11/19/16

The Incanto Charms Problem: Why Cheap Gourmands Usually Don't Work


Coca-Cola Can Do It. Why Can't You?


In 2006 the house of Salvatore Ferragamo released a little inexpensive gourmand feminine called Incanto Charms. The fragrance features a fruity, saccharine opening, followed by an Ethyl Maltol bomb with abstract hints of cheap jasmine. The one and only time I wore it, I was immediately self conscious, wondering if my girlfriend would dump me for smelling like a preteen girl. It's not that IC smells "bad," because in all honesty, this is the sort of composition that young girls love, and it's relatively inoffensive, wafting in gentle clouds of nondescript "sweet." But as a fragrance, considered objectively and without any predetermined contexts, it's as dull and forgettable as a Ken Burns movie.

It raised the question as to whether or not the noses at Ferragamo were just lazy, or if their boring gourmand was part of a larger problem. With other gourmands by Paris Hilton, Beyonce, Coty (non-prestige), and Mugler in the mix, I realized that perfumers are largely missing the point of making someone smell "edible." They're operating in a vacuum, informed only by their communal accomplishments in a pseudo niche realm, and they never stop to ask themselves if they should try a little reverse engineering instead. After all, many gourmands on discounter shelves are being one-upped by something as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola, a mass market soda brand. That's shameful.

I often wonder if perfumers ever think seriously about the link between scent and flavor. Why, for example, hasn't anyone ever made a perfume that smells like Coke, or any of its flavors? Soda reviewer Patrick O'Keefe, creator of the prolific soda review site "Soda Tasting," once said that if Coke made an air freshener of Cherry Coke, he would buy it and use it all the time. Given that this guy has taste tested hundreds of sodas, his sentiment is quite an endorsement. (Vanilla Coke is perhaps the only soda that he awarded with five stars.) This got me curious about Cherry Coke, so I went and bought a few cans and tried it. I hadn't had it in twenty years, and my return to it was a surprise. This stuff is excellent.

When we think about soda, we think two things: "cheap," and "sweet." Sodas are usually just a few cents per can when purchased in bulk, and their flavors are generally disgusting, nondescript, and forgettable, much like the myriad of bargain gourmands being foisted on people here in the States. But Coca-Cola is the exception. Unlike their competitors, the Coke brand has paid extra careful attention to perfecting what they do, rather than just shoving HFCS and one or two fake flavors into a syrup. Cherry Coke has the potential to taste like Dimetapp and sugar cubes, but it actually tastes great. The cola is gentle and crisp, and complemented beautifully by an even-handed and well blended fruity cherry accent that leaves a clean aftertaste. The brains behind it all must have spent a year or two laboring over a way to make fruit cola taste elegant, and they succeeded.

Vanilla Coke is even better. It could have been glorified cream soda, but no. They spent time and money on this flavor. The vanilla isn't candy-like. It's actually fresh, with a brightness that works incredibly well against the cola backdrop. It's so rich and smooth and appealing that it's worth poisoning your pancreas to drink it. It helps that Coke's original formula is a masterpiece, the veritable champagne of colas, full of subtle cola, coca, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange flower, and vanilla notes. If ever there was a crime against the genre of gourmands, it's the neglectful stance the perfume industry has taken in not giving Coke its due. These sodas, in all their simple beauty, should be cloned into wearable art. It wouldn't be too difficult for a decent nose to achieve, and I'd wager millions of teens would fawn over such frags.

Instead, we have Incanto Charms. But hey, at least I don't encounter shelves of Incanto Charms at the grocery store.





13 comments:

  1. The opening of Maison Martin Margiela's Jazz Clubs is almost a dead ringers for Captain Morgan and Coca Cola. The rest of the fragrance falls kind of short imo (the leather note smells pretty cheap), but that captain coke accord is almost like having the real thing at my nose. That drink might taste like shit, but it smells lovely.
    Dr Pepper would also make a great accord

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    1. Agree, Dr Pepper would be great, except which Dr Pepper? The current version of it sucks. Sometime in the last sixteen years they scaled back the "pepper" and amped the sugar waaaaay up too high. Now it's just a sweet, nondescript blah sort of taste. Very disappointing. Perhaps it's just what they did to it here in the USA. Sometimes these companies vary the formula by country.

      Also agree that rum & coke tastes awful. Not sure I want to smell anything that replicates it. But still, Jazz Clubs sounds worth a try.

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  2. I don't drink soda anymore but Coca Cola is an American masterpiece IMHO. There is no place in the world you can't find a Coca Cola, I think that attests to CC's timeless glory. Supposedly EL's Youth Dew is reminiscent of classic Coca Cola. There's some sort of synthetic musk EL-ade in the drydown of all EL fragrances that smells nauseatingly rank to me so I avoid them.

    My favorite inexpensive gourmand is Aquolina's Pink Sugar. Yes, it is an ethyl maltol bomb. But like a good Italian perfume should- it's got a lot of bombast and is very, very well done. After you get past the customary Italian opening blast of lemony bergamot and Sicilian orange a rather tawdry strawberry/raspberry/twizzlers accord kicks in. Just when you think you can't handle that anymore beautiful notes of Mediterranean fig leaf and green lily of the valley appear. These perfectly balance very realistic barba-a-papa/cotton candy and mouth watering black licorice notes. Eventually you're left with a musky vanilla cupcake drydown much like Comptoir Sud Pacifique's famed signature vanilla accord. It's my October/Halloween perfume. All the garish smells & sweet treats of a Fall carnival without the tummyache, vomit, or sweaty carnies. My husband says 'Eet steenks!" and he'll provide the vomit. What does he know? He just bought a bottle of CK Encounter Fresh. Blah.

