Paco Rabanne Lady Million (2010): Definining Femininity & the Amorous Code {Perfume Review & Musings} {New Fragrance}


Lady Million is the new, much anticipated release by Paco Rabanne following the top-of-the-chart successful men's version 1 Million which launched in 2008. So hooked are people on the original cologne that a 200 ml size oversized flacon was released this spring for Father's Day in France. The message of carefree high-living behind the original scent embodied by the character of a high-roller; the bottle shaped in the image of a gold ingot and the overdose of sweet comforting slightly graphite-smelling tonka in the perfume have apparently won over men - and also women as far as I am able to tell.

Paradoxically, but perhaps not surprisingly, it all took place during a period of economic recession as if the fragrance stood for a reassuring aspirational dream of prosperity during leaner times. As is the case when a major fragrance-success hits, the magic is not just about the scent itself but everything else around it plus the scent all found in a seamless system of symbolic correspondences between image, bottle, story and perfume... 

lady-million-bottle-black-B.jpgWhen you have created a studly act and you need to follow up on it, it requires no less than a dame to size up the competition and see how she could deal her hand. Rather than introduce a flanker, Parfums Paco Rabanne decided to go on crisply weaving their tale by making the characters illustrating the two perfumes take a life of their own in the subsequent episode of an encounter between 1 Million and Lady Million incarnated by models Matt Gordon and Dree Hemingway. According to the Moodie Report, the couple tale had been pre-planned from the very beginning. International Marketing Director Frédéric Appaire said, "Since the beginning, we always had the idea of creating a couple, with strong, flamboyant personalities," "We started with [men's fragrance] 1 Million, but we had always planned to create a woman to be the perfect counterpart."

The perfumers who co-created the fragrance, Dominique Ropion, Béatrice Piquet and Anne Flipo of IFF say that they took inspiration from the 1968 movie The Thomas Crown Affair directed by Norman Jewison and featuring Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen facing-off in a tense and sexually charged affair where a detective intrigue blurs the lines between sleuthing and sleeping-with. The perfume idea for the Noses was to think of Lady Million as similarly in control as Vicki Anderson was in the film while possessing a supplementary weapon, her perfume.

Telling the story this way of course is only giving a partial interpretation of the movie like [spoiler alert] having stopped to watch it before its conclusion. But the perfumers retained the concept of a feminine-masculine attraction-confrontation which makes Thomas Crown say ambiguously towards the end of the movie "We're a pair." They were in particular influenced by the brand of playfulness - and I would even add mischievousness at times - which pervades the film. It took the three perfumers as much as 2,500 trials over a 19 months period before getting to a formulation that they were satisfied with.    

From a marketing standpoint, the brand wanted to bring up the idea of symbolic complementarity. Where gold had shone, only diamond could impress equally; the Regent diamond at the Louvre Museum, considered to be the most beautiful diamond in the world, was taken as a source of inspiration by bottle designer Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance to create a flacon which looks both like a giant diamond and a glass of whiskey on the rocks. Like for 1 Million, the message of extravagance is clear.

Given the anticipated influence of the perfume which will benefit from the start from the attention of the1-Million fans, it is not exaggerated to think that one can and ought to pay closer attention to the gender discourse which profiles itself behind the story of Lady Million. It may seriously influence a whole cohort of teenagers and youngsters on the dating scene.

What is interesting to me is to see how the youth of today will somehow be made to reconnect subliminally with some motivating ideas and atmospheres of the 1960s. I already mentioned the 1968 Thomas Crown Affair reference, but there is also a 1967 quote by Paco Rabanne which is brought to the fore in the press materials: "The woman of tomorrow will be efficacious, seductive and without contest superior to man. It is for this woman that I conceive my designs."

This 1960s reference I find particularly telling in the context of a discourse on gender since there is arguably today in the United States a similar return to this period, a sort of reaction to counterbalance a certain uneasiness when faced with destabilizing change. For anyone who followed the presidential campaign it was clear that the two potential first ladies were trying to beat each other out at sending Mad-Men signals of reassurance to the population. The FLOTUS today is amazingly revivalist-60s when it comes to her official sartorial choices. While some may see it as a tip of the pill box hat to the grand progressist era of the Kennedy tenure and the mystique of Camelot, it is also obvious that the more controversial 60s quotes like the more dishevelled hippie one is carefully eschewed. Even the bikini and mini skirt are pushed under the carpet.

lady-million-dress-B.jpgPaco Rabanne as a fashion designer back in the 1960s saw women ideally as a kind of metallic Barbarella warrior clad in armored versions of the Roaring Twenties Flapper dresses. In 1969, Calandre the first Paco Rabanne fragrance was born and it was called after the metallic grid which protects the radiator of a car. In 2010, the iconic metallic thematic continuity can be felt in the golden hood (capot) which protects the diamond, the metal-plate dress that Dree Hemingway wears and the golden color of the perfume which references Paco Rabanne's golden metallic dresses.

