Second Sunday Samples: Berdoues Collection Grands Crus

Until recently I was familiar with Parfums Berdoues only from a couple of samples graciously sent to me by hajusuuri and Lucas’s (The Chemist in the Bottle) review. I haven’t seen this brand in any of the stores around or come across it during my recent European trip.

I didn’t know about their history, and, to tell you the truth, I don’t believe all that “since 1902 family owned” PR BS. I mean, I have no doubts that the brand was something owned by the family since whatever year it says but I doubt it was any perfume-related successful business before the current parent company decided they needed a “legitimate” niche brand under their wing. Not that it means anything to me one way or the other. It’s just a little curious how many brands with a century history started appearing in the recent years once the perfume industry started booming.

Anyway, this brand could have stayed just a record in my database if it weren’t for chocolatemarzipan, who mentioned how much she loved perfumes from Berdoues… just several dozen of times on NST, my blog and other places. So when I saw that Sephora online had that extremely appealing Discovery Set, I gave in.

Berdoues Perfumes Sampler

(see my new Sea Star Ratings explanation here)

Assam of India

The first time I tried it I immediately thought of one of my favorites – Jo Malone Assam & Grapefruit, which isn’t too surprising looking at the list of notes (here and going forward I dropped geographical descriptors): lemon, tea and sandalwood (Assam of India) vs. grapefruit, rhubarb, violet, Assam, cardamom, rose, almond, musk and patchouli (Assam & Grapefruit).

I tested them in parallel several times, and can confirm that they do smell similar, especially in the opening. Many years ago when I got Assam & Grapefruit as a gift, I wasn’t super-thrilled with it. Since then I changed my mind, and enjoy wearing it from time to time. So while I have it, I won’t need Assam of India. But since Jo Malone’s perfume was a limited edition, once my bottle is finished (or spoils), I won’t grieve much since Berdoues offers a perfect replacement – and Assam of India is priced much more reasonably.

Three and Half Sea Stars
=====

Somei Yoshino

I didn’t care for this perfume at all: it smells either nice but too simple or overly sweet and even unpleasant. Somei Yoshino might work better for you, so do not take my word – try it if you get a chance.

Official notes: shiso, patchouli and jasmine

One and Half Sea Stars
=====

Arz El-Rab

As it happens often, smelling perfume with a prominent note one immediately thinks of another perfume known for the same note. So while trying Arz El-Rab, I started drawing parallels between it and Diptyque Tam Dao. But since I own the latter, the next time I tested Arz El-Rab, I ran a wrist-by-wrist testing. And how it usually happens, being tested together, perfumes reveal both similarities and individuality. Arz El-Rab has an extra citrus in the opening (though it’s not mentioned in the short list of notes), has less oily cedar in the development and is sweeter in the drydown. I cannot smell iris, so those notes are clearly just for the general idea about perfume. It’s not bad at all – if you like cedar wood-centered perfumes.

Official notes: cedar, iris and ginger.

Three and Half Sea Stars
=====

Oud Al Sahraa

Since I rarely like agarwood perfumes, I tried Oud Al Sahraa mostly because I wanted to go through the complete set. I was pleasantly surprised: I liked it. It means that, most likely, Oud Al Sahraa’s agarwood isn’t real, which is a plus in my book. I do not smell anything citrus-y in this perfume though an Italian mandarin is declared as one of three revealed notes, and I think that I can smell what they call myrrh. I could wear Oud Al Sahraa myself and wouldn’t mind smelling it on my vSO, but I’m not sure it interests me enough to actually pursue it.

Three Sea Stars
=====

Rusty and Berdoues Sampler

Scorza di Sicilia

It smells not bad, though completely not what I expected looking at the box: it is very flowery when I thought it would be all citrus-y. It is sweeter than I wanted it to be and reminds me a little of air freshener. I retested Scorza di Sicilia three times, and I’m positive that I wouldn’t want to wear it beyond this testing.

Official notes: citron, cedar and vetiver.

One and Half Sea Stars
=====

Selva Do Brazil

First of all, I like the bottle (on the picture) and the box, in which my sample came: I think I have a shirt with a similar print. Selva Do Brazil starts green, even grassy with a hint of citrus. It settles down to a pleasant slightly woody skin scent. It is not “interesting,” “challenging” or any other epithet to similar effect one might use describing perfume. But if it works for you in its simplicity, you’ll unexplainably like it. Or it will seem too boring – so no blind buys, please.

