In the 1970s, Ralph Lau-ren — as all designers do — sold the rights to a licencee to make perfumes under his name in exchange for a royalty. The trick, when doing so, is selling to the right licencee; one who employs good creative directors, who then hire good perfumers to make scents that are both artistically solid and commercially successful. Among the blue-chip licencees are Estee Lauder, LVMH, BPI, Clarins, Coty, Interparfums and LOreal.
Lauren sold his licence to LOreal, which turned out to be a wise decision. Although BPI has a much better reputation in the industry for putting real money into its scents, LOreals reputation is for being financially tight with a formula. Yet LOreal has done a generally good job for Lauren, even if the performance has been mixed.
Case in point: its two latest feminines for the brand, both launched in 2008, are Notorious and Love, Ralph Lauren. Notorious was created by the perfumer Olivier Gillotin under Jennifer Mullarkey, LOreals creative director for the Lauren brand. It is a complete mismatch between name and scent. Its smell is very difficult to describe precisely, because it has the character of a Jessica Simpson video. Vanilla? Hay? Salt-water taffy? Gil-lotin has made something that sort of smells like skin, aka synthetic musks, and sort of smells like flowers, but doesnt. It is an olfactory Gap ad, although that might be too kind.
Why is this the case? Look at the terrific scents LOreal has done for the brand. Romance is an utterly lovely American fragrance: a girl in a Ralph Lauren sundress. Romances genre is the specialty of the perfumer Harry Fremont, who perfectly distills the clear-skin-and-white-teeth co-mmercial American luxury that is Laurens specialty. The discontinued Glamourous, another Fremont work that deserved a better fate, was nonchalantly gorgeous. And the very first feminine from the Lauren/LOreal team, the 1978 Lauren by Bernard Chant, remains a masterpiece of luscious purple summer fruit and one of the best retros possible.
And then they put out Love, Ralph Lauren? Mullarkey commissioned Gillotin and the perfumer Ellen Molner, and one of the problems is that it smells like LOreal front-loaded the money. If you put this on, you will have a five-minute window in which youll find it difficult to resist buying something. After five minutes, a bit of the money burns off — the top notes smell the most expensive to me — but you still might pull out a credit card. The good news is that Love, Ralph Lauren stabilises at a very decent level. Its as conventionally beautiful as the ladies who lunch. Theres zero edge. This scent will never, ever be worn to a hip downtown club. That said, it will make quite a few well-dressed men lean appreciatively into the necks of quite a few exquisitely dressed women. Its pretty. Its safe.