The relationship between fashion and perfume has been an ambivalent one at times yet an economic and creative necessity once it came to light that both industries could benefit symbiotically from the partnership.
Since the days of Worth, Poiret and Chanel, the currently baptized "designer perfumery" category has come to be viewed as overly consensual rather than elegant for a number of perfume critics. Fashion brings glamour to fragrance but also the ephemeral quality of trends and seasonal styles. Perfume prefers to be eternal, cross the centuries unharmed in its original formulation safekeeping cherished and intimate memories of your life. There is thus co-nourishment, but also tension...
When Viktor & Rolf turned to the venue of their catwalk at their latest couture fashion show to unveil their new feminine fragrance, BonBon, they symbolically sealed the importance to them of that historic exchange; Chanel also are thankful to No.5 for the iconic status added to their image - and the revenues too - and so they created bags in the shape of the iconic Place Vendôme bottles.
If in the recent past perfume bottles were meant to signal a fashion universe, now you see fashion runways directly praising and honoring bottled fragrance in their literal forms.
Viktor & Rolf struck on that chord creating a surprise perfume launch of sorts compounded by the simplicity of the name of the perfume meaning just "candy" - very conceptual in this context - and contrasted it with the elaborate bow shape of the deep orchid-colored perfume glass bottle, an eye-catching decoration object.
The intriguing, jewel-like flacon housing the jus of the upcoming BonBon by Viktor & Rolf lets out a simplistic whiff of milky caramel even before you start spraying on the scent. The brand promised a caramel key note. In this moment it invites you to think that the fashion designers might have produced a cash cow of a perfume in the semblance of Girlfriend by Justin Bieber, the quintessential formulaic celebrity perfume of the day which spells out all the right necessary ingredients to sell widely and indiscriminately: fruits + caramel + milk. At least that lowest-common-denominator bestselling fragrance comes to mind.
You then spray the scent on - you need to hold the flacon in the center unless you have a really big hand - and it smells of caramel and juicy pineapple in the first top notes to hit your nose. Lest you thought this was decidely too gourmand-y, the perfume then fades into a very sophisticated raspberry note which smells a bit dark and licoricey at the same time.
The fragrance feels progressively finer - like a fine, richer material - more complex and dressed-up. It discreetly projects the elegant persona of a chypre as the precious woods seem to fizz and shimmer a bit. It feels like traversing childhood and the nursery room going out towards adulthood and the wider world with lightening speed. The sticky-sweet sensation remains like a cuddling blanket in the background but it is now enveloping the legs of a silky-stockinged lady in a luxury train carriage travelling towards unknown adventures. It is a bit mysterious.
BonBon, which is co-signed by perfumers Cécile Matton and Serge Majoullier of Mane, is in one sense intensely gourmand - at times the composition reverts to overly literal foodstuff - yet it somehow manages to convey a sense of richnesss and complexity, and again, sophistication, a trait of contemporary gourmand fragrances. As the perfume melds with the skin it takes on a peachy glow. It makes you think about the distant ghost of Mitsouko by Guerlain.
On the whole, it feels as if the perfume progression could be divided into four main moments.
In the first stage, you encounter a possible, terribly dumbed down designer perfume by Viktor & Rolf bent on renewing the success of Flowerbomb in the gourmand range by opening the genre to mass-market celebrity fragrance references of the most pedestrian sort.
In a second time, BonBon becomes like a Warhol, a sophisticated take on a pop culture item except the can of Campbell tomato soup has been replaced by the scent of a can of Del Monte fruit salad drizzled over with cream. Subtler secondary nuances create a satisfying level of complexity. The fruity caramel motif is seen through the lens of humour, distanciation and self-confidence although you have to realize that notwithstanding the distanciation, it is still caving in to a major demagogical/popular perfume trend.
In a third stage, the texture of the perfume becomes blended in and smooth rather than nuanced. The fragrance starts to glow on your skin. You may breathe a sigh of relief and think that the sweets were but mere pretexts to affirm the standards of classical perfumery in the end. Something beautiful and eternal seems to be able to emerge from what feels like sheer plaisanteries and preliminaries. The fragrance seems to be coming into its own.
In the fourth stage, which is the drydown, you come to grips with reality: BonBon now has gone back like in a loop towards olfactory references resembling of all perfumes Girlfriend by Justin Bieber. Despite the more sophisticated woody and ambery notes of sandalwood, guaic, ambergris and cedar wood, the end smells curiously like a formulaic, sweet lactonic celebrity perfume.
Is caramel napping sauce the new smell of fear? We are not faulting the motif per se but what was made of the motif. It is not easy to go from Flowerbomb to a new successful feminine pillar perfume but Viktor & Rolf decided it was time after launching a number of flankers.
The bottle of BonBon itself is striking, over-the-top and laden with a sense of humour. It is unfortunate that they decided to take more risks with the flacon which is great and playful because it is borderline unpractical than with the perfume which ends up feeling too conventional - not even classical like Prada Candy. If Prada Candy makes the caramel sing, Viktor & Rolf BonBon makes the caramel sink. It adopts as core reference a celebrity style of fragrance which is of the least creative type.
The perfume itself does not benefit from the true inner complexity of Flowerbomb, nor the subtlety and simplicity combined of Candy by Prada, a conceptual kin. It is an almost good perfume, but not quite. BonBon is wearable like you might say of food which is lacking something, that it is edible but it ends up tasting a bit flat. If it were a four-course meal, I know I would skip the first and last courses. The drydown being no matter what the stage where a perfume is meant to make a lasting impression on its wearer and reveal its true personality, there is a problem of consistency.
Notes: mandarin, orange, peach, caramel, jasmine, orange blossom, cedar, guaiac, sandalwood, amber