You have to read this short but sweet review of Selva Do Brazil at Perfume Shrine!

Official notes: petit grain, gaiac wood and tonka bean.

Four Sea Stars
=====

Vanira Moorea

I can’t help it: Vanira Moorea reminds me of a tooth paste from my childhood so I cannot think of it as of a perfume. Our tooth pastes weren’t that great, I’m sure Vanira Moorea has much nicer ingredients but… In drydown it becomes just a vanilla perfume – not too great but not too bad either.

Official notes: orange, petit grain and vanilla.

Two Sea Stars
=====

Russkaya Kozha

Since a lot of leather perfumes are not my cup of tea, I didn’t expect much from this one but, I think, the sheer style of the Collection Grands Crus helped: despite its name, Russkaya Kozha (Russian Leather) doesn’t have that concentrated birch tar scent that is used to represent leather in many perfumes but it still evokes leather. Later in development it becomes sweeter (but not too much). It stays on my skin for hours – sheer, slightly smoky and with a hint of sweetness. Russkaya Kozha is one of those perfumes that are “office-safe” in a good way: it doesn’t project much to be offensive for others while it is not completely boring for the wearer.

I liked Russkaya Kozha very much, and I expect it to join my collection soon.

Official notes: juniper, cardamom and benzoin.

Four and Half Sea Stars
=====

In general, I liked this collection and think it’s a good addition to the perfume world. I can’t say one way or the other based on what I smell, but I do not believe that they are using natural ingredients – because of the price of perfumes and them insisting on listing just three notes while naming those with the location markers (e.g., oud wood from Malaysia). Does it matter to me? Not at that price. I think that this collection is a nice alternative to overpriced Jo Malone and Atelier Cologne perfumes – even though I like both brands. What Berdoues should do, in my opinion, is to produce smaller bottles (15-30 ml) keeping the same bottle and box design: I would gladly pay $35-$40 for a 30 ml bottle of at least two more perfumes in this collection while it’s hard for me to justify adding another 200 ml of perfumes to my wardrobe.

Rusty and Berdoues Sampler

Images: my own

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Second Sunday Samples: Grossmith Diamond Jubilee Bouquet and Amouage Blossom Love

Grossmith is another brand, with which I wasn’t familiar other than knowing the name. I’m not sure how I feel about old houses resurrection: usually the “nose” is different, old perfumes – even if the formulas survived – cannot be recreated exactly as they were because of the new regulations, and the packaging is also new. So, I’m not sure what exactly is being restored other than the name. Since this brand re-appeared recently, it hasn’t been represented widely in the U.S., and I probably wouldn’t have tested it if it weren’t for my trial subscription to ScentTrunk a couple of years ago.

Diamond Jubilee Bouquet starts with a very prominent iris, not carrot-y but rather powdery. In about 10 minutes iris gets weaker, and I get distinct carnation note. After that for hours it is just a really creamy and muted floral bouquet (which is quite fitting given the name) plus musk and maybe vanilla. The complete list – just in case you’re curious, and your nose is better than my: narcissus, lily-of-the-valley, citruses, carnation, iris, jasmine, rose, violet, vetiver, musk, amber, tonka bean, vanilla and hawthorn.

Diamond Jubilee Bouquet is very charming and pleasant. It is not perfume to fall in love with but I can hardly imagine anybody disliking it. As you can also get from the name, Grossmith created that perfume in 2012 to commemorate the event. “Limited Edition of 500 – available in UK only” was proudly stated on the brand’s site and repeated (without the “UK” part) on sites of several online stores that still carry the remaining stock of those “limited 500.” So either Grossmith keeps producing that “limited” perfume or they are still selling the five-year-old stock. It is not a bad perfume but I think it is just too expensive for what it is – a nice quiet office-friendly scent.

Rusty and Amouage Blossom Love and Grossmith Diamond Jubilee Bouquet

There is nothing subdued about the second perfume I tested. Amouage Blossom Love is bright and loud. If I weren’t looking at the sample, I would have never been able to recognize it as Amouage perfume. It is not a scent of a blossom. It is neither airy enough for the light spring floral scent nor opulent enough for Amouage fame. Blossom Love is very straightforward, simple and artificial, which isn’t surprising when you look at the list of notes: cherry blossom nectar, rose liquor, ylang ylang, Amaretto accord, vanilla, tonka bean, cashmeran.

