Truth or Dare is the debut scent from pop icon Madonna. I am frequently forced to "research" the "celebrities" whose perfumes I review here, but even I know who Madonna is, and so I assume you do too. An informal survey of young people (ok, I just asked my tween son) reveals that her fame is wide enough to cross generational boundaries, but Truth or Dare is aimed at a more mature audience than most celebrity fragrance efforts, albeit not one quite so mature as Madonna herself — they're after women 25 to 45, with special emphasis on the 35 to 45 group. Once you cross 45, as we all know, you're safely outside of the fragrance industry's radar.
Truth or Dare is apparently associated with Madonna's new lifestyle brand of the same name (next up: shoes), and it was made under licensing arrangements with Coty. I'll repeat the statement from Madonna that I quoted when I announced Truth or Dare:
I have always been obsessed by fragrance and for years wanted to create something personal that was an expression of me, but that other people could relate to as well. Something classical and timeless and yet modern. My oldest memory of my mother is her perfume. I carry it with me everywhere. She always smelled like gardenias and tuberose, an intoxicating mixture [that was] feminine and mysterious. I wanted to re-create this scent, but with something fresh and new about it as well.1
I have no idea what Madonna's mother wore, but I've always heard that Madonna herself wore Robert Piguet Fracas, and it's easy enough to believe that Fracas was the reference for Truth or Dare — Truth or Dare is basically a big ole white floral with an armload of tuberose and a gardenia tucked behind the ear.
Piguet recently updated Fracas too, with Douglas Hannant de Robert Piguet.2 They thinned it out and cleaned it up and added plenty of pear, the fruit du jour. The end result was office-friendly and perfectly wearable — not what I look for in a tuberose, but it was nicely done and I can see why that approach might be attractive to anyone who finds a classic white floral too heavy or old-fashioned.
Madonna has taken a somewhat different route. Truth or Dare, which was developed by perfumer Stephen Nilsen, is described as a "white floral with a signature gourmand underneath", and that's just what it is, with more emphasis on the "white floral" than the "signature gourmand". It's heavily floral right from the outset, opening on a huge, bright, spiky burst of tuberose and gardenia, and slowly calming to a quieter blended white floral with the tuberose still prominent (the notes include gardenia, tuberose, neroli, jasmine, benzoin, lily, vanilla, caramelized amber and musk). The base is relatively pale, and the vanilla and caramelized amber replace what in a classic white floral would have been a darker, more animalic base. Still, the sugar is done with a light hand — there is a whiff of toasted vanilla sugar, but as a whole, Truth or Dare is not particularly foody, especially in comparison to your average celebrity fragrance. It smells like more like sweet flowers than sweet food.
Truth or Dare isn't a sheer or quiet scent; it's full bodied, or as they put it in the press materials, "robust". But it's also reasonably modern, or as Madonna put it, "fresh and new".3 If you smell it next to vintage Fracas, the first thing you notice is how relatively thin and clean it is — it is lightly indolic, and it's not so thin and clean as Douglas Hannant, but it has none of the creamy richness (or the delicious skank) of Fracas. Reasonably modern, then, but more old-fashioned than Douglas Hannant, and more old-fashioned than Estee Lauder's Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, which maintained the lushness of the white flowers whilst rendering them smooth, airy and polished. If you wore all three fragrances together, as I did, and tried to guess which one cost the least, I think you'd pick out Truth or Dare, but that seems fair enough given that it really is the cheapest.4
Verdict: Truth or Dare is well done, and props to Madonna for not turning it into the frosted Fracas Pop-Tart that I feared she might. If you're a fan of Fracas already, I don't know why you'd prefer Truth or Dare, but if you've always wanted a Fracas Lite, widely available at a reasonable price, now you have one.
Madonna Truth or Dare is available in 30, 50 or 75 ml Eau de Parfum ($39-68) and in matching body products. The lasting power is very good. It is currently exclusive to Macy's.
1. Via Women's Wear Daily, 11/4/2011.
2. And several other celebrities have gone the white floral route recently — there's Kim Kardashian by Kim Kardashian and Mariah Carey Forever, and then there's the older and probably no longer available 3121 by Prince.
3. Still, one person's modern tuberose is another person's old-lady-perfume nightmare ("old lady" is not a term I approve of when applied to perfume, mind you, but please don't shoot the messenger), as indicated in this early review on the Macy's website: "I am a huge Madonna fan, have been waiting forever for this, The scent took me back to being a little girl and visiting my grandmothers home and also the homes of elderly neighbors. I am shocked Madonna aprroved [sic] of this scent."
4. Although I should note that the 30 ml of Fracas is currently $45 at Sephora, which is a very good deal although I have not smelled a new bottle of Fracas in a few years and have no idea if it's been reformulated. Fracas in 50 ml is $85, and there's also a travel roll-on for $25. We'll have to see if the 30 ml of Truth or Dare ever shows up in the US (they don't always); the 50 ml is $55. The Estee Lauder is $82 for 30 ml, and the Douglas Hannant is $95 for 50 ml.