I'd imagine that a challenge for a perfumer working on a mainstream release in an identifiable genre, with mindless briefs, insufficient budgets and vague/contradictory restrictions ('We want a big cotton-candy perfume like X and Y, but classier, edgier and, you know, not really so cotton candyish. And it should read as exclusive and expensive but, you know, not really cost anything.') is can you manage to make a good perfume?
If novelty is valued exclusively over quality, then you’re screwed. But look at some of the historically and artistically successful perfumes that were neither first nor, frankly, innovative: Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue, Shalimar. There’s something to be said for considering objective product guidelines: is it well designed, well produced and does it work well and consistently? My examples are the classic early 20th Guerlains for a reason. The classic perfume house is neither the designer who uses fragrance as an accessory to pump up profits, nor the niche line that employs the implicitly short term strategy of defining itself as something other than the mainstream. Chypres, orientals. Guerlain relied on recognizable genres, made exceedingly good perfumes based on these genres, the perfumes sold long and well and now are icons.
Diane von Furstenberg is a mainstream fashion company, so the expectation should be low. Fortunately she trusted the creation of the perfume to a classical perfumer, Aurelien Guichard.
Diane is not Guichard’s most innovative work, but it is an exceptionally good perfume and it is perfectly legible. It is neither transparent, in the sense of cheap motives, nor simplistic. It sits comfortably in its genre, the woody, musky-floral, illuminating the best facets of the genre. It balances its opposing tendencies (light/dark, creamy/sharp) with just a touch of tension, giving an easy richness. Diane alludes to a number of perfumes from different genres. The references are more cheeky than copy-cat. The opening of the edp suggests Rochas’ Tocade and Gres Cabaret. The opening of the edt evoke Aromatics Elixir and Agent Provocateur. The heartnotes of both remind me of Guichard’s own Azzaro Couture. Diane is very much its own perfume. The reference to other perfumes is part of the legibility of Diane. At all times it is its own perfume, an easy musky patchouli rose with elements of the chypre, the woody floral and the oriental rounding it and padding it.
Using a recognizable genre could be safe or it could be daring. For a less talented perfumer the big-target approach makes a recognizable genre an obvious choice, especially if the project has a low budget. It makes for easy recognizability to the consumer, and if the genre is a popular one the least common denominators line themselves up. For an expert perfumer, the challenge is, how to rise above the pat, the already-tried. Guichard does so with apparent ease and with a sublte ‘in your face’ boast. He manages to make 2 variations, the edt and the edp, both of which are successful and just different enough from each other to suggest that the are distinct answers to the same question.