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June 1, 2006

"Battery-powered ice cubes" By Luca Turin

"Battery-powered ice cubes" By Luca Turin

In the last two weeks, seven parcels came full of fragrances and press releases, accompanied by charming hand-written notes recommending the contents to my nose. This being spring, most of the fragrances were “summer flankers”, i.e. famous names flanked with words like été or légère. The summer perfume traces its origin to Kenzo’s 1993 Parfum d’Eté, absurdly released for Christmas in a stroke of marketing genius. What is a summer perfume ? What, if anything, is wrong with simply wearing Bal à Versailles, Vanilia or Diorissimo with sandals ? Does anybody need a purpose-built summer thing? Probably not. But marketing reveals its truest purpose only when no discernible need exists.

The canonical summer perfume should in principle be light, fresh and carefree. In perfumery language, that means topnotes only. But these have to last, otherwise the punters complain. So only the most powerful synthetics are used, to ensure they last the distance. Result: a tinny, hissy, loudhailer timbre that sets your teeth on edge. This chalk-on-blackboard perfumery comes in three varieties. 1- Less is More (example: Kouros Eau d’Eté), where the perfumer takes a perfectly good fragrance, dilutes it by half with 98% alcohol and throws in a citrus top note that says fresh for ten seconds, before going home after a good day’s work. 2- The Big Lie school, e.g. (Guerlain’s Grosellina and Tutti Kiwi) where you put a picture of fruit (redcurrants and kiwis) on the packet and bravely fill the bottle with something that bears no relation to either. Aqua Allegorias, except when Mathilde Laurent composed them (Pamplelune), have always hovered on the edge of crudeness. These two make Champs Elysées look like a classic.

Finally, there is the High-Concept school, the sort of desperate stuff that comes out of a meeting of eight overpaid people around a tasteful oval table. Carolina Herrera’s 212 On Ice is a good example: the bottles (two small things) are inserted into something that looks like a large pill, itself inserted between the two halves of a large and heavy plastic ice cube. The fragrances are dismal, indeed set new standards in that direction.. But, and this is where others fear to tread, the press pack comes with a tray of plastic ice cubes, each containing a watch battery. If you press the little button, LEDs turn on that allow you to see a backlit 212 floating inside your drink. I pressed the button. The battery was as dead as the perfume.

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