The fruity floral tends to be a dismal genre. It’s not intrinsically bad, but producers chased the least common denominators of the hybrid down a well of banality until there were only two controls left on the soundboard, marked ‘sweetness’ and ‘kool-aid’. Both dials were stripped from sweaty overuse and wound up stuck at volume 11.
Badgley Miskchka’s and Juicy Couture’s eponymous perfumes somehow managed to steer clear of the horrors of the genre and find some poise. The former I love and wear often. The latter I respect, but appreciate from a distance. I also include the sequel to Badgley Mischka, Fleurs de Nuit, as a cautionary tale. I’ll gut the narrative and point out that Badgley Mishka by Badgley Mischka, a surprisingly expressive perfume for the meanness of its genre, has been discontinued. It pains me to see it gone, though I’m stocked with the pure perfume and the eau de parfum for any upcoming apocalyptic event. It surprises me to see how quickly I can become nostalgic for a genre that I loathe.
Badgley Mischka by Badgey Mischka, 2006
My loving Badgley Mishcka is like the person who hates all white florals falling for Robert Piguet Fracas. I don’t have anything against the notion of the fruity floral per se, but I’d never smelled one that I wholeheartedly liked until Badgley Mischka. It proves that if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. The fruits are fermented, the florals are debauched, the patchouli is degenerate. It’s the scent of corruption. The sloppy drunk feel of the beginning is a perfect lead-in to the depravity of the heart-notes. But you know when it’s really great? Spray some on and move around a bit. A little sweat activates the booziness of the patch and you’re suddenly a dypso hippy. People think this stuff is ‘old-Hollywood’ soigné? Really? It can give a passing impersonation of the mock-normalcy that I associate with old-Hollywood, but for the most part Badgely Mischka is as queer as the day is long. Camp, glamor and fuck-you rolled into one.
I think the key is the part with the fewest spoken lines: the florals. The jasmine is hugely indolic and the peony has that ammonia-smelling angle of a vase of peonies just starting to turn. If these floral bits were any stronger, Badgeley Mischka’s first words to you would be bad breath. As it stands, they’re more the, “Hello! Darling!” kiss-kiss greeting of a fabulous friend meeting you at the door as you arrive just late to his cocktail party.
Juicy Couture by Juicy Couture, 2006
Perfumer Harry Fremont.
(Juicy Couture’s true cultural legacy: the blingy track suit as the heir to the leisure suit.)
From the colors to the images to the bottle itself, Juicy Couture is a virtual koan on low-echelon luxury marketing. Forget that it looks mid-1980s Madonna-aspirational. Forget that it’s from a company called without wit or sarcasm Juicy Couture. Just smell it.
Juicy Couture is a well-considered tuberose that while nominally a fruity floral, is in fact an interestingly clean musky tuberose. Somehow using this musk to lacquer a potent, sweet, pretty tuberose makes it interesting. I can’t think of another interesting tuberose perfume that doesn’t highlight at least one of the more objectionable parts of the flower (Fracas’s indoles, Tubereuse Criminelle’s gasoline, A Travers le Miroir’s mothballs.) Nicely polished ‘pretty’ should be the perfume equivalent of the classic noncommittal non-descriptor: nice. But this stuff is wonderful.
Tuberose, without the baggage of its grimy undercurrents, reads as almost tropical in the topnotes. The fruit, (bubble gum/tutti-frutti) doesn’t really last that long, but while it’s there gives hints of the fruity sweet flowers like ylang ylang and honeysuckle. Less fruit than flowers with their own sweetness. After the top fades, though, Juicy Couture pares down to a clean, musky tuberose. The musk has an acetone-sweet edge that gives the tuberose a spin far different from the rubbery, camphorous notes you’d find in a ‘dirty’ tuberose. The topnotes are a bit of well-constructed if programmatic frilly fun, but the heartnotes are quietly persuasive. There’s not a lot of progression from this point through drydown, but it holds up very nicely and keeps its balance with apparent ease.
Badgley Mischka Fleurs de Nuit, 2007
Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux
Follow-ups to fist time successes are notoriously difficult and Badgley Mischka appear to have tried to recreate the win by following a similar strategy to the original Badgley Mischka by Badgley Mischka. The original perfume was a syrupy fruitchouli released in 2006. While the genre may have been generic, the perfume was not. It dressed up a shady fruitchouli fragrance not with the intent to make it make it more acceptable, but to make it better than any others. It included layers of rot and booze that were more potent than any simple fruity sweetness. It smelled terrific and was a clever commentary on a genre that was considered hackneyed by the time of its release.
Badgley Mischka’s sophomore offering, Fleurs de Nuit, suggests jasmine and its sweet-sweaty atmosphere. Even more, the name implies night-blooming jasmine, the vampire of fragrant plants with a narcotic miasma of flowers and flesh. Unfortunately, having built expectation into its name, Fleurs de Nuit defeats itself. Without the requisite seamy side, and with the addition of a half can of cling peaches, Fleurs de Nuit is both loud and vague, like someone who gestures madly to get your attention, and once she has it, forgets what she meant to say. It’s not that Fleurs de Nuit isn’t pretty. It’s a simple, clean sweet, fruity jasmine with no sharp edges and no distortion. It simply doesn’t stand out either on its own or in comparison to other fruity florals.
The original Badgely Mischka gave buyers a category they thought they knew and then pulled out the rug from under them. Fleurs de Nuit takes the first part of the equation, using an easily recognizable category, here a sweet fruity floral, but neglects the other half—the twist, the subversion. Aiming for the center of the market, but with nothing new to add to it, Fleurs de Nuit comes off as both generic and derivative. I’m not so much disappointed in the perfume itself as I am surprised and perplexed. Given the smarts and audacity of the first release, why follow up with a such a timid strategy?
Fleurs de Nuit smells like an undisguised attempt to make the jasmine version of Juicy Couture by Juicy Couture’s tuberose. Juicy Couture stripped tuberose of its dark side and paired it with a sweet, plastic musk sheen. Where Juicy Couture’s acetone muskiness shellacs the tuberose so that we see it through a prism, Fleurs de Nuit coats its flower with a sugary fruitiness and winds up a large scale blur. In drydown, Juicy Couture hangs together solidly. Fleurs de Nuit’s drydown is a fairly quick jump from blurred to bland.
Fleur de Nuit is a head-scratcher. For high-end frock makers to want to compete head-to-head with a maker of garish track suits and diamante accessories, at least symbolically through their perfumes, is baffling. The follow-through from perfume to packaging is consistent, though. I’ve always thought that the original Badgely Mischka bottle was an example of unintended kitsch, but Fleurs de Nuit tops it, making the Juicy Couture spangly bottle seem like a spectacle of good taste.
(images, top to bottom: Italian Vogue, ValeroRioja, unknown x 3, Forbes)