La Vie est Belle (Life is Beautiful) is the newest feminine fragrance by Lancôme. It has benefited from a particularly high-profile launch thanks to actress Julia Roberts who was chosen as the brand's fragrance muse.
The launch is a renewed attempt at creating what the industry calls a "pillar fragrance", that is a perfume which will be an enduring and recognizable signature for the house as well as a stable source of revenue.
Contrary to fashionable clothes, perfumes can pretend to want to live for ever, like Chanel No.5 since 1921 or Jicky by Guerlain since 1889...
The previous Magnifique by Lancôme, similarly named to sound like an upbeat pronouncement on femininity and life was the last attempt. It was fronted by actress Anne Hathaway.
Roberts has already lent her features to a Lancôme mascara acting as a brand ambassador in order to add a dose of Hollywood glamour to the venture.
The Art-Deco style of the new flacon is borrowed directly from the 1930s mimicking the shape of a smile, while the organza scarf around the neck of the bottle seemingly billowed by wind is meant to symbolize a sense of freedom. The flacon is hefty and beautiful. It suggests to me the lines of a steamliner.
The sillage of the new fragrance I identified in a recurring manner lately in the streets of Paris. It compels you to take stock of its popularity. I remember smelling La Vie est Belle with puzzlement once in the subway wondering what was that unusually beautiful, charming and original "gourmand iris." The waft felt precious and delicate - uncommon too - while remaining approachable thanks to what I would describe as "its very mature gourmand personality."
One thing I have had to come to acknowledge even though at first blush at Sephora it felt like La Vie est Belle was a commercial fragrance trying to steal some thunder from Flowerbomb by Viktor and Rolf but also Miss Pucci, is that it actually possesses a memorable and instantly identifiable olfactory imprint, a paramount quality denoting an accomplished olfactory form, sought out like an ideal by professionals.
It means that the perfume has a true personality and cannot be confused with another one. A great perfume therefore cannot be called great if it fails to offer that instant-recall effect. La Vie est Belle reads almost as clearly as a photography which is familiar, shown to you once again. You just recognize it without any problem as to what it is. Olfactory forms are so abstract that to be able to be as legible as a photo is quite an achievement.
To reach that point is obviously extremely hard work. La Vie est Belle has now become known as the perfume of the 5 521 trials and 3 years of development. It was visibly taken extremely seriously by the dream team of perfumers Dominique Ropion, Olivier Polge and Anne Flipo, who all co-authored the jus. Olivier Polge is also one of the three co-authors of one of the sources of inspiration which is Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb (together with Carlos Benaïm and Domitille Bertier).
Given all the trappings surrounding the project, It is manisfest that this was envisioned as a high-stakes venture and so would have been worked upon as a perfume which needed to be, say: beautiful; beautifully done; very pleasing; perhaps uplifting, so that women purchasing it felt a bounce in their step as they wore it.
In other words, for this kind of entry you look for a formula which will help women live their lives better, especially so if the name itself extends such a promise of happiness. You have to admit that it is not that easy to try to imagine a perfume which expresses "Life is Beautiful".
A niche or creative perfume is usually less socially oriented and more like the type of perfume a cenacle of literary kindred souls would wear to feel that they belong to the same club. Of course, in reality there is always the temptation to be popular for niche perfumery and conversely, the desire to be artistic and just beautiful for designer perfumery. Nevertheless, knowing the business constraints of a large-scale launch you would have to keep in mind the quality of being easy to adopt (yet qualitative and glamorous). Some perfumes are as easy to wear as drinking a glass of water - a noteworthy quality.
According to the press release,
"For the first time, three French masters of perfumery have collaborated to create a new olfactive family - a modern interpretation of an Oriental fragrance with a twist of gourmand."
Dominique Ropion is named as the author of the white floral accord, Olivier Polge, of the iris one and Anne Flipo of the vanilla accord.
"Olivier Polge's distinguished creativity ensures deep, structured elegance; the technical virtuosity of Dominique Ropion brings a spark of vibrancy through the grace of flowers; and Anne Flipo's resplendent femininity adds a radiant touch of joie de vivre."