I know that tastes differ a lot but I find nauseating everything about this perfume: from the stupid pink bottle to the sickly sweet and boozy scent to Christopher Chong’s description of it:

Blossom Love is inspired by the sassy nature and loyal heart of the vivacious modern woman. She defies conventions as she unabashedly lives for love, romance and new adventure

Can you imagine reading something like that but with the word “man” used instead? Ughh!

I hate the fact that, instead of setting the bar high(er) for the industry and consumers, a great brand starts catering to the lowest denominator. And I just can’t believe that at $360 for 100 ml Amouage could not afford better ingredients or a perfumer who doesn’t produce more than one (mostly middle-tier mainstream) perfume per month.

Rusty in the backyard

As you might have already guessed, this Amouage won’t be joining my collection – even though I suspect it’ll be available at a heavy discount soon. But for those of you in the U.S. who would like to try it or do not share my impression of the scent and want to wear it for a while, I would suggest checking it on the ScentBird site: for $14.95 (that includes S&H) you can get a 8 ml decant of Blossom Love (and some other recent Amouage scents). If you used to be a subscriber, login to your old account, and they’ll offer you to re-subscribe at a discount (you can unsubscribe at any time). If you have never subscribed to their service, you can use this link, and both you and I will get the second month free subscription, which means that for $14.95 you can get 2 x 8 ml of Amouage perfumes (there are some other nice options there now – that’s why I re-subscribed a couple of days ago).

 

Images: my own

If it didn’t work the first time…

I read that this perfume was about to be released. I’m a little surprised to see it on the counter already, but since it’s there, of course I want to try it. I do not expect much but, against all odds, I still have a faint hope that it will be good…

“It’s a great new perfume featuring … “<here goes a list of notes> – announces an SA materializing at my side, –“It’s not available yet, you know. It’ll release next month. But I can pre-order it for you…”

I’ve heard a variation of this line a dozen of times. And every time I feel baffled: why?!! Why would I possibly want to pre-order the scent that I just smelled for the first time? It’s not something exclusive or limited. They do not offer any type of deal or a discount. So why to pre-order now if in a couple of weeks it’ll be in all the stores for me to buy on the spot or to spray in abundance and think until the next holidays if I want it?

My standard reply usually is: “I’ll think about it, but meanwhile could I get a sample of this great new perfume?” Not a single time I left without it.

Jo Malone Basil & Neroli is a typical Jo Malone perfume: it’s not unpleasant, not complicated, and becomes a skin scent within a couple of hours, leaving you free to choose whatever you want to wear next. I think it’s rather appealing for the opening five minutes: it’s juicy, moderately sweet and very uplifting. But then it gets just flat on my skin.

While Basil & Neroli still might be considered a unisex perfume, at least initially it is more feminine then Jo Malone’s staple and “a modern classic” (even if they say so themselves) Lime Basil & Mandarin, which is strange, if you think about it: shouldn’t the fruit (mandarin) be sweater than blossom oil? But 30-40 minutes into the development I’m not sure I can really tell them apart unless I smell them side by side.

Speaking of Lime Basil & Mandarin, being a Jo Malone fan, for years I tried that perfume again and again hoping I’d change my mind but kept on strongly disliking it – until I got Lime Basil & Mandarin soap as a part of a GWP. I simply love it! The combination that felt too masculine as perfume is just perfect for daily washing rituals. A couple of months ago I got anxious that there would be soon just a sliver left from my current then bar of LB&M – and hurried up to buy a replacement bar. Today I’m still using that first bar, and from the way it looks, there is another month or two in it. So if you were to wait for one of the brand site’s good deals, which happen from time to time (like 3 samples or, even better, a 9 ml travel bottle with any purchase), with free S&H that soap might be the best $20 spent.

Rusty and Jo Malone Lime Basil & Mandarin Soap

As for Basil & Neroli, I can’t think of a reason to even try it – unless you’re looking for a citrus piece for your perfume wardrobe, or find yourself in a store or an airport’s Duty Free with absolutely nothing else interesting to test.

