"Evolution" By Luca Turin
A few years ago a committee was set up in France to look into the problem of plagiarism in fragrance. A jury composed of professionals and perfume lovers was to decide whether a given fragrance was a blatant copy of an existing one, and act as an expert witness in several juicy lawsuits. The idea foundered when it became clear that such a committee would probably reject some of the greatest fragrances ever made: Rive Gauche was an unsweetened Calandre , Dolce Vita the dusky sister of Féminité du Bois, Lolita Lempicka an ornate variation (the first of many) on Angel. In each case, however, the copy was arguably better than the original. Perfumery is still a classical art in which, as Charles Colton once put it, imitation is the sincerest flattery.
The fact is that perfumes, like species, usually evolve in incremental steps. When closely related, they can even interbreed to produce rare and splendid hybrids. Estée Lauder’s latest, Beyond Paradise, is one such marvel. If it had a coat of arms, it would be a four-generation mosaic of fleur-de-lys. This is the matchmaker’s dream come true, a perfect heir to several princely houses of fragrance. Its lineage is second to none: in the beginning there was Diorella, the first fragrance to break free from the notion that flowers were wholesome, with an overripe note that urged one not to delay tasting the forbidden. Then it’s creator Edmond Roudnitska apparently took a contrary tack and worked with Jacques Polge on the pallid and haughty Cristalle, a floral form bathed in the cold light of a sculptor’s studio.
A few years later, Calice Becker’s Tommy Girl proved that a tea base could make a floral shine as brightly as the inside of an alien spaceship. She went on to compose the wonderfully seamless J’Adore, where this brightness is dimmed to the glow of a sunset on snow. At this point it would have been legitimate to suppose that the idea was exhausted. Wrong ! Beyond Paradise begins with the most breathtaking floral chord ever, a hundred close-miked voices singing in unison. That alone would suffice, but what happens next is even more remarkable. A great artist at the peak of her powers, Becker has taken the bone structure from Cristalle, the tempting flesh from Diorella, the flattering hue of J’Adore and the radiance of Tommy Girl, and fused them all into a seraphic being we foolishly thought would never come: the Perfect Floral.