The Big Apple Becomes The Big Strawberry
SJP NYC eau de toilette was developed following the resounding success of the 2008 Sex in the City feature movie which brought in earnings of $500 million globally, and to fill a commercial void. The movie sequel Sex and the City 2 is due out on May 28th, 2010. The producers - it comes down to sniffing good business in this case - regretted that amongst the franchise products which had been commercialized at the time, there had not been a perfume, for lack of time. Sarah Jessica Parker has come to be seen as having more than a passing superficial interest in perfume; we now all know about her personal homemade 3-layer combo scent that was never able to be translated into a commercial fragrance because it's too extreme involving 1 street-vendor musk, Bonne Bell skin musk and Comme des Garçons Avignon Incense. Plus, the idea fits right in with the fashion-fabulous universe of Sex and the City. Sarah Jessica Parker explained the birthing process of SJP NYC, saying,
"We started with this idea that we wanted to create something fun. We wanted to create a party in a bottle and reflect that in the packaging with a real sense of whimsy, fun and joie de vivre. And then we took it from there. Portability and fashion played key roles in the development of the packaging and overall concept."....
The packaging is a wink to fashion-addicts-unite and represents Carrie Bradshaw's closet. The "bottle" is indeed fun like a modern fuschia, even Shocking Pink plastic incarnation of antique boxwood perfume canisters which would have been used to house a transparent scent bottle and protect it from dints and light. Inside, there is a plain glass spray bottle.
The perfume has chosen as its joie de vivre olfactory cue, the scent of strawberry. This idea was proposed to Sarah Jessica Parker rather than she chose it and she accepted it confessing some surprise at finding the scent more interesting than she might have thought originally. The composition derives inspiration, as far as I can tell, from the traditional gustatory pairing of fresh strawberries and champagne to fete a special, joyous occasion as well as express unabashed hedonism; the festive note of bubbly was replaced by rum in this case.
Smell-wise SJP NYC is a completely whimsical perfume which pretends at nothing else than to be fun, indeed, and be as happy as a sunning cat. On a semiotic plane however, it offers more sophisticated trappings.
How it Smells
What the perfume as smell does well in my opinion is take a simple scent concept and bring enough olfactory subtlety and balance to it to not make it feel purely demagogic and let's face it, changeling. The latter sensation one feels dangerously close to with Ed Hardy Love and Luck for Women, less so with Ralph Wild, and not at all, in my view, with SJP NYC. Some people may disagree with this idea and scratch their heads at the need for a strawberry shortcake doll scent for adults and in principle I would to, but smelling and wearing the perfume feels simple and pleasant without feeling like you went back into a fetal position. It is difficult to criticize simplicity when it is treated with enough delicacy. It is also meaningless to try to make the perfume cough up ambitious aesthetic goals because it's like asking a happy, insouciant person what is happiness: they're living it, bubbling it.
Furthermore, I would argue that delivering what is in essence a one-note strawberry composition can be interpreted as gutsy and engaged. It is certainly intriguing. This strawberry solifruit, to be more literal, in a way chose to fly across the circus tent without a safety net. To be (almost) just one thing is riskier than to be all over the range of perfume families as is often done to minimize commercial failure unless the company holds secret FBI files telling them that most people simply cannot resist the scent of strawberries.
As often with scents, you cannot be too literal and have to consider the web of associations around them.
The surprise therefore here initially is that SJP NYC is such a straightforward strawberry perfume but which fortunately was not ladled out like red syrup but rather constructed by Honorine Blanc to offer a pleasant architecture of freshness and lightness.
The Many Nuances of Strawberry
The perfume starts out by smelling of the chewy fruit paste contained inside lollipops when you break them. It is jammy but tart at the same time with crisp and clean green accents à la Be Delicious by DKNY created by Maurice Roucel which is a superlatively crisp and clean scent. The strawberry gummy, jammy effect slowly evolves into a fresher, juicier note. Then I would say that it takes on a citrusy tonality which is quite pleasant, like a strawberry-flavored lemonade.
