Tory Burch Eau de Parfum (2013): The Various Meanings of "Clean" in a Fragrance {Perfume Review & Musings}


My initial impression of Tory Burch Eau de Parfum was that it reflects American aesthetic values in perfumery as we usually imagine them to be across the pond: clean and fresh. You conveniently set aside Obsession by Calvin Klein in this simplified view of mainstream US perfumery although the big cats know better. Zooey notes of the world, unite. As I try it on skin next, I see that the designer insisted on creating an aquatic floral perfume which is indeed clean and just a little more bodied than expected on first inhale. It is also "clean" in the sense that its scent evokes the goddess of laundry notes, white musk, and fabric softeners in their more sophisticated version of themselves...

The floralcy of the perfume as it continues to bloom on is however less reluctant to yield to flesh and carnality than the stereotype of scrubbed-down fragrances made in the USA can convey. In Tory Burch debut fragrance one can discover a liking for an elegant bouquet of flowers whose personality is a cross between the coolness of the florist fridge and the dewiness of springtime blooms. There are some medium-bodied indoles, like you would state the grade of hotness of chili pepper. The peony is quite present. It is a peony you might have smelled in very simple fragrances - to my nose it is not a peony picked from the garden but a culturally-connoted one as a note you might find in a range of ancillary products.

This is also where the definition of a "clean" fragrance might take you: to the soap dish. It reenacts for you those scents that swirl in a bathroom, emanating from hand lotions and shower gels. You can well portray to yourself a woman who prefers this sort of peony to the real kind from the outside world. Gross. There is soil underneath and it does not have the same hedonistic associations as the ones found in beauty rituals of cleanliness. And while the list of notes gins the names of "peony, tuberose, mimosa, jasmine, carrot seed and sweet alyssum", it smells of a light-footed floral ensemble cast.

The warmer and thicker base is a bit creamy and musky and vanilla-like, both in scent and concept. If "vanilla" can be tagged as the blandest of flavors in America and denote social conformism it's because it can be treated to smell "inoffensive", like here. It means that it does not signal danger like bitterness or smoke or putrefaction.

There are at first minuscule nuances of pepper, tuberose, vetiver, with the tuberose coming through interestingly more in the drydown, along with the vetiver. Underneath the clean façade, the drydown reveals better some of the hidden complexity of the perfume. It's probably the best part of the composition from a perfumery standpoint, which is a fairly rare trait for fragrances nowadays as the drydown part can be quite neglected, for all sorts of practical and mercenary reasons. 


The designer had explained originally that she wanted to have composed a fragrance for "tomboys" - Bloomingdale's specify its style on their website as "tomboy chic" - inspired by the vetiver perfume they wear in her family, both males and females. She specified Vetiver by Guerlain. She wanted to add flowers to that, which has been done by Guerlain too with Guerlain Vetiver pour Elle (2007) albeit on a more ambitious scale perfumery-wise. The vetiver here is drenched in petaly dew, hard tap water, and overcome by the flowers. So do not expect an obvious twist, at least until the drydown where the quote is at last found in more perceptible form.

It's a very pleasant and easy to wear fragrance, once you know the drydown will hit its notes at some point. Without that conclusion, it would be just another perfectly OK pretty floral, no less, no more. But it's more than that. There is here a sense of fine-tuning of hidden effects and a discreet, feminine-sporty American style of elegance. It also smells "clean" in an honest-to-God sense since Tory Burch revealed her source of influence, Vetiver by Guerlain, although it is not über obvious. 

Tory Burch debut perfume is probably more meant for fashionistas and beautistas than perfumistas. The latter usually insist on being challenged, often. It's a signature scent in the sheerest expression of the term. It is there because at some level it is nearly obligatory to have a fragrance nowadays to complete your universe and your signature - this speaking for Tory Burch. It is a coherent appendage to her fashion worldview. In this sense it feels authentic. It is however not a research into an original signature fragrance taken as a whole. There are stages in this perfume and an interesting ending. You can detect some influence from Lauren by Ralph Lauren too, I think, in a certain crispness resting on the currant buds and leaves, but it's been folded into white vanilla and transparent aqua.  

Finding a quote by her in the press release after having reviewed the perfume, I agree with what she says about the edp except perhaps for the down-to-earth part which is not really that evident unless "clean" is a form of realism bespeaking of quotidian, simple life,

It’s similar to the clothes and accessories we design — sophisticated but down-to-earth, combining disparate ideas you don’t usually see together.  The fragrance is the same way. There’s a brightness to the scent when you first smell it, and then you realize that it’s more complex,

Fragrance notes: grapefruit, pink pepper, currant buds and leaves, mandarin and neroli. The heart features peony, tuberose, mimosa, jasmine, carrot seed and sweet alyssum. The base rests on cedar, sandalwood, white musk, and especially vetiver.

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