 

Image: my own

The Royal Nonesuch of Perfume

Several years after we moved to the U.S., we found our friend F. who we knew back in our student days. He emigrated about 8 years before we did, and we lost each other. So it was great to re-connect. But since we settled down on the opposite coasts, we visited each other several times over the years, but mostly our communications were over the phone.

Most conversations with F. revolved around the topics of trips and theater attendance – mostly F.’s since my vSO and I, being new immigrants, weren’t traveling or going to theaters much. We would also talk about books and movies, and there we probably still had a lot in common, though sometimes during those calls I had that strange feeling as if I was being quizzed on how interesting our life was. Most likely, it was all in my head and F. was sincere in his attempts to share with us cultural experiences and impressions but I do remember the feeling and my limp attempts to keep up. And then one day F. told me about a wonderful new film they’d just seen: a very unusual, avant-garde and so forth…

Today I don’t have much patience to waste time on something I dislike, if I can help it. But 17 years ago I patiently sat through the complete 81 minutes of The Blair Witch Project, going through the stages of confusion, disbelief, annoyance, anger and – did I mention disbelief? I couldn’t believe F. actually liked that and recommended it to us! And he wasn’t the only one who raved about it: there were enough high ratings and favorable reviews and articles online. It was beyond my comprehension… And then something clicked: I knew what it was!

AT THE COURT HOUSE!
FOR 3 NIGHTS ONLY!
The World-Renowned Tragedians
DAVID GARRICK THE YOUNGER!
AND
EDMUND KEAN THE ELDER!
Of the London and Continental Theatres,
In their Thrilling Tragedy of
THE KING’S CAMELEOPARD,
OR
THE ROYAL NONESUCH ! ! !
Admission 50 cents.

LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED

I’m not sure if you were as impressionable as I was when I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to remember what that handbill was about, but I was so captivated by the psychological component of the scam that it stayed in my memory for decades.

In short, a couple of scoundrels announce that performance in a small town. First night, when it proves to be not much of a performance, the audience figures out that, in addition to losing money, they will be ridiculed by their peers. So instead of beating up the con artists right there and then, the first half of the town goes out and tells the second half how hilarious the play was. Then the rest of the town’s population pays for the same questionable experience. So the third night the whole town comes to the performance anticipating the revenge and armed with things to throw. But the con men disappear right after collecting the entrance fee.

My theory is that with The Blair Witch Project it just took too long for the “whole town” to watch it, so meanwhile the “first half” had time to cool down.

Recently, after reading Mals’ (Muse in Wooden Shoes) review of Oriza L. Legrand‘s Chypre Mousse, I started thinking that for the last couple of years I was participating in another adaptation of The Royal Nonesuch. And while it’s definitely not on the TBWP’s scale, I would say that it covers a population of at least several Twain’s towns.

The Royal Nonesuch

Mals was the first blogger (out of those whose blogs I read) who openly described how awful her experience with Chypre Mousse perfume was. Until then I read only positive reviews and I paid my “admission fee” (I got a 5 ml decant in a friendly split). The first test was such a shock! I actually hated the scent but suffered through the development hoping it would get better – it didn’t. Then it took me some time to get around testing it once again – the same result but that time I quickly retreated to the shower.

I do not plan to ever test Chypre Mousse again and, just in case, I will probably stay away from the brand altogether. But for some strange reason not only I didn’t write about that experience in my blog, I don’t think I’ve ever commented on any discussion of this perfume. I call it strange because I don’t have any loyalty towards this brand, I didn’t get it as a gift from somebody’s deeply loved bottle and it’s not even a small indie company, which I would be afraid to harm by saying something negative. Of course, it means I wasn’t saying anything good about it either so analogy isn’t complete but still I feel like with my silence I helped propagating the illusion of the consensus about this perfume being great, and one day we may end up in the “third night” crowd, as it was described through the eyes (nose?) of Huckleberry Finn:

I see that every man that went in had his pockets bulging or something muffled up under his coat – and I see it warn’t no perfumery, neither, not by a long sight. I smelt sickly eggs by the barrel, and rotten cabbages, and such things; and if I know the signs of a dead cat being around, and I bet I do, there was sixty-four of them went in.

 

Now, when I feel that I’ve done everything I could to warn “the rest of the town”, I do not mind hearing how great Chypre Mousse works on your skin. Does it?

