Molton Brown’s Perfume Releases – Great Strategy but Hollow Soul.

by Katie on November 2, 2011

Hmm. Molton Brown’s first perfume releases ‘Navigations Through Scent’ have me all in a quandary. On the one hand, these are exemplary, well-thought out and executed fragrances that have a global appeal with the sheer nature of their make-up and their theme while on the other hand, the whole launch strikes me as a pen & paper strategic manoeuvre by someone with little understanding of perfumery and ‘what grabs’ which, while being spot-on conceptually, manages to miss the mark on a number of issues namely fragrance naming, distinction and stand-out.

Let’s get this clear from the start, these are fine fragrances by all the right standards but there’s just that certain something that doesn’t ring true and brings to mind a finely written marketing strategic brief  as near as dammit to execution as it will give, but whither the soul, the emotion, the ‘grab’, the perfume memory as eyes and ears of experience? There’s a void there where there should be vivacity.

Molton Brown’s foray into the perfume market via ‘Navigations Through Scent’ are launched to celebrate the origins and history as well as the vital importance of rare and raw ingredients used in perfumery and follow the ancient and modern spice trade routes as a theme. 

Focusing on Egypt, China, Indonesia, England and Canada as the mainstays seems rather odd to begin with (omitting Venice and Paris is glaringly misappropriate) and then referencing these locations with over clever longitudinal and latitudinal co-ordinations which are marked on bottle and box bears little relation to what makes a perfume a ‘must-have’. Instead we have a concept collection of names that fail to resonate with the user even when they are square in front of one’s face:  Rogart, Apuldre, Lijiang, Iunu and Singosari may sound exotic but boy, are they the most instantly forgetable names to grace perfumes ever created and it’s this that does not bode well. Combine with favourable and rich juice which despite considerable effort, does not seem to click and there is a problem in making this well thought out brief and launch little more than a vanity project.  Like releasing a ‘Best Of’ album compilation before one big smash hit, these releases leave me thinking just what is Molton Brown’s soul and ethos?
Molton Brown’s global stance and worthy brand ethos could have been better served had they taken a toe-in-the-water considered approach and launched one or two fragrances, received customer feedback and followed up with a Limited Edition or re-worked flanker, which  may have resonated more. Frankly, Joe Schmo customer could attempt to remember one obscurest name when five are simply ‘de trop’. Matching these to somewhat samey scents in many instances ensures further confusion. There’s simply not enough distinction or clarity.  These are a tantalus of boxed fragrances whose difference is by degrees rather than leaps and bounds. Weighty and worthy fragrances they may be but there’s no lightness of step or spirit and they play like heavy ecclesiastical hymns on the soul. Sung one by one, there’s a downbeat dreariness when good perfume is meant to lift, nurture and raise one’s life force, not remind one of a geographical spice trading route – so much for emotion and raw sex appeal.
Starting with my favourite, Iunu’s heavy trail of incense and myrrh with a leaden base of Egyptian Jasmine is the most sensuous of the set and for that fact, I’m in. Tantalisingly, this could also be worn by a man as it’s heavy plod of patchouli and oakmoss make it cravenly carnal with a distinct masculine veer. Priced at £65 for 50ml.

Singosari’s warmth, spiciness and heat hits you. Named after an ancient Javan kingdom in Indonesia, again with patchouli and incense but also ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, Singosari smells rather fecal and raw with a dark green Vetiver undercurrent to its murky, smokey sensuousness. Priced at £55 for 50ml.

Apuldre’s lemony Juniper berry sharpness with added spice is faintly reminiscent of the great Monsieur Balmain and is probably one of the most distinct of the five fragrances namely for its lightness.  The sense of berries being screwed up and squashed, releasing their juice on pre spiced Cedarwood hands is apparent and is another perfume that sits more easily with a male audience than with a female equivalent. It will surprise that Apuldre means ‘Apple Door’ in old Saxon English* and it’s gin freshness is meant to belie Olde England (*See what I mean with concept being over arching rather than putting the fragrance first?). Priced £55 for 50ml.

Rogart is deeply woody fresh, green and dark moss-like. Smelling a little like an 18th Century church, this smacks of Austen with closeted, damp propriety and Presbyterianism when in fact, Canada’s Nova Scotia is the original source of inspiration. Canadian fir balsam, juniper (again) and maple syrup combine to evoke a ruggedly feminine fragrance with a powdery dry down that tends to catch in the back of the throat. Priced at £60 for 50ml.

Lijiang’ s core is is uplifting spice and sensuality with a core sharpness of white tea and osmanthus absolute and a dry base of white musk and vetiver.  Constructed like a modern version of the ancient Chinese tea ceremony, the perfume evokes oak casks, tea, damp heat and exotic orientalism shot through with bitter orange. The least ostentatious and most feminine of the five Molton Brown fragrances. Priced at £65 for 50ml.

Have you smelled any or all of Molton Brown’s new perfumes? Please leave me a message and let me know what you think of the review.

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