I often complain that I hate perfumes that smell synthetic. This is (one reason) why I love vintage perfume, because for the most part, the ingredients are high-quality, and I know I’m not going to smell like a chemical stew someone threw together for Kim Kardashian.
But what if a perfume goes out of its way to smell synthetic? I can’t guess at the intention of Eden’s author, Jean Guichard, but I think that an aspect of Eden is too weirdly synthetic to have been an accident. Why, you ask, would a perfumer want the flowers in his garden of Eden to smell like overheated plastic? And lastly, why on earth do I kinda dig it?
Eden’s heart and base are classic 80s. It’s a big, gourmand/oriental/“fruitchouli” with amber, tonka and vanilla. But something very strange happens at the beginning. The top half of Eden smells like it’s made of hot plastic soured by green notes and herbalized by anise (from tarragon). These alien top notes join with their more earth-bound counterparts: a sumptuous floral heart (tuberose, jasmine, rose, ylang) that’s softened and fattened by orris and dries down to a fruit-sweetened mossy, patchouli, gourmand base reminiscent of Loulou, also created by Jean Guichard.
But no matter how beautiful the florals and base are, that herbal, hot-plastic note (which reminds me a little of unripe mango skin) announces a wonky, artificial and compelling accord that haunts the rest of the perfume. I found myself chasing it in my mind once it disappeared and the perfume became “normal” again. (Its fakeness is compelling the way a green apple Jolly Rancher is delicious. It's precisely because a Jolly Rancher tastes like a fake apple, an almost neon apple, that people like it.)
Top notes: Bergamot, lemon, mandarin, green note, peach, tarragon, orange blossom
Heart notes: Tuberose, jasmine, lily of the valley, rose, ylang-ylang, orris
Base notes: Cedar, patchouli, sandalwoood, musk, moss, vanilla, tonka, amber (Haarmann&Reimer)
(Alternate notes from Perfume Shrine: Top: Mandarin, orange blossom, water lily, lotus blossom; Middle: Melon, pineapple, violet, mimosa; Base: Patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla, musk.)
Throughout the evening, I would sniff my hand to see how it developed on my skin. Through the warm and comforting base, as if peering down a well, I could smell the layers of flowers and fruit, singing clearly even hours into it. In the morning, however, there was that lingering, odd — again, even alien — greenness I could not place, there alongside the more familiar drydown notes.
Believe it or not, Eden was released the same year as CKOne. In a way, it was the beginning of the end for the 80s and their stink bombs. Just as Eden exited stage left — apparently, it bombed, speaking of bombs — CKOne ushered in the era of cleanliness and androgyny. Out with the old, in with the new. The baroque, hyper-gendered stylings of the 80s were denuded with CKOne, and the scentless, sex-ambiguous body was laid bare.
Eden's wet, plastic, anise-licorice smell faintly travels through to the drydown, which is mostly classically 80s in its loud too-muchness. What do we make of this alien sour-green-plastic accord, though? What is it heralding or sounding?
I'm going to throw some ideas around. I'm not wedded to them, but Eden made me think...Maybe this artificial, even alien accord is one aspect of the 90s' repudiation of the natural. 90s scents attempted to get rid of human smells in order to make way, Octavian of 1000fragrances muses in a dystopian prediction, for a computerized generation preparing for a disembodied, virtual future. (To be more pedestrian about it: think of all the office scents spawned by CKOne.)
I think, similarly, some perfumers introduced strangely plastic notes to 80s/90s fragrances when they could have just as easily created "natural" smells. Synthetic and unnatural were introduced as a virtue. (I'm not talking about synthetics in place of more expensive ingredients. I'm talking about the aesthetic choice to make something smell synthetic: think of Poison's sickly-sweet tuberose/grape bubblegum accord, or Angel's bizarre cotton candy/patchouli accord.)
Although Eden and CKOne would seem, initially, to be diametrically opposed, they've both introduced different versions of Unnatural. In CKOne's case, it offers up clean and androgynous as something to aspire to in the olfactory realm. In Eden's case, it sounds its first note in the key of "fake."
The Eden Jean Guichard has proposed for us is one that takes place in some post-apocalyptic cyborg future, after the Fall. (Doesn't androgynous Eve up there in the ad look like a CGI creation, lit by ghastly, fluorescent green, Cindy Sherman-esque lighting?)
In any case, Eden intrigues me. But I could never, ever wear this stuff in public!
Some other thoughts on Eden:
In a case of bizarre synchronicity (I swear, Elena!) Perfume Shrine wrote on Eden at the same time I received my bottle in the mail. So strange — I'd never even heard of it the week before! She tells us there's the ubiquitous Calone* "water" note that is ever-present in 90s scents, and helps me figure out in part what makes this perfume smell so otherworldly: its water-lily and lotus notes. Of Eden, she says that it was positioned as the "first fruity-semioriental-aquatic." Bizarro.
* Calone: an aroma chemical that adds a “sea breeze” or marine note, and first used in large quantities in Aramis New West (1988).
And here are some very amusing responses from Fragrantica readers. Enjoy them. I did!
"This is horror in a bottle. I believed the hype and bought a bottle, sprayed mysef and on the way home on the bus I remember feeling almost sick from the most synthetic, most alien, most mouldery plasticy and cheap smelling perfume I ever smelled (owned). Obtrusive fly repellant smell. Makes me shiver only thinking about it."
"I saw Avatar and remembered this perfume. It's juicy, lush, mysterious and alien."
"One of the worst fragrance for women, ever created. Can't describe....pure horror !!!!!!!!!"
"Also the name Eden perfectly suits the scent - very green, warm, wet, luscious forest with white flowers - just like Eden."
"This is one of the strangest scents I've ever smelt. The opening blast is like an 'out of this world' kind of smell. Reminded me a bit of medicine too."
"This one is not for me. It's a pity, because it smells good on my skin but it's totally NOT ME. Too sweet, too heavy, too crazy."
"Each time I sniffed my wrist, I'd complain that my nausea was getting worse and my husband told me to stop sniffing, I'd tell him I couldn't help it. It smelled like millions of exotic flowers and fruit in humid weather with the smell of waterfalls nearby."