Floral meadows, orange trees, sex … the familiar smells of the perfume counter, right? How about concrete? That’s the inspiration behind Comme des Garçons’ latest perfume, released this week. With a flat bottle that looks like an off-cut of the Southbank Centre, it’s the kind of dressing-table addition that will appeal to design geeks fond of brutalism, who likely have a Marie Kondo approach to interior decor. On the Selfridges website, it’s described as “an exploration of destruction, construction and creation”.
Along with continuing the tradition of hyperbole in the fragrance world, Concrete is part of a trend for scents that ostensibly ditch the usual palate and go for something, frankly, weirder. There’s Russian designer Gosha Rubskinskiy’s signature scent, designed to have the smell of skateboarding on a summer day, with “the smells of rubber and tar colliding”. Or Christopher Shannon’s, which he says is inspired by his “upbringing in working-class Liverpool; sulphur and copper scents mixed with the smell of food from the bustling streets and fresh citrus notes from a newly cleaned house.” Serge Lutens, the cult perfumer and makeup artist, might win the prize for most esoteric: Dent de Lait is designed to smell like the feeling of losing your first tooth. It even comes with a film with images of gap-toothed children, and artfully employed dental floss.
If the 90s pioneering fragrances shifted smell to unisex with CKOne, and unusual smells with Comme des Garcons’ Odeur 53, which had the whiff of petrol, this experimentation is now increasingly common, as brands bid to appeal to the tastes and interests of millennials. None of these fragrances are gender-specific, and they are all designed to turn heads – or indeed make noses twitch – through their individuality. It’s this, perfume buyers say, that appeal to a generation where creating a personal brand – right down to the scent – is far more important than smelling a) clean or b) like they got some last night.
These fragrances all play with the idea of the mundane that is so fashionable at the moment – after Vetements put DHL on the catwalk, aspiration and glamour seem a bit passe. Making a fragrance based on concrete, a substance that surrounds us but is hardly in the foreground of most people’s lives, fits. But then there’s the actual smell – concepts are all very well but with the fragrance industry predicted to be worth £33.5bn by 2021, this is big business. What you spray on your wrist still needs to smell nice.
I am no qualified nose but, to me, all of these fragrances smelt pleasant rather than weird, and they were somewhat similar. Dent de Lait is lateral thinking on childhood – it smells like baby powder. Concrete supposedly has metallic threads underneath the rose, but it’s buried too deep for me – it’s certainly the sweetest concrete I have ever smelt. Rubchinskiy’s fragrance will appeal to the teenagers that occupy skateparks but it’s clean and out-of-the-shower, rather than gritty – the rubber and tar seem absent.
Shannon’s perfume is the one that does ring true, it has something of the pine or citrus smell that comes with the satisfying sparkle of a freshly clean home post-housework. And hey, smelling like cleaning products is certainly one way to denote your personal brand – or Shannon’s anyway. Actual personalised fragrance for all can’t be far away. I’ll take a cocktail of lit matches, chlorine and nutmeg please.
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