Citizen Queen is the latest perfume to come out from the confidential French label Juliette Has A Gun and out of the hands of perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. It was released in France in May 2008 and will be shortly in the US.
For the founder of the brand, Romano Ricci, the gun that a woman aims at a man today cannot but be her perfume. So how does this Juliette's pistol smell like?
Citizen Queen - visibly a play of words on Orson Welles's Citizen Kane in tune with the pop culture references of the house - is presented as an aldehydic chypre (a classic chypre accord rests on notes of bergamot, oakmoss, cistus-labdanum, patchouli, and I am tempted to add amber although the Société Française des Parfumeurs does not list it). The scent wishes to be an incarnation of contemporary femininity, which it does with a vintage flair. To this effect and to my nose, it seems to artfully borrow from several classical sources of inspiration that together read like a list of 20th century feminine fragrance best-sellers: YSL Paris, Rochas Madame Rochas, Femme, Chanel No. 5, Guerlain Mitsouko, Coty Chypre are all contained in this jus at some level. As one can see Citizen Queen is a perfume that comes with a solid background in the classics.
It is very frequent in the world of perfumes to practice this type of classics-revisited approach both for academic and marketing reasons. The problem here might be that added to this artisan proclivity is the sense that the composition is a bit weak in its middle stage. These two aspects contribute to turning it into a well-calculated, but not necessarily completely well-calibrated, perfume rather than an artistic one.
The reader might want to know that whenever I read "niche" somewhere my standards do not automatically go up but they refuse to go down on the other hand, despite the fact that I do not intrinsically believe in the distinction between niche and non-niche. I will not say, oh, after all it cost only $ or $$ and basta! I will think, wait this is $$$ and it smells like another $$ scent I know of. The way I view it is that many niche perfumes use this term as a commercial label now like some brands use "natural" to lure you in at no cost and without any official quality control. The perfume industry has thus managed to offer itself a pseudo label of quality absolutely free of charge. It is therefore up to the consumer to separate the wheat from the chaff and realize that not all "niche" perfumes are created equal. Citizen Queen is yet another example that shows the artificiality, in many ways, of this technical (the scale of production is indeed different) rather than cultural distinction...
But unfortunately next, a more generic and astringent green-floral accord rears its head: I have smelled it time and again recently from Avon Flower to Lolita Lempicka's flanker Forbidden Flower to Bobbi Brown Almost Bare, and L' Artisan Fleur de Liane. It not only offers this pedestrian connotation because it is ubiquitous these days but even more to the point, it feels so owing to the intrinsic lack of subtlety and depth of this accord. This green flowery impersonation seems bent on never really fusing with the rest of any composition it finds itself in, while seemingly attempting to keep a low-profile at the same time - don't pay attention to me too much it seems to say - and wearing the drab clothes of the green-floral accords of the perfumery world. Unfortunately it smells resoundingly mediocre. If you told me it wore socks as grayish as dirty dish water and a lettuce-colored jumper every day, I wouldn't be surprised.
A musky note intervenes to try to give more character and edge to the blend. The musk here sings a high-pitched note smelling of the top notes of a sweaty yet clean armpit, which together with some sandalwood spiciness strikes a sexy vibe. Some rosiness and vanillaness add a little precious boudoir touch. A little bit of charming peach Melba weaves itself in with a more delicate nuance of green foliage. I realize also after a while that the woody notes smell like a dark roasted coffee blend but mostly for effect rather than smell.
The quality of a couple of the materials is rather disappointing, especially so for a niche brand, but even more so is the architecture of the scent. Citizen Queen seems to have been engineered to smell best in the top and base notes as if it were psychologically more acceptable to be more of a let-down in the heart, which is here relegated to the role of olfactory parenthesis or intermission spent yawning instead of showcasing the fireworks or full-blown bouquet of the fragrance. And believe me, it is indeed more acceptable. Many people will pay more attention to the intro and the finale of the perfume or be willing to wait for the more hum-drum passage to dissolve, finally.
The drydown is lovely and creamy-peachy with a pleasant pepperiness on top of all the classic woodiness of chypre. It smells good, like a gentler, more pillowy and also thinner version of (vintage) Mitsouko, a Mitsouko fanning herself with curled-in white swan feathers and powdering her rosy, at times illuminated cheeks as if covered with dried egg-whites (aldehydes), with a fluffy Caron goose-down powder puff.
Citizen Queen offers the particularity of letting out secret sparks of vintage oakmoss-y chypre complete with ambergris as if it held a bottle of vintage aldehydic chypre perfume in a secret cache in its midst. Lovers of vintage juices will appreciate the reference.
All in all the perfume is more merchant art, perhaps notalgic art, than artistic art and suffers from enough sense of compromission with certain materials to not be entirely convincing despite the fact that it holds on to its niche label more legitimately where complexity in the top and base notes are concerned. But so it is that it ends up smelling very good so I am sure that it will not be a major handicap for the scent and that it will win over some of the more patient wearers of perfume or those that have better things to do than to smell attentively the middle stage of development of a fragrance.
Citizen Queen is a successful recreation, for the most part, of the ambiance of an old-school chypre perfume while eschewing the overly musty associations that would make it appear to have been discovered in the battered, well-traveled suitcase belonging to your aunt Irma, the one she left in the attic for the past half a century and that you uncovered recently with a little remnant drying slowly away. Luckily for you, the bottle was tightly packaged and is still full and next to it, her diminutive mother-of-pearl lady's pistol can still shoot a few rounds.
Images via press release and © Juliette Has A Gun
A 100 ml eau de parfum is priced at 110 Euros and a 50 ml size at 80 Euros.
Beauty Habit is now taking pre-orders. Prices are $135 and $105, to which you can apply a 20% off discount with code TOUTIEFALL