The Scented Salamander

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Perfume Review & Musings: Agent Provocateur

You will find that the juice contained in the bottle of Agent Provocateur is less dangerous than its name seems to indicate and less explosive than the shape of the bottle seems to imply. Some people have compared that bottle to an egg, even the AP people themselves; I have always seen a fleshy breast coupled with a hand grenade allusion. Please refer yourselves to the black ribbon on the side -- the subliminal advertisement on Agent Provocateur's website clarifies the association as we see a woman holding AP close to her partially naked breast, echoing its image as if in a mirror. Therefore, one can only say that it makes sense for a lingerie brand headed by Joseph Corre, the son of Vivienne Westwood, to promote this shape however slyly or unconsciously, although one could also argue that if destined for a feminine audience, a woman might have preferred to clutch something else against her breasts and may we wonder if this is not again a case of our desires being mediated by that of heterosexual men (I'm being very conservative and am discarding in a stroke of my pen non-heterosexual women, but I speak in generalities here.)

If the name evokes secret agents sent to stir up trouble among the population in order to justify the recourse to force by the dominant order, it is employed here to conjure up the ages-old association of women, perfumes and seduction, with danger, to men, of an erotic nature. Not surprisingly then, but, yes, I was actually surprised, the perfume turns out to be a classic, potent traditional floral chypre, underneath the surface of hip and niche scent aesthetics. It smells like a close cousin or even a twin sister of Sisley, Eau du Soir, except that its sillage is more subdued, while it remains a strong perfume, and it is powdery, which Eau du Soir is not.

I'm reviewing by memory and so I cannot really go into the detail of the different phases, the more so since it actually had a tendency to make me gag, so I couldn't stand it for too long and I may have unconsciously trashed the sample, an exemplary geste manqué! However, this perfume could be compelling on the right person, moreover having the right body chemistry (always). The top notes are advertised as being pure saffron oil from India and coriander from Russia, the heart being composed of Moroccan rose oil, Egyptian jasmine, French magnolia oil, ylang and white flowers from the Comoros. Its base notes are vetiver from Haiti, amber, and musk.

Despite the accent put on the exotic origins of its essences, Agent Provocateur does not suggest any of these far away locales. It is blended to smell urbane and sophisticated and to me, it evokes the 50's, the New Look, a young Lauren Bacall smoking a cigarette with a cigarette-holder, the rustling of a Dior dress, all ample skirt and slim waist. AP exudes confidence and maturity, it is made for a woman in control, chic, in a 50's sense, not a 40s or a 60s sense, a 50s sense when all women deeply wanted was a return to glamour after the end of WWII. This is maybe why some people have characterized it as oldladyish (when will they stop talking about mature women in a derogatory tone, please!). It is not, it is rather to my nose, revivalist, and so more to the point, it is retro.


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