Wandering through Harvey Nichols on a work break, tired and vaguely peeved as I am usually am in department stores by the miasma of scent and the slapdash approach to perfume promotion, I was not really expecting to see or at least smell anything interesting. I had already been utterly deflated by the latest Tom Ford floral releases, hyped as usual and massively underwhelming. As a man obsessed with all things lilium related I had been looking forward to trying his Lys Fumé, the lily soliflore from the Jardin Noir quartet. I realised after spraying it on, there is a facet to all of the TF fragrances that I actively dislike; that in fact rather irritates me. Despite all the talk of high-level naturals and absolutes etc, they all have an off-putting malaise, a breath of deoderised car, lighter fuel and smoked bug spray that sits under the notes like a latent curse. The Lys Fumé was no exception; in fact I recoiled from my own skin. Now if you follow my writing you will now how much I adore lily soliflores, I have at least six or seven tremulous variations in my collection at home, but this smelt like burnt bathroom freshener, not a good effect in a fragrance.
Revisiting my wrist in a vain hope the drydown might unlock a twist in the formula and I would perhaps marvel at the sudden majesty of lily-form lines and curves, I noticed the new Balenciaga fragrance was being merchandised. Obviously just in, the striking carnivorous botanical packaging caught my eye and lured me over. The Lys Fumé at this point had withered to a flat and unimaginative campheraceous echo of the original indolic floral flourish. The smoked note was drawn in the air like cheap cigarette smoke in a bus shelter. I am really beginning to wonder whether the immaculately hirsute Mr Ford has anything to do with his scents any more, they are becoming increasingly dull and formulaic. Pricy and glossy Dynasty concoctions for scousewives and Beverly Hills princesses.
Florabotanica is the third fragrance from Balenciaga under the mighty creative sweep of Nicholas Ghesquière, one of the few true visionaries working in fashion today. The first two fragrances used the enigmatic note of violet to create similar yet reflectively different interpretations. I will admit to being rather underwhelmed by the first Balenciaga Paris, which I found bloodless and wan. It expired far too quickly on my skin and made me shudder as if shaking the hand of someone I knew was going to die. It was too safe, despite a coldly beautiful campaign fronted by the mercurial and inscrutable Charlotte Gainsbourg. However the second version, Balenciaga Paris L’Essence, was divine, poetic and fairytale-like in its dreamy interpretation of the way through the woods. The violets glowing amethyst in hazy pockets of sunshine dappled with glinting metallic musk tones like coins in the sunlight counterpointing the floral elements with elegance and grace; lending an air of toughness I found lacking in the original.