It is a very rich fragrance - if you smell it closely, like you do close reading - both in the sensations it offers ultimately and in the succession of accords which is perceptible. The materials include: iris, patchouli, praline, Sambac Jasmine and Tunisian Orange Blossom absolutes, tonka bean, blackcurrant, pear, vanilla.
The composition comes across as both a very pillowy, fluffy perfume, and its opposite: a dewy, even hydropic one. Perfumery thrives on these types of tensions. Vanilla, tonka beans and praline create a ribbony, guimauve effect which is very smooth and velvety. This overdindulgence of comfort notes is conterbalanced by the gentle tartness of blackcurrant and a graphite-like note adding a nuance of minerality - but also slowly and gradually it all becomes apparent - by the youthful aura of a bouquet of white tropical flowers, soft, round, generously perfumed, yet never brash or heady.
The iris is the key note which creates this velveteen quality, but also a slightly smoky effect which is seductive like many shadowy things, perhaps even suggestive of the swirl of a cigarette. You can retain the aesthetic aspect of cigarette-smoking, the glamour of it in a perfume. Olivier Polge is well-known for his creation of Dior Homme which is based on a very seductive, sueded and rather sweet accord of iris. We are seeing the sequel of his thoughts on this note here, for a different project.
La Vie est Belle becomes sligtly fruity, a bit fizzy, mineral-y too, again, and musky but like fruits can be rather than the animal kingdom. The natural muskiness of blackcurrant kicks in.
Where the iris facet is concerned, the composition can be said to evolve towards more butteriness, a desirable effect and a coherent one with the idea of "beurre d'iris" or iris butter.
While Julia Roberts is reported to have requested that no fruit be included, clearly, this injunction did not go anywhere past the point of social conversation since there is most definitely a fruity facet to the scent. When you smell the perfume outside and on other perfume-wearers however, you do have to acknowledge the fact that it never comes across as such but rather you do identify a "gourmand iris" very easily, with a special presence. It is not literally gourmand in the sense of being laden with sweets, but rather it is conceptually and stylistically very clear that it is a gourmand.
As the fragrance further evolves, a very interesting woody-fruity-floral accord develops which in truth is translatable as being a bit "odd" and "strange" but of course without being unsettling. Spotting the note "pear" in the list of notes, you realize this is what adds this offbeat sensation. Perhaps it would be more to the point to say that the perfume has charm.
It is a bit of a wayward sensation, yet it remains on track, like a delicate variation on the expected. This is the kind of stylistic tour de force that designer perfumes can offer: they are original but in a very understated manner, yet very definite too.
The woodiness of iris is brought out while the creamy white florals become slightly more indolic with a whiff of tropical rot (very tenuous), of overly ripe fruits, like glazed kumquats melting in the sun next to naturally musky exhalations.
The white florals evoke magnolia more readily than gardenia although the latter is Dominique Ropion's favorite floral. In the sillage however, the effect is much more that of a lush gardenia. It comes off as smelling like a bejeweled flambé banana for its capacity to be sweet, intense and luxurious. The scent of banana in a white floral accord is a by-product of that accord as aromatic molecule Isoamyl Acetate is used in illusions of gardenias or tuberoses.The orange blossom adds a feeling of preciousness and even aristocracy.
In the end, the perfumery goal to create a novel form of oriental gourmand seems to have been attained. The master reference in this category is of course Angel by Thierry Mugler (1992) and the brand have been working on surpassing themselves with another innovative opus in this genre, Womanity (2011), which combines the milk of figs with the salt of caviar. With La Vie est Belle - which could not have existed without Angel being born first - the impression is not as avant-garde as with Womanity, but there is a very well-internalized form of originality which is never showy.
It is not stricto sensu, "the first gourmand iris" as advertized by the brand. For that, you can turn to predecessors like Guerlain Iris Ganache (2007) and Van Cleef and Arpels Bois d'Iris (2009), but it definitely gives the impression that it is a first among equals thanks to its evident, masterful signature.
Olfactory Pyramid: Head: iris, Sambac jasmine petals, orange blossom; Heart: vanilla, tonka bean, praline, blackcurrant, pear; Base: Indonesian patchouli.