For the last couple years, the term “sleeper” has made me think of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan and written as well as directed by Shane Black of Lethal Weapon fame, this satire of film noir came out in the autumn of 2005, just as my perfume obsession was really starting to hog most of my leisure time. I remember thinking that I should go see the movie — it was getting great reviews and I’m one of those masochists who tries to support Downey Jr. when he isn’t incarcerated — but I probably spent the ticket money on a bottle of Bvlgari something. In any case, I didn’t make it to the theatre and I was not alone: the movie site Rotten Tomatoes reports that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang made a woeful total of $4.2 million on the big screen.
When it was released to DVD in June of the following year, I shelled out for the rental. It’s not a profound or ambitious movie, so I was almost embarrassed by how entertaining I found it. While it was still rented, my brother asked to watch it and I handed it over with trepidation — in the film, Val Kilmer plays a character called “Gay Perry” and my brother lives what, in sillier days, we used to call an alternative lifestyle. What did he think? “A ton of fun,” he announced. As I returned the DVD to the rental store, the guy at the desk leaned towards me, blushing and tilting his head. He looked like he was going to slip me a note that admitted he had a crush on me. “I love this movie,” he squeaked. And then two months later, when I went to re-rent the DVD for my husband, the store had acquired eighteen copies — and they were all out. “Can’t keep it in,” the stocking clerk told me, so I bought a new copy. My hubby really liked it and my mother didn’t even complain about the swearing. I loaned it to friends, who bought the DVD a few weeks later. In the terminology of Malcolm Gladwell’s ubiquitous book on social epidemics, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang had “tipped”.
Scents do this, too. Perhaps an anticipated fragrance launches to negative or lukewarm reviews on the blogs and boards. Maybe a perfume is part of a multiple release or the year is particularly crowded with hits and the scent gets lost in the shuffle. After a few years of a whisper campaign by a small group of enthusiasts — or even a re-evaluation or discovery by an influential source — the scent is suddenly gaining momentum, being worn and discussed. Here, in no particular order, are four sleeper scents I’ve noticed since I’ve been hanging around, as well as a prediction on a fifth.
L’Artisan Timbuktu: This released in 2004, as the second installment in L’Artisan’s travel series. I remember smelling this Bertrand Duchaufour creation for the first time when I had just begun my addiction to fragrance: it smelled just plain weird, like a sour, sweaty and well... foreign white smoke. Huh. I left the store without a purchase, but the scent haunted me. I kept picking up new samples of it and sniffing them with a kind of suspicion. Right around the time of Robin’s conversion, I gave up and fell for it, too. There are still Timbuktu lovers and haters out there, but the haters are starting to mumble sheepishly about skin chemistry.
Serge Lutens Bois et Musc: There are ten reviews of this one on MakeupAlley*. Discontinued Bonne Bell Lip Smackers in Skittles flavours get more press, so you can forgive yourself if you ignored Bois et Musc until you stumbled over it. Cooling, self-possessed and softly radiant, this lovely cedar scent seems to have quietly developed a fan base.
Frederic Malle Une Rose: For a change, let’s tell a nice story about a sales assistant. Los Angeles, August 2005, Barney’s: I am gorging myself on all the Malle fragrances I have heard so much about: Parfum de Thérèse, En Passant, Musc Ravageur, Lipstick Rose etc. Erasmo, the counter manager, is listening to me talk to myself aloud (“Aha! Oh no. Hmm. Where is the bread note? Well, yes, you can tell that’s a Roucel.”) He gently suggests I try one of his favorites, Une Rose, a “romantic, intoxicating, interesting rose.” I preposterously tell him I do not like roses. I buy something else, but he sends me home with a generous Malle sample of Edouard Fléchier’s creation. And I never got to thank him. Who tipped you off?
Hermès Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan: I loved this fragrance from the first and have been smugly gratified to see it gaining steam. Those who expected the pungency and impact of Yunnan tea were initially disappointed, but the blog comment sections show that fragrance fans are gradually finding more originality and complexity in the fifth Hermessence scent. Victoria of Bois de Jasmin describes it perfectly: “Its scent, elusive and haunting, ranges from tea-soaked dried apricots to jasmine soap crushed in a leather bag.” Just so.
Theo Fennell Scent: Okay, so I’m cheating. I sampled this Christophe Laudamiel creation when it came out and found it opulent, proud and ridiculously feminine, like a figurehead on a galleon. I loved the saffron, a note that usually makes me wary. This is going to be a smash hit, I decided. I waited to hear what others thought. Crickets chirped. Then, just today, I snuck down to a local bookstore to take a peek at Turin and Sanchez’s Perfumes: The Guide — my pre-ordered copy hasn’t arrived yet — and found a five-star review for Scent. It was like the day I found someone to confirm that my favourite childhood cartoon show was not just a dream.
* Basenotes has three, with the first review describing Bois et Musc as a malicious rumour.