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Friday, January 16, 2009

Would You Trust These Ladies with Your Baby?

Stinkum Review: Prada Infusion D'Homme and Estee Lauder Sensuous

The scene: a department store in Mobile, Alabama. Two fortyish men, one wears a five-month old infant on his chest, the other carries a very manly diaper bag with the Jeep logo on it. The baby has midnight black hair and almond-shaped eyes; the two men are white. The New American Family from California visits Grandma in the Deep South.

The woman behind the men's fragrance counter read the situation right away, and commented that as dads, we'll recognize a slight diapers-and-baby-wipes note in Prada's Infusion D'Homme. She's right, though the biggest impression I get from that oddball new scent is my grandparents' pink-tiled bathroom, Tucson Arizona, around 1977. Infusion D'Homme is supposed to smell like a man who used a lady's Prada-infused soap, likely the morning after a one night stand. My take isn't nearly that sexy. I smell a bathroom in Tucson: Papa's shaving cream, and I'm guessing Nana had a perfume tucked away that had an iris note. Infusion is weird and unwearable, seventeen things from the drugstore stewed together.

The next woman to notice our little family was behind the Lancome counter. "What a beautiful baby! You must take him out so you can meet women." Let's examine how many ways this is wrong. First of all, don't forget the shorter dad toting the diaper bag: hey lady, I'm standing right here. Or worse, if the tall one is out with the baby trying to meet women, where is his poor, naive wife? At home, pregnant again, wondering if her husband is out cattin' around, using her newborn as bait? If this is the story the Lancome lady has crafted in her head, why the hell is she smiling? She should be yelling at the scoundrel.

A day at the mall in Mobile was fun and uneventful. The husband spilled his hot chocolate all over the Starbucks while trying to spoon-feed the baby balanced on his knee. There weren't any good deals in the Big & Tall section. But look! They have the new perfume at the Lauder counter.

The ad campaign for Sensuous features several model/actresses looking windblown, airbrushed and a bit aroused, each wearing (or half-wearing) a man's white dress shirt. Other perfume bloggers have noted that Sensuous shouldn't be categorized as a feminine, despite its placement and marketing, and I wholeheartedly agree. It's a dry, almost papery scent, with loads of wood smells, dry leaves, vanilla and sugar. Florals are absent, and though the wood scents are strong, they aren't dark enough to immediately read "cologne." Neither does it read "perfume." It's a very good unisex, and definitely a new favorite of mine.

As the two Lauder counter ladies cooed over the baby, Daddy hit his wrists with Sensuous. I'd already tried it and knew I would be buying it soon, but couldn't resist a free spritz. One of the Lauderites looked at me like I was crazy. A man putting on a woman's perfume? In public? She would not have been more shocked if she'd seen me try on a girdle and a Jill Sander skirt. Apparently the clerks believe their own marketing materials, and Sensuous is for a woman. A half-asleep, horny woman, falling out of her shirt in front a wind machine, and most certainly not a man. I concede that just because the Lauder Ladies sell the stuff doesn't necessarily make them experts on fragrance, but a simple sniff of their own product would reveal that Sensuous is far from girly.

Sensuous reminds me of the scent that first convinced me that fragrance is art: Bulgari Black. It shares Black's vanilla base and lack of sentiment. Sensuous is decidedly pretty, but there are no fruits or flowers to pretty it up. Black's shocking first notes of a tire fire (but an unexplainably gorgeous tire fire) are missing; Sensuous doesn't take those kinds of risks. But what it does do is project a subtle and sophisticated dry warmth. Despite those two confectionary notes, there is no stickyness to it at all. Rather than the baked-goods of Angel, Pi Neo or Thallium, the sugar and vanilla sit in a cold, quiet pantry rather than the bakeshop window. Crisp dry leaves and woods dominate.

There is also a hint, especially in the drydown, of a trickle of very cold and clear water. Sensuous is a walk in an autumn forest, so bring a sweater. It smells like the sound of brushes on a snare drum: dry, measured, anticipatory, exciting.

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