In the Search for the Perfect Coffee

Ally McBeal is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. I loved it deeply and thought that the first two seasons were just magical – funny, romantic and witty. I stopped watching it at some point in the Season 4, when, in my opinion, the magic was gone. But I keep going back and re-watching some of my favorite episodes and scenes. One of such scenes is dedicated to coffee; not just to coffee in general but to drinking a first cup of the day. If you watched that show, most likely you remember the scene. For everybody else in short: one heroine (Ally) teaches another one (Georgia) how to drink coffee. Here’s a link to a 3-minute video clip (questionable quality but it’s the only one I could find) and a transcript of the most important dialog (if you’re not in the mood to watch):

Ally: You were about to drink this cappuccino like most men make love: skipping over all the foreplay. Now just… just hold it in your hands. Just knowing that it’s close.
Georgia: Yeah, I see what you mean.
Ally: Now, close your eyes. And just think about tasting it. Now, smell it. Just a little.
Both: Mmm…
Ally: Now, pull it away. Just tease yourself a little. Up, and down. And up. Longer sniffs. Now, you see that foam on the plastic? Lick it off.
Georgia: I have to drink it!
Ally: Now, bring it up slow. Don’t rush it. It only happens with the first cup. Slow. Slow. Slow. And drink.
Georgia: Mmm…
Ally: Mmm…

This scene made a strong impression on me: not as much because of its sexual references but because of the idea of savoring the experience and engaging all of your senses. I can’t say that I treat every cup of coffee like that but from time to time…

Coffee art - Heart

Smell from a freshly brewed cup is a big part of the enjoyment I get from drinking coffee. But it’s different when it comes to an “unattended” coffee smell (when a cup is not present).

One of the offices where I used to work was strategically placed in a short walking distance from two coffee shops. Since there was no proper lunch room in the office, my co-workers would go to either Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee, dependent on to which camp they belonged, for lunch or during breaks. I didn’t have taste preferences (latte tasted very similar in both places) but after a while I noticed that after I would spend 15-20 minutes at the Peet’s, my clothes would reek of sour and burnt coffee grounds. I didn’t observe the same effect from visiting Starbucks – so given a choice I would go there.

Years later I figured out the mystery: back then that particular Starbucks shop had been just freshly built and Peet’s had been around for a while; nowadays if I sit inside of that Starbucks café I get the same unpleasant odor absorbed into my clothes and hair.

Coffee & Truffle

So, do I like coffee note in perfumes? I like some perfumes that feature this note but my gripe about most of them: I get a toothache just smelling them – so sweet they are. But while I do not put sugar in my coffee, I do (or would, if I had them) wear some coffee-and-sugar perfumes.

Montale Intense Café gives me such a perfect coffee aroma in the opening, that I can make my peace with its sugary development. I will never need a bottle of this perfume but a nice decant that I got with my Scent Bird subscription will keep me satisfied those days when I need an extra shot.

By Kilian Intoxicated smells very nice on my skin though I cannot say that I get much coffee from it. Testing Intoxicated in parallel with Thierry Mugler‘s A*Men, I could miss neither the similarity of the two perfumes, nor the difference in the refinement and materials of the Kilian’s creation. The bottom line: I won’t wear A*Men because now I know how harsh it is compared to Intoxicated, the price of which I cannot even consider paying knowing how similar it is to A*Men.

I liked Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café enough to snatch a bottle of it on eBay after it had been discontinued. Unfortunately, I think it was too old when it got to me and now it is turning. But I still have a decant that is in good health, so I should probably start wearing it more often – before it also turns. Black Vetyver Café is much less sweet than other coffee scents that I’ve tested and vetiver adds a nice woody note. I could easily find 2-3 other Malone’s scents I would rather see discontinued but the brand probably knows better.

Coffee Art

I tried several more perfumes with this note but they weren’t my cup of … coffee.

EnVoyage Perfumes Café Cacao is nice but too sweet for me. But if you like sweet scents, give this one a try.

In Plume Perfumes Coffee & Cedar, which isn’t too sweet and has a nice coffee note, I can’t stop smelling an oil base and it completely kills the perfume for me (and it’s probably for the best since I don’t think this brand is still alive).

