Reviews of two recent mainstream designer fragrances: Jason Wu Eau de Parfum and Ralph Lauren Woman. Do comment if you've tried either, or if you have tested any other recent mainstream designer fragrances that you'd like to tell us about.
Jason Wu Eau de Parfum
Jason Wu's eponymous scent is his first, and is meant to reflect the jasmine growing near his childhood home in Taiwan — a focus the designer chose after blind-smelling hundreds of raw materials with perfumer Frank Voelkl. Wu may have found his notes by trial and error, but he had a specific idea of what he wanted his fragrance to be like:
I wanted it to have a transparency to it. I’ve never liked heavy fragrances. I wanted to make sure this was light, not overwhelming, like when you walk into a room and can smell someone’s perfume. Similar to my brand, it’s about subdued sophistication and glamour versus all out va va voom, and I think that holds true for the fragrance as well.1
Voelkl's juice fits that bill reasonably well. Jason Wu Eau de Parfum is a clean, fresh and soft floral. Other than the jasmine, none of the notes (pink pepper, fig, freesia, peony, and musk) really stand out, and even the jasmine is mild. It goes on bright and citrus-y, with tart fruity accents, then dries down into a sheer, jasmine-y blend, a little watery, with mildly green and mildly fruity undertones. The base is a pale woody musk, ever-so-slightly creamy, and while the overall longevity is not terrible, the pace of the proceedings runs along somewhat faster than you might expect.
Verdict: I wish I could remember Marc Jacobs's 2004 scent Blush in more detail, because Blush and Jason Wu strike me as having similar profiles. Jason Wu is a pretty floral, far too muted to satisfy a true jasmine fiend, and too unassuming in general to be perfumista-bait. What it does have is just enough jasmine to perhaps function as a jasmine fiend's office-friendly day fragrance, or as the perfect "starter" jasmine for a not-jasmine-fiend. You could surely find more sophisticated and glamorous jasmines, even if you wanted to stay in this subdued tone, but Jason Wu is nicely done and worth a shot. If you were a big fan of the now departed Chantecaille Le Jasmin, also by Voelkl, it might be worth your while to test Jason Wu, although going on memory, the Chantecaille, while hardly a jasmine bomb, was not quite so light as Jason Wu.
Jason Wu Eau de Parfum can be found at Saks Fifth Avenue in the US or Hudson Bay in Canada. It is $70 for 30 ml or $145 for 90 ml, and there are also matching body products.
Ralph Lauren Woman
Ralph Lauren's latest stab at a mainstream pillar is Ralph Lauren Woman. It's been almost 10 years since their last such effort, Notorious, which as near as I can tell flopped entirely — it never even got a flanker — leaving the brand with only the stalwart Romance, from 1998, to hold up the fort. So, what do we have now?
Introducing Woman By Ralph Lauren. A scent that embodies the essence of modern femininity. A blend of blooming white florals with rich vibrant woods. Fearless yet feminine. For the woman who strikes an alluring harmony between audacious power and feminine grace.
Righto. The Jessica Chastain commercial adds more palaver about women and strength and yadda yadda yadda, and we've got a matching hashtag: #WomanAboveAll. They've even latched on to the old saw about a feminine scent with masculine characteristics.2 They're aiming at women in their 30s, currently the biggest cohort of fragrance buyers, and reportedly, L’Oréal is shelling out the brand's biggest marketing spend to date.3
The juice, developed by perfumer Anne Flipo, stakes its claim to gourmand territory early on, with a loud and sweet opening of pear shampoo, tart fruit, sugar and cream. The heart is meant to be "tuberose driven",4 and I guess it is, but in the modern photoshop manner, de-clawed and blurred and scrubbed clean (other notes include rhubarb, blackcurrant, orange flower, rose, sandalwood and hazelnut). It isn't going to matter all that much whether you like tuberose, but you will have to like big florals — Ralph Lauren Woman is not going for subtlety, and it does not really "quiet" until a couple of hours in. The dry down is a nutty-creamy comfort scent, with pale woods, a dash of spice and a velvety finish.
Verdict: It's competent and wearable, even pretty, and it touches on all the current trends. I did not at all mind wearing it, but nor was I dying to wear it again (really, I'd rather wear Jason Wu). There are no surprises here, and there's an awful lot of competition in this particular sector of the market — can you say La Vie Est Belle? I wish them luck.5 It has fabulous reviews at the online stores, which is usually what happens when you give out lots of free product in return for reviews (a factor many of the reviewers mention in their descriptions). One particular review at Sephora struck me as pretty much encapsulating who might want Ralph Lauren Woman:
I currently use Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb as my everyday go to but I'm switching to this asap!
If she had switched to La Vie Est Belle in between, the lineage would be complete.
Ralph Lauren Woman is available in 30 ($64), 50 ($84) and 100 ($110) ml Eau de Parfum and in matching body products. There is also a 10 ml rollerball ($26).
1. From Jason Wu Makes His Fragrance Debut -- And It Smells Like His Childhood at Forbes.
2. From the fragrance description at Sephora:
"When I started designing women’s clothes it was with a menswear sensibility. I love women who take something that could have been masculine, and make it exceptionally feminine."—Ralph Lauren
Mind you, Ralph Lauren Woman doesn't smell even slightly masculine, and it has no more of a woody base than any other fragrance on the market.
3. Via "Ralph Lauren’s New ‘Woman’: Jessica Chastain" at Women's Wear Daily, 7/24/2017.
5. Just in case you think that I think that I know what I'm talking about, I'll point out that I would have said all the same things about Notorious. I was surprised that Notorious flopped — I thought it was perfectly fine if somewhat dull rendition of a clean floral gourmand. I am nearly always surprised by what sells and what doesn't.