430 Kings Road at Various Periods of Time
By Chantal-Hélène Wagner
Perfumer Marie Salamagne of Firmenich signs Let It Rock, a perfume inspired by the eponymous store Vivienne Westwood opened at 430 Kings Road, a temple of the Punk scene in London in the 1970s. Its cultural adequation to the times and to a current of counter-culturalism was expressed by Malcolm McLaren with this quote from Paul Gorman's book The Look: Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion,
"When I took shelter from the rain in this black hole I knew I had found a place which could become an extension of my studio, like entering the musical end of painting."...
The SEX store evolved from Let It Rock
The fragrance could have also been named "Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die", or "SEX" since "Let It Rock" gave way to these other appelations. The pinker but still punk sex shop at the exact same address was the so-called "pink punk" period of Westwood who specified that,
"We're not just here to sell fetish clothing but to convert, educate, liberate."
A quiet picture of the period showing the interior of Let It Rock
In Retro, the Culture of Revival, Elizabeth E. Guffrey shows that the store concept evolved from a sub-culture of the 1950s Teddy Boy culture to attain a more subversive and deviant form of those recognizable traits as,
"Ted shoppers at Westwood's King's Road store were increasingly dismayed to find drainpipe trousers sold next to latex gear, and drape jackets held together with safety pins."
Those Ted customers were however somehow in sync with Punk discontent since they ended up spraying graffitis on the store front to express their anger at such adulterations. This analysis reveals how the Punk movement, despite all its disruptive echoes, was centrally steeped in a retro view of the world.
How Does it Smell Like?
From a perfumery standpoint, the composition was led by the idea of using a typical fragrance palette of the 1970s. This meant creating an olfactory mosaic which still made sense as harmonious totality. It is obvious that dissonance, obscenity and anger were not hotly pursued here. The ingredients that had to be incorporated to recreate the ambience of the period are rose, cedarwood, sandalwood, geranium - and the unescapable patchouli. This orientation brings a touch of the head-shop atmosphere to the perfume but without it being too disturbing; it is part of its charm actually. The patchouli has this gateway-to-counter-culture-scent aspect, with a discreet reinforcement thanks to some animalic notes, but without the excess you might legitimately expect from the project. Like Sex Pistols God Save the Queen by Etat Libre d'Orange, it's Bourgeois-Punk.
While the inspiration source could be seen as a hotbed of cultural dissension - there are photos of Westwood circulating on the Internet barring her derrière in unison with other girlfriends with mooning gusto, to expose the letters S E X stamped on their sides - the perfume itself takes it down a few notches in this sense of a public service announcement that says "Yes, you can be free", resting on provocation. That was years before Miley Cyrus, but you can perceive affinities across time.
Let It Rock by Vivienne Westwood is one of the nicest, best-balanced amber perfumes you could find if you wanted to experience the raw pleasure of grafting some amber fragrance onto your skin. This was our very first impression back then when we encountered it on a table-top in a department store. It stood out for its wonderful sense of balance.
The medium dark glow of amber is showcased by the contrast of rawish animalic accents and the much more innocent freesia. That floral note brings its sweetness, fruitiness and tea-like nuance to very good effect. Freesia and ambery musk pair really well as we found out with Charriol Saphire. It's faintly powdery rather than just about glowing ambery warmth.
This perfume is not a terribly ambitious composition. Think of it as an amber soliflore with distinction. It could have had more depth and complexity, given the subject it is inspired from. But as it is, it is very successful at distinguishing itself from the pack in terms of its amber formulation and balancing act. The bottle also is somehow tackily charming.