Of course, you will not be able to escape some associations with Ralph Wild. It is less jammy though
SJP NYC smells of strawberry and from the very start at that. This is no hidden, complicated strawberry note. It jumps at you and says Hi! from the start. SJP NYC, you could see as the perfume form of a huge fashion-y strawberry brooch with some sparkling rhinestones. It offers the charm of a fad or perhaps more lastingly, that of a favorite iconic collectible brooch. I don't know if the perfume could become associated with, say, strawberries in the springtime, but its message at least is simple and therefore easy to remember: I am a fresh strawberry soliflore. Therein lies both its strength and weakness: you will always remember it if you want to reach for a nice strawberry scent and then if you don't want to smell just of strawberry, you will shun it.
I expected to see some musk readily ambushed behind the strawberry, but it becomes cleanly musky and slightly salty only in the drydown.
The strawberry note becomes fresher in a transparent sense with a little bit of an ozonic lift thanks to the addition of transparent floral notes like "white osmanthus" and honeysuckle.
This is Carrie Brandshaw's Scent, not Sarah Jessica Parker's
An interesting element in this case, and you have to take this into account as SJP NYC is a celebrity perfume after all, is the celebrity's point of view. You may think strawberry shortcake: "so common, so regressive." But to Sarah Jessica Parker, a strawberry note in one of her perfumes is subjectively speaking, revolutionary, unexpected, in a way, even mind-boggling. So this mind-boggling strawberry note to SJP continues to meander throughout the perfume. But in fact an important distinction has to be made between the real Sarah Jessica Parker, the perfume-persona of SJP (Lovely, Covet...), and the perfume-persona of Carrie Brandshaw her character. Admittedly, Lovely was not completely SJP's perfume either since she let out that she was not able to push it far enough in the direction of a dark musk scent. But this time, she cleverly overcame the tension by explaining that it is Carrie's perfume. Sarah Jessica Parker explicitly said that SJP NYC was meant to illustrate on the olfactory plane, the visual impression of Carrie Bradshaw sauntering down a New York City street all girly, hip and light-hearted, in an Oscar de la Renta outfit matching the smell-color of the scent. SJP said,
"A large part of the inspiration was what I now understand to be people's impressions of seeing Carrie Bradshaw walk down the street and what feelings that evokes for her and for them -- a real sense of freedom and possibilities, a love for the city around her and, of course, fashion,"
The Big Apple Becomes The Big Strawberry
The real mystery to me remained in trying to ascertain why they decided to focus like mad on strawberry rather than on kiwi or raspberry.
I believe that it has to do with the utter naked simplicity of the fruit and its semiotic potential. Strawberry is perhaps the only fruit able to beat the household-name power of apple in terms of mainstream fruit taste and affective associations. Just like there are primary colors and secondary ones, there are primary fruits and secondary ones in cultural trems. Raspberry is not as constant and default-like a fruit as strawberry.
Strawberry, I think, was seen through a certain interpretative lens to be potentially effective at superimposing itself upon the image of the Big Apple and piggy-back on the fruit/city identification while giving it a girly blushed-cheek twist.
New York City is the city named after one fruit and symbolized by it. It explains the deliberate choice made of a solifruit. They did not want to blatantly copy Donna Karan Be Delicious apple perfume franchise. So instead, the crisp Granny Smith accents meld with a blooming and sustained, inspirational strawberry note yet continue to subliminally make sense. SJP NYC is like an olfactory logo of the Big Apple but girlier, pinker and benefiting on top of that from the image of a twirling Carrie Bradshaw, not to mention the frames of the upcoming movie. It is a perfume influenced by the concept of "emotional communication" which makes sense for a perfume accompanying the release of a movie. For all we know, the scent might get sprayed in movie theaters or will simply waft off the fans.
Sarah Jessica Parker did say that she was overjoyed to see her name in acronym next to that of the city she loves most in the world. She has been wearing the perfume and not getting nearly enough of it. I think the Big Strawberry note works.
Perfume notes: Top notes: Italian mandarin, white osmanthus, wild red strawberries; Heart notes: gardenia, honeysuckle, mimosa and red rose damascena; Base notes: sandalwood, vanilla absolute, rum flavor and creamy musks.