Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Agent Provocateur: Outside Agitator?

Not too long ago I was reading a conversation on a perfume forum in which a young lady anticipating an interesting date was asking for advice from the fragrance experts therein. She had been receiving mixed signals from said date. What perfume should she wear to turn the tide?
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.


Nina Zolotow said...

No, I don't think a perfume can create an attraction (though I think it can enhance an erotic encounter). However, I do think I perfume blogger can create very strong desire in a reader to try a perfume!

Tamara*J said...

Of course it's marketing.
It's all about trying to be this perosn everyone desires.
Do I fall for it?
I have. But in the end I wear what
makes me feel my best.
What I consider attractive may not be someone else's idea of it.
I wear what I love.
But I'll admit it's really nice when another person thinks it is too.
I love to smell good to other people.
It's a huge bonus.
A perk. ;)

Let's see if A.P. fits the bill.
Thanks for the draw.


Ines said...

I love the jet-fuel garlic breath idea. :) I need to remember that.
I guess when I think about it, you need to find someone at least nice in order for a good perfume to enhance it (and I'm certain it helps). I love my boyfriend, but when he wears a perfume I like, I just want to glue myself to him. And I keep wondering then how many women that day are going to take another look catching a waft of what he smells like...?

Elisa said...

I'm with you -- I don't find this skanky or sexified in the least. It's a rose chypre of the contemporary variety. I like it and own a small bottle but find it rather prim in fact, kind of an ironic contrast to the hooker underwear.

chris g said...

Hmmm, it's marketing, marketing marketing! Perfume can be part of our memory, but I really don't think it will encourage someone to do anything they didn't want to do already (as in make a person soooo irresistable to another).
I've never sniffed Agent Provocateur, so please enter me in the draw - thanks!

BitterGrace said...

Perfume is only useful in the first stage of seduction; i.e., getting the attention of the object of your desire. It serves the same purpose as tight jeans or a low-cut blouse, but you can wear perfume in church or (usually) at the office, which seems like a plus if you're a conservative type who's seriously on the prowl. On the down side, it can also lure every dog within sniffing range, so to speak. Anyway, I'd tell that advice-seeking perfumista that once a guy has asked you out, the time for pandering to his nose is past. I'd advise her to wear something deeply weird and see if he can take it--then she'll know if he's worth pursuing ;-)

Vanessa said...

Perfume has never worked for me as a seductive weapon, though I have only routinely worn the stuff for two years, and have been with Mr Bonkers for 15. He tolerates SJP Lovely for its resemblance to soap, but rejects everything else as smelling of "craft shop".

I own a mini of AP (running low!), and lately I could swear it is turning skanky: SL Une Majeste La Rose- or Vivienne Westwood Boudoir- style proper skanky. Previously, I would have completely agreed with your description of this as a powdery, woody rose with saffron etc. So maybe it gets more racy as it gets older... : - )

Katy Josephine said...

I love Agent Provocateur and it makes me feel both sexy and powerful. The most important person to seduce with my perfume is me, after all.

Great post!

ElizabethN said...

Wow, I'm just trying this for the first time, and I'm surprised at how much I like it. It definitely is sensual to me, and at first sniff, it reminded me very much of Theo Fennell Scent. I have a tiny sample, but I may need to find more of this! Thanks for the review. :-)

Olfacta said...

Hi N -- Definitely. And thanks!

Olfacta said...

Hi TJ -- I agree; if someone compliments me on a perfume I am impressed with their wonderful taste...

Olfacta said...

Hi Ines -- I guess that's just part of the risk one takes. He may well be wondering the same thing.

Olfacta said...

Hi EG -- My guess is that the perfumer may have seen it as counterpoint to the hooker lingerie as well. Then the copywriters went to work.

Olfacta said...

Hi cg -- Agreed. Heaven knows there is a lot of stuff out there better at lowering inhibitions than perfume!

Olfacta said...

Hi M -- Deeply weird, first date...hmmm. You're brave.

Olfacta said...

Hi J --

Those two qualities do go together, imho.

Olfacta said...

Hi fs -- Interesting! My bottle is relatively new. We'll see what happens. AP is actually one of the few perfumes I have that my husband really likes.

Olfacta said...

Hi En - One of my favorite things about AP is that it doesn't wipe out your bank account. All the online discount sites have it and it's very reasonable. Happy hunting!

Unknown said...

I've found that the perfumes that men make the biggest fuss over are the ones I find the least sexy: the cotton-candy, vanilla ones. In the end, I just wear perfume for me, if it makes me fell sexy, then it's sexy.

Musette said...

I fell head over heels with a man who looked like he smelled like dulce de leche. He smelled nothink like it - I couldn't begin to tell you what he smelled like. I couldn't keep my brains intact when I was around him long enough to tell you anything! I was usually just a muddy puddle on the floor if he was anywhere near me. I might've noticed if he were soaked in Polo (ugh) and it might've taken the edge off - but the other way around? Probably not.

Anais Nin wrote an erotic story about a woman in serious lust with a man - and all because of the oil he used on his hair.

Aparatchick said...

I have to agree with Josephine: marketing aside, it's a sexy perfume if it makes you feel sexy.

Olfacta said...

Hi k -- yeah, me too. There is more than one kind of sillage.

Olfacta said...

Hi M -- I've often wondered about the love-at-first-sight thing, if there is a subliminal olfactory component to it like what you're saying. And will have to look up that story. Good to see you here!

Olfacta said...

Hi A -- True and also: if I smell good I feel good (usually, anyway)

Anonymous said...

Perfume as sexual attractant: pure hype. (Although probably someone who already has good associations with a particular scent might be initially drawn to a new acquaintance who wears it).

I haven't smelled Agent Provocateur, but I have smelled vintage Magie Noire: pure cat pee. So not something I would wear to the grocery store or anywhere else; it was the first and worst scrubber I've ever encountered. Perhaps you'd better leave me out of the drawing-- I wouldn't want a generous sample of anything that reminds me of Magie Noire!
-- Gretchen

Isa said...

I don't see perfumes as sexual weapons, but they can be very sensual if they are worn by the correct person.
They can attract to other people. However, they can't do magic.

I try to wear perfumes mainly to please myself, to feel comfortable or to feel I'm in another time and place. That's a sensual quality, somehow.

Unknown said...

I am more susceptible to olfactory manipulation than most people, maybe, in both directions--an off-putting smell (many mass market men's fragrances) will trump any visual appeal a man might have for me, and I have followed my nose to good-smelling men whom I would not have otherwise found exceptional. In a way, it's a reminder of the tyranny of the visual--a man's smell affects me the same way an interesting conversation with a man whose appearance is otherwise neutral in appeal. Cause for further investigation.

I would love to be entered in the draw! Anything compared to TF Scent is a must try for me. I thought I hated rose fragrances til I met that naughty number. And a more affordable saffron rose would be very welcome.

Perfumaniac said...

There are some perfumes that have made me attracted to people, and others that have drawn people in to me:

I've been drawn to women because they wore: Angel, Fracas, Black Orchid and I've gotten attention from: Gucci Rush, Angel, Musc Ravageur,and the perfume Luca Turin says is in the "make it a night he'll never forget" category: Poison. (I know some people might not believe me, repelled as they are by Poison, but men seem to love it.)