The answers were varied, but the name “Agent Provocateur” kept coming up. I knew the name but had never smelled the scent. It was inexpensive on the online discount sites, so I ordered a small bottle.
I loved it, a dusky rose, aromatic woody drydown but...the most seductive of perfumes? Really? I began to think about that. What is it that makes a scent seductive?
There are a handful of fragrances the initiated call “skank.” This is generally meant to suggest well used ladies’ undergarments, and is done with basenotes like musk and civet, the animalics. Muscs Koublai Khan, L’Air de Rien and, lately, L’Artisan’s al-Oudh come to mind, particularly the last one. (Does that one ever.) I was talking with a male friend about this subject category: B.O., unwashed clothing, things like that, which he called “human musk.” Well, yeah, I guess so, but I’m American, and in my culture human musk is highly undesirable to most people. We’re famous for being like that.
Anyway. The definition of the phrase “Agent Provocateur” involves someone who is employed by the police or other enforcement agency to entice or provoke another person into committing an illegal act. In other words, entrapment.
I think this is all a little silly. Given what I know about what’s called “chemistry,” attraction is either there or it isn’t, and it tends to be non-negotiable. Things like BO or jet-fuel garlic breath might interfere with it, fragrance might enhance it, but no perfume is likely to turn indifference into bodice-ripping passion in my opinion, although maybe it can’t hurt. And there you have it; the real basis for a billion-dollar business whose mainstream marketeers believe that nobody’s going to plonk down big bucks on an elixir that makes them anything less than utterly irresistible! (Cut to Kate Moss writhing around the back seat of a limo.)
The company that makes this fragrance also makes very expensive hooker-style lingerie. It’s interesting, at least to me, that the fragrance standing alone without all that black lace baggage is, well, pleasant. In the top it’s a rose with saffron and a little spice (coriander, which I usually dislike, but not here); floral mids, and amber, musk and vetiver -- which you really can smell -- later on. Some classify it as a “mossy woods,” others as a spicy oriental. I’d call it a woody oriental with saffron notes. Whatever you want to call it, it’s delightful, but let’s see if we can divest it from all the dirty-knickers hype.
“Only the assured woman need apply.” (this from perfume critic Katie Puckrick.)
“Excellent.” (four stars) -- New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr.
“Boisterous.” “Sheer audacity.” “Deep and rich with a knowingly naughty undercurrent.” (various commentators on Basenotes.)
To me, the difference between skank and not skank comes down to this: Would I feel comfortable wearing it to the grocery store? If the answer is “yes,” then the fragrance isn’t skank. I would happily wear this one just about anywhere, and I certainly wouldn’t say that about al-Oudh.
So I’d say this instead: ignore the silly hype. So the parent company makes some of the world’s hottest underwear. That doesn’t mean you shouldn't wear the fragrance to the grocery store. It’s a beautiful darkish rose with an aromatic woods and vetiver drydown that reminds me of vintage Magie Noire. It’s inexpensive on the online discount sites. And it lasts.
So...what about you? What do you think about the laws of attraction? Can a perfume really make that happen, or is it just more marketing?
Leave a comment; I’ll do a drawing on Thursday, August 12th and the lucky winner will get a generous sample of “Agent Provocateur.”
Notes for “Agent Provocateur” include saffron, coriander, Moroccan rose, jasmine, magnolia, ylang-ylang, white gardenia, vetiver, amber and musk.
The photo is of Mata Hari, from the fansite Mata-Hari.com.
“Agent Provocateur” was released in 2000. There have been several flankers since then.
The perfumer was Christian Provenzano, of CPL Aromas.