Perfumery today is so squarely split into two categories: mainstream department store-wide releases and the vaunted highs of niche fragrances. In fact, the lines are not so clear cut. Remember that the perfumer industry is a relatively small one with a similarly relatively small number of noses and perfumers actually behind the glut of scents on the market. Francis Kurkdjian, for one, is an industry-adored genius who opened his own Maison but continues to create for brands – mainstream ones at that.
But the important thing to note is that the sometimes exorbitant prices of niche (or call it what you want – exclusive, luxury, cult, etc.) do not often reflect the quality of the juice. Byredo’s heftily priced creations are hits just as often as they are misses, for example.
There is, then, obviously a value in buying well-made and financially viable perfumes. In the past few months, there have actually been a number of releases on the market from fashion brands and the like that toe the delicate line of being interesting, pleasant and – all things considered – affordable. Of course, I’m not advocating the cheaply synthetic sweetness of Victoria’s Secret olfactory insults. To achieve quality, pricey ingredients and extraction methods are sometimes involved – which explain the upmarket but still reasonable price points. Here are my favourites.
Chanel No.5 L’Eau
The proper debut of Olivier Polge is, to me, a masterpiece in and of itself. Without comparisons to the original, which is of a wholly different spirit, it’s easy to appreciate No.5 L’Eau for what it is: a light and youthful update of Chanel’s signature olfactory version of refinement. Which is essentially an impressionistic and abstracted marriage of florals heightened to dazzling refinement with the liberal use of aldehydic hits.
No.5 L’Eau is greener, airier and on the whole easier to approach. It forgoes the saccharine prettiness of the Chance flankers and the grown-up swagger of the Coco line. It instead modernises what is arguably the most iconic fragrance in history by doing away with old-world notions of heady weight. It’s a great choice for almost anyone starting out a Chanel fragrance journey, and will wear beautifully on almost any occasion.
$165 for 50ml and $237 for 100ml EDT.
Chloé Love Story Eau Sensuelle
I’ve realised recently that I only dislike Chloé fragrances because of their ubiquity and the insanely numerous clones they’ve spawned. That refined melding of fruits, flowers and musk with a hint of powdery orris is now perversely copied in mediocre perfumes everywhere. It took me a while to remember that it is so copied because it is done exceedingly well.
In Eau Sensuelle – which is a combined work of the original nose Anne Flipo and Domitille Bertier – the feminine top of the scent is tempered with even more musky softness. It sounds like a recipe for disaster but the effect is gorgeous. The orange blossom and vanillic heliotropes gain a carpeted refinement to them from this – namely through the addition of velvety sandalwood. Even tart bursts of freshness from lemon and yuzu are introduced and woven in pleasantly and add to a wholly rounded image of elegance.
I think Love Story Eau Sensuelle is perfect for the girl or guy who’s outgrown a brash statement and is instead looking for the same romantic floral effect except a little more tempered. Its campaign stars French actress Clémence Poésy strolling along the Ponts des Arts – that famous be-padlocked bridge – in a picture perfect representation of feminine wistfulness.
$103 for 30ml, $147 for 50ml and $176 for 75ml EDP.
There’s not much left to do with the classical masculine fougère now, except to smartly play up certain aspects of the chord. With Daniela Andrier (the lady responsible for my beloved Margiela Untitled) behind the wheel and a campaign starring Dane Dehaan, I was ready to be wowed.
Wow isn’t the right word, per se. The first impression of L’Homme is a tad generic, if not superbly polished. Immediately a very waxed cedar and chocolatey iris greet the nose, bolstered by a diffused layer of lavender and geranium. Thankfully the tonka impression, so often responsible for ruining and making men’s fragrances smell the same, is virtually absent.
You get a creamy and refined scent with the slightest cocoa gourmand (thanks, Dior Homme) aside a calm and enhancing patchouli note. While Prada intends for L’Homme and its matching partner La Femme to be challenging perfumes, Andrier has instead smartly created a compelling men’s scent to compete squarely with other designer bestsellers.
Forget the savage bestial ruin that is the new Sauvage, L’Homme plays more along the lines of Bleu de Chanel in being high quality and utterly polished. Bonus: the bottle has a beautiful embossed saffiano leather patch on its round side and pays a slight nod to the art-deco inspirations of Miuccia Prada’s designs.
$150 for 100ml EDT.
Salvatore Ferragamo Uomo
Perhaps the only scent this year to sway me on tonka was Uomo by Salvatore Ferragamo. The brand’s intention with the scent is an expression of a laid back and swanky Italian lifestyle – good food, coffee, lush days shaded from the sun wearing sunglasses and all.
To that end, perfumers Alberto Morillas and Aurelien Guichard (both industry veterans – Morillas in particular is a go-to for luxury brands trying to make their way onto department store fragrance counters) make the gourmand less guilty indulgence and more refined way of life.
I greatly enjoyed the earthy sweetness of the bergamot and orange blossom they used to round up the top. This is combined with a jolt of freshness from the spice of peppers and cardamom. The effect really gives me a smile and puts me in a place to imagine wearing a hat jauntily and doing nothing. It’s got that sprezzatura we know and love of the Italians. Sweetness can easily be off-putting but Uomo manages the act darn well by going for a measured and caressing angle.
$83 for 30ml, $113 for 50ml and $150 for 100ml EDT.