As this year’s most-anticipated fragrance – Sarah Burton’s first for Alexander McQueen – is released, Vogue’s beauty and health director Nicola Moulton gives her verdict in this piece from the April issue of Vogue.
I’Ve been waiting for this perfume for 10 years. Being British, growing up in the Nineties and fascinated by fashion, I feel I have an emotional stake in the house of Alexander McQueen. As a beauty editor, the fact that its perfumes have failed to emulate the impact of its clothes has been a source of deep frustration.
Kingdom, his first scent, launched in 2003, was a musky-oriental so heavy on the cumin that some hours after spraying, you could mistake it for body odour. This was McQueen at his most characteristically disruptive, launching at a time when big, powdery florals were the trend: Narciso Rodriguez For Her, Chanel Chance and Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb came out around the same time.
The more commercial My Queen came out two years later. It was in a striking violet bottle and overdosed on violet and iris. “You want flowers? I’ll give you flowers,” McQueen seemed to be saying. But it failed to gain traction and was discontinued.
A decade later, Sarah Burton has brought a softness to the label while retaining its strength and subversion. It would seem a perfect place from
which to tackle scent once more. The new perfume, McQueen, is similarly disruptive, but in an entirely different way: in a market saturated by newness it has the beguiling sense of a perfume that has always existed.
The scent’s base is a trio of white flowers (jasmine, tuberose and ylang-ylang) and it’s a triumph. A story emerged, says Burton, about flowers that bloom at night. “Suddenly there was this idea of these beautiful white flowers that look fragile and delicate but have this potency,” she says. “In the idea of there being beauty in darkness, there were so many connotations for McQueen.”
Floral scents rarely achieve the grandeur of a huge oriental or a bold chypre. This does. It’s never cloying, with nothing sweet to cheapen it. The addition of amber gives it an exceptional, unexpected luminosity. But it gets really interesting an hour later. White flowers are known in perfumery for their contradictory effects; at once symbols of purity and chastity, yet with scents possessed of a potent natural seduction. “I’m drawn to all those ideas of latent seduction and attraction, those Victorian cues of hidden depths,” says Burton. “I kept thinking about the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron,” she says. “What was so subversive about her at the time was the lack of artifice, and that’s what this perfume is about.”
It will launch initially in one tiny extrait size, again in honour of the age when perfume was a rare and precious commodity. Even the bottle, which Burton researched in the archives at the V&A, has a historical context: “Timelessness was really important to me,” she says. “I wanted it to be a bottle that would sit on your shelf among all your other bottles and not stand out but look like it had always been there.”
For some years now, the perfume world has been polarised between “niche and interesting” and “big and boring”. McQueen is a perfume with the sensibility of a niche fragrance and the gravitas of a big brand. Maybe this will turn out to be the most disruptive McQueen scent of all.
This article was originally posted on Vogue
Minor changes have been made by the Quiet Curator editors.