But the biggest disappointment for me was Tom Ford Café Rose: I can’t say that it’s “too much” of anything; I don’t find it unpleasant; but as a Tom Ford perfumes fan I wanted this perfume to be much more interesting. I can’t remember how it smells the next day after trying it.

Have I found the perfect coffee though? I have! It’s Jamaica Blue Mountain that I freshly grind every weekend morning and make on the stove in jezve from my favorite designer Michael Aram. Mmm…

Rusty and Michael Aram Jezve

Images: my own

lebaB fo rewoT or Found in Translation

Not knowing a language usually creates difficulties in many aspects of life: doing business, traveling or trying to appreciate not visual forms of art. But sometimes the confusion of tongues produces amusing results.

A couple of months ago Vanessa (Bonkers about Perfume) in one of her travel reports shared a joke:

We didn’t encounter any ‘Geisterfahrer’ on tour though – so-called ‘ghost drivers’ who drive the wrong way down the motorway, causing a major risk to other traffic. Oh, and the bass player remarked that for a long time he had thought ‘Ausfahrt’ was a major city in Germany, as so many roads seemed to lead to it…

It reminded me of my own road-signs-related confusions. One of them also involved German language. The first time I was in Vienna, for a good five minutes I stood next to a street name sign on a building trying to put a mental “You’re here” on the map in my hands. Finally I willed together all the shreds of my year-and-half of the German technical translation course and had an epiphany: it wasn’t a street name!

Einbahnstrasse sign

When I moved to the U.S., the first time I saw a road sign “$1000 FINE FOR LITTERING”, it enthralled me: I didn’t realize it was a regular road sign. I thought it was a custom-made board by clever city officials who chose that sarcastic way of fighting against garbage on the road to their city. You see: I didn’t know the “penalty” meaning of the word “fine.” So in my head I read it as a short version of: “If you have extra $1000, go ahead, make all the mess you want – it’s gonna be just fine!”

1000 dollar fine for littering sign

But sometimes foreign language might play tricks even with well-known words. As I was descending down the rabbit hole I kept reading about Lush/Gorilla perfumes but there were no shops close to where I lived and buying Amouage or Tauer‘s samples seemed like a better idea. But one day, while on a vacation, I spotted a LUSH shop.

Have you been to a Lush store? In my opinion, it’s an offense on the olfactory system (Body Shop and Body Works are in the same boat) and I try to pass those stores while holding my breath. But I really wanted to try their perfumes – so I braced myself and went in. I don’t remember much. I think at the time they had five perfumes – The Smell Of Freedom, Tuca Tuca, Orange Blossom, Lust and … Breath of Dog. At least that was how I read it back then. And while it didn’t surprise me much (what else would you expect from Gorilla Perfume?), I wasn’t in the mood to subject my nose to that experiment on top of everything that was going on scent-wise in the store. So after quickly trying the other four I left.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized my mistake. But the damage had been done: I could never bring myself to testing that perfume. I see that it’s still (well, again) in production though new packaging looks beyond cheap and doesn’t inspire me to overcome my preconception.

Lush Breath Of Dog perfume

But as I have recently discovered, when it comes to perfumes and their names, someone’s native language can also be the culprit.

I realize how hard it is to come up with a name for a new perfume and maybe I’m being too partial when it comes to perfumes based on Russian culture or references (remember my rants about Swan Princess or Russian Tea?) but the name of the latest perfume from Suleko (a brand reflecting strong Russian heritage of its creator) – Baba Yaga – makes me shake my head every time I see it: What were they thinking?!!

On the brand’s site they tried to give it a spin: “Baba Yaga is the terrifying witch, which appears in the Russian tales. Since our childhood, she lives deep inside us and represents this dark force, which encompasses all our fears, our doubts, our anxieties. This force gradually grows upon our head and will get so powerful one day that we will have no other choice but to face it if we want to live instead of survive.” It’s such hogwash! (Should I have said “hagwash”?) Unlike the English word “witch”, which can bring any associations from the Hansel and Gretel‘s hag to the sexy trio from The Witches of Eastwick (and for which in Russian there is another word with the similar plenitude of meanings), “Baba Yaga” means one thing – “a hag who lived in the woods in a house on chickens legs. She would often ride through the forest on a mortar, sweeping away her tracks with a broom.” Together with the description of the bottle –“Two eyes are coming out of the wood, they watch you and challenge you, and Baba Yaga’s tortuous hands appear on one side; she is gradually coming out of the bark of the tree which one can feel with its coars [sic] and rugged touch.”- it makes me think of some bizarre hybrid of LOTR’s Gollum (psychobabble about living inside us) and Fangorn (the appearance).

