Friday, April 30, 2010

BONDage & Dominance

Bond No. 9 is one of those perfume firms which have succesfully commodified the concept of "niche perfumery," which, from an aesthetic angle, was initially meant to embody a vision of perfumery as a craft based on the integrity and artistic control of an inspired creator and which now represents a streamlined pseudo-exclusivity based on imaging and PR rather than the actual quality or originality of the product (read more about niche degeneration here). Its founder Laurice Rahme, who was called "an industry bête noire, combative and obstinate" in the NY Times, somewhat modelled the Bond approach upon Creed perfumes which she had distributed in the US before breaking with them, transforming that brand's largely invented Old World pomp & circumstance narrative into a Big Apple story feeding on the well-established global attraction of New York as the capital of glitz, urbanity, cosmopolitanism and diversity. Perhaps not surprisingly, some early Bonds are rather uninspired copycats of Creed's succesful Green Irish Tweed (Chez Bond) and Silver Mountain Water (Hamptons). As a matter of fact, the staggering number of 43 releases in the 8-year period of the company's existence pretty much precludes any true dedication to originality and creativity. Naturally, the scents are created by external noses working for the big aroma & scent giants. Out of the 36 Bonds reviewed by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, 22 are judged "awful" and "disappointing."
Perhaps it is amateur psychology to assume that Bond No. 9's guilt over its little plagiarisms and general creative redundancy (hardly uncommmon in the business) has pathologized into a damaging case of paranoia about evil forces threatening the company's identity. It does seem like the firm is projecting its own attitude towards perfume onto strangers which are then accused of haunting poor little Bond No. 9 (there's a David Lynch movie somewhere in here). It was only a rumour that Rahme was pivotal in effecting the ban of decant sales on ebay (a concerted effort by numerous perfume houses). What created major repercussions in the blogosphere was Bond's threat of suing a one-woman perfume operation for trademark infringement over using the word "peace" in the name of her perfume "Peace on Earth" - a term Bond seemed to believe was its own in the world of beauty products after having released the 9/11-inspired "Scent of Peace" (a generic fruity floral more deserving of the name "Scent of Wuss"). While it may be understandable that companies are particularly eager to protect their brands in this fluid virtual age (though it's quite obvious Bond did not have a case by a mile in this particular instance) the arrogant attitude that shone through Bond's undiplomatic handling of the matter left a bad impression among a major part of the perfumista community - but not bad enough apparently for history not to repeat itself. It has been reported that Bond No. 9 has warned the decanting service The Perfumed Court, via twitter of all things, to desist from decanting Bond No. 9 fragrances as this supposedly represents a trademark infringement. This is nonsense of course, as anybody has the right to dispose of their legally acquired property as they see fit, but the question is: doesn't Bond realize that TPC, known as a reliable and trustworthy source of decants to the perfumista community, is providing free marketing for their brand and bringing in new customers for them from all over the world? That should be considered an asset rather than a threat, especially in these times of recession and after an obvious miscalculation on the potential of the German market, which was seriously oversaturated with Bond No. 9 (half-price was a common site, it was going on the grey market for 60 Euros). If I had ever been interested in this line, which I was not, this heavy-handed approach would have cured me once and for all. It's time someone told this outit to stop pestering the perfume world with its mean-spirited corporate antics and mediocre wares and to desist from infringing upon his trademark rights. I mean Mr. Bond. James Bond.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mecca or Monaco?

La Via del Profumo is the natural perfume studio of Dominique Dubrana, who crafts fragrance under the name of Abdes Salam Attar and is inspired by the mystic Islamic branch of Sufism. His fragrances have been hailed widely as transcending the traditional shortcomings of natural perfumes such as lack of structure, complexity and longevity. Even Luca Turin, who used to be quite skeptical about natural perfume, has given very high marks to Dubrana's compositions.

His latest "scent of the soul" was inspired by his trip to Mecca and is accordingly called Mecca Balsam. As part of the sampling/discussion group on basenotes for MB, I received a generous sample of the essence which I have studied over the last months. And I admit, understanding Mecca Balsam was itself something of a pilgrimage. I've revisited it again and again, as my sample permitted and from an initial discomfort and skepticism I have come to deeply appreciate it. I am, I suppose, a convert . To me Mecca Balsam is not soothing in the sense of providing complacent tranquility. It carries within it the whole spectrum of a pilgrim's path. Dusty, forlorn roads, rocky, forbidding terrain (the austerity and dustiness of dry resinous labdanum), the pleasure of being hosted by a gracious stranger (dry, but rich tobacco, sweet enticing tonka) the deep, sweet satisfaction of reaching the sacred destination and finding there: yourself (the divine licqourous wine of those amazing florals, soft, meditative frankincense interacting with the dry resins & the tobacco). The sum, thus, is greater even than its magnificent parts: rich, complex, distinct and yet with the typical subtlety of a natural perfume, or as Octavian Coiffan so aptly put it in his review, an archetypal oriental freed of excessive ornamentation.

The effect, surprisingly, is somewhat two-faced. Mecca Balsam does exude a spiritual quality worthy of its name and its creator's intentions. But make no mistake, it could just as well be employed to seduce those around the wearer in very worldly ways - like a subtler, more genteel Domenico Caraceni for, indeed, men of the world. The abscence within it - of the stereotpyical loud synthetic amber, of screechy metallic florals, of frankincense on ISO-e-Super-steroids - imparts it with a serenity and exclusivity that would make it grace a plain white pilgrim's tunic no less than the bespoke-tailored, gold-buttoned navy blazer and crisp white shirt of a yaughting millionaire. One can thus choose what sort of wealth one wishes Mecca Balsam to display - that of the pure spirit or that of the art of fine living. The latter may not have been part of Dubrana's vision, but it makes Mecca Balsam even more impressive and enticing as a work of fragrant art.