a fetid and forgettably woodsy drydown. It's a smell they've rejected, which is why its market share is under duress. The world never came around to it, because there's not much to come around to. It ain't the bottle we should be blaming here.

A review of the current reissued version is pending.





12 comments:

  1. Hi Bryan! My name is Sigrun and I do the RiktigParfym perfume blog. I've been thinking about the "scent prisms" you wrote about last summer and I wonder if I can borrow one of your scent prism images (of course I'll give you all credit for them and link back to your posts) for my upcoming post? I'll only write good things about them :)

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    1. Hi Sigrun, yes you may use the prism on your blog. Please feel free to create your own using my example also.

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    2. My post is up and running now. It's not only about the scent prisms, but they are featured there :) You can find it at http://riktigparfym.se/2014/05/04/palettes-an-alternative-approach-to-describing-perfume/

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    3. It's a great read! Thank you for sharing, and good luck with your prisms! I will be including prisms of vintage and "new" Derby in an upcoming post. I've also added your blog to my blogroll.

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    4. Thank you! Iäll be looking forward to the new prisms :)

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  2. Besides the nickname of the 'Constitution State,' Connecticut also has the the other nickname of the 'Nutmeg State.' You reside in CT and yet, you don't like nutmeg?

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    1. The taste of nutmeg is appealing when used lightly on pie and eggnog. The smell gets old fast.

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    2. Nutmeg is also good on spinach--along with freshly ground black pepper! ;-)

      A warning, Bryan: not only is looking for a new abode a full-time job, moving is as well! Good luck with your search. Fortunately for you, the housing market sounds much better there than here (Boston). Perhaps I should move to Connecticut! ;-)

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    3. Ick, nutmeg and spinach? No thanks.
      The moving process is only daunting if you have a lot of stuff. I barely own anything, just my clothing and two pieces of furniture. It's finding the home that is proving most difficult. Hope your endeavors are more fruitful!

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  3. Bryan, I've nomiated you for the Liebster Award on my writing blog - feel free to check it out :) http://mywritingwoes.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/the-liebster-award/

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  4. I have a 10 ml decant of Derby, but I believe it's from an interim rendition; not the 1985 original nor the 2012 reissue (I've had my sample for at least 8 years). Perhaps indeed it is the original.

    Anyway I've long had Derby in my top ten and I'm among those ardent fans. Your take is an interesting one especially since you're among those few who give old school fragrances a fair chance. I'm a bit surprised at your disdain, but sometimes we just don't click with a fragrance. You're a big Caron Pour un Homme fan and I can't stand it, much as I've tried (I've purchased three separate bottles over the years and just can't fall in love).

    For a similar fragrance you may check out Shiseido's Zen, currently at Macy's marketed to women. Maybe that one would pique your interest a bit more; I find it similar in structure to Derby.

    Where I most strongly disagree is your assertion that Derby's lack of stellar sales is proof of lack of quality. There is plenty of garbage that is phenomenally popular and vice versa, whether in perfume or any of the arts. Derby's price point and relative obscurity (that is, it is not available at every corner mall and drugstore) are as much a factor. Derby is an old-fashioned fragrance and many, especially contemporary, folks just don't have the patience and desire for them (check out Grey Flannel's current reviews on You Tube and fragrance boards if you doubt this).

    PS. I'm a big mid century modern buff, so good luck with the house hunt.

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    1. If you put a gun to my head I'd admit Derby isn't garbage. It is decent enough. I don't think it would survive full-scale mass production, but I guess it's a solid Guerlain. I simply hate it. I have to think its most ardent fans are a select group who just crave this type of composition. Keep in mind I'm biased against nutmeg.

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