Kiki Willems photographed by Craig McDean
Velvet Haze by Byredo is a hurried perfume. It was done in a near jiffy - and this you can tell not too long inside the development of the fragrance. It is teaching us a lesson too. Like not to say on Twitter that the fragrance has something amazing about it. It did let escape a very sensual trail. The problem is that the simplicity of that first perception is now clouded by the recognition that perfumer Jérôme Epinette, who is perfectly capable of doing great perfecting work on a previously existing scent - stay tuned for our review of Byredo 1996 - has visibly scrambled for time and thus Velvet Haze is a hurried perfume, which makes it smell a bit horrid to a connoisseur's nose. We'll explain why...
Time is of the essence in perfumery perhaps even more so than in other creative fields - you can try to circumvent that constraint by having a desk drawer filled with perfume formulae written over 10 or 20 years, which you can whip out at leisure, whenever needed, followed by deft fine-tuning. This means that even if you need to create a fragrance on short notice, there will be thousands of hours of work to make up for that, behind-the-scenes. And most importantly, there will be, hopefully, some fresh ideas. When a perfume by a label with artistic creds reveals a copy-and-paste accord, you know something went wrong in the lab.
The latest fragrance from Swedish niche label Byredo is said to be inspired by the 1960s counter-cultural movement - and it is named after a strain of Mary Jane. The phrase "velvet haze" is also sometimes used to metaphorically denote a vague, foggy, possibly altered state of consciousness in some texts.
In the first moments of the fragrance, you do get a succession of nuances which could be construed as an attempt to render what it means to feel you're on a trip. We don't know, but we can imagine. It smells of a weird contrast of patchouli leaves and coconut milk and chocolate (Cacao absolute) as if your Velvet Haze were a milk chocolate bar - or hiding in a milk chocolate brownie to reprise a recipe made literary, bohemian and notorious by Alice B. Toklas in Paris in her The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, which she called "Hashish Fudge."
The brand is cautious about the Marijuana connection adopting the three-mystic-apes approach: "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," The reference to weed is there, but also not there. They won't say explicitly, which is which. Yup, it's in the title name. Nope, it's not about hashish anywhere else. Except, in the cultural referencing. And we're not saying we're talking about the pot that was smoked during the counter-cultural times of the 60s. We're just lip-synching the name of a strain of Marijuana, still sold today - more than ever - which makes for a pretty perfume name.
To the nose, the composition never smells of Marijuana. It unfortunately smells of a very clichéd accord in perfumery, which has frankly no place in a niche perfume positioning itself as counter-cultural to some degree - and in a Byredo / Jérôme Epinette scent. When it all ends up smelling, loud and clear, of Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker, with its paper whites-musk-patchouli signature - redubbed here "Wild Musk" - you know someone was grasping at straws to come up with a good idea for a quickie scent launch.
Just like the name "Velvet Haze" appears to be mostly gratuitously pandering to the now legit Marijuana-smoking constituencies in several places of the globe, that defining, stereotypical accord lifted from a designer-but-actually-mass-market perfume (SJP Lovely is sold at Target) is out of place and of course, irrelevant. You just want to scrub it off because you expect to buy a creative, sincere perfumery work, not a tired recipe which smells of fear and commercialism, the latter in the worst sense of the word. You wish to sell value and quality - good. You wish to sell smoke and mirrors - bad. We have to say what's what.
Fragrance notes: ambrette seed, coconut water / patchouli leaves / absolute of cacao and wild musk.