Sand Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga on the picture above was made from the sand but it’s a good depiction of what comes to mind when a Russian-speaking person of any age hears that name. Would you like to wear this old lady perfume (literally!)?

Speaking of perfume, I can’t say it’s bad. It doesn’t smell cheap or artificial. But I didn’t find it interesting or appealing to me. And then again, that name…

Have you ever misjudged perfume or decided not to test it based on its name? If yes, which perfume was it and why?

Images: the first sign from here; the second sign from here; BOG – from Fragrantica (edited by me); Baba Yaga – my own.

Entertaining Statistics or Marketing Faux Pas de Deux

Try to remember what was the association that came to mind when you heard perfume name Swan Princess for the first time? Was it one of the images below? Or was it something else?

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While writing this post, I decided to survey my friends, relatives and co-workers. I asked them the same question but since most of them are “civilians” (©Tara) and they haven’t heard about this perfume before, I didn’t want to influence their opinion so I just asked for the associations based on the name, without showing them the pictures I chose for this post (actually, Barbie idea came from my co-worker).

Disclaimer: Since I used a sample of convenience (rather than a probability sample), results aren’t representative of any real trends. This is intended strictly for the entertainment purposes.

I split all of the respondents into two categories:

  • native Russian speakers with English as a second language
  • native English speakers and other native language speakers with English as a second language

The majority of the respondents in the first category (native Russian speakers) correctly guessed the association intended by creators:

The swan is a gracious bird which has been glorified in the folklore of many countries. I can’t say that we were inspired by a particular piece of art. There are many which leave you breathless, like Mikhail Vrubel‘s painting Swan Princess, which we chose to illustrate our creation.

Swan Princess by Vrubel

I’m not sure how much you’ve previously read on the topic so I’ll give a short summary. Pay close attention: this is not a trivial construction. Swan Princess is a painting (1900) by Mikhail Vrubel that depicts a character from the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1899–1900) by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, which was based on the poem The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan (1831) by Aleksandr Pushkin. Oh, and the painter’s wife – Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel (see photo below) – sang the role of the Swan Princess in the première of the opera.

Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel

I’m not surprised that Russian-speaking respondents picked up on the association: even though we all knew well the tale, Swan Princess (Tsarevna-Lebed) didn’t feel like a main character but it was the painting that was firmly connected to that name.

The most common association expressed by participants from the second category (native English speakers and non-Russian speakers) was Swan Lake – a ballet (1875–76) composed by Tchaikovsky. Other associations mentioned were movies and a TV show – Black Swan, Princess Bride, Barbie Swan Lake and Swans Crossings. One person mentioned a children’s book.

Not to waste such an opportunity, I also included a picture of the perfume and asked to guess just by the name and the packaging which age group is a Swan Princess’ target market.

Swan Princess by The Vagabond Prince

Since I didn’t suggest any age groups as possible choices, responses were highly dispersed. The range I got was from 8 to 85 years old with two peaks: 13-20 and 60+. Variations on “teenage girls” and “Grandmother” were mentioned several times each.

Probably ballet isn’t the worst association (Penhaligon’s and Les Parfums de Rosine recently went directly for it) but even in my small poll group there were many… less flattering associations. And with the packaging that says anything but “luxury niche perfume” it can’t be easy to sell $200 bottle of perfume for teenagers.

Why do I care? Why didn’t I just dismiss this release the way I do with most perfumes by which I wasn’t impressed? It’s simple: I did expect more from creators of Fragrantica and I feel disappointed. And I still can’t believe that they, out of all people, decided to launch their perfumes only in 100 ml bottles.

What about perfume? I know tastes differ but, in my opinion, Swan Princess is just boring. It’s not unpleasant. It’s not pleasant. It’s unremarkable. Which isn’t that surprising: as talented as Bertrand Duchaufour might be, nobody can create 10-20 masterpieces per year (and we’re talking only about official releases: who knows how many dictators’ daughters had urges to launch their own brands in those years…)