Comme des Garçons H&M (2008): Niche To Educate The Masses {Perfume Review} {New Fragrance}

CDG_H_and_M_fragrance_TSS.jpg This is a fragrance bottle

Comme des Garçons just caused some shopping commotion and tremors in Tokyo, a city as much known for its episodic natural earthquakes as for its enduring sense of fashion but this time it was due to the launching of their new high-low collection at the newly opening H&M on November 8, 2008. And today, November 13, 2008 was the worldwide launch of the CDG capsule collection.

Fans in Tokyo had reportedly been queuing for 3 days, under protective umbrellas, to make it to the cloth rack before everyone else got there. Extatic faces lit up as the elite troop of shoppers finally reached the promised displays and sprung into action.

Comme des Garçons - like Karl Lagerfeld did in 2004 with his fragrance Liquid Karl - has taken this opportunity to introduce a limited-edition fragrance, called not, mind you Liquid Rei Kawabuko, but in a more self-effacing manner simply, H&M.

Kawabuko said regarding this mass-appeal project that,

"I have always been interested in the balance between creation and business," "It is a dilemma, although for me creation has always been the first priority. It is a fascinating challenge to work with H&M since it is a chance to take the dilemma to its extreme, and try to solve it." (Vogue UK)...

I would love to be able to recount the epic tale of my snapping up the last bottle that could be sighted on a shelf trampling a few fashionistas, on my way to laying hands on the holy grail, who had unwittingly caught their feet in rumpled polka-dot shirts and converses on the floor, but the sedate atmosphere of the one store I visited fell short of this last-resort scenario.

H&M is a unisex composition packaged in a simple spray bottle similar to the ones that appeared to house the Energy C citrus line. It is tucked in a box with polka-dotted openings to echo the polka-dot theme of the collection making them look like crevices on the face of the moon or alternatively an edgy gruyère cheese, in a nice way.

The scent H& M has a spicy, woody and resinous personality with a recognizable streamlined niche stamping that owes much to previous woody scent creations of the CDG brand, but also more generally to the Shiseido Féminité du Bois lineage with its overdose of cedar. The unisex character here therefore relies principally on the treatment of woody notes.

What makes H & M more niche-like as opposed to Christian Lacroix Tumulte pour Homme, say, which similarly relies on a magnified, pared down cedar note making it tilt in the direction of a niche scent, are additional olfactory nuances such as a hefty dose of beeswax (reminiscent of Lutens), a certain saltiness and savoriness making the woods almost edible, a pungent musk (the idea of pungent rather than the idea of sex), incense, a dash of cumin, a suggestion of shiso leaf with its anisey nuance, a hint of celery...The result is that with Tumulte you find yourself in a cedar forest while with H&M you are transported to a more culturally complex urban universe replete with cross-references, nay whose very raison d'être is to play with semiotic scent clues. H&M however is not as offbeat as the scent Comme des Garçons created for Monocle magazine this year nor is it as refined for that matter. But it represents a good effort at making more mainstream niche-perfumery aesthetics. In other words it succeeds in creating a niche scent for the masses. In this sense the composition is clever and dare we say pedagogical. The quality is irreproachable for what it is, that is, it never feels cheap, it just will not go as far in the direction of high-end and rare sensations.

Regarding the development, H&M opens on a very strong, pungent cedary and resinous initial impression with some creamy (heliotrope and vanilla) sandalwood and an undercurrent of sweaty musk and dirty cumin. The cedar is dry and even suggests cedar saw dust with its subtly powdery texture. At the same time the scent evokes a wintergreen-scented beeswax candle which is slowly melting, translatable as a discreet Christmasy signature, as discreet as the portraits one sees in filigree on green backs. You are reminded nevertheless realistically of the smell of dripping candles burning down in a church (incense) as the burnt smoky beeswax is quite noticeable. It also smells of freshly cut pine wood, Castile soap, and more (see above). There is also overall the suggestion of a clean woody sauna in a northern forest.

Despite the nuances contained within the scent, H&M on the surface is a linear composition that will mostly register as the kind of rather bold mainstream niche-ish perfume that Alexander McQueen Kingdom is (they share a common conspicuous musky and cuminy character), but with woods, resins, beeswax and "kitchen herbs" thrown in. It is an eau de toilette with decent longevity, better-lasting but also less subtle than Monocle Scent One: Hinoki.

I see H&M as nice sample of what niche perfumery can be and a very decent entry-level perfume into that world. The reason I tend to interpret the scent in this manner is that within the feel of niche aesthetics it carries, it betrays a slightly (good) generic quality that will be apparent to those who smell many niche fragrances. And I hesitate to say this, because it might be interpreted negatively by some, but one could see H&M as a kind of CliffsNotes of a woody niche scent. Great musky far drydown.

H & M is priced at $34.90 and 29.90 Euros for 1 oz. fl.

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