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    1. Your husband wears CK Encounter? Is that the one with the fake orange & Iso E Super accord? I know a good divorce lawyer, if you're interested.

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    2. He actually bought CK Encounter Fresh, with the fake bergamot/ mojito & Iso Super E accord. Somehow the sprayer on it got blocked. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THAT HAPPENED. So we're presently litigation free.

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  3. Coca-Cola has a tremendous dedication to whatever it is they do. If there's one company all others should learn from it's definitely Coke.

    I don't know if you are aware, but they do sell cosmetics of their flavors!

    Of course like you said, they gave enough thought to the product and their philosophy is once again on point and it goes like this: if you have an edible scent where would you have it smell that way? Under your armpits? Your neck and pulse points? Of-course not! Coca-Cola figured that if you gonna put a edible smell of their products on one self the right place would be... drum roll... the lips!

    That's right, you can buy the glorious scents in lip-balm - all the tastes!


    They figured that they didn't want to c(h)oke people in elevators smelling of Coca-Cola nor didn't they want a watered down hardly performing perfume. No, because that would be damaging to their reputation as a brand, so they went with something that would conjure up the brand in a intimate way.

    And let's face it, it's a glorious idea! Have the taste of Coca-cola when kissing or speaking intimately close!

    http://www.lipsmacker.com/brand-buddies/coke.html

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    1. That is brilliant, except for one thing: a good kiss already tastes a lot like Coca-Cola. But still, thanks for showing me this. Truly encouraging to see that at least they've dipped their toes into other things.

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  4. For an intense, perhaps extrait strenght, 'coke' flavor, grab a bottle Angostura Bitters. Come to think of it Angostura might work as a scent.

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    1. I think Angostura would work as a scent, quite nicely in fact. I keep waiting for a niche line to create a series of scents based on bartender's ingredients, but so far no dice.

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  5. I'm coming to this article after reading the one about Bay Rum and Old Spice, and wondering now whether part of the success of Old Spice (originally a women's fragrance, but then marketed to G.I.'s during wartime) wasn't a love of good old democratic American Coke ("The President drinks a Coke, the bum on a street corner drinks a Coke; it's the same Coke and it's good" -- to paraphrase Andy Warhol). The anise & orange notes in Old Spice's opening (especially in the vintage) have always reminded me a bit of a Coke in contrast with the caramelic aspects of the warmer notes (benzoin, vanilla, musk, cinnamon, clove, et al).
    Off topic, Occasionally when I've sampled Eau Sauvage parfum, I've detected a distinct root beer note (not all the time, and not to others, but I smell it.) What's that about, I wonder? Myrrh and root beer?

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    1. I think Old Spice found success because it incorporates hints of shave soap and talc with a sort of fantastic spiced vanilla oriental structure that at the time was groundbreaking for a men's cologne. My studies have led me to believe that "Early American Old Spice" is in fact the original version of the scent, but that it wasn't really the "original" Old Spice in the sense that it was the same product. It wasn't. It was simply the springboard for the "masculine" OS. Once that little ceramic bottle appeared, the true market was located, and the other stuff was dc'd.

      I think you're smelling sassafras in Eau Sauvage parfum. There's a hint of sassafras in there to lift the myrrh note beyond the synthetic citrus component, and could be yet another reason why I'm no fan of the scent! Some have pointed to Eau Sauvage Parfum as the template for Sauvage, btw. Interesting stuff.

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  6. That is fascinating about the sassafras. I cannot for the life of me see any connection between the way Eau Sauvage Parfum smells and what Sauvage does. Other than the bergamot, that is. As you've pointed out, ESP is dominated by myrrh...Various folks argue that besides the listed bergamot and vetiver, they can detect aspects of the classic Eau Sauvage EDT (some sandalwood or orris, maybe jasmine or hedione) as well as the oriental concept upon which Demachy seems to base all these parfum-izations -- Fahrenheit Parfum, Dior Homme Parfum -- smoky vanilla, for instance. It all seems to be part of the marketing idea that the 'dark', 'night' or 'date' version of a scent must engage a semi-gourmond oriental character, a fundamental archetype of the flanker strategy. It's an odd fit, in the case of ESP, since, in my opinion, the original EDT was playing to a very different concept of sexiness/masculinity than things like Dior Homme or Fahrenheit (or YSL l'Homme for that matter which received the same treatment twice over, first becoming 'la nuit' and the receiving the parfum treatment.) I guess I'd say that it feels more club chair scent than clubbing scent, and not really 'young' at all.

    None of this relates to me to Sauvage, which feels quite tenor, abstract and a bit youthfully strident in the way its saline-metalic ambroxan note runs into the sharpness of the bergamot, with those soapy-sweet Szechuan peppercorns thrown in to keep the spiciness above the line as well. By contrast, ESP is heavy, a bit unwieldy in its chalky, resinous sweetness, and can quickly feel medicinal if over sprayed (once when I was wearing a sample, my younger son said the smell reminded him of those barbecued ducks one sees hanging in Chinatown.)

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    1. Apparently the prominent use of bergamot & lime, and also a relatively simple pyramid in both scents, is how the connection is being made. I found Sauvage to be a very staid and uninteresting "designer" frag, while Eau Sauvage Parfum is much more "niche" with its three main notes. Frankly both are not my bag, although if I had to choose I'd go with Sauvage and skip Eau Parfum.

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