I have been thinking all week about how much my expectations color my attitudes towards new fragrance releases, and how hard it can be to evaluate perfumes with a completely open mind. Context isn't everything, but it matters; sometimes, it matters a great deal. If Guerlain's recent Angelique Lilas had been released as a pillar fragrance (i.e., as a major release like L'Instant or Insolence), I would have been horrified. If it had been released as part of Guerlain's L'Art et la Matière line (Cuir Beluga, Rose Barbare, Angelique Noire, Bois d'Armenie, Iris Ganache) I would have been more horrified still. As an Aqua Allegoria, well, I still don't love it, but it doesn't upset me. I like the Aqua Allegorias, but I don't expect them to be masterpieces. If they are fun, wearable summer scents, that is enough.
By the same token, if Angelique Lilas had been released by Paris Hilton (what would she have called it?), I'd have been clapping my hands enthusiastically: it would have been so refreshingly different from your usual celebrity fare. Celebrity fragrances are such that even halfway decent attempts to develop something of merit will win my approval.
And imagine if Paris Hilton had released Hermès Elixir des Merveilles. I'd have been so impressed, I'd have dropped over dead. But coming from Hermès, Elixir suffered by comparison to its parent Eau des Merveilles. I liked it well enough, but it was hard to shake the notion that it just wasn't as good as the original, and it seemed wrong somehow from Hermès. By now, we all know to expect a regular stream of flankers laced with the latest gourmand trends, but from Hermès? From Hermès, I expect some level of dignity. I don't want to see Hiris with green apple or Eau d'Orange Verte with pomegranate and lychee, although either would be better than any number of recent flanker fragrances.
And I am still puzzling over Guerilla 1 & 2 from Comme des Garçons. Would I have been more impressed if they had been released by say, Calvin Klein? I think not, but they certainly couldn't live up to the iconoclastic heritage of Comme des Garçons. And for that matter, it is hard to escape the notion that Calvin Klein would have done better by CK IN2U if they had not released all that advance press about "technosexuals" and whatnot. Announcing in advance that you are trying to bottle the essence of a generation seems bound to backfire. CK IN2U Her did not strike me as any better or worse than the zillions of other fruity florals released over the past year, but after all the hype, it was more of a disappointment.
I suppose it would be best to try everything from an unmarked vial and only find out what it was later, but the idea of smelling even a handful of dull fruity florals that way is too boring to contemplate. Your thoughts?