Isabela Capeto by Isabela Capeto (2007): When Niche is Niche-y & Not Much More {Perfume Review} {Scented Thoughts}



Isabela Capeto is a Brazilian fashion designer who last year launched her debut signature fragrance, Isabela Capeto. The flacon in the shape of a toy-art logo-like red plastic doll oozes cuteness and hipness. It won a 2007 Worldstar prize for packaging.

The perfume itself by Carmita Magalhaes from Mane is much less interesting than anticipated for a project that promised to be a creative one. The composition is reminiscent of a school of predecessors in the woody-spicy category of perfumes. In fact it elicits the general hard-to-grasp idea that the scent feels both familiar and niche, two terms that should never be uttered in the same breath nor in the same sentence in principle for those who live and breathe for niche-perfume discoveries. It creates a much more twisted and subtle effect than when a niche brand copies a mass-marketed perfume, say as in the case of Santa Maria Novella Angels of Florence copying Elizabeth Arden Fifth Avenue, which itself copied...we forget. In the latter case, it only reveals some commercial anxieties. In the first case, it has more of a perverse effect as it copies some of the hallmarks of the - according to common sense - more creative side of perfumery. Here is a good example of how "niche" can come to mean a phenomenon of stereotypical olfactory branding by integrating some signature effects such as "pared-down", "spice-overdose", "photo-realism", "back-from-an-olfactory-trek-from-which-I-brought-back-new-unknown-aromas, except here it is a local flower (Brazilian marshland lily)......

On initial take, the perfume seems to be built around two main impressions: a pungent spicy, woody cumin and cedar accord with a tactile saw-dust effect resting on a softer, more "feminine" bed of woody and green violets. The floral and fruity notes of osmanthus and purple plum are mainly used to convey an understated plummy impression, but the woods dominate. Other floral notes are also under the tutelage of woods.

The composition is linear with a tendency to be schematic. Our first impression was that the perfume had been made using an off-the-shelf accord, revealing itself to be significantly less imaginative than the bottle itself. It makes reference to perfumes like Shiseido Féminité du Bois, Alexander McQueen Kingdom and more recently Frapin Caravelle Epicée which have strong cumin and cedar facets. It smells quite close to Silver Cologne by Amouage as well, which reinforces the feeling that it is a well-used idea. The methylionone in Isabela Capeto is not disguised enough and feels cheap. There is bit of L'Artisan and Lutens branding styles mixed together in general.

Subsequent tries finally yield something more positive to say. If you like McQueen Kingdom for example, but find it a bit perfume-y or aldehydic, Isabela Capeto offers a more realistic, more straightforward and less ornate rendition of the cumin-overdose effect. It is like having your skin brushed with powdered spices, cumin essentially, but with added curry-like flavors and cinnamon. When the cheap nuances of the violet molecule used dissipate a bit, the pleasant resinous quality of opoponax comes through. It still has two arguments to win you over: the bottle is instantly recognizable; it is of the same ilk as Chanel No.5 in this respect, but only after a few months, and it comes from far away, from Brazil. Nobody will fault you for not trying hard.

Notes: cedar, vetiver, sandalwood, osmanthus, Brazilian marshland lily, fruit cocktail, purple plum, opoponax, fresh cinnamon, cardamom, pink and black pepper. 

Available at Barney's for $ 80. 


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  1. I bought this from Lotus Bathing Luxuries and I just love it! I love the exotic scent unlike anything I can get in the US. In Costa Rica we have scents like this and the Brazilians know what we like and Isabela Capeto got it right on.

    Marta Cervantes

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