How it Smells

The type of femininity that Lady Million as a perfume projects is subtle and understated. I happen to have been testing Thierry Mugler Alien which by contrast would represent a more in-your-face femininity. I was also interested in comparing Lady Million with B by Boucheron as there was something in the first that reminded me of the second one. This helped me see how a similarly soft honeyed amber scent can be designed to feel years younger than another one by offering less depth, less marked notes, i.e., olfactory wrinkles. Lady Million has the soft skin of a young woman whose history still needs to be written.

Notes: neroli, bigarade, raspberry, orange blossom, jasmine sambac, honey, patchouli      
Lady Million opens on a boozy raspberry nuance followed by a soft ambery fruity-floral apricoty impression with a few aldehydic, more angular shards. One can distinguish the coumarin/tonka theme of 1 Million running like an attenuated base line underneath the fruity-floral bouquet, this despite the fact that the brand announced there would be no olfactory connection between the two fragrances. There is clearly one.

Lady Million in fact is to some extent perpetuating the myth of Adam's rib (there was actually a perfume by Lenthéric named like that in the 1950s) by having an Eve, here Lady Million, being made out in part of the essence of 1 Million.  

As the perfume develops, it becomes even softer, gentler and aura-like. This is not a perfume with a sillage but as the perfumers put it with a "presence." It is more of a subtle skin scent which leaves like a cocoon of warmth, amber and honeyed sweetness on the body. The amber manages to feel slightly gourmand in perhaps a less commonly seen way, smelling of burnt caramel, like the crystallized crust of a crème brûlée rather than the cream itself, unlike Ricci Ricci.

I find out that whenever I think the words "lady" and "man" I smell better what makes Lady Million stand apart from 1 Million, while perceiving better also their elective affinities.

The women's fragrance offers a very feminine, ladylike delicate accord of what I initially thought was osmanthus (this is how it made me think of B by Boucheron) due to the apricot-y nuance and the impression of subtlety. But it turns out to be an abstract floral accord resting on orange blossom absolute, jasmine sambac absolute and gardenia. The floral bouquet is mellowed down by elegant, understated woods while being made of the same sweet almond-y substance which so characteristically signs the men's version.

The floral accord is quite ravishing and is the regal focus point of the composition to my nose. It offers inflections of salty prune, woodsy kernel, fruity apricot, fruit peel, olive, and more, which I usually associate with osmanthus. It is the note that visibly was made to embody the concept of preciousness of the fragrance and illustrates the idea of the multifaceted Regent diamond best.

Lady Million could only be a fragrance which grows on you (and others) as it is not a perfume which makes a spectacular statement. The only big statement a priori here comes from the bold bottle which is very pleasant to hold and look at.

Smelling the perfume almost serendipitously together with Alien Liqueur, Alien edp (by Dominique Ropion also) and Boucheron B makes you perceive better the abstraction of the floral accord in Lady Million which is less identifiable than the big white floral bouquet in Alien. Traces of dirty musk and spices also come through. The trio of perfumers designed the fragrance so that it would have many points of entry in order to reflect the complexity of Lady Million. To me, it translates at times in some unexpected subtle facets of the floral bouquet coming to the fore. The fragrance is not a short formula as it comprises 80 ingredients; it is therefore bound to surprise you with some unexpected twists.

It is terribly hard to define feminine identity. Usually it is safer to go the route of the changeability interpretation, which is what was done here. La donna è mobile is hardly a new thinking about women. And as stated "The flower remains predominant but is never aggressive," which again seems to convey a message which may seem entrenched in the conservative side of the 60s, the one which thought that gloves and hat were a must. If constructed smells can convey ideological messages like I think they can, then Lady Million might be less confrontational and woman-on-top than it seems if we relied solely on the visuals of the advertising campaign. Dree Hemingway muses in an interview that she thinks her character won. How do you define strength and even win is again very complicated. In the 1968 version of the Thomas Crown Affair [spoiler alert], the cat-and-mouse game ends up seemingly being won by the man: he laughs, she cries. Who is to say what happens next in the years to come? The 1999 version of the same movie has a gentler, more sentimental ending. The 2010 version is signed Paco Rabanne and so far it smells good and subtle but we haven't seen the full-on ad campaign yet.

In the current context of strongly gendered launches like for Womanity by Thierry Mugler, it will be interesting to see what kind of femininity as fragrance will find the most echo among women: the utopian kind or the one which remains more classically mediated by the gaze of men?

The fragrance launches on July 16th 2010.   

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2 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. I'm so jealous! You got to try Lady Million. Outstanding review! It sounds divine and like something I would just adore. I've been dying to try 1 million but it never launched in the U.S. I'll have to find them both on the internet. Thanks so much for a great review. : )


    • Hey, you're welcome! You know "divine" is not the word I would use personally, but it can reveal unexpectedly delicate facets. I think that people who are looking for a strong signature will not be content with this one. It's more for people who like aura-like perfumes.

      Chant Wagner

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